In Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus came to see Jesus under the cover of night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, but unlike other Pharisees, he knew and secretly admitted that Jesus came from God. Unlike many people, Nicodemus did not come to see Jesus to ask for a miracle; neither did he come to spy on Jesus either; rather, he came to talk with Jesus. There is something about Jesus which compelled Nicodemus to come and see Him; something that Nicodemus could not ignore.
Nicodemus is an excellent case study in faith. Jesus told Nicodemus these things:
- “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
- “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)
- “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)
- “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
- “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
- “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)
- “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the importance of being reborn of water and Spirit. The Catholic Church understands the rebirth of “water and Spirit” not as physical birth, but as a spiritual rebirth through faith in Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism (CCC 782).
Jesus also revealed His mission to Nicodemus: that He came down from heaven, to be lifted up on the Cross, so that those who believe may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15) Jesus mentioned being lifted up on the Cross in at least two other instances:
- Jesus said to the Jews when He was teaching in the temple area: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.” (John 8:28)
- Shortly after Jesus entered Jerusalem, He told His disciples: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32)
God instructed Moses to build a bronze serpent which was lifted up on a pole in order to save the Israelites who were bitten by serpents in the desert (Numbers 21:4-9); it prefigured the lifting up of Jesus on the Cross, so that everyone who believes in Him may be saved.
Jesus also revealed God’s judgment to Nicodemus: that there are those who prefer to live in darkness because they hate the light and they do not want their evil works to be exposed. On the other hand, there are those who live in the light and live in the truth, so that their good works may be seen as done in God. Those who believe in Christ live in the light and truth, and will not be condemned; but those who live in darkness have already been condemned because they do not believe in Christ.
From the Gospel of John, one can tell that Nicodemus sympathized with Jesus and His teachings. He first met with Jesus at night (John 3:1-21). Later on, however, he was the lone voice in the Sanhedrin who pleaded for Christ, reminding his colleagues that according to Jewish Law, they should not condemn Jesus without giving him a hearing (John 7:50-51). Finally, in the absence of the disciples of Christ, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both took the body of Jesus and buried Him (John 19:38-42).
Some critics may say that Nicodemus was a coward for meeting with Christ at night, and for not openly following Christ like other disciples. Jesus said to His disciples and to the crowd, “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9)” Nicodemus did stand up for Christ in the Sanhedrin, and he took the body of Jesus and buried Him when the other disciples were nowhere to be found. Somehow, each disciple plays a different role in God’s plan.
Nicodemus is venerated as a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Together with Gamaliel and Lydia the Purpler, their feast day is on August 3rd.