Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
Except a Man . . . . (2)
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again [born from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)
John introduces a bringing forth out of God (1:13), a birth [a bringing forth] from above (3:3-8), in the opening part of his gospel. And the context surrounding John’s introduction is in relation to the Jewish people, signs, and the proffered kingdom (1:11, 12; 3:2, 3).
John then calls attention to the same thing — a bringing forth out of God — ten times in his first epistle (2:29; 3:9 [twice]; 4:7; 5:1 [three times]; 5:4; 5:18 [twice]). And from the subject matter of 1 John and the context surrounding these ten usages of the expression, it appears quite evident that the message surrounding the matter is simply a continuation of that introduced in his gospel (to the Jew only during the original offer of the kingdom [when the recorded events occurred (Matthew 10:5, 6; 15:24)], and to the Jew first during the re-offer [when both the gospel of John and 1 John, because of their subject matter, were undoubtedly written (Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10)]). But, during the re-offer, as seen in the referenced verses from Romans, the message was “also to the Greek [also to the Gentile].”
Then, the matter in 1 Peter (1:3, 23), contextually, has to do with Christians, with those taken from both the Jews and the Gentiles. It has to do with the “one new man,” a new creation “in Christ,” where the distinction between Jew and Gentile does not, it cannot, exist (Ephesians 2:11-15; 3:1-6; cf. Galatians 3:26-29).
From a contextual standpoint, whether dealing with being brought forth from above, out of God, from the gospel of John, 1 John, or 1 Peter, it would be very forced and unnatural to view any of these texts as referring to an unsaved person believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and passing “from death to life.” Though this is what Bible students and teachers invariably do, such should never be the case. The various contexts simply will not allow this type of interpretation of any one of these passages.
And though a bringing forth from above, out of God, is what occurs when an individual is saved (it has to occur, else salvation could not be effected, for salvation is brought to pass entirely through divine intervention), the texts in these three books should not be used in this manner. Salvation by grace is simply not the subject at hand.
Though using these verses relative to salvation by grace may result in positive end results (i.e., result in individuals being saved), there is a negative consequence that cannot be ignored. Using these verses in this erroneous manner will do away with the exact teaching that the Spirit intended when He moved John and Peter to pen the various things that they recorded. This type of use of these verses will do away with the thought of saved individuals being brought forth out of God relative to a revealed goal — the kingdom (for the Jew only during the time of the offer of the kingdom, for the Jew first and also the Gentile during the time of the re-offer of the kingdom [Christians referenced by “Gentile”], and for Christians alone since that time).
Offer, Re-offer of the Kingdom
In verses such as Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10; 10:12 (cf. Galatians 2:2; Ephesians 3:6; Colossians 1:27) — referring to both the Jews and the Gentiles — a distinction was made between two groups of saved individuals during the time when the kingdom of the heavens was being re-offered to Israel (from 33 A.D. to about 62 A.D.). A distinction, using terminology of this nature relative to the saved — Jew and Gentile — was necessary at that time, for the generation of saved Jews living both preceding and following Calvary was still alive and was being reckoned with on the basis of the kingdom (the same generation of Jews that had rejected and crucified their King [cf. Matthew 2:2; John 19:14-19]).
However, such would not be the case following this time. Rather, following the close of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, referring to saved Jews and Gentiles in this manner would be out of place.
And the reason is evident. During the time of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, as previously stated, God dealt with a generation of Jews whose origin preceded Calvary — a saved generation of Jews, else there could have been no offer or subsequent re-offer of the kingdom.
However, the re-offer of the kingdom could continue only as long as this generation of Jews remained alive and on the scene. But once this generation began to be replaced by a new generation, whose origin followed Calvary, the re-offer of the kingdom could not be continued. A saved generation of Jews, to whom the offer could be extended, no longer existed, necessitating a close to the re-offer of the kingdom.
Those comprising the previous generation would have availed themselves of the blood of the slain paschal lambs preceding Calvary, and their rejection of the Christ as the nation’s King could not have done away with that which had previously occurred. It could not have done away with a previous vicarious death of the firstborn, which God could only have clearly recognized, as He had previously done during Moses’ day (Exodus 12:1-13).
To think otherwise and say or infer that the events of Calvary could have done away with the previous vicarious death for those comprising that generation would be to open the door for the same thing to have occurred with all previous generations, taking the matter all the way back to Moses, with Moses himself being included.
However, any generation of Jews born following Calvary (from the first century until today) could only fulfill God’s requirement pertaining to the necessity of the death of the firstborn through death and shed blood, as seen in Exodus chapter twelve, one way.
The Paschal Lamb had been slain, the One foreshadowed by all the paschal lambs slain from Moses to Christ. This part of the Passover had been fulfilled. Thus, following the time of Christ’s death, God no longer recognized a continued slaying of paschal lambs. And, following this time, for anyone (Jew or Gentile, no distinction existed) to realize a vicarious death of the firstborn, to be saved, that person had to avail himself/herself of the blood of the Paschal Lamb who had died in their place. That person had to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Accordingly, following the time of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel, the expression “Christian,” those comprising “the Church of God,” would be the proper expression used relative to the saved. Following this time, “Jew” and/or “Gentile” would refer to the unsaved rather than, as in certain previous times, to two groups of saved individuals.
(Note though that the same distinction and terminology used following the close of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel was also used during the time of the re-offer [Acts 11:26; 1 Corinthians 10:32]. But, during this time, because those to whom the offer was being extended [saved Jews, comprising the nation at large] were not part of the Church of God, the distinction and terminology as seen in Romans 1:16 had to exist as well.)
The gospel of John is where the matter of being brought forth from above, out of God, is introduced, in so many words, in the New Testament. John though doesn’t introduce something new in Scripture. He simply uses different terminology to describe something that should have been well-known by the Jewish people, for a bringing forth from above, a bringing forth out of God is seen over and over throughout not only Israel’s history but Scripture as a whole.
And an expected understanding of this truth from Scripture would have been particularly true for Israel’s religious leaders. This is why Nicodemus in John 3:1ff would have been expected to immediately recognize that to which Christ referred (cf. John 7:45-52), which accounts for Christ’s sharp rebuke when he failed to do so.
The truth of the matter concerning exactly what is involved becomes increasingly evident as one studies and understands the Old Testament Scriptures to which Jesus alluded in His conversation with Nicodemus. And, in line with Jesus’ rebuke of Nicodemus, a person could only expect to find matters set forth in this manner — a bringing forth from above, out of God — not only at the outset of Scripture but continuing throughout, which is exactly what is found in the Old Testament.
This is the way Scripture begins, establishing an unchangeable pattern for the manner in which it must, and does, continue.
Note how this is seen in the opening thirty-four verses of Genesis:
1) Genesis 1:1-2:3
This opening section of Scripture forms a skeletal framework that sets forth, at the beginning, a pattern that all subsequent Scripture must follow, a foundational framework upon which the whole of subsequent Scripture rests. God set forth, at the beginning of His Word, in skeletal form, that which He was about to open up and reveal concerning His plans and purposes for man and the earth. The remainder of Scripture is simply commentary, providing all the sinews, flesh, and skin to cover the skeletal, foundational framework set forth at the beginning.
The opening thirty-four verses of Genesis reveal:
a) A Creation (1:1)
b) A Ruin of the Creation (1:2a)
c) A Restoration of the Ruined Creation, occurring over six days of time (with the creation of man occurring on the sixth day, following the completion of God’s restorative work [1:2b-31]).
d) A Seventh Day of Rest (2:1-3)
Chapter two deals with details, commentary, surrounding man from chapter one; and the first part of chapter three deals with the ruin of the new creation (man’s fall, his ruin). Then, the remainder of Scripture covers God’s work restoring the ruined creation over six days, 6,000 years, with a view to the seventh day, a seventh 1,000-year period.
The pattern concerning how God restores a ruined creation has been forever set at the beginning, in the opening thirty-four verses of Scripture. God worked six days to restore a ruined creation, and He then rested the seventh day. And this set pattern, the set method — set perfectly at the beginning — of necessity, must be followed in any subsequent ruin of a creation as it would pertain to the earth or to man.
And, as Scripture reveals, a subsequent ruin occurred almost 6,000 years ago. And, as Scripture also reveals, God began a restorative work at that time, a work following the established pattern, covering six days, 6,000 years (cf. 2 Peter 1:15-18; 3:3-8). Then, once this latter restorative work has been completed, exactly the same thing will occur as seen in Genesis 2:1-3. There will be a seventh day of rest, a concluding 1,000-year day — the prophesied, long-awaited Messianic Era.
During the six days in the restoration of the ruined material creation in Genesis chapter one, the first thing seen is the movement of the Spirit (v. 2b). Then, beyond that, each day of God’s restorative work, from the first day, continuing through the sixth day, begins exactly the same way — “And God said . . . .” (vv. 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24).
The movement of the Spirit, seen at the beginning of God’s restorative work on the first day, can only be understood as continuing throughout the six days — seen moving when God began His work on the first day and continuing to move throughout God’s work during the six days, with matters in this respect brought to a climax at the time God breathed into man “the breath of life” (2:7).
Though this movement of the Spirit is not referred to beyond the initial statement in v. 2b, on the first day, a continued movement during all six days is evident. God does not act in the manner seen throughout His complete restorative work apart from His Spirit (evident, for example, from Christ’s ministry while on earth almost two millennia ago — performing miraculous signs through the power of the Spirit [Matthew 12:24-32]).
And a continued movement of the Spirit is evident through the statement concerning God breathing into man “the breath of life” in Genesis 2:7, for God performs a work of this nature through His Spirit alone (e.g., note Ezekiel 37:1-14 [“Spirit” and “breath” in this passage are translations of the same word in the Hebrew text — Ruach — which, depending on the context, can be understood as either “Spirit” or “breath”]).
Now, with the preceding in mind and understanding that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is foundational to all subsequent Scripture, note something as it would pertain to the statements in the gospel of John, 1 John, or 1 Peter relative to being brought forth from above, out of God. God’s work in this respect doesn’t occur just at the beginning (Genesis 1:2b-5). Rather, it occurs throughout the whole of the restorative process (Genesis 1:6-25).
That would be to say, in that which this complete restorative work foreshadows, God’s work doesn’t stop with the salvation that we presently possess (an initial divine work having to do with the salvation of the spirit, a past and completed work, foreshadowed by divine activity occurring on day one). Rather, it continues throughout that which is seen during the other five days (a continued divine work having to do with the saving of the soul, a present and yet to be completed work, foreshadowed by divine activity occurring on days two through six).
That is to say, viewing a bringing forth from above, out of God, in the original foundational type, such a divine work is seen throughout the restoration, from beginning to end, else there could have been no complete restoration.
And such must be equally true in that which these opening verses of Scripture foreshadow, the ruin and restoration of a subsequent creation — that of man. Exactly as seen in chapter one of Genesis, there must be a bringing forth from above, out of God, throughout the restoration — throughout not only the salvation of the spirit but the salvation of the soul and body as well — else, exactly as in Genesis chapter one, there can be no complete restoration, something vitally necessary if man is to have a part in activities on the seventh day.
Thus, in man’s restoration, it should not be thought of as strange to see this continued restoration stated after the manner seen in the gospel of John, 1 John, or 1 Peter. In fact, in the light of the way Scripture begins (a manner in which it can only continue), it should actually be thought strange if this continued restoration, foreshadowed by events on days two through six, was seen after any other manner in these sections of Scripture. In the light of the way Scripture begins and, of necessity, continues, seeing an allusion to the matter in the gospel of John, 1 John, and 1 Peter could only be very natural.
(For a more exhaustive treatment of Genesis 1:1-2:3, refer to the author’s book, The Study of Scripture, chapters 1-4.)
2) Exodus 12ff
Old Testament commentary on the opening thirty-four verses of Scripture, as it would pertain more particularly to that seen in John 3:3, 5, can possibly best be seen by beginning in Exodus chapter twelve and continuing through the book of Joshua. And this large section of Israeli history is something Nicodemus should have been quite familiar with, allowing him to understand Christ’s statement in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures. But Nicodemus failed to make the proper association, accounting for Christ’s sharp rebuke.
In this respect, note Jesus’ explanatory statement in John 3:5 (explaining that which He had stated in verse three) in the light of Israeli history, beginning with the institution of the Passover in Exodus chapter twelve.
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit [Greek: unless one is born (brought forth) out of water and Spirit], he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
Note how the type, beginning in Exodus chapter twelve, will open the whole of Christ’s statement to one’s understanding.
A) Out of Water
There is probably no way that Nicodemus would have associated Christ’s statements in John 3:3, 5 with the events in Exodus chapter twelve — the Passover. The Passover, the first of seven Jewish festivals given to the Israelites under Moses (cf. Leviticus 23:1ff), had to do with events that Nicodemus would have known that the nation had kept, which Israel had been observing year after year for centuries of time. And, being among Israel’s religious leaders, he could only have been among those participating in these events.
The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus in John 3:1ff could only have been a conversation between Christ and a person who had already experienced the death of the firstborn, as seen in Exodus 12:1ff. And, beyond this, according to that clearly seen and stated in both the text and context, the subject matter had to do with the Jewish people and the kingdom (a people who could only be viewed as saved, having availed themselves of the blood of slain paschal lambs, with the firstborn having died vicariously).
This conversation could have had nothing to do with eternal salvation, which, of necessity, would have related to the events of Exodus chapter twelve. That to which Jesus referred could only be seen in the type as having to do with events beyond the Passover in Exodus 12:1ff. It could only have been understood as having to do with a continued divine work beyond that foreshadowed by the events of day one in Genesis chapter one. It could only have been understood as having to do with that seen throughout days two through six — a continued bringing forth from above, with a goal in view.
In the original type in Genesis 1:1-2:3, this goal is seen as a seventh day of rest. In the type beginning in Exodus chapter twelve, this goal is seen as realizing an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy. And both types point to different facets of exactly the same thing, occurring during exactly the same time — events during the 1,000-year Messianic Era, which will be the seventh millennium following six millennia of divine restorative work.
Born out of water from John 3:5, in the type beginning in Exodus chapter twelve, can only have to do with the Red Sea passage following the Passover. The Israelites (who had experienced the death of the firstborn) were then taken down into the Sea, symbolizing burial following death (taken down into the place of death) and raised up out of the Sea, symbolizing resurrection (raised up out of the place of death) and placed on the eastern banks of the Sea (Exodus 12-15).
They stood on the eastern banks of the Sea through supernatural means, wherein resurrection power was exhibited. And they stood in this position with a view to an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
The Israelites, passing through the Sea, had gone down into the place of death. Only the dead are to be buried, and the death of the firstborn had just occurred. Thus, a burial must also occur. But beyond burial, with a vicarious death of the firstborn, there must also be a resurrection.
The Israelites, following the death of the firstborn, possessed spiritual life. Thus, they had to be raised from the place of death to walk “in newness of life” — something having to do with the spiritual man alone, for this resurrection has nothing to do with the man of flesh. He is to be left in the place of death.
This is pictured during the present dispensation through the act of baptism. A person (a Christian), having experienced the death of the firstborn vicariously (through the blood of the Paschal Lamb who died in his stead), is placed down in the waters. He then, within the symbolism involved, finds himself in the place of death, beneath the waters.
But, because the One providing the vicarious death conquered death, the Christian can be removed from the waters and find himself in the position of having been raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12; 3:1ff).
And in this position — wrought through supernatural, resurrection power — the Christian is to walk “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), with a view to an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
It is going down into the place of death because of the death of the firstborn, and it is rising from this place, as Christ was raised, because the person possesses spiritual life. And this rising has to do with the spiritual man alone, for; again, this resurrection has nothing to do with the man of flesh. He is to be left in the place of death.
B) Out of Spirit
In John 3:5, Christ not only referred to a birth (a bringing forth) out of water in the preceding respect, but He also referred to a birth (a bringing forth) out of Spirit as well.
In the type, this is seen through the Israelites, on the eastern banks of the Sea, being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, as they moved toward an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
And the antitype is evident. A Christian, raised from the waters to walk “in newness of life,” has the indwelling Spirit to lead him into all truth, as he moves toward an inheritance in another land, within a theocracy.
There must be a resurrection in view. Then, the one raised from the place of death must follow the man of spirit, allowing the Spirit to fill and lead him throughout his pilgrim journey (cf. Ephesians 5:18, 19; Colossians 3:16).
And the entire matter rests upon that initially seen and set forth in an unchangeable fashion in Genesis 1:2b-25 — the ruined creation removed from its watery grave and completely restored over six days time by means of a work of the Spirit throughout.
This is why both (“water” and “Spirit”) are set forth side-by-side in John 3:5; and this is why the epistles, drawing from the types, go to such great lengths to call all the various facets of this matter to a Christian’s attention. Only through this dual means can a Christian be successfully led to the goal of his calling. Only through this dual means can a Christian enter into the kingdom of God.