The effect of Jesus’ teaching was evident from the start. In his first public appearance at the temple in Jerusalem, when he declared his intent to rise from the dead, John tells us of Jesus that “many believed in his name” (John 2:23). Although the religious leaders were probably already plotting to kill Jesus, one man had the courage and conviction to find out for himself what exactly the term basileia (bas – il – i’ – ah) ouranos (oo – ran os’) or “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 3:2) meant. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, a member of the group that eventually condemned Jesus to death. He came to visit Jesus at night for one of two reasons, either Nicodemus didn’t want anyone to know he was there or he intended to have a lengthy discussion with Jesus and wanted to speak to him when he had more time available. Nicodemus stated plainly the reason for his visit. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).
Nicodemus wanted to know the truth. He believed that Jesus was a prophet, but was obviously still struggling with the possibility that God had actually kept his promise and had finally sent his Messiah, Jesus to save his chosen people. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the reason he couldn’t make sense of what was happening was because he hadn’t been born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus’ response indicated that he was looking at things from a human or material perspective. He asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus then explained to Nicodemus that being born again had nothing to do with the physical realm. He wanted Nicodemus to understand that in order to see the spiritual realm or kingdom of heaven, one had experience a spiritual birth, a birth just like or similar to the birth that brought him into the physical world, but completely different in its effect upon his life.
Jesus’ lengthy conversation with Nicodemus centered around the fact that a requirement for entrance into God’s kingdom was belief in him. He told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:14-17). Jesus’ repetition of the statement “whosoever believeth in him should not perish” placed the emphasis on everyone, both Jews and non-Jews, being able to be saved as long as they believed in him. This declaration made it clear to Nicodemus that God’s chosen people were those who would by their own volition make a conscious choice to receive salvation through Jesus Christ. The great truth that motivated God’s plan of salvation was that he wanted to save the world, and therefore, made it possible through a process of spiritual adoption for everyone to be born again (Ephesians 1:4-5).