John 3 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. Jesus outlines what it means to be born again through a conversation with Nicodemus. I remember first reading this in Seminary and wondering, who is Nicodemus, and how many times is Nicodemus mentioned in the Bible?
Nicodemus appears thrice in the Bible. We find him only in the Gospel According to John. The Bible depicts him as a seeker of truth and a curious man.
In this article, I’ll explore this character. I’ll look into the identity of Nicodemus, where he is mentioned in the Bible, and whether he was a follower of Jesus, among other topics. Read on to find out more.
Who was Nicodemus in the Bible?
According to the Gospel of John, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of Jewish law, and a member of the Sanhedrin. We know him best as the man who visited Jesus at night, a fact the apostle John hammers in repeatedly in his writings.
Nicodemus, the Pharisee
We read in John 3:1 that Nicodemus was a Pharisee—a devout Jew keen to obey everything in the law. The people often hailed them as righteous men, something even Jesus admitted. They were wealthy and acted as “prefects” of the law. However, their extreme legalistic stance often put them at loggerheads with Jesus, who was more liberal on matters such as the observance of the Sabbath.
Nicodemus, being a member of this sect, was no doubt aware of Jesus’ ministry, and he was curious about the Galilean prophet. So, when Jesus attended Passover in Jerusalem, Nicodemus seized the opportunity to talk to him.
Nicodemus, a Teacher
During his conversation with Jesus, we see Jesus gently rebuke Nicodemus for his lack of understanding. Jesus marveled that Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, didn’t understand what He said. (John 3:10).
It’s easy to gloss over this statement, but it provides an insight into Nicodemus’ position among his people. As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus must have been popular, perhaps for his grasp of the Old Testament.
Nicodemus, the Sanhedrin member
Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin—the Jewish Supreme Council (John 3:1). The Sanhedrin had 70 members drawn from Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. They enjoyed limited authority to arbitrate cases and enforce Jewish law. Nicodemus was a member of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
Where is Nicodemus in the Bible?
We only find Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. He appears three times in this book: in John 3, he visited Jesus in the night; in John 7:50, Nicodemus spoke in defense of Jesus; and in John 19:38-42, he helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus.
Let’s explore each of these incidences in greater detail.
John 3:1: The Night Visit
Nicodemus is famous for visiting Jesus at night. Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover, and while there, he cleared out the temple and performed some miracles. After the events of this Passover, Jesus retreated to a house, and here, Nicodemus paid him a visit.
He wanted to know more about Jesus: Who he was, where Jesus came from, and how Jesus could do what he did (John 3:2). Many Christians regard this night visit as a sign of cowardice; I believe it was a carefully thought-through decision. With the crowds at Jerusalem during Passover, this was probably the only time Nicodemus could get Jesus alone.
Nevertheless, Jesus and Nicodemus had a fascinating conversation on salvation and Jesus’ claim to Messiahship. Evidently, this conversation impacted Nicodemus; we remain uncertain if he was converted that night, but we see him take a more sympathetic position toward Jesus moving forward.
John 7:50: Nicodemus defends Jesus
Nicodemus defended Jesus during a Sanhedrin council meeting held in Jerusalem.
Jesus, in John 7, attended the Feast of Tabernacles. Once again, he had a run-in with the Jewish leaders. They were unhappy with Jesus healing on the Sabbath and claiming to be the Messiah. On this occasion, they sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus as he spoke in the temple.
The guards couldn’t carry out this order partly because of the crowd and because they were awed at Jesus’ words; they were convinced He was a prophet. The guards returned without Jesus. The Sanhedrin were unhappy and quick to point out that those who believed in Jesus were ignorant and cursed.
Nicodemus, having heard enough, spoke up in Jesus’ defense. He cited the law, which prohibited them from making accusations without hearing Jesus’ side. The Sanhedrin wasn’t impressed by this and mocked Nicodemus while pointing out that there were no prophets from Galilee.
John 19:38-42: Nicodemus buries Jesus
Nicodemus provided 75 pounds of spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. His colleague, Joseph of Arimathea, requested Jesus’ body from Pilate, and together, they buried Him in a new tomb.
This action clearly demonstrated Nicodemus’ respect for Jesus, and many scholars cite it as evidence that Nicodemus was a disciple of Jesus. There’s merit in this belief, especially when you consider that burial spices were expensive, and their action would no doubt reach the other members of the Sanhedrin. In his own way, Nicodemus declared his faith in Jesus by doing this.
Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
We don’t have any biblical record explicitly answering this question. However, as mentioned above, we can infer from these actions that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea, was a secret follower of Jesus. This idea, though unconfirmed, isn’t far-fetched. John tells us in Ch. 12:42 that although many chief priests believed Jesus was the Messiah, they were afraid to speak up. It’s, therefore, not outrageous that Nicodemus would be a secret follower of Jesus.
Why is Nicodemus important in the Bible?
Nicodemus was a seeker of truth, something Jesus saw in their conversation in John 3. Jesus went to great lengths to elaborate on what it meant to be born again. He spoke clearly to Nicodemus without parables, something He reserved for his disciples.
Nicodemus sets an example for us of what it means to have a child-like faith in Jesus. He acknowledged what he didn’t know and was willing to submit to an uneducated rabbi from Galilee to learn. Out of this humility, we have the central message of Christianity outlined and summarized in that famous verse in John 3:16.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.