|Nicodemus - |
A ruler of the Jews, a master ("teacher") of Israel, and a Pharisee. John (John 3:1-10) alone mentions him. John knew the high priest (John 18:15), so his knowledge of Nicodemus among the high priest's associates is natural. John watched with deep interest his growth in grace, which is marked in three stages (Mark 4:26-29).
(1) An anxious inquirer. The rich were ashamed to confess Jesus openly, in spite of convictions of the reality of His mission; so Joseph of Arimathea "a disciple, but secretly for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38). The poor "came" by day, but Nicodemus "by night." By an undesigned coincidence marking genuineness, Jesus' discourse is tinged, as was His custom (John 6:26-27; John 4:7-14; John 4:35), with a coloring drawn from the incidents of the moment: cf6 "this is the condemnation that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light", etc.; cf6 "every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light ... but he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). Nicodemus was now a timid but candid inquirer; sincere so far as his belief extended. Fear of man holds back many from decision for Christ (John 7:13; John 9:22; John 12:42-43; John 5:44; Proverbs 29:25; contrast Isaiah 51:7-8; Isaiah 66:5; Acts 5:41).
Where real grace is, however, Jesus does "not quench the smoking flax." Many of Nicodemus' fellow rulers attributed Jesus' miracles to Beelzebub; Nicodemus on the contrary avows " we (including others besides himself) know Thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles which Thou doest, except God be with him." Nicodemus was probably one of the many who had "seen His miracles on the Passover feast day, and believed (in a superficial way, but in Nicodemus it ultimately became a deep and lasting faith) when they saw" (John 2:23-24); but "Jesus did not commit Himself unto them ... for He knew what was in man," as He shows now in dealing with Nicodemus. Recognition of the divine miracle. working Teacher is not enough for seeing the kingdom of God, Jesus with a twice repeated Amen solemnly declares; there must be new birth from above (margin John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:7), "of water (the outward sign) and of the Spirit" (the essential thing, not inseparably joined to the water baptism: Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38 (See BAPTISM)), so that, as an infant just born, the person is a "new creature"; compare Naaman the type, 2 Kings 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ezekiel 36:25-26.
For, being fleshly by birth, we must continue fleshly until being born of the Spirit we become spiritual (John 3:6). Nature can no more east out nature than Satan cast out Satan. Like the mysterious growth of the child in the womb, and like "the wind" whose motions we cannot control but know only its effects, "the sound," etc., so is the new birth (John 3:8; Ecclesiastes 11:5; 1 Corinthians 2:11). Such was the beginning and growth of the new life in Nicodemus (Mark 4:27). Regeneration and its fruits are inseparable; where that is, these are (1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4). Nicodemus viewed Jesus' solemn declaration as a natural man, "how can these things be?" (John 3:4; John 3:9; compare John 6:52; John 6:60; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet he was genuinely open to conviction, for Christ unfolds to him fully His own divine glory as having "come down from heaven," and as even then while speaking to him "being in heaven" in His divine nature; also God's love in giving His Son, and salvation through the Son who should be lifted up, as the brazen serpent was, to all who look to Him in faith, and condemnation to unbelievers.
(2) A sincere but as yet weak believer. The next stage in Nicodemus' spiritual history appears John 7:45-53. Naturally timid, Nicodemus nevertheless remonstrates with bigots. The Pharisees, chagrined at the failure of their officers to apprehend Jesus, said, "why have ye not brought Him?" They replied, "never man spoke like this man." The Pharisees retorted, "are ye also deceived? surely none of the rulers or the Pharisees have believed on Him, have they? (Greek) But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed." Here one who, as they thought, should have stood by them and echoed their language, ventures to cast a doubt on their proceedings: "doth our law judge any before it hear him and know what he doeth?" (compare Leviticus 19:15; Exodus 23:1). Indignantly they ask, "art thou also of Galilee? ... out of Galilee hath arisen (Greek) no prophet." Spite made them to ignore Jonah and Nahum. John marks the spiritual advance in Nicodemus by contrasting his first coming "by night" (John 7:50). He now virtually confesses Jesus, though in actual expression all he demands is fair play for an injured Person. As before he was an anxious inquirer, so now he is a decided though timid believer.
(3) The third stage is (John 19:39) when he appears as a bold and strong believer, the same Nicodemus (as John again reminds us) as "came at the first to Jesus by night." When even the twelve shrank from the danger to be apprehended from the mob who had clamored for Jesus' crucifixion, and whose appetite for blood might not yet be sated, and when Christ's cause seemed hopeless, the once timid Nicodemus shows extraordinary courage and faith Christ's crucifixion, which shook the faith of others, only confirms his. He remembers now Jesus had said He "must be lifted up," like the brazen "serpent," that all believers in Him might have eternal life. So Nicodemus had the honour of wrapping His sacred body in linen with 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes, in company, with Joseph of Arimathea.
Christ's resurrection richly rewarded the faith of him who stumbled not at His humiliation. Compare on the spiritual lesson Matthew 12:20; Zechariah 4:10; Proverbs 4:18. Like Mary who "anointed Christ's body to the burying," "what Nicodemus did is and shall be spoken of for a memorial of him wheresoever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world." Where real desire after the Saviour exists, it will in the end overcome the evil of the heart, and make a man strong in faith through the Holy Spirit. The Talmud tells of a Nicodemus ben Gorion who lived until the fall of Jerusalem, a Pharisee, wealthy, pious, and of the Sanhedrin; bearing originally a name borne by one of the five rabbinical disciples of Christ (Taanith, f. 19, Sanhedrin f. 43); and that his family fell into squalid poverty.