Mysteries of the Kingdom

                                                   photo by Laurin Guadiana, cc-by-sa-2.5, wikimedia commons


    Much has been made of the stealthy visit-by-night of old Saint Nick (Nicodemas), yet we ignore the elephant in the room that evening. We tend to slice John 3:16 out of context, selling Nick's encounter as if it were a lesson from Jesus about how He was going to die on the cross for the sins of the world. That night, Jesus never mentioned a sacrifice for sins; He talked about what He almost always talked about: His Kingdom.
    Nick did not hear about a sacrificial lamb; he heard the "gospel of God" - good news of God's kingdom.
    Nick humbled himself that night by calling Jesus, Rabbi. He then recognized the authority of Jesus not only as Rabbi, but as heaven-sent, proven through signs and wonders from God. Nick came that night to hear what all Israel wanted to hear in those days; he came to hear about the promised kingdom. The gospel Jesus gave Nick was the same gospel He preached everywhere: God's Kingdom is near to you. Jesus explained to him that night three mysteries of the Kingdom.

    First, Jesus told Nick the Kingdom was invisible until entered and that the entrance to the Kingdom is not a gate, a drawbridge, or a highway. The first words of Jesus that night were, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  The entrance to the invisible Kingdom is birth by the Holy Spirit. He went on to say, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." In John 3:8-13, He encouraged Nick to stretch his mind, not easily rejecting the message, but carefully considering it like a mystery. Just as the wind is mysterious and invisible, so too are people born of God's Spirit; we are mysterious parts of an invisible Kingdom.

    In verses 14-21, Jesus revealed a second mystery to Nicodemas. He did not preach to Nicodemas guilt, sacrifices, or atonement (which are true, but are deeper truths generally reserved for kingdom-citizens). Instead, Jesus helped Nick see Psalm Two as God's love instead of God's wrath. The reader is encouraged to study Psalm Two, then compare it to John 3:14-21 as all Israel saw the Messiah and the Kingdom of God through the lens of Psalm Two. Jesus never talked lambs, blood, or atonement with Nick. He talked Kingdom. Please take a few minutes now to read Psalm Two; it is the elephant in the room that night between Jesus and Nicodemas.
    Jesus essentially said the Messiah-King (God's Son) of Psalm two was sent not to destroy rebels, but to be visible to rebels for healing(Jn3:14-16). That Psalm had always appeared to be message of anger with God's Son (the Messiah) being a vessel of destruction, not of life.

    In John 3:18 Jesus revealed a third mystery to his guest: salvation comes by believing in the identity of the Messiah-King, the Son of God. Compared below are John 3:13&18 with Proverbs 30:4 which asks the name/identity of God's Son.
    Prv 30:4 "Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!"
    Jn 3:13,18 "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man... he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

    The elephant in the room that night was the obvious topic of their conversation which we have managed to miss: the Kingdom of God. The gospel that night was the same gospel Jesus always preached: God's Kingdom had come near to Nicodemas. The kingdom mysteries Jesus revealed that night were threefold. First, that the kingdom's invisible entrypoint was a new identity or birth by God's Holy Spirit. Second, that the King was God's gift to the world, not God's way of destroying rebels. Third, that the difference between life in the kingdom and death outside the kingdom was believing in the correct identity of the anointed King who Psalm two called God's only begotten Son.
     I submit that Old Saint Nick's conversation with Jesus can not be fully understood apart from Psalm Two. The purpose of their conversation is the same purpose as the entire book of John which he summarized in 20:31, "but these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the [King], the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name."*

"If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,'
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved." (Rom 10:9 hcsb)

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God" (1Jn5:1a hscb)

     Nick did not leave the King that night thinking, "My guilt will be laid on that man, and he will suffer on a cross my punishment as a sacrificial atonement for sins. I should transfer my trust from self-righteousness to his imputed righteousness on my behalf." He left thinking about the promised kingdom of Psalm two in a new light. Jesus indirectly alluded to the cross, but directly spoke of the kingdom because His kingdom is the gospel. The atonement of sins is a truth reserved by Jesus and His apostles for those who have entered the kingdom; they did not preach the atonement to outsiders as the gospel. Documentation of their gospel preaching can be found <here>.


* John 20:31 quoted from HCSB version with "King" substituted where HCSB reads "Messiah"

"Gospel of Nicodemas" by Matthew Bryan was first published at February 6th, 2013. All rights are reserved. Scripture quotations are from NASB except where otherwise noted. NASB quotes permitted by the Lockman Foundation at

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