The story of Nicodemus in John 3:1-18 is short but important. Nicodemus was different from most of Jesus’ followers. He was educated, powerful, and he was a Pharisee. In following Christ, Nicodemus had more to lose.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, 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 3:1-2
When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he did so at night. When I first read that I assumed he came at night because he was a coward and was afraid of being found out by the Sanhedrin. However, many scholars believe that he came at night, not because he was afraid, but so that he could have Jesus’ undivided attention. He was so moved by the work and miracles that Jesus had performed thus far that he was compelled to have a one on one conversation with him to have his questions answered.
As they spoke that night, Jesus dumbfounded Nicodemus. He had a hard time understanding what Jesus was saying to him because it was contrary to what the Pharisees believed to be true at that time.
In the Old Testament there were three promises of the New Covenant:
- The gathering of Israel
- The cleansing and spiritual transformation of God’s people
- The reign of the Messiah over Israel and the whole world.
“In Jesus’ day, the common teaching among the Jewish people was that the first two aspects of the New Covenant had been fulfilled. They saw Israel gathered – at least in part – after the Babylonian exile. They saw strong spiritual movements like the Pharisees, which they believed fulfilled the promise of spiritual transformation. All they waited for was the reign of the Messiah. That’s why Jesus’ statement about the new birth was so strange to Nicodemus. He thought that the Jewish people already had it; they certainly weren’t looking for it. They only looked for a triumphant Messiah” (David Guzik).
Now, in his conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus is learning that what he believed to be true regarding his salvation and certainty of experiencing eternal life with God in heaven, was wrong. That is a lot to take in, and now we can understand why Nicodemus seemed so confused in his conversation with Jesus. There was a lot to process and a lot he needed to change. He needed to be born again and believe in the Christ standing before him and that through him the debt of his sins would be paid.
This story ends with one of the most famous passages of scripture, and we’ll end with it here:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”John 3:16-18