Our Lord’s interview with Nicodemus in John 3 is truly a “highlight” of scripture because it is where Jesus first broaches the concept of “salvation by conversion.” Nicodemus was a “ruler” (ar-kon, a chief or prince – one of the Sanhedrin, John 7:50, the council who governed Judah under the high priest’s leadership) and a “teacher” (John 3:10) among the Pharisees (note Acts 23:8). For him, his physical birth was synonymous with his spiritual birth and identity. In his thinking, he was spiritually alive and could look forward to eternal life with God because he had been born into this world as a Jew. When Jesus spoke of a “new” (spiritual) birth and connected that image with the concept of religious identity and salvation by means of conversion, Nicodemus was astounded by the very idea! Genuine Christianity stands apart from Judaism (and many other religions) because it is exclusively a “taught” faith; there is no way one can be “born” a Christian at the time of physical birth! A person must choose to become a Christian through personal conviction (John 3:16) and submission to the instructions of Jesus Christ.
This same context provides one of the most important descriptions of Jesus anywhere in the bible (vs. 16). Some modern translations (NIV, RSV, ESV, etc.) describe Him simply as “God’s only Son,” omitting a key point: In the Greek text, Jesus is described as the mono -gen-ace, or “only begotten” (KJV, ASV, NKJV, NASB, etc.) Son of God. This is important because although this word can be properly translated as “unique,” in the context Jesus is emphasizing the quality or character of His uniqueness. He is thus distinguishing Himself from all other “sons” of God (note 1 John 3:1-2 – Jesus is not God’s “only” son/child, nor is He the only “unique” Son – even identical twins are “unique” in some respects). The distinction Jesus makes is that He is the only Son of God Who is derived from the Father’s direct action in the world rather than from the natural, physical union of a man and a woman (cf. Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35; and John 1:14).
Jesus presented a crucial thought for all wouldbe worshippers of God when He told the Samaritan woman in John 4:23-24, that “true worshippers… must worship in spirit and in truth.” Worship that does not actively involve the heart, soul, and mind of the worshipper in loving Him (cf. Luke 10:27) has no more point than “worship” that ignores His instructions by substituting human commandments and whims in their place (cf. Matthew 15:8-9). For our worship to be as Christ commanded, we must combine genuine sincerity of spirit with obedient submission to God’s instructions.
An interesting and important point appears in John 5:28 when Jesus foretells THE resurrection from the dead. In twenty-first century christendom, many denominations are looking for two, three, seven, or even fifty-plus “resurrections” between now and the end of time: This emphasis upon multiple resurrections springs mainly from premillennial teachings which look for separate resurrections and separate judgements for the righteous and the unrighteous. Jesus, however, declares that there will one resurrection for all the dead, at which time the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous (John 5:29, cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 24:15; and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
Note that when some of the multitude in John 6:28 asked Jesus what they should be doing (to be “doing the works of God”), He said that they should believe on the One God had sent (Jesus Himself). Here, Jesus is calling the very act of believing a “work:” Those of the denominational community who insist that “salvation is by ‘grace only’ through faith only” – and condemn any act of obedience to the word of God as “works salvation” that (allegedly) ignores God’s grace – apparently never read Jesus’ words in John 6:29! If one must “believe” in order to be saved, then according to Jesus that person is saved by a “work!” (But that does NOT mean that person has “earned” his way into heaven.)