Nicodemus is a character that is not mentioned too much in the Bible. Only three chapters-John 3; 7; 19-even mention his name. Despite such little biblical material, there is a lot one can learn from him.
In John 3, Nicodemus-a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin-approaches Jesus at night. He likely comes at night for safety, being a member of the Sanhedrin as well as a Pharisee, he would be well aware of both entities plot to kill Jesus. The Pharisees along with Herodians plotted early (Mark 3:6) to kill Jesus and later, the Sanhedrin is recorded as having similar desires (Mark 11:18). The entities join in their wishes to have Jesus removed in Mark 12:13. Why would religious leaders who know Tanakh backwards and forwards want Christ dead? Jesus’s life and ministry threatened everything for the Jewish religious leaders; their power, wealth, identity, and societal status where all at risk of being lost.
Nicodemus is both a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, so he is likely aware of his colleagues’ desires to eradict Jesus from the scene. But Nicodemus, being a teacher of Israel, sees something in Jesus that moves him into thinking He is indeed the promised Messiah that will come to restore Israel. Christ is not on earth just to deliver Israel from the Roman superpower but the whole world-past, present, and future-from the kingdom of darkness.
The most famous verse in the Bible-John 3:16-is in the context of the discussion the Pharisee has with the Savior. Jesus says to Nicodemus he must be born again, the Holy Spirit must wash away the stain of sin and make him into a new creation. After Jesus explains to Nicodemus the need for rebirth, John pens this famous verse, John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. I believe Nicodemus walked away from Jesus with eternal life.
Nicodemus again appears in John 7 when the Sanhedrin criticizes the temple guards for not arresting Jesus. He speaks up to defend the Savior but is shot down. The Sanhedrin, who accused people of not knowing the Law, freely disobey the Law themselves when confronted by Nicodemus. Blinded by their pride, the Sanhedrin retorts that there has never been a prophet from Galilee. Again, the Sanhedrin, weakened by their emotion, cannot operate with rationality. Jonah, Nahum, and possibly Elijah have a prophetic association with Galilee.
Jesus is crucified in John 19. The significance in relation to Nicodemus is that this is his third and final appearance in the Bible. Having died around 3pm, Joseph of Arimathea asks permission and is granted by Pilate to care for Jesus’s body. Joseph is also a member of the Sanhedrin along with Nicodemus and it is safe to assume both were “secret” disciples. Risking their standing in the Sanhedrin and society, both prepare Jesus’s body for burial. Both would know that touching a dead body would render themselves unclean; it was also close for the Sabbath to begin, so they had to hurry before sundown around 6pm. Their colleagues in the Sanhedrin would also be uneasy if they knew these two men were to care for the body of Jesus who was mortal enemy number one to the religious leaders of the day. Caring for Jesus would be a slap in the face to the Sanhedrin, wrath and punishment would clearly rain down on those who cared for the body of the one they tried so hard to remove.
At great risk, like the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-45, Nicodemus risks it all- great wealth, high status, power, authority, and being a Sanhedrin member-to care for the body of the Messiah and Savior. He turned his back on his identity as a prominent Pharisee, like Paul did in Philippians 3:1-12, to gain Christ. On this Good Friday, have we moved from “secret” disciple to servant? Have we sold and renounced all our worldly treasures to gain the greatest jewel? On Good Friday, this Pharisee became more than a secret disciple but one who would give up his life of wealth, power, position, and status so he could care for the dead body of the Messiah and Savior of the world. Jesus gave His life for us so we can be free from the dominion of darkness but it came at a cost. Nicodemus was willing to give up his life to gain Jesus, are we willing to follow?