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Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?

Nicodemus is best known for secretly meeting Jesus at night because he feared being seen by the Jewish leaders. He was a Pharisee and very wealthy.
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Nicodemus’ name

The name Nicodemus, Νικόδημος (Nikodemos), is comprised of two parts, the first “nike” means victory and the second part “demos” means people or common people. Therefore, his name could mean “victory of the people” or “victor among the people”.

Nicodemus in the Gospel of John

The story of Nicodemus only appears in the following three chapters of the Bible in the Gospel of John.

  • John 3:1-21 = Nicodemus meets Jesus secretly
  • John 7:43-53 = Nicodemus questions the Pharisee’s actions against Jesus
  • John 19:38-42 = Nicodemus helps take Jesus down from the cross

Each time Nicodemus is mentioned in the Bible he speaks and acts bolder for Christ. In John 3, he only secretly visits Jesus to seek information, while in John 7, Nicodemus speaks up in Jesus’ defense. Lastly, in John 19, Nicodemus is no longer intimidated by the Pharisees and takes physical action and helps remove Jesus from the cross. The following outlines Nicodemus’ actions and response to Jesus.

1) Nicodemus meets Jesus secretly

Nicodemus first appears in the Bible in John chapter 3 when he desires to know more about Jesus and His teachings. As an introduction, Nicodemus complements Jesus saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Jesus ignores his compliment and immediately shifts the focus from Himself to Nicodemus and his spiritual condition. Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus that he must be born again.

At this point Nicodemus questions the reality of being born again and going back into his mother’s womb a second time. Jesus doesn’t argue about this, but simply restates his previous point, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Speaking of this conversion Nicodemus again says, “How can these things be” (John 3:9).

Jesus tenderly asks Nicodemus, how can you be a teacher and not understand these things? Jesus continues by saying, how can I tell you heavenly or spiritual things if you don’t even understand the earthly things of which I speak?

Jesus again changes the topic to Moses and Old Testament history, which Nicodemus would have been familiar with from his youth. Jesus explains that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, for the healing of those who believed, so also the Son of Man must also be lifted up on the cross so that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. (see John 3:14-15.)

This sets the stage for one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16. “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.” Jesus is showing Nicodemus that the kingdom of God is not built upon political power and might but rather on the unselfish sacrificial love of God that culminates in the salvation of man and everlasting life.

Furthermore, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn and judge the world, but rather to save the world from their sin. (see John 3:17.) Jesus concludes His talk with Nicodemus by stating, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light...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 3:19, 21).

2) Nicodemus’ defense of Jesus

The second time John writes about Nicodemus is when the Jewish leaders desire to seize Jesus. However, Nicodemus halts their actions by questioning their motives by saying, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (John 7:51). The Pharisees respond with a personal attack against Nicodemus saying, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (John 7:52).

Although Nicodemus does raise a verbal question in the defense of Jesus, he is not yet openly a full-fledged follower of Jesus. However, In Nicodemus’ next appearance, things change and his full support is on the side of Jesus the Messiah.

3) Nicodemus’ at the cross

Finally, after Jesus’ death, Nicodemus boldly and publicly removes Jesus’ body from the cross and helps lay it in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Nicodemus also personally provides approximately 100 pounds of costly spices for Jesus’ burial.

Nicodemus now is no longer acting in secret. He is fully supporting Jesus and His cause. He has gone from a silent searcher at night, to a verbal defender, to finally a bold follower who physically takes action to honor Jesus his Lord and Master. Some accounts even mention Nicodeums’ gifts and actions helping the early Christian church grow amidst persecution.

Conclusion

As you consider the story of Nicodemus where do you see yourself? Are you a private truth seeker under the cover of darkness? Are you one who wants to know more about Jesus and His truths? Are you wanting to know more about salvation, heaven and being born again? Or are you a leader in your sphere of influence who only verbally and perhaps timidly speaks in regard to spiritual matters? Or are you one who boldly and tangibly takes action to defend the honor and mission of Jesus Christ?

As you continue your journey with Jesus our prayer is that you make Him Lord and Savior of your life.