Carson discusses Jesus’ slightly cryptic statement about being “born again” at some length. The kingdom of God is both a present and a future reality, into which one may enter by being born again (Carson 1991, 188). This appears to be a sort of transformation (Carson 1991, 190). Nicodemus does not seem to know what Jesus is implying. Carson sees Jesus’ words in verses 5-6 as an attempt to draw understanding out of Nicodemus (Carson 1991, 191). The reference to “water and the Spirit” has been interpreted as natural and supernatural birth or birth by baptism. Carson evaluates these and other views. He concludes that the term refers to a conjunction of events in which God cleanses his people, giving them his nature (Carson 1991, 195). In this context the remaining statements of Jesus in verses 6 and following make sense (Carson 1991, 196). Jesus’ authority to speak this way is given in verse 12. He is the one who came from heaven (Carson 1991, 199). The sign of new life is the lifting up of Jesus (Carson 1991, 201). This salvation is rooted in God’s love, which will be reflected in God’s people (v. 16) (Carson 1991, 204). Carson details a number of ways in which God’s love for the world does not interfere with a coming judgment (Carson 1991, 205-206). The judgment and condemnation is avoided by “coming to God” in faith (Carson 1991, 207).
As we move to the end of John 3, starting at verse 22, Jesus is shown as greater than John the Baptist (Carson 1991, 208). Jesus gives the new life, while John gives baptism. Carson maintains that the baptism is a sign rather than being regenerative (Carson 1991, 209). Jesus’ rise in popularity is consistent with John’s desire that a Messiah would be found (Carson 1991, 211). Jesus’ testimony in vv. 33-34 that God is truthful points to the idea that, with Jesus as a witness, God’s word is delivered faithfully. Jesus’ word is, therefore, reliable (Carson 1991, 213).