- Main Text: John 3:1-21
- Accompanying text: Psalm 139:13-18
Nicodemus moves from the darkness of the soul to the light of Jesus. John remembers him as someone who “had come to Jesus by night” (John 19:39 ESV). Was it only John who knew this? Did Nicodemus become remembered generally in this way? We know that Nicodemus, in the dusk on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, helped Joseph of Arimathea when together they “took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (19:40-42). He also provided “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds (around 34 kilos) in weight” (19:39) to anoint Jesus’ dead body.
What made Nicodemus care so much that he was willing to help with Christ’s interment? When we meet him in John 3, it seems unexpected because it’s at the beginning of a chapter without any background provided. But was it so? Had he been at the “Jewish Passover” (2:19) and was he aware of the cleansing of the Temple? Had he heard or at least heard of Christ’s statement, when, in response to the Jews’ request for a sign, Jesus had said of himself, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (2:19) in reference to the Resurrection? Did Nicodemus, intrigued by what he and some of his associates had heard or seen, decide to go to Jesus secretly by night for fear of the Jews because he was both a Pharisee and “a member of the Jewish ruling council”? (3:1) Clearly Nicodemus knew something about Jesus because he said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (3:2). “In John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. This otherwise minor detail is part of a larger theme in John’s Gospel and one that originates at the very beginning of the Bible: ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3). John describes Jesus as the Light, and those who do not believe in Him as being in darkness” .
Unlike the synoptic gospels John records detailed conversations that Jesus has with others. He has already recalled how Jesus met his first disciples, and now he begins to write down the discussion Jesus had with Nicodemus. Was John there too? “Not only was John the closest to Jesus, but he was also the last surviving apostle. He writes the gospel as an old man, reflecting on Jesus with unique insight…The closeness of John to Jesus is reflected in the way that he feels free to expand Jesus’ actual words. John paraphrases some of his discourse to bring out the full meaning, because he believes he knows Jesus’ mind well enough to explain what he meant. So, for example, if you read John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…’, it is not clear who is speaking. Is it Jesus in conversation with Nicodemus, or John expanding the section with reflection of his own?” 
Thoughts re application today
“Pharisees considered themselves children of God because they were descendants of Abraham. In general, they prided themselves on being righteous. They baptized Gentiles and circumcised them to bring them into Judaism…In Judaism, proselytes were called new children, born again…These rebirths were based on human emotion, human reason and human resources. They were not of God. We must not think that we can be spiritually reborn by our own goodness, achievements, efforts or works. Jesus’ comment to Nicodemus includes the thought that a spiritual rebirth is brought aboutfrom above by God’s Spirit. A born-again experience is caused by the Holy Spirit of God changing our minds and taking away our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh, to use words from Ezekiel 36”. 
When discussing being born from above or being born again, “Jesus is describing liminal space. A liminal space is the time between two realities. It is the time between ‘what was’ and ‘what’s next’. It is a place of transition, waiting and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation in our lives takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us…Becoming a follower of Jesus — being born again — is to go through liminal space.” 
We don’t know fully how Nicodemus reacted to Jesus’ words at the time, but we do know that later Nicodemus came to Jesus’ defence. Some officers had been sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus following his provocative teaching at the “Jew’s Feast of Booths” (7:2) but they failed to carry out their duty. The officers were questioned by religious elite who insisted that their instructions should have been carried out. At that point Nicodemus intervened. Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (7:50-51). Did Nicodemus have influence on the Sanhedrin in favour of Christ? Perhaps. We know that most of the Jewish leaders plotted against Jesus. “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (12:42-43).
- 1 Peter 1:3-5, 23
- Titus 3:4-7
- Romans 6:1-8
- Ezekiel 36:25-27
Footnotes and references:
- The Bible Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by various contributors, published by DK: Random House Publishers, UK, 2018:241.
- David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible, published by William Collins, UK, in 2015:889-890.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:144-145.