John’s gospel and Matthew’s gospel are of particular interest from a Jewish perspective. Whereas Matthew frequently explains precisely how Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled prophecy, John’s gospel includes the seven miracles and ‘I AM’ statements and shows the deity of the Lord Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. Nicodemus journey to faith can be followed by looking at John 3, 7 and 19.
The first passage is usually expounded from John 3:1 though it is important to consider the context from the preceding verses. Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, cleansed the temple (note that happened on two occasions) and speaking of His body said that He would raise the temple in three days though His audience were perplexed and thought He was speaking of Herod’s Temple.
Nicodemus is a historical figure
What can we say about Nicodemus? We know that he was a Pharisee, ruler of the Jews and the teacher of Israel. We can go further than that though if we examine other important literature concerning his background. He is mentioned twice in Josephus and a few times in the Talmud where he is portrayed as a man of great wealth. This is significant and concurs with when Nicodemus brought 100Ibs of myrrh and aloes to Jesus’ burial. It is possible that Nicodemus was also the brother of Josephus.
Nicodemus visited our Lord at night. No doubt they were both busy men and especially because it was Pesach (Passover). It was more likely the case however that he was afraid of being seen by others from the Sanhedrin. This is still often the case today. Some Jewish people are understandably wary of being seen by others talking with them about the gospel.
Nicodemus respectfully addresses Yeshua as a Rabbi and backs up that pronouncement by recognising that His signs are from God. It has already been mentioned that Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Messiah was expected to do miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6). The Talmud doesn’t deny that Jesus performed miracles but does oppose His claim to be the Messiah. Nicodemus stated that “we’ know that His signs are from God. This may well have included Joseph of Arimathea bearing John 19 in mind and there have been others too. This suggests that some of the most learned Rabbis may be open to hearing the good news.
Nicodemus seeks an explanation
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he must be born again. He needed to be regenerated, born of the Spirit. Nicodemus was baffled and was thinking of being rebirth within the context of rabbinical Judaism. This included proselyte conversion, being crowned king, baptism, repentance, having a bar mitzvah, marriage, rabbinical ordination and becoming the head of a seminary.[i] After exploring all those options what was meant in this context by being born again?
Our Lord compared the wind with the Spirit of God which incidentally has a similar meaning and serves as an excellent illustration. No one can see the wind though its effects are obvious by what it does. Similarly, we can’t see the Holy Spirit though we can recognise an unmistakable change in a person’s life. Nicodemus would likely have seen the disciples and how the Spirit worked in their lives.
Nicodemus knew that God was with Jesus and he was keenly interested, so he sought further clarification. Notice the Lord addresses him as “the teacher of Israel” when it was actually the case that He was the Teacher of Israel. When Joshua was the Commander of the army of the Lord, he met the true Commander of the Lord. Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego were in the furnace when they met the Son of God in the furnace. God worked in a very personal way. This is a reassurance of how God works on personal level in people’s lives and is also helpful for us to consider when we minister to other individuals as individuals.
How are we to comprehend passages from the New Testament? Commence from the Tanakh- The Old Testament. Jesus began with Moses, the great prophet. In Deuteronomy 18:15-22, Moses spoke of a greater Prophet like him. I am not sure if Nicodemus realised at that stage that he was conversing with the Prophet like Moses. Now Jesus drew his attention to when the children of Israel were bitten by serpents and had to gaze at the bronze serpent on the pole to be healed. Now they would need to look to the Son of Man who would also be lifted up when He was crucified. It is imperative to look to Jesus and be saved. Jesus is the only One who can forgive and remove sins. If you turn from your sins and trust and follow Him then you will live.
Because we are born of flesh and naturally sin, we are spiritually dead and have to be reborn (born from above). God so loved the world, gave His only begotten Son and whoever believes in Him shall not perish but receive eternal life. This doesn’t solely require intellectual assent since we need to turn from our sins, trust in Him as Lord and Saviour and ask for His help to do that. Whoever does not believe is condemned already for not believing in the only begotten Son of God. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. We either love the light or love the darkness. We either continue to practise evil or come to the light. We either have eternal life or we perish.
Nicodemus speaks up for Yeshua
In the three occurrences in John’s gospel, we see his journey move towards and culminate in faith in God. We may share the gospel with someone, another may follow and yet another person may lead them to faith. Nicodemus goes to Jesus in John 3, sides with him in John 7 and believes in John 19.
In John 3 Nicodemus and Jesus were discussing the new birth at Passover. John 7:40-52 is now at Tabernacles. In John 7:40 some identified Him as “the Prophet”. They recognised Jesus as the Prophet like Moses. Others wondered whether Messiah would come from Galilee and quoted Micah 5:2 (John 7:42). The Scriptures confirmed that He would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah from the Tribe of Judah but in addition, He would come from Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2).
Notice Nicodemus raised the principle of considering someone innocent before proven guilty which is an honourable principle of our Judeo-Christian heritage and legal system. Nicodemus was accused of siding with Jesus and those from Galilee and the claim that no prophet would come from Galilee was reiterated in verse 52. They were mistaken and if they had read the opening verses of Isaiah 9 it would have pointed them to Jesus as Messiah.
Nicodemus presents myrrh and aloes at the lord’s burial
In this last window on Nicodemus’ life the season is Passover again. Joseph of Arimathea came silently for fear of the Jews. Joseph of Arimathea believed. Today there are an increasing number of Jewish people coming to faith in Messiah although they face great opposition. Nicodemus then brought around 100Ibs of myrrh and aloes. That is an enormous, costly amount. This speaks of what the Lord meant to Nicodemus. They buried Him and Nicodemus had obviously come to faith in Jesus as Messiah. Remember the woman with the alabaster flask of fragrant oil. That too was for His burial.
Our Lord was buried with the rich (Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy) and they were fulfilling Isaiah 53:9. Again Nicodemus costly gift agrees with the Talmud and Josephus concerning his wealth. Notice he was buried in the garden in a new tomb where no one was laid. Not only was Jesus’ resurrection predicted in Psalm 16:10 ‘You shall not allow Your Holy One to see corruption”, yet even the body of our Lord did not come into contact with that which was corrupted.
Remember how wary Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were. Despite that; they were searching for Messiah and found Him. The same is true today. There is a great cost and real possibility of being disowned by friends and family. If we seek Him, we will find Him. Passover and Tabernacles point towards Messiah at His first coming and His glorious return. Nicodemus was a real historical figure who came to faith when He met the Teacher of Israel. Have you found Messiah? Are you ready for when Messiah returns and are you trusting in Him?
[i] You must be born again http://www.hadavar.org/getting-to-know-god/you-must-be-born-again/