Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Born of water and the Spirit (part 2)

One thing I missed out in my brief consideration of the meaning of John 3:5 is the Exodus typology which runs throughout the section. It provides further support to the idea that the watery birth referred to in verse 5 is baptism.

First of all, the scene begins at night (verse 2a), just like the original Exodus. Jesus is introduced as a new Moses (verse 2b), one who teaches Israel and performs miraculous signs. It is in this context that Jesus announces that noone can understand God's kingdom without being born again. Jesus isn't simply speaking of individuals, Israel as a nation has become spiritually dead and needs to be reborn through a new exodus.

Nicodemus is sceptical. He isn't convinced that Israel can really be reborn in this way, for "How can a man be born when he is old?" (verse 4) Jesus answers that we can only enter the kingdom of God by being born of water and the Spirit (verse 5). Just as Israel of old passed through the waters of the sea and were led by the cloud of God, so too must a new Israel be born of water and the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 treats this passing through the water and the cloud as a baptism and so should we.

Some have suggested that the verses which follow demonstrate that the Spirit is too fast and loose to be bound by a sacrament, but under closer examination, we see that this is not the case. Jesus explains that through baptism, fleshly Israel became spiritual Israel (verse 6). Jesus confirms that he is speaking of all Israel when He says "You(plural) must be born again." (verse 7) He then goes on to state that, just like Israel of old, the new Israel of God are led by the Spirit through the wilderness (verse 8). Jesus is not describing the Spirit's work of rebirth when he states that the Spirit blows where he wills, rather he is teaching us that those born of the Spirit are as wispy and mysterious as the Spirit himself is, since they are led by that same Spirit.

The rest of the passage continues the theme. Jesus is the new bronze serpent who absorbs the curse of Israel (verses 13-14). He is also the Glory-light of God (verses 19-21) who dwelt in the cloud (the Spirit) and led Israel of old through the darkness of night and into the light of day. In summary: a new Israel must make a new exodus out of an old, Egypt-like Israel and be baptised in order to receive the Holy Spirit. This can only be accomplished by a new and greater Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the radiant Glory of his Father.

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