Mentioned only in the Gospel according to John, Jesus’ late night meeting with Nicodemus gave us the most influential verse and the summary of the entire Gospel in John 3:16. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council and came to Jesus one night with a whole bunch of questions. Whether he was sent by the Pharisees or came on his own accord is not clear and John leaves it for the readers to decide the true intentions of Nicodemus.
Following suit, the Pharisees always sent someone to Jesus with a set of questions, to trap Him whenever they would lose a public argument. John places the late night Bible study between Jesus and Nicodemus right after the clearing of the temple, wherein the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority to clear the temple of the merchants. Nicodemus also admits that he had been discussing Jesus with the Pharisees when he says, “We know that you are a teacher…”. This is what leads some to believe that Nicodemus was sent by the Pharisees.
However, John also pointed out that Nicodemus came in the night which cause more doubts about his intentions. Some feel that Nicodemus feared the other Pharisees and wanted to keep his meeting secret while some feel the busy schedule that kept both Jesus and Nicodemus occupied during the day meant that the only possible time to have a deep conversion with Christ was at night.
Jesus Teaches Nicodemus
Nicodemus starts off by first complementing Jesus on the great work he was doing, to which Jesus responds
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” – John 3:3-4
That seems like a weird response to someone telling you that you are sent from God. Maybe Jesus knew the questions Nicodemus wanted to know and came straight to the point. All his life, Nicodemus thought that following the laws religiously will gain him access to the kingdom of God. This new ‘born again’ statement would have come as a rude awakening. Nicodemus thought of a natural birth whereas Jesus was talking about the spiritual rebirth. Even we misunderstand the scriptures when we try to place it in the context of what is familiar to us.
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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 3:6-8
Jesus went on further in distinguishing the natural birth and the spiritual birth but Nicodemus still could not understand what ‘born again’ meant. Perhaps he did not want to leave behind the rituals and works which he thought brought him closer to God. Sometimes, our act of kindness towards our fellow beings or our works for our church lead us to believe that we accumulated some sort of ‘heaven points’ and that we are closer to the required target to gain access to God’s kingdom.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? – John 3:10
Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for his lack of understanding of the scriptures. Being a head Pharisee and teacher of the word, he would have known the scriptures by heart but he never understood what it meant. People interpret the Scriptures in different ways and as it is the living word of God it is applied to our situation differently by the leading of the spirit. We should not interpret scriptures in ways we find it comfortable to our lifestyles but by the leading of the spirit.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17
Everyone knows John 3:16 by heart but the next verse is equally important, for Jesus did not come condemn us but save us. If he wanted to condemn us for our wrongdoings, He would have brought the day of Judgment upon us but rather he came with the sole intention to be an atonement for our sins. He compares himself to Moses’ bronze snake (Numbers 21). The Bronze snake did not have any magical powers but when the Israelites looked up to it, they acknowledged that they had wronged God and their lives were spared due to this acknowledgement. Similarly who ever looks to the cross in acknowledgement that Jesus died for our transgressions has been saved. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3:20-21
Jesus’ last recorded words to Nicodemus were that anyone who lives by the truth comes into the light. Jesus calls himself the light and says that those who want to remain in darkness fear that their deeds would be exposed. This could also be Jesus’ parting shot at Nicodemus for coming in the night and being a secret follower fearing his position in the Jewish council.
The next time we read about Nicodemus is when the Pharisees were plotting to kill him and Nicodemus did not stand up for his faith. We don’t know whether Nicodemus ever openly proclaimed that he accepted Jesus’ testimony but after the crucifixion of Jesus we read that Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in the burial of Jesus.
Do we find it difficult to confess our faith to our friends, neighbors and coworkers? Are we just Sunday Christians and the rest of the week, are we far from the light?