Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2).
In order to understand this story, we need to know two things about Nicodemus. First, he was a Pharisee. If you are a student of the Bible, you probably have a negative view of the Pharisees. You may think that all the Pharisees were legalistic hypocrites who hated Jesus. But that’s not true at all. In the first century the Pharisees were widely respected for their intense piety and deep scholarship. They were men who devoted their lives to the study of the Torah and its application to daily life. They truly wanted to obey God’s law. That meant studying the Bible for hours each day, praying two hours a day, giving a tithe of all they possessed, and in general, being scrupulously concerned about morality. There were only a few thousand Pharisees because not many men would make that kind of personal sacrifice. Those who did were held in high esteem.
Second, Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council. This was a select group of 70 men who served as a kind of combination Congress and Supreme Court. They adjudicated various disputes and settled legal matters so that the Romans wouldn’t have to get involved. As you might expect, only the leading men were elected to such a prestigious position. The fact that Nicodemus was part of the ruling council meant that he must have been highly respected by his peers. In 21th century terms, he was like a United States Senator or a Supreme Court justice.
That’s the man who came to see Jesus one night in Jerusalem. But why come at night? Perhaps because he knew that Jesus was controversial and he couldn’t risk being seen publicly. Or perhaps he wished to have time for a lengthy personal interview. I’m sure there were elements of curiosity mixed with a sense of duty. After all, this upstart rabbi had been gaining followers by the day. As a leader, he had an obligation to find about more about this man.
Surely there is more to the story than that. The fact that he risked his own position to come to Jesus speaks of his own personal need. Note what he said. “No one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Nicodemus admits that Jesus has been sent from God. He is no mere man; he’s more than a teacher from Galilee. In Jesus Nicodemus recognized the mark of divine parentage.