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Q. Why did Nicodemus come to talk with Jesus during the night?

A. Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospels; you are referring to the first time, recorded in John 3. The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus found in this passage gives us a clear presentation of the way of salvation. Believers through the centuries have used this Scripture passage perhaps more than any other in witnessing to the unsaved.

This passage says that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus at night. Numerous reasons have been suggested for the nighttime visit. Perhaps the most prominent idea is that he was just plain scared that his colleagues would see him with Jesus. However, in his second emergence, found in John 7:51, he spoke up when the Pharisees were trying to find fault with Christ: “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” And in the third encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in John 19:38 and 39, we find him assisting Joseph of Arimathea in a proper burial of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea is described here as a secret disciple of Jesus because he was afraid of the Jews. But the passage doesn’t indicate that Nicodemus was also frightened, unless the parenthetical statement that he had earlier come to Jesus by night meant that he, too, was afraid.

Another possible reason is that nighttime was the best time in Jesus’ schedule, as well as Nicodemus’s. Jesus was busy with His earthly ministry during the daytime. But He always had time for people, even if it meant spending time with someone like Nicodemus when others were sleeping.

Or perhaps, as a religious leader, Nicodemus didn’t think it appropriate to seek counsel from a controversial, humble One like Jesus. In other words, could anything or anyone good indeed come out of a low-class place like Nazareth (cf. John 1:46)? Therefore, he met with Him when no one was around. Perhaps Nicodemus was a little or much ashamed even though he respected Jesus.

Or was it Jesus Whom he was trying to protect? That idea might have some merit, in view of the two other accounts of Nicodemus.

Still another reason cited, probably not as well known or perhaps not having a lot of support, is that the Jews considered it spiritual to study the Scriptures late into the night.

Finally, some have suggested that the account in John 3 is simply stating a fact-Nicodemus came to Jesus by night-and that the fact has no particular significance. It is rather doubtful, though, that the other two accounts would mention this fact if it had no importance.

All of these reasons boil down to one point: we don’t know for sure. One interesting observation is that in his Gospel, John emphasized light versus darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). That is a key verse on this theme. Therefore, some have even suggested that John used Nicodemus’s coming to Jesus by night as an illustration of darkness versus light.

This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin by Norman A. Olson. 

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