What Do We Learn about Salvation from Jesus’ Meeting with Nicodemus?
Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader, and he was an inquiring man—one of many who sought answers from Jesus. Not surprising to Jesus were the questions Nicodemus posed, because Jesus’ life on earth was one spent interacting with people.
At age twelve, His parents found Him at the temple in Jerusalem, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). After His baptism, Jesus called His disciples, who peppered Him with questions for three years, and He always answered with love and perfection. He too asked many questions of them — questions which ultimately led them to realize that He was (and is) the Messiah, even though their full understanding did not come until after His ascension and then the coming of the Holy Spirit. His communication spread beyond His closest followers to common people and to the Jewish religious leaders, including Nicodemus.
In this article we will consider what we should learn from the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.
Where Does Jesus First Meet Nicodemus?
John’s is the only gospel which gives note to Nicodemus, and the narrative unfolds in three passages.
1. John 3:1-21
We should mention each gospel writer highlights certain themes throughout their book; John presents Jesus as the Christ as the Son of God and the works He did which verify His title and position. One of John’s sub-topics which underscores his main theme is the contrast between light and darkness. John 1:4-5 states, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
In their first meeting, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.
Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast, and “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing” (John 2:23). The Pharisees, however, did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, despite the signs which revealed His identity. Yet Jesus “knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). In other words, Jesus knew (and knows) each of us to the depth of our hearts.
It was during the time of Passover that Nicodemus, a Pharisee under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin (the first-century Jewish governing body), approached Jesus. Some scholars say he came at night to avoid being seen with Jesus, while others say John highlights the nighttime visit as a sign of Nicodemus’ shadows of doubt about Jesus.
Be that as it may, on the night Nicodemus came to Jesus, he honored Him by addressing Him as Rabbi. Rabbi has the general connotation of “my great one,” “my lord,” or “my master.” He further acknowledges Jesus, “…we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus then cut to the chase (as it were) and told the Pharisee he must be born again or else he would not see the kingdom of God. It’s ironic that Nicodemus was beholding the very kingdom at that moment.
Why Does Jesus Say Nicodemus Must Be Born Again?
Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus meant about being “born again,” for he only understood physical birth. He asked Jesus how it could be, and he listened as Jesus told him one must be “born of water and the Spirit” in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Nicodemus, at that moment, was blind to who Jesus is — the Son of God.
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Nazareth, and He quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, which includes, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind…” The word, blind, is used both literally and as a metaphor, mainly in the Gospels. (Other metaphorical usages of blind outside the Gospels is found in Romans 2:19, 2 Peter 1:9, and Revelation 3:17.)
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23). In verse 16, he calls them blind guides. In verse 17, they are blind fools. He calls them blind men in verse 19, and blind guides again in verse 24. Jesus, in verse 26 says they are blind Pharisees. He was not addressing a group of physically blind men; they were spiritually blind.
Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, would have fit within the description Jesus used. Jesus, in answer to Nicodemus’ questions, rebuked his position as a teacher of Israel, “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). Jesus reiterated how He and His disciples spoke of what they knew and bore witness to what they saw, and Nicodemus would not “receive” His testimony. The things about which Jesus spoke were earthly things — events and happenings which took place physically. He said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
Jesus shared with Nicodemus what is probably the most known Bible verse, John 3:16, and left no grey area about who He is and why He came. He addressed darkness and how men love that rather than the light “because their works were evil” (John 3:9). “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). Nicodemus sat before the Light of the world and, even though he recognized Jesus as One who came from God, Scripture does not indicate he recognized Him as the Son of God at that moment. In Luke 4:34, we are told the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Holy One of God, something Nicodemus failed to do. This conversation was the only direct communication Nicodemus had with Jesus.
What Part Does Nicodemus Play in the End of Jesus’ Life on Earth?
2. John 7:37-52
An argument arose between officers and Pharisees who heard Jesus proclaim, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Matthew 23:1-35). The Pharisees claimed Jesus came out of Galilee and not Bethlehem, and they questioned the officers for not bringing Him to them. The officers replied, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” The Pharisees accused the officers of being deceived, whereupon Nicodemus said, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They then asked if he too was from Galilee and they told him to “search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” The passage ends abruptly, yet we retain the gist. The Pharisees were indeed blind to the realization that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth.
Jesus had been put to death on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, with permission from Pilate, removed Jesus’ body from the cross. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (This is an indication Nicodemus was a wealthy man, for the cost of one-hundred pounds of this spice mixture would have been equivalent to more than $150,000.) Joseph and Nicodemus bound Jesus’ body in linen strips with the spices and placed Him in a new tomb.
Was Nicodemus Saved?
Scripture doesn’t explicitly say Nicodemus was saved, yet it implies he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We read the plain words of the Bible to gain the factual narrative. Nicodemus questioned Jesus, listened to His answers, defended Him, and helped prepare His body for burial. What’s implied is he may have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus because of (1) his encounter with Jesus (John 3:1-21), (2) his defense of Him to the other Pharisees (John 7:42-52), and (3) his coming alongside Joseph of Arimathea to anoint Jesus’ body in the spice-soaked linen for burial. One of John’s emphases in his gospel is belief, which seems to be communicated through Nicodemus’ actions. In this case, we can assume God does want us to know the answer.
What Does This Mean for Us?
Nicodemus came to Jesus as a knowledgeable, religious leader; three qualities in which we expect to find truth. Yet ironically, Nicodemus stared Truth in the face and did not know it (Him).
Knowledgeable churchgoers who don’t know Jesus?
Religious in name only, not understanding true salvation? Do we know the rules and laws of God, yet fail to see who Jesus is? Do we understand the purpose of our lives?
Leaders who do not communicate the good news, or share an incomplete Gospel message?
Jesus commanded us to, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
In the 1999 dramatization of A Christmas Carol, Patrick Stewart as Scrooge tries and fails to extinguish the light which emanated from the spirit of Christmas past. It was too bright. The light would not be quenched. Nicodemus approached Christ in darkness, but Jesus is the Light of the world. Darkness indeed will never overcome Him.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Dangben
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.