- He first visits Jesus one night to discuss Jesus’ teachings (John 3:1–21).
- The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged (John 7:50–51).
- Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion of Jesus to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:39–42).
Although there is no clear source of information about Nicodemus outside the Gospel of John, the Jewish Encyclopedia and some historians have speculated that he could be identical to Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man reputed to have had miraculous powers. Others point out that the biblical Nicodemus is likely an older man at the time of his conversation with Jesus, while Nicodemus ben Gurion was on the scene 40 years later, at the time of the Jewish War.
Nicodemus in John’s Gospel
As is the case with Lazarus, Nicodemus does not belong to the tradition of the Synoptic Gospels and is only mentioned by John, who devotes more than half of Chapter 3 of his gospel, a few verses of Chapter 7 and lastly mentions him in Chapter 19.
The first time Nicodemus is mentioned, he is identified as a Pharisee who comes to see Jesus „at night”. John places this meeting shortly after the Cleansing of the Temple and links it to the signs which Jesus performed in Jerusalem during the Passover feast. „Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
Then follows a conversation with Nicodemus about the meaning of being „born again” or „born from above” (Greek: ἄνωθεν), and mention of seeing the „kingdom of God„. Nicodemus explores the notion of being literally born again from one’s mother’s womb, but most theologians recognise that Nicodemus knew Jesus was not speaking of literal rebirth. Theologian Charles Ellicott wrote that „after the method of Rabbinic dialogue, [Nicodemus] presses the impossible meaning of the words in order to exclude it, and to draw forth the true meaning. ‘You cannot mean that a man is to enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born. What is it, then, that you do mean?'”
Jesus expresses surprise, perhaps ironically, that „a teacher of Israel” does not understand the concept of spiritual rebirth. James F. Driscoll describes Nicodemus as a learned and intelligent believer, but somewhat timid and not easily initiated into the mysteries of the new faith.
In Chapter 7, Nicodemus advises his colleagues among „the chief priests and the Pharisees”, to hear and investigate before making a judgment concerning Jesus. Their mocking response argues that no prophet comes from Galilee. Nonetheless, it is probable that he wielded a certain influence in the Sanhedrin.
Finally, when Jesus is buried, Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes—about 100 Roman pounds (33 kg)—for embalming Jesus’ body according to Jewish custom.[John 19:39] Nicodemus must have been a man of means; in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI observes that, „The quantity of the balm is extraordinary and exceeds all normal proportions. This is a royal burial.”
Veneration and liturgical commemoration
Nicodemus is venerated as a saint in the various Eastern Churches and in the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches commemorate Nicodemus on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, celebrated on the Third Sunday of Pascha(i.e., the second Sunday after Easter) as well as August 2, the date when tradition holds that his relics were found, along with those of Stephen the Protomartyr, Gamaliel, and Abibas (Gamaliel’s second son). The traditional Roman Catholic liturgical calendar lists the same feast of the finding of their relics on the following day, August 3.
In the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31. The Franciscan Order erected a church under the patronage of Saints Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in Ramla.