An Evening Encounter with Jesus

Much is made of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night (John 3:2). Why did he do this? The simple fact is that we don’t know. Preachers and Sunday School teachers frequently assume that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he was afraid to be noticed. But can we know this for sure? Not really, because it is an assumption. And in fact, it is only one possible explanation among several. Here are seven possible explanations for why Nicodemus did this, and why John included this detail when he recorded the account.

  1. He did this because he was afraid to be noticed by fellow rabbis and Jewish citizens who disapproved of Jesus and would have disapproved of Nicodemus associating with Jesus.
  2. He did this because he worked during the day as a teacher and member of the Sanhedrin council, and was only free in the evening.
  3. He did this in order to have an uninterrupted conversation with Jesus, since both he and Jesus carried busy schedules during the day, interacting with a lot of people.
  4. He did this because rabbis frequently continued biblical and theological study and debate long into the night (Psa. 119:148).
  5. He did this for no reason at all, and John merely included this detail to recreate the occasion in vivid detail.
  6. He did this for no reason at all, but John included this detail to enhance the theme of light and darkness that runs throughout the Gospel of John (John 1:4-9, 11:10, 13:30).
  7. He did this for no reason at all, but John included this detail to direct attention to the spiritual condition of Nicodemus, being in spiritual darkness and coming to Jesus for spiritual light (John 3:19-21).

If you thoughtfully reflect on this list of possible reasons, you will see that assuming Nicodemus came to Jesus by night out of fear is a hasty conclusion. While it may be true, the other reasons may also be true.

So what can we know for sure? We know Nicodemus exercised personal initiative to arrange an appointment with Jesus at an inconvenient hour of the day. Why? Because he recognized Jesus as the teacher who came from God, and was in fact the Son of God. He disregarded his regular schedule and his personal credentials as a ruler of Israel, and approached Jesus as an inquiring student, not a questioning scholar. And this is the kind of person who receives eternal life from Jesus and will enter the kingdom of God.

Here is how John concludes his account of this evening encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus (John 3:21).

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

So whatever his reasons for coming to Jesus “by night,” the point is that he came to Jesus. He moved from darkness to light. Did he accept what Jesus taught him? Apparently so. In John 7:50-52, we find him defending Jesus before his peers. And in John 19:38-40, we find him assisting with the burial of Jesus after the crucifixion. Have you come to Jesus? Have you been born again? Have you moved from darkness to light?

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