John 3:3 – Jesus answered him, “Most assuredly, I tell you, unless one is born [begotten] anew, he can’t see [comprehend] the kingdom of God.”
John 3:7 – Don’t marvel that I said to you, “You [Nicodemus] must be born [begotten] anew.” — World English
(1) Jesus was addressing Nicodemus in his words as quoted above. Why did Jesus teach that it was necessary for one to be begotten/born again? For an answer to this, we must look back to the first man, Adam. Adam did not need to be born again of the spirit, because his original creation, in effect, gave him birth of God’s spirit. He was created with a crown of glory, and before he sinned, he had not fallen short of that glory. (Psalm 8:5; Romans 3:23) Paul indicates that Adam was created with the law of God in his heart (Romans 2:15), and if he had followed this law, he could have developed the fruitage of the spirit perfectly, and would still be alive today upon this earth. (Galatians 5:22,23) Before Adam sinned, he was sinless, and did not have sinful flesh. (Romans 8:3) God put before him a choice; he could have walked after the spirit in obedience to God, or he could have walked after the flesh in disobedience. Obedience would bring life; disobedience death. Most know that Adam and Eve disobeyed, and thus came under the condemnation of death, and that condemnation came to be upon all mankind through Adam. — Romans 5:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22.
Why do we say that Adam was born of the spirit? Because he, before he sinned, was a figure of the one to come as a man to redeem mankind. (Romans 5:14) Adam was a “son of God.” (Luke 3:18) Was Jesus, as a human, “born of the spirit”? What do the scriptures say? Matthew 1:20: “But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived [gennao] in her is of the Holy Spirit.'” The Greek word gennao (See Endnote 1) is the same word that is used in John 3:3 and John 3:7, where most translations render the word as “born”. Of course, in Matthew 1:20, it is apparent that the angel is not speaking of Jesus’ birth, but rather of his being begotten by the holy spirit as then an unborn embryo in Mary’s womb. Likewise, we have all reason to think that when Adam was created, that God used his holy spirit in the creative process. (Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30) Additionally, Adam, as a son of God (Luke 3:18), would have been led by God’s spirit, for “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) As we pointed out in our study on “With What Body Will We Be Raised?”, Adam, before he sinned, was incorrupt, but he was not incorruptible. It was possible for him to become corrupt. As long as Adam obeyed, he was thus following the leading of the holy spirit. Of course, we know that his wife, Eve, was deceived, and was thus led into disobedience, and Adam, wishing to please his wife, was led by her into disobedience, and thus man had become corrupted before God.
Romans 1 describes the result of this corruption, and its remedy. Paul says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation [deliverance] to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘But the righteous shall live by faith.'” (Romans 1:16.17) What is it that Paul is speaking of that man needs to be delivered from? Paul continues: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18) Paul here identifies what it is that we need to be delivered from: “the wrath of God.” The wrath of God has been revealed ever since Adam disobeyed. Paul is speaking of man as represented in the first man and woman. Later he tells us that “the judgment came by one to condemnation,” and that “through one trespass, all men were condemned.” (Romans 5:16,18) Through Adam, mankind had become “sons of disobedience”, “children [sons] of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:2,3; 5:5; Colossians 3:6) Being corrupted, and no longer reflecting God’s glory (Romans 3:23), God could no longer recognize them as His sons, so Paul tells us that “God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” (Romans 1:28; see also Romans 7:20) And thus mankind came in need of a rebirth, a regeneration, to sonship of God.
The word “regeneration” comes from the Greek word Paliggenesia (Strong’s #3824). This word is only found twice in the Bible: “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'” (Matthew 19:28) “not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) At first glance, it may appear that the two scriptures contradict each other. Jesus speaks of the regeneration as something in the future, when the apostles have been exalted to judgment, whereas Paul in Titus seems to speak of it as something already accomplished in believers. Both statements are correct, however, as we shall see.
Jesus sets the regeneration in the age to come, the resurrection day — the last day — when the saints will rule and judge Israel and the world as co-rulers with Jesus. Jesus was in, in effect, speaking of that regeneration when he spoke the famous words to Nicodemnus as recorded in John 3:16,17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved [delivered] through him.” Likewise, Jesus was speaking of the day of regeneration when he said: “If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn’t believe, I don’t judge him. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects me, and doesn’t receive my sayings, has one who judges him. The word that I spoke, the same will judge him in the last day.” (John 12:47,48) By saying this, Jesus identifies the day of judgment of the world as “the last day”.
Paul spoke of the “last day” — the world’s day of judgment — as recorded in Acts 17:31: God ” has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.” God does not do the actual judging, but he has appointed his Son to do the judging for him. Thus Jesus stated: “For neither does the Father judge any man, but he has given all judgment [the power and authority to judge] to the Son.” (John 5:22) Paul also lets us know that the saints will participate with Jesus in that judgment, when he asked the question: “Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2) Paul probably had in mind the prophecy of Daniel, that “judgment [the power and authority] was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” (Daniel 7:22) Thus the authority and time when the saints are to judge the world is linked with the kingdom — Messiah’s kingdom. John saw this in vision as he records in Revelation 20:4: “I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment [authority and power to judge] was given to them.”
It is in that last day of judgment that the regeneration of the world takes place, and that is why Jesus spoke of that day as ‘in the regeneration” when the apostles are said to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. In order for the disbelieving world to be judged in the day, they must be brought back to life, in effect, “made alive”, “born again”. (1 Corinthians 15:22) Thus, Jesus says that in that time of regeneration, “the hour comes, in which all that are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29) Jesus speaks of two resurrections, one to life, and one to judgment. The one to judgment is what Jesus was speaking of in John 12:47,48. As we have shown in our other studies, that day of judgment is not a doomsday, but a day of salvation. Our point now is that the regeneration belongs to that day. So how is that Paul, in his letter to Titus, speaks of it as applying to believers now?
Going back to Romans, we find that Paul explains how this is. Paul tells us that God “calls the things that are not, as though they were.” (Romans 4:17) In Hebrews we learn that those who accept the call in this age taste of “the powers of the age to come”. (Hebrews 6:5) Thus, the believers in this age are “reckoned”, “counted”, “imputed” as righteous and alive in the eyes of God, before the day of regeneration has actually begun. In this manner, God can call out beforehand a people for his name in this age, as a firstfruits to God, who can become the seed of Abraham with Jesus, by faith, in order to bless and judge the nations with Christ in the age to come. — Genesis 22:18; 26:4; Galatians 3:8,16,26-29.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The promise through Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth would blessed suggests a promise of a king and kingdom who would bring about such blessings. Any who have not carefully examined this subject, with concordance and Bible in hand, will be surprised, on doing so, to find its prominence in the Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures abound with promises and prophecies in which the Kingdom of God and its King, Messiah, figure as the very center. It was the hope of every Israelite (Luke 3:15) that as a people God would exalt their nation under Messiah. When Jesus came to them, it was as their King, to establish the long promised Kingdom of God upon the earth. John, the forerunner and herald of our Lord Jesus, opened his mission with the announcement, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) Jesus commenced his ministry with the same announcement exactly (Matthew 4:17); and the apostles were sent forth to preach the same message. (Matthew 10:7; Luke 9:2) Additionally, Jesus said to Nicodemus: “unless one is born [begotten] anew, he can’t see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Not only was the kingdom the topic with which Jesus began his public ministry, but it was really the main topic of all his preaching (Luke 8:1; 4:43; 19:11), other subjects being mentioned merely in connection with or in explanation of this one subject. The majority of his parables were either illustrations of the kingdom from various standpoints, and in different features, or else served to point out entire consecration to God as essential to a share in the kingdom, and to correct the Jewish misapprehension that they were sure of the kingdom because natural children of Abraham, and hence natural heirs to the promises.
Our Lord Jesus in his talks with his followers strengthened and encouraged their expectations of a coming kingdom, saying to them, “I make a covenant with you as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging [ruling] the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:29,30, RL Improved Rendering) And, again, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) And when, instead of being crowned and enthroned, their recognized king was killed, his disciples were sorely disappointed. As two of them expressed it to the supposed stranger on their way to Emmaus after his resurrection, they “were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel”– delivering them from the Roman yoke, and making of Israel the Kingdom of God in power and glory. But they were sadly disappointed by the changes of the few days previous. Then Jesus opened their understanding by showing them from the Scriptures that his sacrifice was needful first of all before the kingdom could be established. — Luke 24:21,25-27.
God could have given to Jesus the dominion of earth without redeeming man; for “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will..” (Daniel 4:32) But God had a grander design than could have been accomplished by such a plan. Such a kingdom could have brought blessings which, however good, could have been of only a temporary character, since all of mankind were under condemnation to death. To make the blessings of his kingdom everlasting and complete, the race had first to be ransomed from death and thus legally released from the condemnation and the bondage of corruption which passed upon all in Adam. — 1 Corinthians 15:21,22; Romans 5:12-19; 8:19-22.
1. The Greek word gennao (Strong’s #1080) can be rendered different ways. The King James Version renders it several ways, including the following: begat, born, be born, bear, gender, bring forth, be delivered, conceived.