Nicodemus held a high position of trust in the
Jewish nation. He was highly educated, and
possessed talents of no ordinary character, and
he was an honored member of the national council.
With others, he had been stirred by the teaching
of Jesus. Though rich, learned, and honored, he
had been strangely attracted by the humble
Nazarene. The lessons that had fallen from the
Saviors lips had greatly impressed him, and
he desired to learn more of these wonderful
Christs exercise of authority in the
cleansing of the temple had roused the determined
hatred of the priests and rulers. They feared the
power of this stranger. Such boldness on the part
of an obscure Galilean was not to be tolerated.
They were bent on putting an end to His work. But
all were not agreed in this purpose. There were
some that feared to oppose One who was so
evidently moved upon by the Spirit of God. They
remembered how prophets had been slain for
rebuking reproofs from God. They feared that in
plotting against Jesus the priests and rulers
were following in the steps of their fathers, and
would bring fresh calamities upon the nation.
Nicodemus shared these feelings. In a council of
the Sanhedrin, when the course to be pursued
toward Jesus was considered, Nicodemus advised
caution and moderation. He urged that if Jesus
were really invested with authority from God, it
would be perilous to reject His warnings. The
priests dared not disregard this counsel, and for
the time they took no open measures against the
Since hearing Jesus, Nicodemus had anxiously
studied the prophecies relating to the Messiah;
and the more he searched, the stronger was his
conviction that this was the One who was to come.
With many others in Israel he had been greatly
distressed by the profanation of the temple. He
was a witness of the scene when Jesus drove out
the buyers and sellers; he beheld the wonderful
manifestation of divine power; he saw the Savior
receiving the poor and healing the sick; he saw
their looks of joy, and heard the words of praise;
and he could not doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was
Sent of God.
He greatly desired an interview with Jesus, but
shrank from seeking Him openly. It would be too
humiliating for a ruler of the Jews to
acknowledge himself in sympathy with a teacher as
yet so little known. And should his visit come to
the knowledge of the Sanhedrin, it would draw
upon him their scorn and denunciation. He
resolved upon a secret interview, excusing his on
the ground that if he were go openly, others
might follow his example. Learning of special
inquiry the Saviors place of retirement in
the Mount of Olives, he waited until the city was
hushed in slumber, and then sought Him.
In the presence of Christ, Nicodemus felt a
strange timidity, which he endeavored to conceal
under an air of composure and dignity.
Rabbi, he said, 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. By speaking of Christs rare
gifts as a teacher, and also of His wonderful
power to perform miracles, he hoped to pave the
way for his interview. His words were designed to
express and to invite confidence; but they really
expressed unbelief. He did not acknowledge Jesus
to be the Messiah, but only a teacher sent from
Instead of recognizing this salutation, Jesus
bent His eyes upon the speaker, as if reading his
very soul. In His infinite wisdom He saw before
Him a seeker after truth. He knew the object of
this visit, and with a desire to deepen the
conviction already resting upon His
listeners mind, He came directly to the
point, saying solemnly, yet kindly, Verily
verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born
from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3, margin.
Nicodemus had come to the Lord thinking to enter
into a discussion with Him, but Jesus laid bare
the foundation principles of truth. He said to
Nicodemus, It is not theoretical knowledge you
need so much as spiritual regeneration. You need
not to have your curiosity satisfied, but to have
a new heart. You must receive a new life from
above before you can appreciate heavenly things.
Until this change takes place, making all things
new, it will result in no saving good for you to
discuss with Me My authority or My mission.
had heard the preaching of John the Baptist
concerning repentance and baptism, and pointing
the people to One who should baptize with the
Holy Spirit. He himself had felt that there was a
lack of spirituality among the Jews, that, to a
great degree, they were controlled by bigotry and
worldly ambition. He had hoped for a better state
of things at the Messiahs coming. Yet the
heart-searching message of the Baptist had failed
to work in him conviction of sin. He was a strict
Pharisee, and prided himself on his good works.
He was widely esteemed for his benevolence and
his liberality in sustaining the temple service,
and he felt secure of the favor of God. He was
startled at the thought of a kingdom too pure for
him to see in his present state.
figure of the new birth, which Jesus had used,
was not wholly unfamiliar to Nicodemus. Converts
from heathenism to the faith of Israel were often
compared to children just born. Therefore he must
have perceived that the words of Christ were not
to be taken in a literal sense. But by virtue of
his birth as an Israelite he regarded himself as
sure of a place in the kingdom of God. He felt
that he needed no change. Hence his surprise at
the Saviors words. He was irritated by
their close application to himself. The pride of
the Pharisee was struggling against the honest
desire of the seeker after truth. He wondered
that Christ should speak to him, as He did, not
respecting his position as ruler in Israel.
out of his self-possession, he answered Christ in
words full of irony, How can a man be born
when he is old? Like many others when
cutting truth is brought home to the conscience,
he revealed the fact that the natural man
receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.
There is in him nothing that responds to
spiritual things, for spiritual things are
the Savior did not meet argument with argument.
Raising His hand with solemn, quiet dignity, He
pressed the truth home with greater assurance,
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. Nicodemus
knew that Christ referred to water baptism and
the renewing of the heart by the Spirit of God.
He was convinced that he was in the presence of
the One whom John the Baptist had foretold.
continued: That which is born of the flesh
is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is
spirit. By nature the heart is evil, and
who can bring a clean thing out of un
unclean? Not one. Job 14:4. No human
invention can find a remedy for the sinning soul.
The carnal mind is enmity against God: for
it is not subject to the law of God, neither
indeed can be. Out of the heart
proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
Roman 8:7; Matthew 15:19. The fountain of the
heart must be purified before the streams can
become pure. He who is trying to reach heaven by
his own works in keeping the law is attempting an
impossibility. There is no safety for one who has
merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The
Christians life is not a modification or
improvement of an old, but a transformation of
nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a
new life altogether. This change can be brought
about only by the effectual working of the Holy
was still perplexed, and Jesus used the wind to
illustrate His meaning: The wind bloweth
where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound
thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and
whiter it goeth; so is everyone that is born of
wind is heard among the branches of the trees,
rustling the leaves and flowers; yet is invisible,
and no man knows whence it comes or whiter it
goes. So with the work of the Holy Spirit upon
the heart. It can no more be explained that can
the movements of the wind. A person many not be
able to tell the exact time or place, or to trace
all the circumstances in the process of
conversion; but this does not prove him to be
unconverted. By an agency as unseen as the wind,
Christ is constantly working upon the heart.
Little by little, perhaps unconsciously to the
receiver, impressions are made that end to draw
the soul to Christ. These may be received through
meditating upon Him, through reading the
Scriptures, or through hearing the word from the
living preacher. Suddenly, as the Spirit comes
with more direct appeal, the soul gladly
surrenders itself to Jesus. By many this is
called sudden conversion; but it is the result of
long wooing by the Spirit of God, a patient
the wind is itself invisible, it produces effects
that are seen and felt. So the work of the Spirit
upon the soul will reveal itself in every act of
Him who had felt its saving power. When the
Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it
transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away,
evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and
peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife.
Joy takes the place of sadness, and the
countenance reflects the light of heaven. No one
see the hand that lifts the burden, or beholds
the light descend from the courts above. The
blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders
itself to God. Then that power which no human eye
can see creates a new being in the image of God.
is impossible for finite minds to comprehend the
work of redemption. Its mystery exceeds human
knowledge; yet he who passes from death to life
realizes that it is a divine reality. The
beginning of redemption we may know here through
a personal experience. Its results reach through
the eternal ages.
Jesus was speaking, some gleams of truth
penetrated the rulers mind. The softening,
subduing influence of the Holy Spirit impressed
his heart. Yet he did not fully understand the
Saviors words. He was not so much impressed
by the necessity of the new birth as by the
manner of its accomplishment. He said wonderingly,
How can these things be?
thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these
things? Jesus asked. Surely one entrusted
with the religious instruction of the people
should not be ignorant of truths so important.
His words conveyed the lesson that instead of
feeling irritated over the plain words of truth,
Nicodemus should have had a very humble opinion
of himself, because of his spiritual ignorance.
Yet Christ spoke with such solemn dignity, and
both look and tone expressed such earnest love,
that Nicodemus was not offended as he realized
his humiliating condition.
Jesus explained that His mission on earth was to
establish a spiritual instead of a temporal
kingdom, His hearer was troubled. Seeing this,
Jesus added, If I have told you earthly
things, and ye believe not, show shall ye believe,
If I have told you heavenly things?
If Nicodemus could not receive Christs
teaching, illustrating the work of grace upon the
heart, how could he comprehend the nature of His
glorious heavenly kingdom? Not discerning the
nature of Christs work on earth, he could
not understand His work in heaven.
Jew whom Jesus had driven from the temple claimed
to be children of Abraham, but they fled from the
Saviors presence because they could not
endure the glory of God that was manifested in
Him. Thus they gave evidence that they were not
fitted by the grace of God to participate in the
sacred services of the temple. They were zealous
to maintain an appearance of holiness, but they
neglected holiness of heart. While they were
sticklers for the letter of the law, they were
constantly violating its spirit. Their great need
was that of very change that Christ had been
explaining to Nicodemus, a new moral birth, a
cleansing from sin, and a renewing of knowledge
was no excuse for the blindness of Israel in
regard to the work of regeneration. Under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah had
written, We are all as an unclean thing,
and all our righteousness are as filthy rags.
David had prayed, Create in me a clean
heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
And through Ezekiel the promise had been given,
A new heart also will I give you, and a new
spirit will I put within you: and I will take
away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I
will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put
My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My
statutes. Isaiah 64:6; Psalm 51:10; Ezekiel
had read these scriptures with a clouded mind;
but he now begun to comprehend their meaning. He
saw that the most rigid obedience to the mere
letter of the law as applied to the outward life
could entitle no man to enter the kingdom of
heaven. In the estimation of men, his life had
been just and honorable; but in the presence of
Christ, he felt that his heart was unclean, and
his life unholy.
was being drawn to Christ. As the Savior
explained to him concerning the new birth, he
longed to have this change wrought in himself. By
what means could it be accomplished? Jesus
answered the unspoken question: As Moses
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have
was ground with which Nicodemus was familiar. The
symbol of the uplifted serpent made plain to him
the Saviors mission. When the people of
Israel were dying from the sting of the fiery
serpents, God directed Moses to make a serpent of
brass, and place it on high in the midst of the
congregation. Then the word was sounded
throughout the encampment that all who would look
upon the serpent should live. The people well
knew that in itself the serpent had no power to
help them. It was a symbol of Christ. As the
image made in the likeness of the destroying
serpents was lifted up for their healing, so One
made in the likeness of sinful flesh
was to be their Redeemer. Romans 8:3. Many of the
Israelites regarded the sacrificial service as
having in itself virtue to set them free from sin.
God desired to teach them that it had no more
value than that serpent of brass. It was to lead
their minds to the Savior. Whether for the
healing of their wounds or the pardon of their
sins, they could do nothing for themselves but
show their faith in the Gift of God. They were to
look and live.
who had been bitten by the serpents might have
delayed to look. They might have questioned how
there could be efficacy in that brazen symbol.
They might have demanded a scientific explanation.
But no explanation was given. They must accept
the word of God to them through Moses. To refuse
to look was to perish.
through controversy and discussion is the soul
enlightened. We must look and live. Nicodemus
received the lesson, and carried it with him. He
searched the Scriptures in a new way, not for the
discussion of a theory, but in order to receive
life for the soul. He began to see the kingdom of
heaven as he submitted himself to the leading of
the Holy Spirit.
are thousands today who need to learn the same
truth that was taught to Nicodemus by the
uplifted serpent. They depend on their obedience
to the law of God to commend them to His favor.
When they are bidden to look to Jesus, and
believe that He saves them solely through His
grace, they exclaim, How can these things
Nicodemus, we must be willing to enter into life
in the same way as the chief of sinners. Than
Christ, there is none other name under
heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Acts 4:12. Through faith we receive the grace of
God; but faith is not our Savior. It earns
nothing. It is by the hand by which we lay hold
upon Christ, and appropriate His merits, the
remedy for sin. And we cannot even repent without
the aid of the Spirit of God. The Scripture says
of Christ, Him hath God exalted with His
right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to
give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of
sins. Acts 5:31 Repentance comes from
Christ as truly as does pardon.
then, are we to be saved? As Moses lifted
up the serpent in the wilderness, so the
Son of man has been lifted up, and everyone who
has been deceived and bitten by the serpent may
look and live. Behold the Lamb of God,
which taketh away the sin of the world.
John 1:29. The light shining from the cross
reveals the love of God. His love is drawing us
to Himself. If we do not resist this drawing, we
shall be led to the foot of the cross in
repentance for the sins that have crucified the
Savior. Then the Spirit of God through faith
produces a new life in the soul. The thoughts and
desires are brought into obedience to the will of
Christ. The heart, the mind, is created anew in
the image of Him who works in us to subdue all
things to Himself. Then the law of God is written
in the mind and heart, and we can say with Christ,
I delight to do Thy will, O my God.
interview with Nicodemus, Jesus unfolded the plan
of salvation and His mission to the world. In
none of His subsequent discourses did He explain
so fully, step by step, the work necessary to be
done in the hearts of all who would inherit the
kingdom of heaven. At the very beginning of His
ministry He opened the truth to a member of the
Sanhedrin, to the mind that was most receptive,
and to an appointed teacher of the people. But
the leaders of Israel did not welcome the light.
Nicodemus hid the truth in his heart, and for
three years there was little apparent fruit.
Jesus was acquainted with the soul into which He
cast the seed. The words spoken at night to one
listener in the lonely mountain were not lost.
For a time Nicodemus did not publicly acknowledge
Christ, but he watched His life, and pondered His
teachings. In the Sanhedrin council he repeatedly
thwarted the schemes of the priest to destroy Him.
When at last Jesus was lifted up on the cross,
Nicodemus remembered the teachings upon Olivet:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, even so the Son of man be lifted up:
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,
but have eternal life. The light from the
secret interview illuminated the cross of Calvary,
and Nicodemus saw in Jesus the worlds
the Lords ascension, when the disciples
were scattered by persecution, Nicodemus came
boldly to the front. He employed his wealth in
sustaining the infant church that the Jews had
expected to be blotted out at the death of Christ.
In the time of peril he who had been so cautious
and questioning was firm as a rock, encouraging
the faith of the disciples, and furnishing means
to carry forward the work of the gospel. He was
scorned and persecuted by those who had paid him
reverence in other days. He became poor in this
worlds goods; yet he faltered not in the
faith which had its beginning in that night
conference with Jesus.
Nicodemus related to
John the story of that interview, and by his pen
it was recorded for the instruction of millions.
The truths there taught as an important today as
they were on that solemn night in the shadowy
mountain, when the Jewish ruler came to learn the
way of life from the lowly Teacher of Galilee.