Nicodemus fascinates me. Here is a guy who was a member of the Sanhedrin—71 Jewish leaders who were part of the highest judicial/cultural body in Israel; who no doubt was one of the most educated people in Israel; who had more influence and money than most of the rest of the Jews, and he comes to Jesus and addresses him—unlearned carpenter!—as Rabbi (teacher, instructor, guide). Whatever else one can say about Nicodemus, one cannot accuse him of being filled with pride. The New American Commentary:
In so doing [calling Jesus “Rabbi], he “graciously” acknowledged Jesus as his equal, even though Jesus would be popularly recognized by council members as one of the “ignorant,” the working people of the land.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Nicodemus doesn’t understand. Jesus explains further. Nicodemus still doesn’t understand, “How can these things be?” Then the long explanation from Jesus with the most recognized verse in the Bible, John 3.16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
What fascinates me is that we do not need to speculate about what happened to Nicodemus from his famous encounter with Jesus. We know exactly what happened to him. We see him twice more in this gospel [Thanks, John!]. In John 7, the “chief priests and Pharisees” send out guards to arrest Jesus. They come back empty-handed. No one ever spoke like this man (John 7. 46), they explain to those who sent them out. Then this: Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”” (John 7:49–51, ESV). Nicodemus defends Jesus.
Let’s look at him again, this time after Christ is crucified.
“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38–42, ESV).
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are the two who take care of Jesus body, bind it in linen cloths and lay him in the tomb. Is he a follower of Jesus? Has he experienced the new birth? Surely, dear
one thousands of readers, you do not need me to answer that question for you.
G. Campbell Morgan makes the most profound comment about Nicodemus (and Joseph) and I will close with it:
“It has become almost an expository habit to abuse Nicodemus, and to say that he was a coward. It may be well to remember that he and Joseph of Arimathea were so-called secret disciples; but when all the loud-shouting crowd ran away, those were the two who buried him. Sometimes there is more courage in quietness, than in noise.”