We find the story of Nicodemus in three places in the Bible, all in the Gospel of John. I experienced a new appreciation for Nicodemus after watching the TV series about Jesus’ life, “The Chosen.” He is the one character whose story brings me to tears every time I watch it! There is a lot we don’t know for sure, but God has given us plenty of information to paint a fascinating picture. So who was Nicodemus?
Who was Nicodemus?
Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish sect of influential Pharisees and a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. Nicodemus held the prominent position as ruler of the Pharisees, an enormously powerful position.
He was a wealthy man of power and status.
Pharisees pledged to obey all traditions and laws down to the smallest detail. They became arrogant, however, because of their belief that they were the only ones able to interpret the word of God. (For Jesus’ own opinion on the Pharisees, see Matthew 23!)
We meet Nicodemus when Jesus’ public ministry was just beginning.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with Him.’” John 3:1-2.
Why Did Nicodemus Approach Jesus at Night?
Scripture doesn’t tell us, but several reasons have been hypothesized:
•Was he simply an inquisitive, curious seeker who was interested in Jesus’ teaching and ability to perform miracles?
•Was he afraid to come in the daylight for fear of being seen with Jesus? He might have lost his position, wealth, and status if he came to see Jesus of his own free will. The fierce opposition to Jesus by the Jews was already growing daily.
•It was Passover, perhaps he wanted to wait until dark when the crowds had thinned and Jesus had finished teaching?
•The Sanhedrin sent a delegation to investigate John the Baptist (John 1:19-20). Did Nicodemus go to Jesus as their representative to investigate and question Jesus?
•Did Nicodemus have a longing to discern if Jesus could be the long-awaited Messiah?
Nicodemus and Jesus
Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ statement and gets right to the heart of the matter:
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” v3. (Interestingly, born again translates “born from above” in Greek.)
Nicodemus takes Jesus’ words literally and questions a physical rebirth.
“How can a man be born when he is old? Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!'”John 3:4
He believed his status as a Jew meant he was born directly into the kingdom of God. It made no sense to him that there was another way to heaven.
Nicodemus is confused when Jesus explains being born again means being born of the Spirit. “How can this be?” (v9) he asks.
Jesus expresses amazement that Nicodemus, a brilliant teacher of vast knowledge, failed to understand the Scripture’s meaning regarding being born of the Spirit. Nicodemus should have known of God’s promise of a spiritual rebirth- “I will put my Spirit in you“- from Ezekiel 36:26-27.
“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”John 3:12
But Jesus perseveres with Nicodemus.
Jesus Teaches Nicodemus
Jesus reminds Nicodemus of the Old Testament story of Moses and the Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:4-8).
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” v14-15.
As the the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole, all who looked upon it and believed would not die, but live. This story foreshadows the cross.
Jesus was telling Nicodemus that He would be lifted up (on the cross) like the bronze serpent to save the people from eternal death.
Jesus then gives Nicodemus the great truth about God’s plan for salvation in simple terms that remain one of the most well known and revered Bible verses:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” v16.
That appears to end this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, but we see Nicodemus again twice more.
Nicodemus the Pharisee
The second time is about 6 months before the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is most likely that Nicodemus was aware of what Jesus had been up to since their original night-time meeting.
He probably was aware of Jesus’ continued healings and teachings.
In John 7:50-51 we see Nicodemus speaking to a gathering of the chief priests and Pharisees. But the Pharisees were growing impatient and frustrated with Jesus and had planned an unlawful seizure of Him by the temple guards.
Nicodemus speaks up in Jesus’ defense:
“Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’” v50-51.
He didn’t make a straight forward declaration of faith in Jesus. Instead, Nicodemus protests an unlawful action based on their own rule of law.
To declare Jesus the Son of God at this point would not have changed the Pharisees minds, but by raising a legitimate legal objection, he could possibly protect Jesus.
Isn’t it ironic that the Jewish leaders, who were such sticklers for keeping the law, circumvented it for their own personal reasons when it came to Jesus?
Nicodemus had turned from seeker/skeptic to defender.
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea
Our final mention of Nicodemus comes after Jesus’ death.
“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in linen cloths.” John 19:38-40.
Like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea was also a Jewish religious leader and a member of the Sanhedrin. Isn’t it interesting that 2 members of the Sanhedrin attended to the burial of Jesus, but not one of the 12 disciples helped?
They abandoned Jesus in fear and confusion.
Did Nicodemus Bury Jesus?
Nicodemus and Joseph were both wealthy, powerful men. (The amount of burial spices Nicodemus provided were costly. The extensive amount was typical for the burial of kings.)
Nicodemus’ cooperation with Joseph in burying Jesus shows us his love and devotion. Nicodemus’ faith had finally matured to the point where he courageously stepped out with Joseph and gives Jesus a private burial.
Their actions showed they were willing to give up everything to care for Jesus.
What Happened to Nicodemus?
The Biblical story of Nicodemus ends with Jesus’ burial. My Bible commentary states that neither man appears in the Jewish records or traditions of their time, presumably because they were seen as traitors; their names erased from all records.¹
The Bible does not tell us their fate. Our answers will come in heaven. But until then, I believe Nicodemus was an honest seeker who progressed to defending Jesus in court, and then boldly proclaims his faith by his actions.
What did Nicodemus Learn from Jesus?
In the beginning, Nicodemus was the “teacher of Israel” but still did not understand being born of the Spirit. But Nicodemus sought out Jesus for answers to his honest questions.
He learned that acting “religious” and knowing Scripture would not gain him entrance into heaven.
Each one of us must study the person of Jesus for ourselves and decide if we believe that He is who He says He is- our Savior. He is not put off by your honest questions!
We often see Nicodemus described as an “undercover” believer. It took a while for Nicodemus to grow firm enough in his faith to act on it.
But Jesus was patient with Nicodemus and is the same with you and me. God is on the lookout for our spiritual growth!
How does your faith manifest itself in actions?
Are there areas in your life where you are an “undercover” believer?
Nicodemus surrendered his life to Jesus when he came out in public and assisted Joseph in His burial. His faith and devotion to his Messiah triumphed over his fear of losing his wealth and power.
And this was before the resurrection! Oh how I wish we knew more of Nicodemus’ story!
Do you speak up for Jesus to unbelievers?
Has fear ever stopped you from defending Jesus?
Lessons From Nicodemus
●We all may have a bit of a Pharisee in us from time to time, but the Holy Spirit lives within us to convict us and lead us to confession and genuine change.
●When Nicodemus hid his interest and faith in Jesus, he gained material things: he kept his status, power, wealth, and position.
But he lost out on the intimate teachings of Jesus, a life lived with Him on earth, and the presence of His peace and joy in his life.
When he boldly came forward for Jesus, he most likely lost his reputation and job. But he gained eternal life!
●A life lived in relationship with Jesus is a daily surrender that will always cost us something. ●
●When we allow Jesus into our lives, He becomes our priority, our satisfaction, and our peace. No idol, possession or relationship compares.
As committed followers, we realize He is worth infinitely more than anything or anyone else. He alone brings joy and peace into our earthly lives as we await our forever life with Him in heaven.
●If we face rejection by others because of our faith, they are rejecting Him, not us. Don’t take it personally- be “anxious about nothing“! (Philippians 4:6)
How often do you have a one-on-one conversation with Jesus like Nicodemus?
How does your spiritual transformation compare to Nicodemus’?
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13. (What a beautiful promise!♥)
“Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 2:12b.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
- Barker, Kenneth L. and Kohlenberger III, John R. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.
Related Post∼Here’s a story of another Pharisee who had an encounter with Jesus: The Apostle Paul in the Bible.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos, Canva