I have a Health Science BS from a Christian college. I have been a Christian since a teenager, studying the Bible every day.
1. Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?
2. Nicodemus Talks with Jesus and Learns how to be Saved
3. Nicodemus at Jesus' Crucifixion
4. Nicodemus Becomes a Leader in the Early Christian Church
1. Who was Nicodemus in the Bible
Nicodemus was a wealthy and influential Pharisee ruler who became a follower of Christ. But he kept it secret until after Christ's crucifixion. Nicodemus was a clever priest on the Sanhedrin who protected Jesus many times from the Jewish ruler's evil plots against Him . Nicodemus was a righteous man and a truth seeker who became a pillar in the early Christian church after Jesus death and resurrection.
Nicodemus long felt that many in the Jewish leadership had lost their spirituality. He felt that the religion was controlled more by bigotry and worldly ambition rather than a worship of God. Nicodemus took notice when Jesus entered the temple and chased out the money changers declaring, "My Fathers House is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!" Nicodemus was there and saw with his own eyes as divinity flashed through humanity in Jesus. The crooked priests could not bear the sight and they ran. Then Nicodemus watched afterwards as the poor and sick flocked to Jesus for healing in the temple, singing their Deliverer's praises. A firm conviction came to Nicodemus that this humble Jesus of Nazareth was the Sent of God.
After such a display of power by Jesus, the hatred of many priests and rulers was aroused. They could not tolerate such behavior from an unknown Galilean who was stealing the following of the people from them by His teaching.
Nicodemus had listened with interest to Jesus teaching, and was convicted by it. So were some other priests and rulers. A few remembered how in Jewish history their fathers had rejected prophets sent to them. Their nation had suffered for it: for example when Babylon conquered Israel and sent most of its people into exile. This left the nation and Jerusalem barren for 70 years before God restored them. These few priests feared what would happen if they rejected Jesus. Nicodemus shared these feelings. Whenever the subject arose in the Sanhedrin about what to do about Jesus, Nicodemus warned caution. He reminded them about what happened in their history when a voice sent by God was rejected. For a while the priests dared not disregard this counsel, and took no open steps against Jesus.
Nicodemus many times had been among Jesus' listeners as He spoke to the people. What he saw and heard led Nicodemus into a deeper study of the prophecies of the Messiah. The more he studied, and meditated on what he read, the deeper was the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. He determined to have an interview with Jesus. But how? A teacher of his high position could not be seen speaking with such an unknown as this humble Galilean, or else he would be ridiculed. Nicodemus determined he would speak with Jesus at night.
2. Nicodemus Meets with Jesus and Learns how to be Saved
Nicodemus determined to secretly talk with Jesus at night. He sent his trusted messenger to quietly ask where Jesus rested at night in the Mt. of Olives. Then he stole out at night after Jerusalem was asleep and quietly found his way to Jesus place of retirement.
Once in the presence of Jesus, Nicodemus was surprised at how timid he felt. Jesus looked at him as if to read his very soul. Jesus knew he was a truth seeker. Nicodemus started the conversation as if to discuss religious ideas. But Jesus knew he was under conviction that He was the Messiah and was seeking assurance of salvation. Jesus got right to the center of the matter: "Truthfully I say to you, except a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3
Nicodemus understood Jesus was telling him he needed a new heart, a new way of thinking, a spiritual regeneration. But Nicodemus was shocked and insulted. He was a highly respected Pharisee and teacher in Israel. He was very wealthy and gave his money to support the temple services, as well as help the poor and widows. The idea that he was not prepared for heaven never occurred to him. The pride of the Pharisee struggled with the honest desire of the seeker of truth.
The Jews understood the idea of rebirth. It was often applied to gentiles when they converted to Judaism. But a child of Abraham who was a wealthy, honored Pharisee and teacher needing a new birth? Nicodemus lost his composure and blurted out, "How can a man be born when he is old?" John 3:4 Jesus raised his hand and quietly repeated the truth in different words: "Truly I say to you, unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." John 3:5 Nicodemus understood water baptism and the renewing of the heart by the Spirit of God. It was taught in the Old Testament and recently by John the Baptist. Nicodemus had listened to the Baptist but failed to understand its deeper meaning and apply it to his heart. He was positive that he was now in the presence of the One whom John the Baptist had foretold.
Jesus continued: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."John 3:6 Every person is born with a heart bent towards evil, and "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one." Job 14:4 A person is hopeless to change his heart, motives, thoughts, and actions by himself. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jeremiah 13:23 The motives, thoughts, and heart must change for good before ones life can become Christ-like. Good works alone will not enable a person to attain heaven. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. When a person becomes a Christian, he does not merely improve his life. There is a death to self. Selfishness leaves his motivation for action, and a new heart takes over his actions. This can happen only by the working of the Holy Spirit on the heart.
Nicodemus still perplexed, Jesus used the wind to illustrate His meaning: "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." John 3:8 The effects of the wind can be seen, but one cannot see the wind as it works. The same with the Holy Spirit: it's working cannot be seen or understood. But it works on peoples minds, hearts and lives to have a transforming influence. The Holy Spirit inspires to think new and different thoughts. The Spirit does not force its way in, but knocks gently on the door making new suggestions. The Spirit brings people and circumstances into the life to teach lessons that need to be learned. As long as a person does not resist the Spirits leading, his life will be changed. This may go on for years before the moment of conversion happens. In fact a person may not be able to point a certain day or time. But that does not mean the conversion has not happened.
A glimmer of the importance of what Jesus was saying was dawning on Nicodemus. It filled his mind with wonder. But he did not yet understand. He was not so impressed with the necessity of the new birth as with how it happened. He asked with amazement, "How can these things be?" John 3:9
Jesus gently replied, "Are you a master teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" Nicodemus could have been offended by such a question. But Jesus said it with such concern and love in His voice and on His face that Nicodemus received the message. Jesus was trying to impress him with the fact that instead of being offended, he should be humbled by his lack of knowledge of such important spiritual knowledge.
There was no excuse for the blindness of Israel in regard to the work of regeneration. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Old Testament prophets had explained such things.
- Isaiah had written "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags." Isaiah 64:6
- David had prayed. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me." Psalms 51:10
- Through Ezekiel the promise had been given, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit I will put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." Ezekiel 36:26,27
As Nicodemus sat talking with Jesus, these verses came to his mind. He had read them before, but their meaning had not been understood. Now he was gaining new insights into these verses. The Holy Spirit was working on his mind. He longed to have what Jesus was offering. Jesus perceived this, and answered his longings, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:14
The story that Jesus is referring to is found in Numbers 21:9. Early in the Exodus the Israelites began complaining to Moses that he had led them out from Egypt. They forgot about God, the miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian army, and the crossing of the Red Sea. They complained that they were just going to die out in the desert. They said that they hated the manna God gave them. So God removed His protective barrier around them and allowed poisonous snakes to enter the camp and bite them. Many repented of their bitter complaining. God told Moses to make a serpent of bronze and lift it up on a cross where all could see. This represented Jesus who became sin for us and took our place. When a snake bitten person looked on the cross, he did not die from the poison. The Israelites understood the serpent on the cross represented the coming Messiah. Romans 8:3 says God sent "His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh."
Nicodemus was familiar with the story of the uplifted serpent on the cross. With this he clearly understood the Savior's mission. He was awe struck. The sacrificial system was meant to be a reminder of the reason for the Messiah's coming. But the Jews had lost sight of this. Many of the Jews regarded the sacrificial service as having virtue to set them free from sin. God desired to teach them that it had no more value than the serpent of brass. The sacrifices were meant to lead their minds to the Savior.
Nicodemus was being drawn to Jesus. Back home he began searching the scriptures in a new way. He not longer studied for debate, or discussion of a theory. He now studied for personal benefit, for life for his soul.
In this interview with Nicodemus, Jesus revealed the plan of salvation and His mission to the world more completely than to anyone else. At the beginning of his three years of ministry, Jesus opened the truth to a member of the Sanhedrin, to the mind that was most open to receiving it, and to an appointed teacher of the people. But the leaders of Israel did not welcome the light. Nicodemus hid it in his heart, and for three years little results were seen of this important discussion.
When Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus was there. The sight of Jesus on the cross caused memories of the interview to flood his mind, and he saw in Jesus the world's Redeemer.
3. Nicodemus at Jesus Crucifixion
While Jesus was still on the cross after His death, John the disciple and a few of the women remained next to the cross. Jesus had been crucified on a cross. Such people doomed to such a fate were considered criminals and given a dishonorable burial in the criminals graveyard. John and the women did not want to leave Jesus to be roughly handled by the soldiers and given such a burial. So they remained at the foot of the cross, not knowing what to do. They were confused and scared. Jesus came to an end they did not expect.
At this time stepped in Nicodemus and his good friend and fellow Christian Joseph of Arimathea. Both were very wealthy and influential Pharisees, members of the Sanhedrin. For three years they secretly had been followers of Christ. They had used their influence to protect Jesus from the plotting of rebellious priests. But the other priests finally saw through their allegiance to Christ. They held a secret meeting without them and plotted to kill Jesus.
After Nicodemus' nightly visit with Jesus, he had studied more deeply into the prophecies of the Messiah, and understood Jesus' mission better than the disciples. Nicodemus saw his Redeemer and Savior hanging on the cross. He and Joseph of Arimathea determined to give their Redeemer an honorable burial.
Joseph went to Pilate and used his influence to convince Pilate that Jesus was already dead, which was unusual. It usually took three days for a criminal to die on the cross. Jesus had died of a broken heart. But Joseph received permission to take Jesus body. Nicodemus came with expensive embalming spices fit for a king. Jesus disciples were very surprised to see these influencial wealthy men arrive to give their Master an honorable burial. The disciples had no idea that such men called Jesus their Master.
Joseph had a tomb hewn in a rock prepared for himself nearby. They carefully took Jesus off the cross and buried Jesus there. So instead of receiving the burial of a criminal, Jesus had a burial fit for a king. And rightly so. Then they went home and spent the Sabbath mourning.
4. Nicodemus a Leader in the Early Christian Church
After Jesus resurrection, Nicodemus came boldly to the front when the disciples were scattered and discouraged. Jesus had tried to explain to them about His crucifixion, but their minds were too full of the glories of an earthly kingdom that never was to be. So Jesus left the message with Nicodemus, a respected teacher of Israel. He understood much better than they did about Jesus mission. He spoke words of encouragement. He also poured his wealth into the infant church. He was rejected by those who had honored him earlier. He became poor in this earths goods, but was a pillar in the early Christian church.
Nicodemus wealth and influence protected him from the enemies of the early church for many years. But the church's enemies finally turned on him, beat him and threw him out of Jerusalem. Gamaliel came to his aide. Gamaliel was a relative of his that had even more power as a doctor of the law than Nicodemus was. He became a Christian that is mentioned in Acts 5:34 as protecting the apostles. Gamaliel took Nicodemus into his home and protected him until he died. Gamaliel had taken the martyr Stephen's body and buried it in a cave near his home. He buried Nicodemus next to Stephen. There they are waiting for Jesus to return and call them from their graves. Jesus has them marked exactly where they are. They will spend forever with the Jesus they loved so much.
Part 1 of 3 Part Video on Nicodemus by Doug Bachelor
Links and Resources
Desire of Ages chapter In Josephs Tomb Half way through chapter Nicodemus buries Jesus
Nicodemus possibly brother of Flavius Josephus the Jewish historian
John 3:1-21 John 19:38-42 Luke 23:49-55 Matthew 27:55-61
© 2019 Doneta Wrate
Doneta Wrate (author) from Michigan on September 06, 2019:
Dora, Thank you for your comments