The events described in chapter 3 may seem disconnected at first glance. But there is a logic to the movement from Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the final narrative concerning John the Baptist. One link between the two has to do with the significance of washing and the need for sinners to be cleansed from sin. In the first section Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born of water and the Spirit” which points to his need for cleansing (vs. 5). Then, beginning in verse 22, is an account which records both John the Baptist and Jesus baptizing followers. Being still prior to Christian baptism, this was baptism unto repentance, a ritual washing for the purpose of cleansing.
Another connection between the two sections of chapter three is Nicodemus’ need to be born “from above” (vs. 3) and Jesus as the One who is “from above” (vs. 31). Jesus came from heaven bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new birth. Jesus speaks the very words and wisdom of God because he has come from heaven (vv. 31-32).
There is yet another connection when we consider that Nicodemus and John the Baptist both represented earthly realms. Nicodemus stood for the law and the temple with all the requisite calls for cleansing. The Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets who came baptizing as a cleansing for repentant sinners. Jesus, however, is the one from above who will fulfill all the earthly types and shadows. Ultimately, that work of fulfillment will bring about the salvation of God’s people. As Mark Johnston points out, John “lets the need for these ceremonies stand as a constant reminder of our need for the cleansing to which they point. They provide testimony to human sin, guilt, and uncleanness, and tell us that cleansing our own souls before God does not lie within our power.”