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.”John 3:1-2
John 3 is a very powerful passage that speaks deeply to the issue of spiritual birth as well as the grounds of salvation. The conversation in the night between Nicodemus and Jesus would be because of the highly potential consequences Nicodemus would face with being a man of the Pharisees. Yet there were questions that he could not stifle; observations he could not overlook. Not only was he of the Pharisees, but Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews within his Pharisaic role. The term for ruler here has the idea of administrative authority.
Combine being administrative, ruling over Jews in his area, being regarded well by other Pharisees to have such a position among them, and the fact that he brought around 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes (some versions like HCSB and ESV label it “75 pounds”) which was a small fortune in itself (Jn 19:39), and you will begin to see the kind of man approaching Jesus. He was a logical man who probably was good with numbers and had his “ducks in a row.” Actually, all that we can see of Nicodemus and his interaction with Jesus shows him to be a very intelligent person.
Nicodemus had seen Jesus do miracles himself. The miracles of Jesus are often called “signs” as they are indicators of who He is. They confirm the claims to the people around Him, but without the Spirit’s working and the people seeing, all anyone would be enamored with was the miracle itself. Nicodemus’s first words to Jesus were incredibly profound because in one statement he said what the point of the miracles were all along: “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.”
Sometimes, contrasting passages in Scripture can help us to think a bit more dimensionally towards a verse or a concept. From other Pharisees, we see quite the opposite statement to John 3:2 in Matthew 12:24: “Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” The doctrine concerning the “unpardonable sin” is found in this passage. Let’s briefly look at the other verses to follow from Matthew 12:25-32:
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Typically, the response most folks have given over the years towards the question, “What is the unpardonable sin?” would generally be the brief response of disbelief. In all actuality, the unpardonable sin is most likely a time-sensitive sin, limited to the time of Jesus in His physical, earthly ministry. As they saw Him work miracles and as it became increasingly, painfully obvious that He could not do these signs without God’s empowerment through the Holy Spirit, they in their hardness of hearts chose to denounce what they saw by dismissing His works as done by the devil’s empowerment. Yet Jesus would ask them pointedly about this as to how or why Satan would stand against himself and not be divided. Essentially, he was saying, “How can some evil spirits possess someone while others empower people to stand against them and cast them out?”
Therefore, the blasphemy (to defame, slander, disrespect) of the Spirit is to see that which He empowers and to dismiss the sign. Is unbelief unpardonable? No, it is pardoned all the time when a person relents from disbelief. We are speaking more to hardness in the face of the obvious. Pharoah, when approached by Moses in the Old Testament, who would face plague after plague and the death of the firstborn, refused to bow the knee to God when all the signs pointed to the God of the Israelites was superior to his false gods. Hardness is like refusing to believe in gravity after you’ve jumped out of a plane. When someone sees the work of God and refuses to accept it for what it is, which is the nature of what the Pharisees were doing, that is what Jesus says is unforgivable.
Here’s the point: Nicodemus concluded the truth regarding the miracles of Jesus. He didn’t deny them or reject Christ or seek to stifle the message. “We know” is the observational knowledge that is being developed; it makes sense, as the miracles of Jesus were observed openly and continuously.
“We know that you are a teacher come from God.” Note this: when Nicodemus says “come from God,” he isn’t saying “sent” by God. The word and its usage here mean “of movement from one place to another” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). What is he saying? He is saying that Jesus came from being with the God the Father; the many places this word is used in the New Testament speak of someone coming from somewhere else, such as Acts 18:2 in speaking of Aquila coming from Italy. As to who Nicodemus is including when he says “we” is not certain, but he certainly recognized Jesus as a teacher or rabbi who had come from the Father’s presence: Jesus could only be the Son of God.
The last part of v. 2 says, “For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.” This conclusion of belief is the reason for the miracles. We should all conclude that no one has the ability to do these miracles, these signs, unless God is with Him. The small word “with” is referring to the supportive nature of God the Father with Christ in His ministry.
What happens when someone faces biblical truth and draws the conclusions it intends for them to draw? The answer is belief; it is a statement of belief. Belief is not so much a decision as it is a conclusion, a response to what one is convinced is true. John 20:30-31 says these words:
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
While it would have been awesome to have seen the miracles of Jesus first-hand, there is still a miracle that happens every time someone is presented with biblical truth, sees the Savior as well as their sin, and believes in Him as the Holy Spirit convicts and woos them to Christ. If you are a believer, thank God for the work He’s done in saving you and in transforming you, too. If you’re not a believer, I challenge you to read God’s word and to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. Pray and ask God for help in seeing and believing if that’s where you’re at. Blessings!
Prayer from Pastor Sam:
Lord, thank You for John 3. It has been a passage used in the salvation of many people of the years and is always a comfort to read. Thank You that belief is all You seek; not works, not perfection, but entrusting ourselves to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf. Thank You for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Thank you for our church and the people in it. Help us to love You and remember how much we’re loved by You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.