by John Lowe
Nicodemus— Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?
All that we know about Nicodemus in the Bible is from the Gospel of John. In John 3:1, he is described as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who were fastidious in keeping the letter of the Law and often opposed Jesus throughout His ministry. Jesus often strongly denounced them for their legalism (see Matthew 23). Saul of Tarsus (who became the apostle Paul) was also a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5).
John 3:11 also describes Nicodemus as a leader of the Jews. According to John 7:50–51, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. Each city could have a Sanhedrin, which functioned as the “lower courts.” Under the Roman authority in the time of Christ, the Jewish nation was allowed a measure of self-rule, and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was the final court of appeals for matters regarding Jewish Law and religion. This body ultimately condemned Jesus, yet they had to get Pilate to approve their sentence since the death penalty was beyond their jurisdiction under Roman Law. It appears that Nicodemus was part of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night. Many have speculated that Nicodemus was afraid or ashamed to visit Jesus in broad daylight, so he made a nighttime visit. This may very well be the case, but the text does not give a reason for the timing of the visit. Several other reasons are also possible. Nicodemus questioned Jesus. As a member of the Jewish ruling Council, it would have been his responsibility to find out about any teachers or other public figures who might lead the people astray.
In His conversation, Jesus immediately confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again” (John 3:3)2 When Nicodemus seems skeptical, Jesus reprimands him (perhaps gently) that, since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10). Jesus goes on to give a further explanation of the new birth, and it is in this context, we find John 3:16, which is one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.
The next time we encounter Nicodemus in the Bible, he functions in his official capacity as a member of the Sanhedrin as they consider what to do about Jesus. In John 7, some Pharisees and priests (presumably with authority to do so) sent some of the temple guards to arrest Jesus, but they returned, unable to bring themselves to do it (see John 7:32–47). The Pharisees in authority reprimand the guards, but Nicodemus presents the opinion that Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council rudely dismisses Nicodemus’s suggestion out of hand—they appear to have already made up their minds about Jesus.
The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is in John 19 after Jesus’ crucifixion. We find Nicodemus assisting Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’ burial. Joseph is described in John as a rich man and Mark 15:43 as a member of the Council. He is also described in John 19:38 as a disciple of Jesus, even though, a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews. Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices to prepare the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb. The sheer amount of burial spices would indicate that Nicodemus was a rich man and had great respect for Jesus.
The limited account in John’s Gospel leaves many questions about Nicodemus unanswered. Was he a true believer? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions,
2(John 3:3, NIV) Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” furthermore, there are no reliable extra-biblical resources that give answers.
It would appear that Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith—although we are not told how public it was. Nicodemus may have been similar to Joseph of Arimathea in that perhaps he, too, was a disciple of Jesus but had not yet mustered the courage to declare his faith openly. His presentation in the Gospel of John is generally favorable, which suggests that his faith was indeed genuine.
The articles below give more information concerning topics we have touched on above.
The name Nicodemus, Νικόδημος (Nikodemos), is comprised of two parts, the first “nike” means victory and the second part “demos” means people or ordinary people. Therefore, his name could mean “victory of the people” or “victor among the people.”
Nicodemus in the Gospel of John
The story of Nicodemus only appears in the following three chapters of the Bible in the Gospel of John.
• John 3:1-21 = Nicodemus meets Jesus secretly
• John 7:43-53 = Nicodemus questions the Pharisee’s actions against Jesus
• John 19:38-42 = Nicodemus helps take Jesus down from the cross
(1) Nicodemus meets Jesus secretly
Each time Nicodemus is mentioned in the Bible, he speaks and acts bolder for Christ. In John 3, he only secretly visits Jesus to seek information, while in John 7, Nicodemus speaks up in Jesus’ defense. Lastly, in John 19, Nicodemus is no longer intimidated by the Pharisees and takes physical activity and helps remove Jesus from the cross. The following outlines Nicodemus’ actions and response to Jesus.
Nicodemus first appears in the Bible in John chapter 3 when he desires to know more about Jesus and His teachings. As an introduction, Nicodemus complements Jesus saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Jesus ignores his compliment and immediately shifts the focus from Himself to Nicodemus and his spiritual condition. Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus that he must be born again.
At this point, Nicodemus questions the reality of being born again and going back into his mother’s womb a second time. Jesus does not argue about this but restates his previous point, “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Speaking of this conversion, Nicodemus again says, “How can these things be” (John 3:9).
Jesus tenderly asks Nicodemus, how can you be a teacher and not understand these things? Jesus continues by saying, how can I tell you heavenly or spiritual things if you do not even understand the earthly things I speak?
Jesus again changes the topic to Moses and Old Testament history, which Nicodemus would have been familiar with from his youth. Jesus explains that just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the wilderness, for the healing of those who believed, the Son of Man must also be lifted on the cross so that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. (see John 3:14-15.)
This sets the stage for one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is showing Nicodemus that the kingdom of God is not built upon political power and might but rather on the unselfish, sacrificial love of God that culminates in the salvation of man and everlasting life.
Furthermore, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that God did not send Jesus to condemn and judge the world but rather to save the world from their sin. (see John 3:17.) Jesus concludes His talk with Nicodemus by stating, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light...However, he who does the truth comes to light, that his deeds may be seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19, 21).
(2) Nicodemus’ defense of Jesus
The second time John writes about Nicodemus is when the Jewish leaders desire to seize Jesus. However, Nicodemus halts their actions by questioning their motives by saying, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (John 7:51). The Pharisees respond with a personal attack against Nicodemus, saying, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (John 7:52).
Although Nicodemus does raise a verbal question in defense of Jesus, he is not yet openly a full-fledged follower of Jesus. However, In Nicodemus’ next appearance, things change, and his full support is on the side of Jesus the Messiah.
(3) Nicodemus’ at the cross
Finally, after Jesus’ death, Nicodemus boldly and publicly removes Jesus’ body from the cross and helps lay it in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Nicodemus also personally provides approximately 100 pounds of costly spices for Jesus’ burial.
Nicodemus now is no longer acting in secret. He is fully supporting Jesus and His cause. He has gone from a silent searcher at night to a verbal defender, to finally a bold follower who physically takes action to honor Jesus his Lord and Master. Some accounts even mention Nicodeums’ gifts and actions helping the early Christian church grow amidst persecution.
As you consider the story of Nicodemus, where do you see yourself? Are you a private truth seeker under cover of darkness? Are you one who wants to know more about Jesus and His truths? Are you wanting to know more about salvation, heaven, and being born again? Or are you a leader in your sphere of influence that only verbally and perhaps timidly speaks regarding spiritual matters? Or are you one who boldly and tangibly takes action to defend the honor and mission of Jesus Christ?
As you continue your journey with Jesus, we pray that you make Him Lord and Savior of your life.
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