by Jerry Shugart
IX. National & Individual Regeneration: Earthly & Heavenly
Craig A. Blaising wrote the following concerning the traditional dispensationalist's view on the New Diatheke promised to Israel: "The new covenant (a covenant prophesied in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) was interpreted primarily or solely an an earthly covenant, even though it promised that God would put His Spirit in His people. Darby believed that when it appeared in the Bible, the new covenant always referred to Israel and consequently had nothing to do with God's heavenly people. " [emphasis added] (Blaising & Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993], pp.28-29).
This truth is seen when we examine the Nicodemus sermon where the Lord Jesus spoke of regeneration in connection with the "individual" sinner as well as with the "nation" of Israel. He told Nicodemus:
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (Jn.3:3; NIV).
To this Nicodemus asked how he could be born again when he is old, and the Lord Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (Jn.3:5-6; NIV).
Previously the Lord had been speaking of an individual's regeneration but He now begins to speak of the nation of Israel's regeneration. The Lord shifts from using the second person "singular" pronoun "you" to the second person "plural":
"You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (Jn.3:7-8; NIV). [A footnote in the NIV at verse seven says, "The Greek is plural."]
Nicodemus still did not understand, asking, "How can these things be?"
By the Lord's reply we can understand that Nicodemus should have been aware of some truth in the OT Scriptures which spoke of a regeneration by the Spirit: "Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knoweth not these things?" (v.10).
Sir Robert Anderson writes, "Here we must keep prominently in view that the truth involved ought to have been known to Nicodemus. 'Art thou the teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things?' the Lord exclaimed in indignant wonder at his ignorance. Therefore in speaking of the new birth by water and the Spirit the Lord referred to some distinctive truth of the Old Testament Scriptures, which ought to have been familiar to a Rabbi of the Sanhedrin" (Anderson, The Bible or the Church? [London: Pickering & Inglis, Second Edition], p.224).
Nicodemus should have been aware of the prophecies that speak of the corporate regeneration of Israel in the thirty-seventh chapter of the book of Ezekiel. There we see the prophet taken to a valley full of "dry bones" and these bones are described as "the whole house of Israel":
"The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones...Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts" (Ez.37:1,11).
Charles H. Dyer says, "To what did this vision refer? God said it was about the nation of Israel (the whole house of Israel) that was then in captivity" [emphasis added] (Walvoord & Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary; Old Testament [Colorado Springs: ChariotVictor Publishing, 1985], p.1298).
Then in the verses which follow we see the two elements which will be instrumental for the future corporate regeneration of Israel:
" Again he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause spirit to enter you, and you shall live" (Ezek.37:4-5; RSVCE).
Here Sir Robert Anderson explains the "typical" teaching of the prophecy of the dry bones and how it relates to the teaching of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus:
"How can sinners, helpless, hopeless, dead - as dead as dry bones scattered upon the earth - be born again to God. "Can these bones live?" is the question of Ezekiel 37: And the answer comes "Prophesy unto these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.' Preach to dead, lost sinners call upon them to hear the word of the Lord. This is man's part. Or if there be anything more, it is, 'Prophesy unto the Breath. Pray that the Spirit may breathe upon these slain that they may live.' The rest is God's work altogether, for 'the Spirit breathes where He wills.' Not that there is anything arbitrary in His working. God is never arbitrary; but He is always Sovereign. Men preach; the Spirit breathes; and the dry bones live. Thus it is that sinners are born again to God" (Anderson, Redemption Truths [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980], pp.137-138).
Earthly Things and Heavenly Things
Because Nicodemus was ignorant of these prophetic passages that speak of the corporate regeneration of Israel under her New Diatheke the Lord said the following to him:
"I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" (Jn.3:12; NIV).
The "earthly things" to which the Lord refers is the regeneration of the "nation" of Israel. The "heavenly things" are in regard to an "individual" believer's regeneration. Since those in the Body of Christ are "born of God" their citizenship is in heaven:
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Phil.3:20; NIV).
The Lord Jesus Himself employed a "type" in order to help Nicodemus understand His teaching about the regeneration of an "individual," and that "type" concerns the regeneration of "corporate" Israel. Also, according to the Lord Jesus the regeneration of an individual is "heavenly" while the regeneration of the "nation" of Israel is "earthly."