John 3:3-7 — “Born Again” as Ancient Israelite Coronation Rites (Nicodemus, part 2) — LeGrand Baker.

(This will make much more sense if you first read part one.)

John’s report of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is very succinct and deeply encoded. The code is the ancient Israelite temple drama, so anyone who knows the drama also knows the code. It is to be understood only by those who “have ears to hear.”

The conversation is already in full swing before we become privy to what is being said. Jesus is answering a question, but the question is not given in the text.

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

When this answer is placed within the context of the bits of the conversation that follow, Jesus’s response is arguably a reference to the adoption/kinship rites that were performed near the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama during the time of Solomon’s Temple.

In this drama the king was the chief actor, and his words and actions represented those of every man in the congregation. The multiple parts of the coronation rites are identified in Isaiah 61:3.

The rites begin with a ceremonial washing, where the king was made clean in preparation for his coronation. Then he went into the temple where he was clothed in royal priesthood robes, anointed, crowned, and given a new king-name. {1}

When one made a new covenant there was always a new name associated with it. The new name was a new identity. These rites were a rebirth in that when the king was anointed he became a legitimate son and heir of Jehovah.

At the time the anointing was performed the king announced his new relationship with God.

7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (Psalms 2:7).

The anointing was a dual ordinance. “Thou art my son” is the pronouncement of the new royal king-name. “This day have I begotten thee” is a declaration of the formal adoption of the king by Jehovah. {2}

Jehovah is the eternal King of Israel, and now because of this adoption, the earthly king is his legitimate son. He can take his place on the Lord’s throne in the Temple and not be a usurper. {3}

We see something like that at Jesus’s baptism, and coronation on the Mount of Transfiguration. His Father’s words, “This is my beloved Son,” confirmed Jesus’s royal birth and his Kingship (2 Peter 1:16-18).

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, those coronation rites had not been performed in a Jewish temple for more than 600 years—not since Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the last Jewish king sat upon its throne. If Jesus had just told Nicodemus that he had the authority to perform those rites again, then Nicodemus’s next question reflects his amazement and his challenge. He asks for clarification, and does it in a silly, somewhat condescending way that is still typical of some scholars. His intent is to see if Jesus really knows what he is talking about.

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (John 3:4)

Jesus’s response shows that he respected both the questioner and the question. His answer (as John gives it to us) addresses Nicodemus’ concerns precisely, and in terms Nicodemus, the scholar/teacher of Israel, would have understood.

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).

There are two ways of our understanding these verses. One, which we use all the time in missionary work, is about baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The other way is that they are references to the washing and anointing that were part of the ancient coronation rites. In that case, “to be born of the Spirit” was a reference to the belief that at the time of one’s anointing one received an abundant gift of the Spirit of the Lord. There is an important example of this in the Old Testament.

When David was only a boy, “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Aubrey Johnson referred to that story, and called the experience an “endowment of the Spirit” whereby the king received extraordinary religious authority, as well as wisdom in government and military matters. Sigmund Mowinckel understood that the “Ideas about the fruits of this endowment with the spirit are, naturally, strongly influenced by older biblical conceptions of the gifts of the spirit in the Messiah.” {4}

That same principle is taught in the New Testament where Peter said,

37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judæ a, and began from Galilee, after the ism which John preached;
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him (Acts 10:37-38).

We do not have complete accounts of the anointing of all of the kings of Israel, but we do of David’s. He was first anointed to become king and later anointed king. Perhaps that is reflected in the difference in Jesus’s statements, “he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and “he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Even though those ceremonies were no longer performed after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, there is sufficient evidence in the New Testament to know that the memory of those rites was not entirely lost by the Jews. After the Savior established his church, the Saints in New Testament times understood that a similar adoption ceremony was necessary to make one a son and heir of God. Thus, Paul wrote,

5 [The Father] Having predestinated [foreordained] us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself [the Father], according to the good pleasure of his [the Father’s] will,
6 To the praise of the glory of his [the Father’s] grace, wherein he [the Father] hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6)

If this sonship and adoption is what Christ meant when he told Nicodemus that he must be born again, and if Nicodemus understood that, it is little wonder that this learned Jew was amazed. The Savior said,

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again [from above] (John 3:7).

In the next verses we learn that part of Nicodemus’s amazement had to do with what he was feeling as well as what he was thinking. The Savior also explained that to him.

(To be continued)

{1} “Act 2, Scene 9: The Coronation Ceremony in Isaiah 61,” Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition 461-99, second (paperback) edition 366-73.

{2} For a more complete discussion of the anointing and Psalm 2 see “Psalm 2, The Ancient Israelite Royal King-name,” Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition 499-517, second (paperback) edition 360-73.

{3} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition 517-605, second (paperback) edition 373-431.

{4} Quoted from Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition 353-54, second (paperback) edition 254-55.


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