References: John 3. 1-21; John 7. 50-51; John 19.38-42.
Heart of the Story: Nicodemus belief in Jesus as Son of God and Savior. His belief turned him into a brave follower of Jesus.
Backstory: Nicodemus is a Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin, and Jewish leader. He was never mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John mentioned him three places. In these three places, readers see movement of Nicodemus from timidity and fear of being associated with Jesus to outright declaration of his belief in Jesus when he helped Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus body for burial.
Story Line Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night. Many have speculated that Nicodemus was afraid or ashamed to visit Jesus in broad daylight, so he made a nighttime visit. Nicodemus questioned Jesus. As a member of the Jewish ruling council, it would have been his responsibility to find out about any teachers or other public figures who might lead the people astray. In their conversation, Jesus confronted Nicodemus by telling him that he must be born again. Nicodemus was incredulous asking if a man can enter his mother’s womb a second time. Jesus explained that Nicodemus needs a spiritual rebirth which comes from believing in Jesus as God’s son and Savior.
The second time that John wrote about Nicodemus is in a meeting of elders in the Sanhedrin. Jewish leaders had determined to put Jesus to death. Nicodemus asked his colleagues, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing? (John 7. 51 ESV). John recorded that Sanhedrin members said that Jesus was a Galilean and prophets did not come from Galilee.
The third time John wrote about Nicodemus, he was assisting Joseph of Arimathea to request Jesus’s body from Governor Pilate (John 19.38-42). After permission was given, Joseph and Nicodemus removed Jesus’s body from the cross. They wrapped his body in linen infused with myrrh and aloes and placed Jesus’s body in a tomb.
Pondering relationships: Nicodemus assisting Joseph with Jesus’s burial is the last time that Nicodemus is mentioned in the Bible. We do not know if he became an outspoken advocate of Jesus. John’s three records of Nicodemus leads us to believe that he became a follower of Jesus. Unknown is whether or not following Jesus meant he spoke out his belief.
Both the Eastern Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church venerate Nicodemus as a Saint. The Roman Catholic church believes he was put to death for his faith. During the 16th century struggle between Catholic and Protestants in in Europe, a person belonging to a Church different from the locally dominant one often risked severe punishment to include death. Often these persons were call Nicodemite, referring to a person who is suspected of public misrepresentation of their actual religious beliefs by exhibiting false appearance and concealing true beliefs.
Reflection: Do you believe that the 16th century word “Nicodemite” was a true representation of Nicodemus? Why or why not?
Copyright: October 9, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth.