Saturday, March 19, 2011

See the Kingdom

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus (John 2:23-3:22) one of many things that stand out in the passage is the parallel between John 3:3 and John 3:5:

John 3:3 (ESV)
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5 (ESV)
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

One verse says “see the kingdom”; the other says “enter”. Both speak of being born again as the thing that must happen before the seeing and entering. There must be a reason why John, under inspiration, made the two separate statements.

The word translated in English as “see”, appears several hundred times in the New Testament, translated in English variously as see, know, perceive, or understand. In Young’s Literal Translation, John 3:3 is: “3Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God” “See the reign of God” reminds one of

Luke 17:20–21 (ESV)

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they have the kingdom around them in the person of the Son of God. They could see Him, but they really couldn’t see (understand, perceive, etc.) Him. At this point I remind myself and everyone else of the danger of assuming that a Greek word translated differently in different passages can be interchanged among those passages. The people doing the translating are highly educated in the original languages and know what they’re doing; the untrained layperson should take care. However, when there are over 600 examples, one can make some assumptions.

Also, the interpretation of John 3:3 as meaning one has to be born again to understand the kingdom of God does find support in

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Being “born again” is not something that a person can do for himself, any more than he could have made himself born the first time (hence the metaphor). In every NT passage where “born” is used in describing salvation, it is in the passive voice. That is, “the grammatical voice that signifies that the subject is being acted upon; i.e., the subject is the receiver of the verbal action.” (Heiser, M. S. (2005; 2005). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Logos Bible Software.) In addition to John 3:3, 5-8, examples include: John 1:13, 1 Peter 1:3, 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:9, and 1 John 4:7.

The Big Question then is: “How is one born again?” When you are convicted of your sin and of Whom the sin is against, and feel the weight of your own fallen-ness and understand your spiritual bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3), and you repent and believe that the risen Son of God is your only hope for reconciliation with God, the Holy Spirit has given you a new heart (Ezekiel 36:25-27 [check the cross reference in your Bible for John 3:5].

Repent and believe; Today is the day (Hebrews 3:15).

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