NICODEMUS (nĭk'ō-dē'mŭs, Gr. Nikodēmos, victor over the people). A leading Pharisee, “a ruler of the Jews,” and a member of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps from curiosity, and possibly under conviction, but certainly led of God, he came to Jesus by night (John.3.1-John.3.14). He must have thought of himself as quite condescending to address Jesus, the young man from Galilee, as “Rabbi,” but Jesus, instead of being puffed up by the recognition, quickly made Nicodemus aware of his need by announcing the necessity of a new birth in order “to see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus did not then understand but was deeply touched, though he had not yet the courage to stand out for the Lord. Later, when at the Feast of Tabernacles (John.7.25-John.7.44) the Jewish leaders were planning to kill Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up, though timidly, in the Sanhedrin, suggesting their injustice in condemning a man without a fair trial. After the death of Jesus, however, Nicodemus came boldly with Joseph of Arimathea (John.19.38-John.19.42), provided a rich store of spices for the embalmment, and assisted in the burial of the body. After that he is not mentioned in Scripture.

NICODEMUS nĭk’ ə de’ məs (Νικόδημος, G3773, victor over the people), a Pharisee and later a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38-42). Although the name was common among the Jews of the 1st cent., this is the only man in the NT to bear it (3:1). A Nicodemus ben Gorion, who was a brother to the historian Josephus, a very wealthy member of the Sanhedrin in the 1st cent. has been identified by some with this man in the NT who came to Jesus by night. Nicodemus ben Gorion later lost his wealth and position so that some have attributed this reversal of circumstance to his having become a Christian. The identification is unlikely.

Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews which meant that he was a member of the court of seventy elders, known as the Sanhedrin, which was the highest religious body among the Jews. He also was described as “the” (article present in Gr.) teacher of Israel. This did not mean that he was a teacher superior to all other teachers, but simply that he was the well-known and acknowledged teacher who even had a place in the Sanhedrin. It could be expected of such a man that he knew the OT well indeed. As a teacher “of Israel” it was pointed out that he had a special responsibility for the religious instruction of the people of God. The fact that Nicodemus was a Pharisee was related directly to the conversation which Jesus had with him, for such a conversation would have been impossible with a Sadducee or a Herodian. Nicodemus was of interest to the author of the fourth gospel because he afforded an opportunity to set out Jesus’ teaching. Only the first part of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is set in dialogue (3:2-10). What else may have been said by Nicodemus was set aside by John because the subject introduced through him upon which Jesus commented was the allimportant consideration.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ entire religious hope rested upon his lineage, a physical descent from Abraham. The Pharisees were noted for their claim to be Abraham’s seed. It was this heir of Pharisaic teaching concerning the importance of racial heritage in religion that was introduced to Jesus’ teaching concerning the necessity of a new birth. Nicodemus is represented as having misunderstood the teaching about being born again. This came from the fact that the word “again” in Gr. was capable of other meanings, esp. important in the instance was the meaning “from above,” therefore “from God.” The lesson taught through the encounter with Nicodemus was the necessity of spiritual generation for the man who possessed God’s life, as against the teaching of the Pharisees who emphasized natural generation through Abraham.

Many have observed a progression in Nicodemus’ relationship to Jesus. He began with Jesus in “the night” which has suggested to most of the interpreters that he was hesitant and afraid to be seen with Jesus, coming as he did in secrecy out of regard for his reputation and to protect himself. At a later time Nicodemus defended, even if hesitantly, Jesus before the Sanhedrin, insisting “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (7:51). This brought the taunting reply, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee” (7:52). At the time of Jesus’ burial he came out into the open and brought spices with which to anoint the body and assisted in the burial (19:39-42). Nothing else is known of him from Scripture.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A Pharisee and a "ruler of the Jews," mentioned only by John. He

(1) interviewed Christ at Jerusalem and was taught by Him the doctrine of the New Birth (Joh 3:1-15),

(2) defended Him before the Sanhedrin (Joh 7:50-52), and

(3) assisted at His burial (Joh 19:39-42).

1. The Interview:

2. The Defense:

3. The Burial:

By this open act of reverence Nicodemus at last made public profession of his being of the following of Christ. His wealth enabled him to provide the "mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds," with which the body of Jesus was embalmed (Joh 19:39 ).

The Gospel of Nicodemus and other apocryphal works narrate that Nicodemus gave evidence in favor of Christ at the trial before Pilate, that he was deprived of office and banished from Jerusalem by the hostile Jews, and that he was baptized by Peter and John. His remains were said to have been found in a common grave along with those of Gamaliel and Stephen.

Nicodemus is a type of the "well-instructed and thoughtful Jew who looked for the consummation of national hope to follow in the line along which he had himself gone, as being a continuation and not a new beginning" (Westcott). The manner in which the Gospel narrative traces the overcoming of his natural timidity and reluctant faith is in itself a beautiful illustration of the working of the Spirit, of how belief in the Son of Man is in truth a new birth, and the entrance into eternal life.