Nicodemus - The Conqueror By Faith

INTRODUCTION: In recent years, the phrase "born again" which has rich meaning in scriptural application, has taken on a diluted meaning, by common use in a secular sense, and perhaps by the overuse of some Christians as well. This phrase is not used at all in the three synoptic gospel accounts, but appears only in John chapter 3. Among the epistles, in English it appears only in 1Peter, and in that verse there is a single Greek word translated as the phrase "born again", rather than two separate Greek words. There are some other words, which conjoin "born" to form phrases, which are similar, but they will not be addressed herein.

The verbal exchange between Nicodemus and the Lord covers verses 3:1 to 3:21, but this study will be inclusive only through verse ten, with verses 11 through 21 of John 3 to be the subject of a sequel study, "Whosoever Believes".

NOTE: numbers enclosed by <> are Strong's numbers.


A - John 3:1, KJV

1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

COMMENTS: Nicodemus is clearly identified as a Pharisee, and one who had authority (a ruler of the Jews), a group which may have contained a very low count of those who truly trusted in Jehovah, and waited on the kingdom of God. Being in this group actually seemed to carry an inherent liability against the development of the humility requisite of true faith. Many today, who still place their trust in the religious knowledge and works they attribute to themselves, probably find it especially contradictory that religious knowledge and acts do not secure heaven. But God's grace is sufficient to penetrate any group.
Mark 5:36 "As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe." In Mark's gospel, through faith, this aforementioned ruler of the Jews received his daughter back from death.

The self-sufficient members of the leaders described in this next passage from John chapter 7 used their position as pressure to stifle any drift toward Jesus, but it did not totally silence Nicodemus, who had previously talked with Jesus as recorded in this current study of chapter three.
John 7:48-52 "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet."

And even a little later in John's gospel there is an answer to the question as to whether any Pharisees or rulers had believed: yes, and not just a few.
John 12:42 "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:"
After the resurrection of Christ, as the gospel spread, we have this record:
Acts 18:8 "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized."
So in Corinth another ruler of the Jews believes, and Paul emphasizes in his letter to the church in that city of Corinth, the contrast between those who are of high position, and those who are not.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence."
We should PRAY first for ourselves, then for any we know who might feel pride in themselves for having gifts, actually received of God, for the scripture is clear that no created person can boast before the creator God, who is forever praised.


B - John 3:2, KJV

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.

COMMENTS: Jesus had established a pattern which afforded Nicodemus an opportunity to approach him in his night camp, without the pressures of the presence of unbelieving peers of the ruling class. Luke 21:37 "And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives."

Since Nicodemus sought Jesus without an audience, and not having been sent by others, his intent seems to be genuinely from his heart. Isaiah 26:9 "With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." The comparison of Isaiah and Nicodemus may seem a stretch, but the inner spirit of each is the important factor.

Other scripture reveals men with a different intent with their questions in public. Matthew 22:15-16 "Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, 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." After offering compliments, which were not genuine, they put forth a question with the intent to "entangle" Jesus in his own answer. Nicodemus however, tells Jesus he believes God gives Jesus his power. This is also unlike the Pharisees of Matthew 9:34 "But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils."

The Greek name Nicodemus, (meaning conqueror in English), is closely related to the Greek words, which are translated in English as victory and overcome.
1 John 5:4 "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh <3528> the world: and this is the victory <3529> that overcometh <3528> the world, even our faith."
And another related Greek word is <3534> translated as victory.
Matthew 12:20 "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory <3534>."
1 Corinthians 15:54 "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory <3534>."
1 Corinthians 15:55 "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory <3534>?"
1 Corinthians 15:57 "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory <3534> through our Lord Jesus Christ."
So, in scripture, these words are closely related to each other and to a spiritual victory, more than to military or physical conquest. The name of this man Nicodemus, begins to take on very special meaning with the way in which our Lord called him to overcome, and partake of the spiritual victory in Christ. May we do likewise.


C - John 3:3, KJV

3 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. ["again" or, "from above"]

COMMENTS: This verse begins with "Jesus answered", a common form in the gospels, and which is not to say that there was a direct question requiring an answer, but, there is an implied request for explanation of matters which perhaps Nicodemus found difficult to form into a concise and reasonable question. But Jesus knows our hearts, and directs our thoughts to the need of our heart. . The double repetition of Verily (truly), is found ONLY in John's gospel, occurring twenty-five times, and verily is not used anywhere in John's gospel without being doubled. This seems to be part of the personal literary style of John, but the Holy Spirit has also directed his writing. It is not important to this study to make any more, or less, of the use of verily, verily.

Our focal point is the second birth, which protects us from the second death, and John has brought this before his readers already in chapter 1. John 1:12-13 "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." These important facts of spiritual birth at the beginning of eternal life, as with physical birth at the beginning of physical life, are also expressed in Paul's letters.
1 Corinthians 15:50 "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." And as it is impossible for an individual to bring about his own physical birth, so also must the cause of spiritual birth come from outside our self.
Titus 3:5-7 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." The regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit brings us into a new family, with the right of an heir.


D - John 3:4, KJV

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

COMMENTS: Nicodemus likely responded spontaneously to the remark Jesus made directly to him, and the term Jesus used Nicodemus understood as a second birth (not "born from above" which is another legitimate way to translate the Greek), because he blurted out his above statement in puzzlement. He also applied the idea to himself, wondering even more about a second birth for an adult. This concept is still troubling to many, but the solution is in the person of Christ and the transformation brought about by faith in him alone: the transformation by which we are passed from death in the body to eternal life in the spirit. And it is quite interesting that the source of being born again, comes from above, so "born from above" is very applicable to the process.


E - John 3:5-6, KJV

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

COMMENTS: Jesus allows the surprised statement by Nicodemus to stand not as unbelief, but of the need for clarity of thought. Jesus then restates the fact in a different manner for Nicodemus, and for any who will hear the truth even today. Flesh and blood (the natural man) cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Our hope is not in this earthly body, but in the resurrection body which will be the new habitation of those who received eternal life by grace through faith. Jesus could expect Nicodemus as one who knew the scriptures, to be aware of this principal because it is present in the Old Testament.
Job 33:24-28 "Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth: He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light." When considered with the additional light of the New Testament, this passage from Job has a tremendous message of grace for new life, through faith in God, to provide to man, God's own righteousness.

Micah 6:6-8 "Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah reminds man that not even a great multitude of extreme and very personal sacrifices could earn salvation to place us in the presence of God; but obedience with a loving acceptance of God's mercy to us, will allow us to walk humbly with our God. As Samuel told King Saul, "to obey is better than sacrifice". And this obedience is not just the obedience of keeping the law, for by law shall no flesh be justified; but it is obedience of complete faith in God the Lord, the only source of salvation to eternal life.


F - John 3:7-8, KJV

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 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.

COMMENTS: We may be aware of some of the principals set forth in scripture regarding our spiritual life, but we should not feign to understand fully, the One whose ways are so far above our ways. As Zechariah begins to speak what God has revealed to him, he gives recognition to the immense power of the creator God, including that God forms the spirit within man.
Zechariah 12:1 "The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him." And God also has the power to place his own Spirit within us.
John 7:39 "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" And again, our faith is the key factor for us to receive the gift of salvation.
John 11:25-26 "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"

The letters to the church provide additional statements about faith, the spirit of man, and the spirit of God.
Romans 8:9 "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
1 Corinthians 2:14 "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
1 Corinthians 15:45 "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."
2 Corinthians 1:22 "Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."
2 Corinthians 5:5 "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit."
Galatians 3:14 "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

So, as the song says, faith is the victory that overcomes the world, and the music helps us remember the message of the passage which was its source. 1 John 5:4 "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."


G - John 3:9-10, KJV

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

COMMENTS: The question by Jesus speaks to the responsibility to respond to truth from the scripture, but it also points out that knowledge of scripture must be combined with faith, for faith is the agent of activation that the one who will believe, applies to the grace gift from God. This is the mysterious interaction between the Holy Spirit and the sinner, which passes the sinner from death to life, with all of the glory due to God alone.

We cannot understand and accept the Word of God without the help of the Spirit of God. Isaiah 44:1-8 "Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the LORD'S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel. Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any."

God, the ONLY God, has established all things according to his own good pleasure, and we must turn to him in humility, realizing we have nothing to offer him but our loving obedience. Isaiah 66:1-2 "Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." And this is so marvelous to realize, that there is no one of high station or low, who needs to strive to lift himself up by personal ability to reach God, but to the contrary, all must become humble before God. James 4:10 "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."

When the disciples walked with the Lord Jesus, Peter boldly stated his belief that Jesus is the Christ, but Jesus made it clear as to the source of Peter's understanding, and also labeled it as a blessing to Peter. Matthew 16:16-17 "And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
Paul speaks of progressing in maturity and knowledge, never the less concluding that we remain far short of full understanding.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." From the first man, up to our present time, without faith it is impossible to please God. This next statement made of Israel in the wilderness, the majority of whom did not place their trust in God, is continually applicable through the ages.
Hebrews 4:2 "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." And chapter 11 of Hebrews starts with the faith of Abel and runs down through many centuries, listing more examples to us of the primacy of faith, as stated in Hebrews 11:6 "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."


CLOSING COMMENTS

Nicodemus truly became a conqueror or overcomer, as his name signifies. In chapter three we see no evidence of the completion of his faith, but in chapter 7 we have the first indication as he speaks up among the council.
John 7:50-51 "Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" At the crucifixion, the eleven disciples for the most part stayed away from Jesus, but after the death of Jesus on the cross, Nicodemus joins another formerly secret disciple of high position among the Jews.
John 19:38-42 "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand." This final record of Nicodemus shows him joining another in an act of high respect, with tender care for the body of the Lord Jesus. We have no record of Nicodemus seeing Jesus after his resurrection, but I believe Nicodemus certainly is enjoying the presence of his precious Savior now!


--- Reflections in prayer ---

My Lord and Savior, I cannot relate to Nicodemus regarding his extensive knowledge of scripture before his conversion, because I knew so very little until I began to study, after I was born from above through your Spirit. But I thank you for the account of the night visit by Nicodemus, and his opening to you stating that he believed your authority to teach, was from God, because of the miracles you performed, for I also accept those miracles as factual. I thank you also that you immediately guided the discussion to saving and transforming faith. Nicodemus did not at first understand your declaration requiring that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God, and that concept still confuses yet today. Thank you Lord for the way you continued the discussion, since this interchange was to benefit many more than just Nicodemus for finding entrance into the kingdom of God. Our thoughts must move beyond our existence in the flesh, to the spiritual realm, which will supersede the flesh for our eternal existence.

Thank you for the example of the wind to help me understand in part, how the spirit differs from the body. All come to you, not on the basis of anything other than faith, resulting in new birth. The Bible however, contains so much to prompt the sinner to salvation; and to confirm our faith and to guide us to serve you after we have received your gift of eternal life. Please grant me the courage to follow through on my faith, as did Nicodemus. Praise the LORD!

Published 3 June 2004, first issued 16 November 2003