Was Nicodemus a Hypocrite?
In John 3:1-21, we read of a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. Nicodemus was a member
of the Sanhedrin and obviously feared what the people, especially his fellow Pharisees would say if they saw him
visiting Jesus. It is not yet clear, however, whether Nicodemus was wearing a mask or if he was a genuine seeker of
truth. In the second verse he says, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these
miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. By "we" he probably identifies himself with the leading Jews. His
statement is similar to that of the Pharisees in Matthew 22:16. They said, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Both of
these statements are true of course, but if the speakers didn't believe it was true, they were knowingly telling lies!
Jesus knew the heart of Nicodemus and I rather think that he recognized genuine interest. He took the time to explain
the plan of salvation in great clarity. Many Christians have memorized John 3:16 and a few have memorized the entire
third chapter of John.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
kingdom of God (verse 3). The term "born again" is quite common today, but the expression only appears here in
scriptures. Nicodemus is incredulous. He asks, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time
into his mother's womb, and be born? I think that if I had never heard of being born again, I might have reacted the
same as Nicodemus. His was a logical question.
"Verily, verily," "Behold," or "I tell you a truth…" are different ways of saying, "Listen up! What I am about to say
is very important!" Repetition underscores importance.
v3: Jesus answered him…
v5: Jesus answered him…
v3: Verily, verily, I say to you…
v5: Verily, verily, I say to you…
v3: unless one is born again…
v5: unless one is born of water and the Spirit…
v3: he cannot see the kingdom of God.
v5: he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
v15: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
v16: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Nicodemus raised the question of natural, physical birth. Jesus answered, "No, Nicodemus, you must be born both
naturally and spiritually." The natural birth comes first. The amniotic sac of a mother bursts just prior to
childbirth and we say of this event, "Her water broke!" In verse 6 Jesus reinforces this interpretation when He says,
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. God formed man from the
dust of the ground, but he did not become a living soul until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
Jesus continues with another common occurrence in nature (v. 8): The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the
Spirit. Once again, Nicodemus responds with bewilderment. "How can these things be?"
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say
unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told
you earthly things, (fleshly birth, winds) and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things
(spiritual new birth and moving of the Holy Spirit)?
Note the switch in personal pronouns! Nicodemus is thinking and speaking in the "we" form as a good Pharisee, so Jesus
includes his own disciples in the response. From Pentecost forward, we (Jesus with us) are working as a team. It's one
thing for us to identify with Christ, but its absolutely awesome that Jesus identifies with us!
In verse thirteen, Jesus declares his deity - he is the promised Messiah! And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but
he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. That should have been enough to humble Nicodemus.
He has been teaching the people that the Messiah would come. According to Luke 3:15, the entire nation of Israel was
anticipating the coming of Christ. Nicodemus is standing in the very presence of the Messiah! He should be lying
prostrate on the floor or at least kneeling!
Jesus presents the plan of salvation in the clearest and most concise form possible in verses 14-17.
And as Moses
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That this significant wilderness
event had prophetical implications was clear to leading Jews, but Jesus now ties it together with his own death. At
this point not even the disciples were aware of the manner in which Christ would die, so we couldn't expect Nicodemus
to understand the significance of "lifted up." The final repetition in this passage is unmistakable however. Verse 15
says, …that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. These same words conclude John 3:16!
Verses 17-21 are powerful words that deal with the age-old problem of man's sinful condition and God's salvation.
God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that
believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the
name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved
darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither
cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds
may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, but he came to the Light of the world! Did he believe? Our text doesn't say, but
in John 7:30 +44-53, Nicodemus tried to defend Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin and harvested the scorn of his
colleagues. We still don't know where Nicodemus stands. In John 19:38-42 two wealthy and influential men buried the
crucified body of Jesus. One of them was Joseph of Arimathaea, a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. The other
person was Nicodemus. Was he now a believer? We still don't know for certain, but I hope to meet him in heaven!
Ralph V Harvey