One of the most famous sayings of Yeshua was, “You must be born again…” – John 3:3. This was also a landmark “theological” statement, if we could call it that.
It was said to Nikodemos, one of the leaders of the Jewish religious council (Sanhedrin). He is described in the New Covenant as a righteous man. For the sake of the context of the need to be “born again,” Nikodemos represents the highest level of righteousness: keeper of the moral law, man of integrity, socially responsible, respected by his religious peers, no major sins in his life.
It is purposely and precisely to this type of man that Yeshua chose to say, “You must be born again.” He is saying in effect:
“You are a person of high moral conduct, the very best that could humanly be expected. But moral conduct is not enough. There is something wrong at the core of the human race that is beyond conduct. Human beings are defective in the present state. There MUST be a total change, not only in what you do, but in who you are.”
The message of the Bible says that all men have sinned; some more; some less. But all need to repent, which is to change our thoughts and behavior. However, that moral repentance is only a start. It is not enough. The problem is not only that we have sinned but that we are sinners.
Yeshua is in effect telling this dignified and respected man, “Your problem is not a sinful action, but the sinful nature.”
We need not only a change in conduct, but a change in character. We need to start over. We need a total “restart.”
The problem with the human race is not only socially determined behavior, but inbred nature. We have a birth defect. We have a genetic defect.
The word for “born” in Greek is gennao. This is the root of the words, generic, genetic, generational. Human sinfulness and selfishness is a generic problem, a genetic defect, a generational curse.
Since the problem is “gennao” in essence, it must have a “gennao” solution. We already have the “disease” of sinfulness and mortality at birth. So the cure must be a new kind of birth, a new birth, a new “gennao.”
What kind of “new” birth would that have to be? The word for “again” in “born again” in Greek is anothen. This is an unusual word, found 13 times in the New Covenant. To my understanding it has five slightly different meanings, that all combine together what Yeshua is saying here.
- Top down – In Matthew 27:51 and Mark 15:38, the veil in the Temple is torn from top downward. In John 19:23, Yeshua’s cloak is woven from the top downward. In this sense, Yeshua said we must be born “top downward,” or as in many translations, “from above.”
- “Of the Spirit” – John 1:13 states that to be children of God we must be born, not of human will, nor of human flesh. John 3:6 and 3:8 reiterate that we need to be reborn by an action of the Spirit of God; it is not a physical act; it is not even within the ability of human will. It takes place in the spirit of man empowered by the Spirit of God.
- “From heaven” – John 3:31 refers to Yeshua coming down to earth from heaven. It says that He came anothen, from above. This is similar to Yeshua’s statement to Pilate, that he had political authority on earth, but it was given to him by God, “from above,” anothen (John 19:11). The epistle of James (1:17; 3:15, 17) also states that wisdom and every perfect spiritual gift comes down from above, from heaven.
- “Again” – There is also a meaning of going back to what was before, a second time, repeated, again. Galatians 4:9 speaks of desiring to return again to bondage.
- “From the beginning” – Luke refers to his writings as researching everything from the beginning (Luke 1:3). Paul refers to those witnesses who have known him from the beginning (Acts 26:5). This is referring simply to the beginning of a time sequence. In the spiritual sense, this is significant because “born again” contains in it the meaning of needing to go back to the very start.
The word beginning hints of going back to the book of Genesis. Notice also the root “gen” in genesis. The new birth must redo the mistake all the way back at the beginning when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis.
So, the statement of Yeshua to Nikodemos could be rendered, “You must be born again, from the top down, from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, from the very beginning.” Yeshua wrapped all that meaning in the simple two words: gennao anothen.
Of course, Yeshua’s statement begs another question, “How can this be done?” Once a person recognizes the crucial, inescapable need for such a deep and total renewal, the search for an answer leads inevitably to Yeshua.
The total regeneration happens by the death and resurrection of Yeshua. When we understand and believe that He died for us, we die to ourselves. When we understand and believe that He rose from the dead for us, there is a revitalizing and regenerating power that comes into our hearts.
When we dedicate ourselves totally to join in and become one with His death and resurrection, we experience that rebirth. That act of dedication comes at the moment of immersion in water in the name of Yeshua. We go into the water to be united with His death; we come out of the water to be united with His resurrection.
Dedication and submission to Yeshua, and identification and unification with His death and resurrection, through water immersion, is the moment of spiritual rebirthing. We must repent, believe, be immersed, and filled with God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38).
This is the only way to change the human predicament of both sin and death. It changes the curse that has been passed down through the generations; it heals the genetic defect of the human race; it solves the root of the problem which started in Genesis. Gennao anothen – We all must be born again from above.
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, November 5, 2020, and reposted with permission.