The life of Nicodemus is mentioned in three chapters of the New Testament, and they all are in the Gospel of John. He is referred to in Jn 3, 7 and 19. As I thought about his life, Nicodemus seems to serve as real life example of someone experiencing the purpose of the book as stated by John in John 20:30-31 which says,
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Nicodemus was someone on a quest to understand Jesus. On this journey, we first see Nicodemus as he visits Jesus at night in John 3. This visit at night probably was to hide from others the fact that he was seeking Jesus since he was one of the ruling Sanhedrin. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, but he was still in his own moral darkness as a nonbeliever. In this first picture of Nicodemus we see that he recognized that God was with Jesus, but he does not appear ready to embrace Jesus as Savior and God.
In chapter 7 we encounter Nicodemus a second time. In this chapter, he is making a procedural point in front of the Sanhedrin to defend Jesus. At this point, there still is no hint of his salvation, but at least, he attempts to protect Jesus through his influence on the Sanhedrin although he does not appear to be very forceful in this defense.
The final time we see Nicodemus, is in John 19. At this time, he has gathered spices, and he now is at the tomb helping to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. There still is no mention of his faith but his choice to join Joseph of Arimathea, (a secret disciple of Jesus) in assisting in claiming and caring for the body of Jesus implies that he had reached the moment of belief. He now publicly identifies himself as a follower of Jesus.
It is also interesting to note what Lenski observes, “Joseph bought only the linen, Nicodemus brought only the spices. This indicates a mutual understanding: the two had arranged what each should bring, otherwise either or both would have provided all that was to be used.” Most likely then, Joseph knew that Nicodemus was a believer and Nicodemus knew that Joseph was a believer and they planned together to care for Jesus.
What can we learn from this journey of Nicodemus? As encouraging as it is to see Nicodemus finally reach the point of belief and publicly identify with Jesus, Barclay has some challenging words related to Nicodemus and his passivity in standing for Christ earlier. He says,
“Often a man finds himself in a situation in which he would like to defend Jesus and in which he knows he ought to show his colors. Often he makes a kind of half-hearted defense, and is then reduced to an uncomfortable and ashamed silence. In our defense of Jesus Christ it is better to be reckless with our hearts than prudent with our heads. To stand up for him may bring us mockery and unpopularity; it may even mean hardship and sacrifice. But the fact remains that Jesus said he would confess before his Father the man who confessed him on earth, and deny before his Father the man who denied him on earth. Loyalty to Christ may produce a cross on earth, but it brings a crown in eternity.”
Father, thank you for the journey of faith that we see in Joseph and Nicodemus. Thank you for the honesty of your Word where the imperfections of people are seen. Help me to be bold in my faith and not be ashamed of my belief in Jesus as my Savior and God.
Following Jesus with you,