In our last study, we saw that Jesus did not trust the belief that many people had in Him. He did not have faith in their faith. Why? Because He “knew what was in man.” Jesus knew people believed in Him because of the signs and wonders He did. He knew their belief was not deep enough to withstand the rigors of discipleship. They, like so many people today, believed in Jesus for the entertainment and personal fulfillment value. Jesus changed water to wine. He fed thousands of people with a little boy’s lunch and had more food left over than the boy brought to the table. Jesus healed people of every kind of disease. He gave sight to the blind and made the crippled whole. For so many people, Jesus was the best show in town. Jesus knew their hearts and did not commit Himself to them.
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” John 3:1-2
The Gospel of John, as John wrote it, does not have chapter divisions or verse designations. John wrote that Jesus did not commit Himself to those who were believing in His Name because He knew what was in man. The next words John wrote are, “There was a man.” John 3 is an example of people who believed in Jesus “because of the signs and wonders.”
Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. He was a member of the ruling Sanhedrin in Israel. He was also a member of the Pharisees, and as such, was anticipating the coming Kingdom of God. Nicodemus would have spent most of his life studying the Hebrew Bible, believing that living a life dedicated to God would prepare a place for him in the future Messianic Age. He came to Jesus by night. Why? Pharisees were “set apart” and had strict rules about who they talked to and why. As a ruler of the Jews, a daytime visit to Jesus might have been seen as legitimizing the Lord’s Teachings. Jesus had no “authority” to teach in the traditional settings of the elders of Israel, but Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a Teacher come from God – “for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” God’s Authority always trumps man’s authority.
If Jesus’ purpose in teaching was to win over the rulers of Israel to His side, this was His big chance. Nicodemus was the first ruler to express a real interest in the teachings of Jesus. How Jesus responded to Nicodemus demonstrates the true nature of the Lord’s purpose.
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
Jesus did not acknowledge the position that Nicodemus had as a ruler of the Jews. Even though it was dark, Jesus knew who He was talking to and His response shows a deeper concern for Nicodemus than for political opportunity. Jesus told Nicodemus the truth because He loved him. Nicodemus had a wrong understanding about seeing the Kingdom of God. He thought he would see it one day because of his piety, privilege and position in Jewish society. Nicodemus saw Jesus as someone who could help him in his climb up the ladder of ecclesiastical success. Jesus brought that crashing down around Nicodemus by simply stating that the Pharisee had to be “born again” in order to see the Kingdom of God.
As you might imagine, Jesus’ response was not what Nicodemus expected.
“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” John 3:4
What Jesus had said didn’t make sense to Nicodemus. How could a man be born again? How could he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? It’s not possible.
Jesus did not apologize for what He had said. He did not try to take it back and explain in another way. In fact, Jesus went further so that Nicodemus would have no doubt that what Jesus was telling him was not about physical rebirth.
“Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
Not only could Nicodemus not “see” the Kingdom of God; he could not “enter” the Kingdom of God. Why? Because the Kingdom of God can only be seen and entered by spiritual birth – “born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus still did not understand what Jesus was saying.
“Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?” John 3:9
These are the last words recorded about what Nicodemus said to Jesus that night, but what the Lord said to him next had a deep impact on this ruler of Israel.
“Jesus answered and said to him, Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. ‘He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:10-21
We hear from Nicodemus two more times in John. Most of the Jewish rulers wanted Jesus arrested, tried and killed for what He was saying about them, but Nicodemus knew there was something special about the Lord and spoke in His defense.
“Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why have you not brought Him?’ The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man!’ Then the Pharisees answered them, ‘Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’ Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’ They answered and said to him, ‘Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” John 7:4-52
We have no record of Nicodemus saying anymore to his fellow rulers about Jesus, but that did not end his belief in the Lord. Nicodemus did an amazingly brave thing after the rulers of Israel conspired with the Romans to arrest, try and kill Jesus. What Nicodemus did was physically and politically dangerous. He went to the Cross and helped place the Body of Jesus in a borrowed tomb.
“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being 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 the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” John 19:38-40
On that remarkable day when Jesus died for Nicodemus and all others who would “believe in Him,” Nicodemus helped prepare the Lord’s Body for burial – and for Resurrection from the dead.
The New Testament doesn’t reveal anything else about Nicodemus. He may have continued as a ruler of Israel or he may have lost his position because of helping to bury the Lord’s Body. Nicodemus may have been one of the 500 who saw Jesus after His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). He may have been one of the 120 who waited for the Holy Spirit in the upper room. We don’t know what happened to Nicodemus, but I think the step of commitment he took to help place Jesus in the tomb was just the first of many steps of faith toward the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel that few people know. Jesus said that “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) The gospel that most people know – whether easy-believeism, legalism, works gospel, cafeteria gospel, entitlement gospel, emerging gospel, or any one of dozens of other “gospels” being preached today – will not get anyone inside the spiritual Kingdom of God. There is only one Way in and that is believing what Jesus believes. It is not about whether we accept Jesus, but whether Jesus accepts us.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”