Nicodemus was a religious leader taught by Jesus. Nicodemus’s faith did not appear in a moment of sudden illumination. Rather, it seems to have emerged gradually.
The Bible captures just three episodes from Nicodemus’s life—all of them recorded in the book of John. In the first scene, Nicodemus sought an audience with Jesus, hoping to hear more from the popular Rabbi.
The nighttime setting has led many to conclude that Nicodemus feared the consequences of being seen publicly with the controversial Jesus. In His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told the inquisitive Pharisee that no one could experience God’s kingdom without being reborn.
Nicodemus, unable to distinguish between “earthly things” and “heavenly things” (John 3:12), received a mild rebuke, accompanied by further explanation. It was to Nicodemus that Jesus revealed that faith in God’s Son leads to eternal life.
John does not indicate whether Nicodemus walked away from the conversation having put his faith in Jesus, but the other two episodes featuring the religious leader are revealing. As the conspiracy against Jesus developed, some of the religious leaders rebuked the temple guards for not arresting Jesus when they had the chance.
In response, the guards came to Jesus’ defense, to which the Pharisees retorted that since no religious leader had put his faith in Jesus, neither should the guards. Apparently contradicting this claim, Nicodemus spoke up, challenging his colleagues for condemning Jesus without a hearing.
Once more, however, Nicodemus disappeared from the scene as quickly as he had appeared. He did not reemerge until the death of Jesus, when he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, took Jesus’ body from the cross and buried it in an unused tomb—one final tribute to the Messiah who had once shared with him the secret of eternal life.
The phrase Jesus used to describe spiritual rebirth to Nicodemus can be translated “born again” or “born from above” (see John 3:3, 7). Either way, it describes a phenomenon that human beings are incapable of bringing about by their own will—we are wholly dependent on the grace of God.