Nicodemus is a member of the religious authorities, but he's also sympathetic to Jesus. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well, this guy pulls it off when he randomly pops up a few times in John:
- He visits Jesus at night and they discuss being born again (3:1-10).
- He hints that the religious authorities might be overstepping their bounds just a tiny bit while they're discussing the best ways to get Jesus put to death (7:51).
- He buys a huge amount of expensive perfumes to prepare Jesus's body for burial (19:39).
Confused? Let's dig a little deeper.
In or Out?
Although Nicodemus reveres Jesus as a teacher, he's also not officially out as a follower of Jesus. That might be why the gospel throws him into the story: to prove that, even among the religious authorities, Jesus has fans.
But Nicodemus is clearly worried about going against his fellow Pharisees. He seems to know that the others aren't going to be pleased when they find out that he's been secretly visiting Jesus. His oh-so-mild defense of Jesus during the vicious pre-trial is evidence of his unwillingness to commit social suicide.
What do you think? Cowardly or just plain rational?
One of a Kind
You can flip through the rest of the gospels to see how the other three characterize this guy, but you'll come up empty handed. Why? Because Nicodemus is unique to the Gospel of John. The others either don't know about him or just don't care. And the rest of the world seems to feel the same way. We dare you to think of more than a couple Nicodemuses in pop culture.
Maybe Nicodemus has failed to inspire any interest because he doesn't really do anything of importance. He misunderstands Jesus like the rest of the disciples, but he also never declares his faith in Jesus. He keeps to his comfortable position of power and only mildly questions what's going on around him.
Compared to the others who were being martyred for following Jesus, he's not quite going the distance for God.