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Jesus found a large reception amongst His relatives and friends in Galilee. The extraordinary invitation to the marriage-feast is the first intimation of this; then the faith of His mother, the bold faith of the servants at that feast, the susceptibility of the guests themselves to the impression of the miracle and its effects, and finally, the readiness of His brethren, with His mother, to leave their home, in order to attach themselves to Him, and accompany Him to Capernaum. In this passage John places the brethren of Jesus even before the disciples; it cannot mislead us as to the susceptibility of His brethren for the light which was in Him, that they afterwards temporarily expressed their unbelief (chap. vii. 5; comp. vol. i. 429).
But if Jesus had thus already found a reception in the narrower circles of the pious and the unknown in the land, the question always remained, whether He would meet with a similar recognition in the great centre of Jewish life itself, on one of the festival celebrations of the nation. This question was soon to come to a decision.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple the sellers of oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the money-changers sitting—having established themselves there. And having made a scourge of rush-cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, "Take these things hence! Make not My Father's house an house of merchandise !' And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house eateth me up? (Ps. Ixix. 9). Thus does Christ first appear in the national assembly of Israel as a prophet, filled with zeal for the sanctification of the temple. By employing the scourge against the oxen and sheep, and driving them out, He also drove out the sellers, and with them the buyers. By going straight before Him, hither and thither, He pushed against the tables of the money-changers, which ought not to have been there, so that the money was poured out and the tables were overturned. But the doves, which were in the cages, He could not drive out; He therefore commanded the dealers to remove them, and gave at the same time the ground of His conduct. Nevertheless the Jews met Him with the ques
· The reading xaraçáryetar is the most accredited.
tion, 'What sign showest thou unto us, that thou mayest do these things ?' To this Jesus answered with the declaration, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, ' Forty and six years was this temple in building, and thou wilt raise it up in three days !' But He-adds the Evangelist -spake of the temple of His body. For the temple in Jerusalem was the symbol of the Old Testament theocracy, and His body was the true temple, in which God revealed Himself to the covenant people. If they thus killed His body, they destroyed the edifice of the Old Testament theocracy, which the temple on Moriah represented (see vol. ii. 301). To this John points in the words that follow : When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. Now, while He was—thus-at Jerusalem (in the chief city) at the Passover (the grand national festival), many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them-did not give Himself to be known by them as the Messiah, as if their faith had been a ripe act of recognition on the part of the people—for He knew them all, and needed not that any one should testify to Him of man; for He Himself knew what was in man.
The disciples of John had first come to believe in Him through the testimony of the Baptist regarding the divine revelation which had been imparted to him ; through the announcement that Jesus was the Lamb of God; and through the penetrating glances which He had cast into their heart, and by which He had characterized their distinctive individuality. The relatives and friends of Jesus had come to believe in Him through the benign miracle performed at Cana; but the first sign by which Jesus aroused the people, was the purification of the temple. It was quite in accordance with the legal character of the people—an act which reminded them of the uncompromising zeal of Old Testament prophets, although followed, no doubt, by more friendly signs. The first impression which Jesus thereby made on the people was decidedly favourable. All minds, in which there was any affinity to the light, felt themselves drawn towards Him. Many believed in Him; and a less penetrating look than His might have led to the conclusion, that the time was already come when He might reveal Himself to the people of Israel as the Messiah. But His eye did not allow itself to be deceived by any favourable appearances : He did not commit Himself to His admirers. And for this end He needed no warning on the part of others, who perhaps were well acquainted with the disposition of the metropolis : He Himself knew what was in man.
Even upon the members of the Sanhedrim and upon the Pharisees did Jesus at that time make a strong impression. Some of them felt attracted towards Him; one appeared already to be half, or at bottom wholly, gained as a disciple—Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was a man who not only belonged to the party of the Pharisees, but was a member of the Sanhedrim. This man came to Jesus by night; without doubt, because he still feared to visit Him openly by the light of day. With this indication of his fear of man, in which a true anticipation of the approaching alienation of his party and of his companions in office from Christ expressed itself, was now indeed strongly contrasted the highly promising communication which he made to Jesus : Master, we know that thou art come from God as teacher; for no man can do these signs which thou doest, except God be with him.'
Nicodemus believed himself already warranted to give Him the assurance, in the name of many, nay, in the name of his associates generally, that they were convinced of His divine mission, and that, too, on distinct dogmatic grounds, namely, by the strength of the proof derived from His miracles. He had an upright appreciation of the glory of the Lord; but this manifested itself still in the form of his old life—as party opinion, as an inadequate conception of the mission of Christ; partly also as a rationalizing knowledge, which inclined to take the place of faith ; and partly as a reflective orthodoxy, which assumed to be the true life of the Spirit.
Christ recognised the situation with His divine, searching glance. He saw that with Nicodemus the method of a gentle and gradual process would lead to no result; that he must be gained by an arousing flash of truth. He therefore addressed him with these words : “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God, —that is, not even see, to say nothing of already knowing its
mysteries, pledging its advent, or becoming security for its citizens.
With these words He manifestly called in question the birth from above in the case of Nicodemus himself, not to speak of the associates, whom he supposed himself to represent. And, further, He gave him to know that He did not allow the symbolical new birth of the Jews, which consisted in circumcision and in washings, to pass for the real.
Of any other new birth, however, Nicodemus knew nothing; and the supposition that he should know of any other, nay, that he himself must still pass through this other, appeared to him offensive, the more so that it seemed to place him among the (even according to Jewish opinion) unregenerate heathen. Nevertheless he would not unconditionally assail the doctrinal statement of Jesus, but only, as it were, sideways.
It may have hovered upon his tongue to ask, What need is there for a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrim, once more to be born again ? But a warning thought restrained this question; and thus he came to the conclusion to take the expression of Jesus literally, and with a facetious evasion to appeal to his age, whilst he replied :
How can a man be born again when he is already old ? Can he enter the second time (again) into his mother's womb, and be born?' In a figurative manner, he wishes to intimate that he holds a real regeneration, besides the legal-formal regeneration by water, to be impossible.
Jesus did not allow Himself to be turned aside by the excited and half-ironical words of the embarrassed old man.
With a second authoritative declaration He confirmed the first, whilst He at the same time explained it: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'
In a regeneration by water, by washings, which sealed the act of circumcision, and which lately had adopted the form of the baptism by John, Nicodemus also believed. But the water alone seemed to him to be sufficient for regeneration ; and it was just this regeneration which, in his evasive answer, he had had in his thoughts, without confessing it.
Christ therefore demanded, in the most emphatic manner, VOL. VI.
the regeneration by water and spirit. At one stroke He thus pointed out the real meaning of Nicodemus, and at the same time set aside his plea. Regeneration by water is not sufficient, He said: of a second birth according to the flesh, however, there cannot even be a question, but rather in the room of the fleshly birth must there come a new birth by the Spirit. At the same time He impressed it on his heart, that the matter in hand did not merely concern the seeing of the kingdom of God, but the entering into it. He then proceeded to urge still further the necessity of the birth by the Spirit:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' The contrast between these two modes of birth— between the birth by the flesh into the fleshly life, and the birth by the Spirit into the spiritual life—makes a new birth to be necessary for all who are born of the flesh.
• Marvel not that I have said unto thee, Ye must be born from above (anew). The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth : so is every one that is born of the Spirit.'
First must the man who is born of the flesh acknowledge the fact that there is a spiritual life opposed to the flesh, although he neither knows its origin nor its end. For the Spirit, who is the life of this life, attests it, by His revelation, His operation, His voice. This relationship is made clear to human conception
. by the wind, which is a symbol of the Spirit of God. The wind forms a contrast to the life of the earth, similar to that of the Spirit to the outward life of man. One might be disposed to doubt of the existence of the wind, as of the being of a Holy Spirit, because one does not see it; but it makes itself known by its voice: and so must one believe in its being, even if one does not know its outgoings and ultimate ends. So is it then also with the Spirit, and with the children of the Spirit.
Nicodemus could not fail to hear in the words of Christ the voice of the Spirit, which testified of a new life. He now already perceived dimly the necessity of such a new birth, but he still despaired of the possibility of it, and in this sense replied, “How can these things be?' Jesus answered, “Art thou the teacher of Israel—who, as the first spokesman of their Sanhedrim, wilt now represent Israel in the knowledge of the Messiah—and thou knowest not these things ? Verily, verily, I say unto thee'