Nicodemus means conqueror of the people. He spent a great deal of his time mastering himself. The account of Nicodemus life is confined to the gospel of John.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. The Pharisees appear twenty times in the gospel of John and are rarely complimentary of Jesus. With Nicodemus we read of one of those rare occasions when a Pharisee was complementary of Jesus. To appreciate the whole picture lets read from John 2:23 right through to John 3:2.
Now while he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.
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."
Although we can only speculate about the reason why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night - maybe out of fear of being seen, or simply to get enough time alone with Jesus to ask all the questions on his heart. Jesus however had no difficulty in discerning Nicodemus? motive - for Jesus knew all men. The Bible makes the clear connection between Jesus knowing all men and Nicodemus so as to leave us in no doubt about the heart of this matter - Jesus, fully aware of the motives of Nicodemus? heart, gave him the new truth relevant to his need. A truth that would transform Nicodemus life (and ours) forever.
Nicodemus was not just a Pharisee but also a member of the Jewish ruling council. The Pharisees were no friends of Jesus (John 7:31-32, 46-48; John 8:1-4; John 9:12-14). His teachings and lifestyle did not make them look good.
When you live your life the right way you will make friends as well as enemies. Not everyone will appreciate your godliness but all will observe it. Some will be challenged and take positive steps to modify their way of living, others will be offended at the challenge your life poses to them. Witnessing is a way of life not merely a way with words. Your good conduct always leaves an impact on the people you encounter.
It is interesting to note how Nicodemus addressed Jesus "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."
Who were the ?we? that Nicodemus was referring to?
Well, looking at it in context the ?we? were the Pharisees - members and probably some of the rulers of the council who secretly acknowledged the authority of Jesus. People too proud to accept that they were wrong.
You can imagine Nicodemus? heart burning within him as he had been listening to Jesus in the past. He was probably standing in the crowd of the Pharisees as they argued with Jesus. Yet deep within him he knew that Jesus was speaking the truth. Nicodemus was probably the one who brought up the conversation about Jesus among the Pharisees when they were in private. Together they discussed the things they had heard and the miracles they had witnessed. A few of them privately admitted that God was with this man. How else could he have performed the miracles they had seen?
Yet hearing and seeing the truth from a mental point of view does not bring salvation. Nicodemus knew that something was missing. He had to see Jesus in person to sort things out.
There are some things you will never receive from Jesus in the crowd. You have to pay him a private visit. In public we can all listen to the truth, but it is in the privacy of our heart that the real changes happen.
Millions today are familiar with the phrase ?you must be born again? thanks to the private discussion Nicodemus had with Jesus. Nicodemus came to Jesus thinking that he knew who Jesus was. He went away with new truth. Nicodemus had an encounter with the truth. The next time we come across Nicodemus we notice the new character. Education, culture and science may change us but only grace can transform us.
If we are to grow, like Nicodemus, we need to admit we need help, and seek Jesus for the grace to make the change.
The ?we? mindset of Nicodemus may provide a hedge to hide behind but it will not shield us from the truth. Nicodemus came to Jesus with a worldview dictated by those around him. ?We know you are a teacher who has come from God? were Nicodemus first words to Jesus. The ?we? represented the combined views and considerations of those Pharisees who secretly acknowledged Jesus as ? a teacher who has come from God?. Yet this view, despite the truth it contained, was woefully inadequate, for Jesus was much more than a teacher.
Nicodemus view of Jesus was developed by his deliberations and ruminations with his colleagues. The views of those around him had dictated his understanding of God - for Jesus is God.
Who dictates the views that you hold about life and God? Is it common sense or just the most popular opinion? Have you ever made a serious study of what the word of God says about things like - salvation, tithing, authority in the home and church, ethical standards, accountability, money, sacrificial living, worship of God and such like. Or are you just holding unto the ?we? view.
Notice that Jesus did not hesitate in taking Nicodemus further down the narrow road of truth - ?no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again?, was Jesus? reply to Nicodemus? supposed compliment. Knowing Jesus as a teacher was good, yet far from the mark.
Nicodemus learnt a truth that transformed him. He learnt it in the privacy of his heart. Unless we pursue the little we have we will not profit from it. Nicodemus might have come by dark but he found the light.
The next time we see Nicodemus it is during the day. The temple guards had been sent to arrest Jesus but returned empty handed to the religious rulers of the people. Among the rulers was Nicodemus. He was still a discreet disciple. We read the account in John 7: 45 - 52
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?"
"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared.
"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law - there is a curse on them."
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?"
They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.
Notice the irony here. The Pharisees accuse the temple guards of being stupid and mislead. Verses forty-seven to forty-nine provide the climax of this episode - the Pharisees confidently declare that none of the Pharisees, the supposed learned ones, have believed in Jesus, hence the ignorant Jews on the street should not either. Sitting in their mist is Nicodemus, a believer in Jesus who has still not found the courage to openly expose his faith.
In verse fifty he finally plucks up the courage to clear his throat and speak up - "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" Nicodemus declares, rather gingerly. The reply of his colleagues show the disdain they have for Jesus. No wonder Nicodemus is keeping his faith to himself.
Yet, in the mist of all this we see a changed character. The Nicodemus who went to Jesus by night is now confident enough to speak up for Jesus in public. The truth has given him a new boldness and confidence. Here is not a man we should sneer at but learn from. Has the truth of the gospel changed your worldview?
Nicodemus was no longer part of the ?we? brigade. The opinions of his colleagues no longer defined his own. He was taking a different stand from them. The refining of our character begins in our thinking. Nicodemus was on the right route. Romans 12:2 was working for him.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The truth of the gospel should change the way we think. Thinking right will dictate the way we live and act. Notice how Nicodemus acts differently. If you do not allow the word of God to change the way you think, you will never change the way you live.
New Action and duty
The third and final appearance of Nicodemus is recorded in John 19:38 - 42. This time he has found a friend who is also cautious about revealing his stand as a Christian.
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 strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Nicodemus is a changed person. Joseph of Arimathea we know little about - we know he was rich; a secret disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57); and also a member of the council (Luke 23:50; Mark 15:43,46). Dwight L. Moody, a preacher used mightily by God, who lived between 1837-1899, wrote this of Joseph of Arimathea, and the same can be said of Nicodemus also.
I consider this was one of the sublimest [inspiring], grandest acts that any man ever did. In that darkness and gloom - His disciples having all forsaken Him; Judas having sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; the chief apostle Peter having denied him with a curse, swearing that he never knew Him; the chief priests having found Him guilty of blasphemy; the council having condemned Him to death; and when there was a hiss going up to heaven over all Jerusalem - Joseph went right against the current, right against the influence of all his friends, and begged the body of Jesus." ("Bible Characters" by Dwight L. Moody, p. 116)
Nicodemus and Joseph had lived as secret disciples while Jesus was alive, but there was nothing secret about what they were doing now. Risking the ridicule of the Romans and persecution from the Jewish religious council, they came to collect and bury the body of Jesus at their own expense. Here we witness the word Nicodemus received from Jesus in private bearing public fruit.
The measure of fruitfulness is seen in how our lives are changed by the word of God. Sacrifice for Jesus is a product of spiritual growth. Nicodemus was not after frame or fortune. In truth he was risking all by fulfilling this duty. The word of Jesus has the power to transform and release us from every hold of selfishness, cowardice, criticism and worldly mindsets. If only we would give it the access to our hearts via our minds.
Nicodemus sought the truth, meditated on it and started to act accordingly.
Jesus probably knew that the man who came to see him timidly at night was the same man who was to play a vital role in his life (or should we say death) and ministry. Jesus never gives up on us. He is too confident in the ability of his word to change us.
We should learn from Nicodemus and pursue Jesus.
Reference to Nicodemus in the Bible can be found in John?s Gospel Chapter John 3, 7 and 19.
By Dele Oke
Editor: Living Word Library
18 September 2006