John 3:2 – The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, 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.
We are told that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. The reason we are told this is obviously because Nicodemus at this time didn’t want to face the shame of openly associating with Jesus. Most of his fellow Pharisees were growing increasingly hostile toward Christ, and they quickly despised anyone who associated with Him. Nicodemus would obviously want to avoid such a taint to his spotless reputation, and to avoid losing all the recognition and honor and religious achievement he had earned for himself. Note, the more a man has (religion, honor, achievement, wealth, power), the more he has to sacrifice to become a follower of Christ.
Notice here the vast difference between the “wise” and “foolish” things of this world (1 Cor. 1:17-28). “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21). Nicodemus, certainly one of the most wise things of this world, respected by all, well-advanced in learning and religious devotion, comes to Jesus under the cloak of night. Yet, the shamed Samaritan woman, to whom Jews wouldn’t even associate, full of sin and adultery, considered among the most foolish things of this world, is not ashamed to proclaim Jesus openly to all out of excitement that He is the Savior. Nicodemus sees many the miracles of Jesus and comes to the conclusion that He’s a great teacher sent from God, but the Samaritan woman sees just one of His miracles (His gift of prophecy) and comes to the conclusion that He is the Messiah! Nicodemus is afraid to confess Him openly, but the Samaritan woman boldly proclaims Jesus as the Christ to her whole town as soon as she meets Him! (see John 4:5-42.) Away with the wisdom of this fallen age! We need simple, child-like faith in the Savior. This simple faith is no doubt the essential evidence of the New Birth.
But even though Nicodemus came by night, at least he came! This is saying a whole lot more to his honor in the Word of God than the majority of the other Pharisees and religious leaders. There had to be at least some risk involved in coming, even at night. But notice that even though Nicodemus starts out very timid, scared, and worried about the cost of following Christ, it is significant that His exposure here to Christ more personally did not turn him away from following Him, but actually increased his desire to follow. In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus will grow progressively bolder and stand up for Jesus. In the midst of the Pharisees accusing and condemning Jesus, Nicodemus boldly sticks up for Him and is ridiculed (7:50-51). Then later, after the crucifixion of the Lord, Nicodemus isn’t afraid to publicly identify himself with the crucified Christ by bringing a whopping hundred pounds of spices for his burial and preparing His body alongside Joseph of Arimathaea (19:39-40).
It is noteworthy that this was at a time when all the Apostles themselves had fled! While Peter was very bold and started out his race with a fast sprint, he would fall and bite the dust hard at this time, but while Nicodemus was very timid and started our his race with a careful step at a time, he picked up strength and over time, his pace quickened and he gained ground, showing his faith by his perseverance and gradual growth. It’s not always immediate, fiery passion and zeal that characterizes true followers of Christ, but it’s faith with perseverance that counts (see Luke 8:15). We are not told specifically that Nicodemus finally believed with all his heart and actually experienced the New Birth, however, there is noteworthy evidence which leads us to have hope. Perhaps he was among the number of multitudes that were openly added to the church in the book of Acts, since there we are told that even many of the Jewish leaders believed (compare John 12:42 with Acts 6:7).
Nicodemus shows us his timidity at this time not only by coming at night, but by using the word, “we” when acknowledging Jesus’ authority: “we know that thou art a teacher come from God”. This appears to be a classic way of avoiding any appearance of personal commitment while at the same time acknowledging truth –by keeping the personal “I” out of it and just talking in general terms. This ploy is used in politics even to this day to avoid the appearance of conviction and commitment. But perhaps the main reason that the Apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, informs us that Nicodemus used the word “we” rather than “I” is because as a ruler of the Jews and leader in the Sanhedrin, his case is representative of the case of Judaism as a whole; his spiritual condition was representative of the majority of the Jewish people and leaders. They acknowledged a lot of truth, saw the obvious when it came to Jesus, but still lacked spiritual life in them, still lacked the inward power of grace in regeneration, still lacked the Spirit of God, still lacked the real spiritual meat and substance of the Kingdom of God, and were ignorant of the righteousness which comes by faith.
Perhaps the most important question here is the one which Jesus would later ask His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mat. 16:15) Our answer to this question is crucial in determining our eternal destination. Nicodemus at this time would have probably responded to Christ by saying something along these lines: “You are an amazing teacher, a model rabbi, an anointed prophet, and a powerful miracle-worker, and without doubt, you are a man sent from God”. –But even recognizing all this is not enough. Peter would respond with the only correct answer: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16). Many people believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a great man, a wonderful teacher, even a prophet. But that’s not good enough if they miss the most important part. He’s all of that and much, much more. He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the Lord of all, and God incarnate. He is our divine Substitution, our atoning Sacrifice, our Passover Lamb, our reigning King.
An essential part of the new birth is having the veil of sinful blindness lifted away and receiving a personal revelation of who Jesus of Nazareth really is. Jesus responded to Peter’s declaration of faith by saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 16:17). This was not just a matter of good insight or clever brain power. This recognition was the result of supernatural revelation to the mind of Peter from the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t just an intellectual revelation, but a revelation to the very heart of Peter, producing in him the faith necessary to believe on Christ as His Lord and Savior. This revelation was granted from above. It comes with the New Birth. When God regenerates a sinful man, he opens his eyes and grants the ability to see the things of the Spirit in a way that enables him to believe in the Savior with real faith.
So although we see that Nicodemus certainly recognized these great things about Christ, things which the majority of the other Pharisees failed to recognized (or failed to acknowledge we should say), the knowledge he had of this Jesus was an insufficient knowledge that at this time failed to believe in Him as the Son of God and Messiah of Israel, and therefore is the evidence that he was not yet born again. When someone is born anew, born from above, they will certainly have this divine revelation from above, resulting in a wholehearted commitment to Christ as King. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and in fact, we see by this that even his understanding itself was still in the black night of sin and ignorance to the real things pertaining to the light of the glorious Gospel and the power of the Kingdom of God.
Nicodemus realized that Jesus came forth from God, he recognized the supernatural nature of the miracles Jesus did, he admitted the authority Jesus had to teach the Word of God, he showed interest and hunger in hearing what Jesus had to teach, and he even confessed that it’s impossible that Jesus is not from God, since no one could do such miracles apart from God. Yet even with all this acknowledgment of truth, and even despite all his religious attainment, morality, and show of holiness, Nicodemus was still at this time a dead man, dead spiritually to the things of God. He needed to have life imparted to him from above, or else he would never see the Kingdom of God.