Came to Jesus by night - He had matters of the utmost importance, on which he wished to consult Christ; and he chose the night season, perhaps less through the fear of man than through a desire to have Jesus alone, as he found him all the day encompassed with the multitude; so that it was impossible for him to get an opportunity to speak fully on those weighty affairs concerning which he intended to consult him. However, we may take it for granted that he had no design at present to become his disciple; as baptism and circumcision, which were the initiating ordinances among the Jews, were never administered in the night time. If any person received baptism by night, he was not acknowledged for a proselyte. See Wetstein. But as Jews were not obliged to be baptized, they being circumcised, and consequently in the covenant, he, being a Jew, would not feel any necessity of submitting to this rite.
Rabbi - My Master, or Teacher, a title of respect given to the Jewish doctors, something like our Doctor of Divinity, i.e. teacher of Divine things. But as there may be many found among us who, though they bear the title, are no teachers, so it was among the Jews; and perhaps it was in reference to this that Nicodemus uses the word διδασκαλος, didaskalos, immediately after, by which, in John 1:38, St. John translates the word rabbi. Rabbi, teacher, is often no more than a title of respect: didaskolos signifies a person who not only has the name of teacher, but who actually does teach.
We know that thou art a teacher come from God - We, all the members of the grand Sanhedrin, and all the rulers of the people, who have paid proper attention to thy doctrine and miracles. We are all convinced of this, though we are not all candid enough to own it. It is possible, however, that οιδαμεν, we know, signifies no more than, it is known, it is generally acknowledged and allowed, that thou art a teacher come from God.
No man can do these miracles - It is on the evidence of thy miracles that I ground my opinion of thee. No man can do what thou dost, unless the omnipotence of God be with him.
The same came to Jesus - The design of his coming seems to have been to inquire more fully of Jesus what was the doctrine which he came to teach. He seems to have been convinced that he was the Messiah, and desired to be further instructed in private respecting his doctrine, It was not usual for a man of rank, power, and riches to come to inquire of Jesus in this manner; yet we may learn that the most favorable opportunity for teaching such men the nature of personal religion is when they are alone. Scarcely any man, of any rank, will refuse to converse on this subject when addressed respectfully and tenderly in private. In the midst of their companions, or engaged in business, they may refuse to listen or may cavil. When alone, they will hear the voice of entreaty and persuasion, and be willing to converse on the great subjects of judgment and eternity. Thus Paul says Galatians 2:2, “privately to them which are of reputation,” evincing his consummate prudence, and his profound knowledge of human nature.
By night - It is not mentioned why he came by night. It might have been that, being a member of the Sanhedrin, he was engaged all the day; or it may have been because the Lord Jesus was occupied all the day in teaching publicly and in working miracles, and that there was no opportunity for conversing with him as freely as he desired; or it may have been that he was afraid of the ridicule and contempt of those in power, and fearful that it might involve him in danger if publicly known; or it may have been that he was afraid that if it were publicly known that he was disposed to favor the Lord Jesus, it might provoke more opposition against him and endanger his life. Since no bad motive is imputed to him, it is most in accordance with Christian charity to suppose that his motives were such as God would approve, especially as the Saviour did not reprove him. We should not be disposed to blame men where Jesus did not, and we should desire to find goodness in every man rather than be ever on the search for evil motives. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We may learn here:
1.That our Saviour, though engaged during the day, did nor refuse to converse with an inquiring sinner at night. Ministers of the gospel at all times should welcome those who are asking the way to life.
2.That it is proper for men, even those of elevated rank, to inquire on the subject of religion. Nothing is so important as religion, and no temper of mind is more lovely than a disposition to ask the way to heaven. At all times men should seek the way of salvation, and especially in times of great religions excitement they should make inquiry. At Jerusalem, at the time referred to here, there was great solicitude. Many believed on Jesus. He performed miracles, and preached, and many were converted. There was what would now be called a revival of religion, having all the features of a work of grace. At such a season it was proper, as it is now, that not only the poor, but the rich and great, should inquire the path to life.
Rabbi - This was a title of respect conferred on distinguished Jewish teachers, somewhat in the way that the title “Doctor of Divinity” is now conferred. See the notes at John 1:38. Our Saviour forbade his disciples to wear that title (see the notes at Matthew 23:8), though it was proper for Him to do it, as being the great Teacher of mankind. It literally signifies great, and was given by Nicodemus, doubtless, because Jesus gave distinguished proofs that he came as a teacher from God.
We know - I know, and those with whom I am connected. Perhaps he was acquainted with some of the Pharisees who entertained the same opinion about Jesus that he did, and he came to be more fully confirmed in the belief.
Come from God - Sent by God. This implies his readiness to hear him, and his desire to be instructed. He acknowledges the divine mission of Jesus, and delicately asks him to instruct him in the truth of religion. When we read the words of Jesus in the Bible, it should be with a belief that he came from God, and was therefore qualified and authorized to teach us the way of life.
These miracles - The miracles which he performed in the Temple and at Jerusalem, John 2:23.
Except God be with him - Except God aid him, and except his instructions are approved by God. Miracles show that a prophet or religious teacher comes from God, because God would nor work a miracle in attestation of a falsehood or to give countenance to a false teacher. If God gives a man power to work a miracle, it is proof that he approves the teaching of that man, and the miracle is the proof or the credential that he came from God.
All who live have sins to wash away.... True repentance of sin, faith in the merits of Jesus Christ, and baptism into His death, to be raised out of the water to live a new life, are the first steps in the new birth which Christ told Nicodemus he must experience in order to be saved. The words of Christ to Nicodemus are not only spoken to him, but to every man, woman, and child, that should live in the world.... We are safe in following the example of Christ (Youth's Instructor, February 1, 1874). LHU 79.7Read in context »
There are very many who claim to serve God, but who have no experimental knowledge of Him. Their desire to do His will is based upon their own inclination, not upon the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit. Their conduct is not brought into harmony with the law of God. They profess to accept Christ as their Saviour, but they do not believe that He will give them power to overcome their sins. They have not a personal relation with a living Saviour, and their characters reveal defects both hereditary and cultivated. COL 48.1
It is one thing to assent in a general way to the agency of the Holy Spirit, and another thing to accept His work as a reprover calling to repentance. Many feel a sense of estrangement from God, a realization of their bondage to self and sin; they make efforts for reform; but they do not crucify self. They do not give themselves entirely into the hands of Christ, seeking for divine power to do His will. They are not willing to be molded after the divine similitude. In a general way they acknowledge their imperfections, but they do not give up their particular sins. With each wrong act the old selfish nature is gaining strength. COL 48.2
The only hope for these souls is to realize in themselves the truth of Christ's words to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” “Except a man be born from above, he can not see the kingdom of God.” John 3:7, 3, margin. COL 48.3Read in context »
The great truth of the conversion of the heart by the Holy Spirit is presented in Christ's words to Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born from above, he can not see the kingdom of God.... That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:3-8, margin. COL 98.1
The apostle Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, says, “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:4-8. COL 98.2
The leaven hidden in the flour works invisibly to bring the whole mass under its leavening process; so the leaven of truth works secretly, silently, steadily, to transform the soul. The natural inclinations are softened and subdued. New thoughts, new feelings, new motives, are implanted. A new standard of character is set up—the life of Christ. The mind is changed; the faculties are roused to action in new lines. Man is not endowed with new faculties, but the faculties he has are sanctified. The conscience is awakened. We are endowed with traits of character that enable us to do service for God. COL 98.3Read in context »
When all those who profess to be Christians are Christians in deed and in truth, the Sabbath school will be no longer a dry round of service. The teachers will then understand the lesson that Christ gave to Nicodemus, and will teach it in all its momentous bearing on human destiny. Jesus said to the ruler in Israel, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Except a man be born again, he cannot understand the character of the heavenly kingdom, or discern its spiritual nature. Christ was saying to Nicodemus in these words: CSW 64.1
“It is not learning you need so much as it is inward renovation. You need not to have your curiosity satisfied so much as to have a new heart, and until that change takes place, making all things new, it will result in no saving good to you for Me to discuss with you My authority, My work, My mission as One who bears the credentials of Heaven.” CSW 64.2Read in context »