Who is Nicodemus?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who, as “a ruler of Jews,” seems to have been a member of the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. In the first and most famous incident, soon after the cleansing of the temple, Nicodemus visited Jesus Christ at night, presumably to avoid detection by others of the Jewish leadership but perhaps on an official visit as a Pharisaic delegate of the Sanhedrin to assess Jesus’ intentions and character. Their meeting provided the setting for Jesus Christ’s discourse on the “new birth” (John 3:1-21), in which Jesus affirms the need for each person to be “born from above” (John 3:3 anothen, KJV “again”), being born of both water and spirit. Although Nicodemus initially seemed confused, perhaps revealing that his previous opinions of Jesus were being reshaped, Jesus stressed the source of this new life by describing himself as the example of one who “came down from heaven,” whom God sent because he “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but everlasting life” (John 3:13, 16).

Nicodemus is mentioned again when the Pharisees and chief priests seek to arrest Jesus Christ while he is attending the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem (John 7:45-53). Recalling that he was the same man who “Came to Jesus by night” (John 7:50), John notes that Nicodemus was rebuked when he reminded the gathering that the law condemned no man without a fair hearing.

Nicodemus is sometimes identified as a secret disciple of Jesus Christ or as one who represents those who lacked sufficient faith to support him openly. However, in his third appearance in the Gospel of John at the burial of Jesus (John 19:38-42), Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus when it was dark, come out into the light, bringing a kingly amount of spices to assist Joseph of Arimathaea in preparing Jesus’ body to be place in the tomb and making his discipleship open. Significantly, this event occurred after Jesus Christ had been lifted up on the cross, allowing Nicodemus to see the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Jesus that he would be lifted up “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (John 3:14).