What did Nicodemus really hear?

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Nicodemus - Do you understand ?

One of the most difficult challenges that Y’Shua had was the perceptions that the people had. They had a certain idea of what is needed to inherit the Kingdom of YHVH and what the Messiah will do. We now know that these perceptions and teaching were wrong, but how did Y’Shua try to explain this to them. In the Gospel of John, we have a record of such an discussion.  Nicodemus comes to Y’Shua to inquire these things. In order to understand this profound conversation, it is important that we have the context, and we think not only about what is being said, but also about what is being heard.

We know that communication consists of three parts: the sender, the message and the receiver.  When the discussion of Nicodemus is being studied, we tend to focus a lot on the first two parts of this triangle.  In this article, we will put ourselves also in the shoes of Nicodemus and think about what he heard!  A simple adjustment in the focus can shed a complete new light on this piece of Scripture.  Let us start with a bit of a character study of the receiver of the message.

Who was Nicodemus?

The conversation with Nicodemus is recorded only by John.  Thus, the information available about Nicodemus is limited, and we will need to make a lot of conclusions regarding the bit of information we are given about Nicodemus. We will also see if we can find information about him outside the Scriptures.

John 3:1
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;

The name “Nicodemus” is from the Greek form Νικόδημος that is derived from the Hebrew name Naqdimon, that is sometimes shortened as “Naqai”. The name was a fairly common name in the second temple period among the Jewish people. The literal meaning for the name is “conqueror of the people.” 1 or “victor over the people.” 2 We see from this verse that he was one of the rulers/leaders of the people.  If we look at one of the following scriptural references to Nicodemus, we can come to the conclusion that he was a member of the Sanhedrin.

John 7:48–52
48 “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” 52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”

From this reference, we can see that later  Nicodemus was considered to be one of the rulers of the Pharisees. In this case, he is trying to ensure that Y’Shua is judged by the Sanhedrin according to Scripture. His answer is not very well received by his peers. In none of the rabbinical literature do we find any reference to this person.  However, if Nicodemus did later become a follower of Messiah, it would surprise no-one if he is not mentioned in the rabbinical literature.  In the Rabbinic literature, we do find a reference to Nicodemus ben Gorion in the Talmud (b. Taan. 3:1, III.5.B)3. At least, this proofs that Nicodemus was a name used by the Jews in the time of Y’Shua. He was one of the wealthiest people in Jerusalem in the first century. He was also a member of the peace party during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans4.

Although Scripture does not specifically mention Nicodemus became a follower of Y’Shua, we do know that Nicodemus was one of the people who saw to it that Y’Shua’s body was removed from the cross and given a proper burial.

John 19:38–40
38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. 39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

Please remember that the burial of Y’Shua happened just before the Feast of Unleavened Bread was about to start.  Thus, the expense to Nicodemus and Joseph was high.  They have now come in contact with a dead person, and this has rendered them unclean.  This means that they were not   able to go to the Temple during one of the most prominent feasts of the year. According to Scripture, they would have had to keep the feast one month later.

Numbers 9:10–11
10 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord. 11 ‘In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

From what we have seen from these references, we can make a number of conclusions about who Nicodemus was:

  1. He was a Pharisee.  This implies that he believed in YHVH the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He would also have followed the halacha of the Pharisees.
  2. It also implies that he believed in a messiah that would come in the future to rule over the nation of Israel.  This messiah would set his people free from the oppression of the gentiles.
  3. As he was a leader of the people and also called a teacher by Y’Shua (John 3:10), we can assume that he was an intelligent man who was well versed in the Scriptures.

Later in this study we will look a bit more at what all this meant.  The fact that Nicodemus was learned Pharisee will mean that he hears the message in a very specific way.

He came to Y’Shua by night

John 3:1–2
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Y’Shua by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from YHVH as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless YHVH is with him.”

One of the most common ways of interpreting the time of the visit is to state that Nicodemus wanted to hide the fact that he came to speak with Y’Shua. This is the reason he did it “in the dark,” the dark”, implying it was something he wanted nobody else to know. The fact that the disciple John knew about this visit and all the details of the conversation means that Nicodemus did not make a huge success of hiding his visit.

Maybe, there is some other way of explaining this.  Maybe it is even a lot simpler  and logical.  For this, we need to know a bit more of the context of the time and place.  From earlier version in the gospel of John, we know that the conversation took place around the time of the Pesach feast (John 2:13) and that Y’Shua had gone up to Jerusalem for the feast. We also know that Pesach is one of the three pilgrimage feasts where the nation goes up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. This would have implied that the streets of the city would have been packed with people during the day, making it very difficult to move around in the city. Since  Nicodemus is called a “teacher of the people” the odds are very high that he was either a priest or a Levite.  In both cases, he would have had to serve in the temple during the feast.  He would not be able to do this if he was unclean.  If you were to move through streets packed with people, the chances are very likely that you would have to come into contact with somebody that is unclean.  One way of reducing this risk would have been to go outside at night.

The other practical reason may have been that both parties were occupied with other things during the daytime. Earlier in the Gospel of John, we read that Y’Shua was busy during His time in Jerusalem.

John 2:23
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.

We also know that Y’Shua went to the Temple when He was in Jerusalem (John 2:14) and spend time in the public places.  This could not have been the ideal place for two learned men to have an in-depth discussion.  The discussion they had was the type of discussion that is better to have in a quiet place where you can hear one another properly and think about the answers or questions you are getting. Thus, it must have been most practical for them to have met one evening.

What was the real question?

One of the most interesting parts of this encounter is the first question that is “asked.”

John 3:2
2 this man came to Y’Shua by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from YHVH as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless YHVH is with him.”

As you can see from this verse, Nicodemus made a declaration rather than ask a question.  However, it is recorded that Y’Shua answered him. This indicates a couple for things for us. First of all, it confirms that Y’Shua knew what Nicodemus was thinking.  He was not a pure mortal, as He knew what the real question was that was bothering Nicodemus.

If we go back in the Gospel of John, we will find another clue as to what the conversation was really about.  Let’s have a look at what happened earlier:

John 1:19–34
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of YHVH,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Y’Shua coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of YHVH who takes away the sin of the world! 30 “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 “I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Set part Spirit.’ 34 “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of YHVH.”

Earlier, the Pharisees sent  a delegation to inquire from John the Baptist.  They wanted to know if he was the Messiah, Elijah or The Prophet. He made it clear that he was not any of these, but purely “one crying in the wilderness.” Next thing the Pharisees then wanted to know – why are you baptizing Jews? Once again, John does not give them a clear answer but rather gives them something new to think about.  He mentions that there is another after him that is even greater than him. The following day John provides them with a part of the answer when he points out Y’Shua as the Lamb of YHVH that will baptize in the Set Apart Spirit.  John then also calls Y’Shua the “Son of YHVH.” Now image the confusion these answers must have caused back in Jerusalem. Here is a guy in the wilderness, with no apparent authority, baptizing Jews and telling them to repent.  Even worse, he claims that there exists another that is greater and is the Son of YHVH.  Surely, this must have caused more questions!

When you look at the answers that Y’Shua provide to Nicodemus as part of their discussion you will see these themes from the questions to John the Baptist coming up time and time again.  We can be sure that Y’Shua knew about the questions they asked John the Baptist and the answers John gave them.  Thus when one of the leaders of the Pharisee shows up and asks questions of the one pointed out by John, I am confident that the intent of the questions was clear to everybody.

What Nicodemus was actually asking was something more in the line of: “How do I gain admission into the Kingdom of YHVH which John announced and which You obviously represent?” 5

With this background information, it is also easier to understand the response that Y’Shua gave Nicodemus:

John 3:3
3 Y’Shua answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of YHVH.”

It is important to interpret this answer as Nicodemus would have heard it.  This means we have to look at the key phrases as the Jews of the second temple period would have understood them.

Born again

The concept of being born again is not foreign to Judaism.  It is a termed that has been used by them. A proselyte (a gentile who converts to Judaism) is considered a “new person” once he has performed a mikvah.

According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. 8:8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b. 47b; Ker. 9a; Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). 4

We also see that they referred to the proselyte as a “new person”:

The Baptism of the proselyte has for its purpose his cleansing from the impurity of idolatry, and the restoration to the purity of a new-born man. This may be learned from the Talmud (Soṭah 12b) in regard to Pharaoh’s daughter, whose bathing in the Nile is explained by Simon b. Yoḥai to have been for that purpose. The bathing in the water is to constitute a rebirth, wherefore “the ger is like a child just born” Yeb. 48b); and he must bathe “in the name of God”—“leshem shamayim”—that is, assume the yoke of God’s kingdom imposed upon him by the one who leads him to Baptism (“maṭbil”), or else he is not admitted into Judaism (Gerim. vii. 8). 4


b.Yeb. 48b
C.      R. Yosé says, “A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby. So why are they harassed? Because they are not expert in the details of the religious duties as Israelites are.” 3

Thus, Nicodemus knew this concept as referring to people that wanted to join the nation of Israelites. His thought must have been “But what has this then got to do we the Jews?”

Kingdom of YHVH

The phrase “Kingdom of YHVH” does not actually appear explicitly in the Tanakh.  However, the concept is used a lot in different words and phrases, especially in the poetic and prophetic books of the Tanakh.

Psalm 145:11–13
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power; 12 To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Psalm 103:19
19 YHVH has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.

Daniel 2:44
44 “In the days of those kings the Elohim of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.

Daniel 4:2–3
2 “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High Elohim has done for me. 3 “How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation.

In one of the Pseudepigrapha we find the literal phrase being used:

Psalms of Solomon 17:3–4
3 But we will hope in YHVH our savior, because the strength of our Elohim is forever with mercy, 4 and the kingdom of our Elohim is forever over the nations.

We also find references to the term in some of the Jewish liturgy (set prayers). In the Kaddish prayer, we come across the phrase “May he establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days.” In the Amidah (also known as the Shemoneh Esreh, Eighteen Benedictions or standing prayer) the eleventh benediction speaks of a future time when Israel is no longer under foreign domination, when YHVH will be king. 6

Restore our judges as in earliest times, and our counselors as at first; remove from us sorrow and groan; and reign over us – You, YHVH, alone – with kindness and compassion, and justify us through judgment.  Blessed are You, YHVH, the King Who loves righteousness and judgment.

This indicates that the concept of the Kingdom of YHVH was most likely a well-known concept to Nicodemus, even though the term in not specifically used in the Tanakh.

I am sure that this answer would have really confused Nicodemus, because Y’Shua is now saying that if Nicodemus, a Jew, wants to see the kingdom of heaven, he must do what a proselyte does.  Why would he want to do that? We can see that Nicodemus does not accept this answer, in the way he asks his next question.  He believes that Y’Shua must be speaking literally, because in his frame of reference, this would not make sense in another way.  I am sure that an intelligent, learned man like himself, who have declared earlier that Y’Shua is a “teacher of YHVH,” would not have asked Y’Shua a patronizing question.  He was really struggling to figure this one out.

John 3:4
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

The real answer

Now Y’Shua starts to explain in a bit more detail what He means.  This answer that He provides will be even more earth shattering to a leader of the Pharisees.

John 3:5–8
5 Y’Shua answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of YHVH. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This is a fairly complex answer that needs to be broken down for better understanding.  Let us analyze it bit by bit.

Born of water and the Spirit

Now Y’shua explains a new dimension to the concept of being born again.  It is not only about a mikvah.  Remember what John the Baptist told the Pharisees that came to him!  He already told them about another that will baptize in the Spirit. Y’shua is now providing more information about what John told them by trying to explain the way to salvation.  This road starts with the things that John the Baptist was crying in the wilderness:

Matthew 3:1–3
1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of YHVH,
Make His paths straight!
’ ”

Nicodemus_questionJohn was teaching the people that they need to repent and make their path straight. Y’Shua is telling Nicodemus that the people should repent of their sins, walk the straight path of YHVH and become a new person.  This implies a new life, just like the proselyte has to change his life when he joins Judaism. To Nicodemus this not a problem because be believed that they were already doing these things. However, we see that Y’Shua also adds the further condition of being born of the Spirit. Earlier John had already told them that it would be Y’Shua that would baptize in the Spirit.  But what precedes this baptism is repentance of sin.

If we go into the original Greek of this verse, we can see some very interesting information.  Let us start with the verb “born.” The Greek verb in this sentence is in the passive form.  Why is this significant?  It means that this baptism of water and Spirit, is something that is done to us.  No effort is required from our side, except for making the choice and repenting.   do not have to earn it or make it happen.

The next part we will look at is the preposition “of” from the Greek word eks. If we use a Greek Lexicon7,  we will see quite a number of possible meanings of the word. These fall into the main categories of:  of PLACE (the most frequent usage), of TIME and of ORIGIN. When we analyze the ORIGIN part of the definitions, we will see that it is used when reference is made to lineage, like we would say: “the son of.” Thus, we can make the comparison that the new person has two parents – water and Spirit. So what is all of this telling us: if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven you must repent and become a new person in your walk, and you will need to believe in the One that baptizes with the Spirit. You cannot be baptized with the Spirit if you do not believe in the one that baptizes with the Spirit.

Another look at the source text – the Greek phrase for “he cannot enter” literally means “he is not able to enter.” However, what is significant about this is that the Greek text emphasizes that the man is not barred from entering by anything other than his own lack of decision—he has not enabled himself to enter5. This points us back to our own decision.  It is an active choice we need to make – Do you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

Let us now have a look at the next part of the answer.  It is even more fascinating.

The wind blows where it wishes

John 3:8
8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

What does the wind have to do with entering the Kingdom of Heaven? Unless you know a bit about the Hebrew/Aramaic language, you would struggle to find the connection.  The Hebrew word for “wind” is “ruach.” The same word is also used in Hebrew when speaking of a spirit.  Thus, we have a bit of word play here. The same word play is also possible with the Greek word – πνεῦμα (pneuma). Y’Shua is using this word play to address the idea that Nicodemus would have had about lineage and entering the Kingdom. Remember that for the Jewish nation of the second temple period, being a part of the Jewish nation was a pre-condition to entering the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is why the “converts” to Judaism had to formally become a part of the nation. Salvation for Nicodemus is a corporate event, it happens to all of the nation of Israel. However, an individual can lose his or her individual salvation by doing something that will cause them to “be cut off from among your people” or be killed.

Exodus 31:14–15
14 ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus 20:4–5
4 ‘If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, 5 then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.

Thus, for Nicodemus salvation was only a choice if you were a gentile.  If you were born into the nation, the choice was doing the things to keep your salvation. Native Jews did not have to choose salvation; they already had it.  They simply had to keep their salvation.

Now Y’Shua is telling him that to enter the Kingdom of YHVH you also have to be baptized by the Spirit.  The next question for Nicodemus would surely be: “Who is baptized by the Spirit?” Y’Shua uses the word play between wind and spirit to state that the baptism of the Spirit is not linked to your linage. The Spirit decides where it blows..

This has now really rocked Nicodemus’s world!  He tried to understand why Jews had to become Jews again via baptism, only to be told that it has nothing to do with being Jewish. Being Jewish does not get you into the Kingdom of Heaven anymore!

Explain it to me!

Nicodemus reacts the way we would have expected.  He now needs to understand in detail what is being said.

John 3:9
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”

Y’Shua provides a long description of His role as the Messiah.  He also clarifies some of the perceptions that existed in this time.  In His response, He makes the answer applicable not only to Nicodemus, but to the nation of Israel by switching from the singular to the plural.

John 3:10–11
10 Y’Shua answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.

In the Greek source text, the verb “accept” is used in the present, active and plural tense.  This indicates Y’Shua was emphasizing that this was not a personal action from Nicodemus, but of the group he was representing.  This could be as specific as the Pharisees or as broad as the complete nation of Israel. We are also not certain as to exactly who the “we” are that Y’Shua is referring too.  At least three theories exist:

  1. It is a reference to Y’Shua and His disciples.  This is the simplest and most logical conclusion.
  2. Y’Shua is referring to Himself and John the Baptist.  This will be supported by the context of the discussion. (John 1:7; John 1:32–34)
  3. Y’Shua is referring to Himself and all the prophets who came before Him, but was rejected by the people. (John 5:39; John 5:46; John 8:56; John 12:41)4

In the next verse Y’Shua starts His explanation of the Messiah and His personal role.  The first thing He does is to state that He was not a mere mortal by mentioning that He descended from heaven.

John 3:13
13 “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

This verse also brings to the conversation a number of understandings in mind of Nicodemus.  This is done by using the phrase “the Son of Man.” Let us look at this in a bit more details.

The Son of Man

Nicodemus would have recalled the phrase “Son of Man” from the description that Daniel provides.

Daniel 7:13–14
13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

This verse links in the fact that the Son of Man will come from the clouds, and that He is in the presence of the Ancient of Days. From what Daniel describes, clearly  the Son of Man will rule over the world forever. Thus, in Nicodemus’s mind, Y’Shua had just pulled the Messiah into the conversation.

In the Gospels we find that Y’Shua made reference to Himself as the Son of Man on multiple occasions.  The phrase “Son of Man” occurs 82 times in the Gospels.

  • 14 times in Mark,
  • 30 times in Matthew
  • 25 times in Luke
  • 13 times in John

In the gospels, it is only Y’Shua that uses this term to refer to Himself, except for one occasion.  In this instance (John 12:34), people are quoting Y’Shua, which means that indirectly it is still His words. In the book of Acts, Stephen also makes reference to this term in Acts 7:56.2

In most cases Y’Shua refers to Himself with this term when He is making reference to His deity. A number of teachings mention that the term is to point to the humanity of the Messiah, but this cannot be true.  Let us look at a Scripture to clarify this point.

Mark 2:8–11
8 Immediately Y’Shua, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”

In this specific Scripture, the discussion is about Y’Shua’s ability to forgive sin.  We know that it is not something that a human can do (even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches differently.)

Isaiah 43:25
25 “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.

Salvation by the Son of Man

Now that Y’Shua has brought the Messiah into the conversation, He will explain to Nicodemus how Messiah becomes part of the answer to the original question.  For this, He will revert back to a story that is well known to Nicodemus.

John 3:14–15
14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Y’Shua makes reference to the story of Numbers 21:6-9 where the nation was punished for their impatience and murmurings. The only way they could be saved from death, was to look up to the bronze serpent that YHVH had instructed Moses to make. Y’Shua tells Nicodemus, that the people will have eternal live if they view the Son of Man in the same way. We can compare several points in this  analogy:

  • In both cases the Savior is lifted up
  • In both cases the impacted person needs to take an act of faith to get saved. No serious tasks need to be accomplished to be saved.  Faith in what is lifted up, is what saves in both cases.

Thus, Y’Shua is telling Nicodemus that the people need to believe in the salvation brought by the Messiah. Later in the Gospel of John, we will find another text where Y’Shua specifically states that He is the one that will be lifted up.

John 8:28–30
28 So Y’Shua, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.


In anticipation of the next logical question of “Why?”, Y’Shua already give Nicodemus the reason behind the Messiah.  He provides Nicodemus with the reason why YHVH sent the Messiah.

John 3:16
16 “For YHVH so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

The answer to this simple question is also really simple. YHVH sent His Son simply because He loves us.  Not because we earned it in any way, or because He owed us anything.  It is all about His love.  Not only His love for Israel, the apple of His eye, but for the whole world.  This is one of the topics that Y’Shua will need to explain a bit more to Nicodemus.  The people of Israel had a different expectation of what the Messiah would do for them.  For them, the Messiah was not about spiritual salvation.

The real Messiah

In the Second Temple period, the Jewish people were awaiting a messiah. After the fall of the Maccabean dynasty, Rome had ruled over the land with an iron fist. Although they had a “Jew” ruling over then (Herod the Great and later his three sons) everybody was aware that they were really being ruled by the Gentiles.  Thus, they longed for the day that they would be ruled by their own king, the descendent from the house of David. This “messiah” would put an end to the Roman tyranny and restore the land of Israel to its former glory.  The messiah would come to set the people of Israel free from the Gentiles, and they would again be allowed to live according to YHVH’s rules in the land that had been given to their forefathers.

However, this is not what Y’Shua came to do.  He now needs to explain to Nicodemus what His real purpose on earth is.  This will be another great shock for Nicodemus. Here is how Y’Shua explained it to him:

John 3:17–19
17 “For YHVH did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of YHVH. 19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Y’Shua tells Nicodemus very clearly that the Messiah did not come to judge the world and thereby free the nation of Israel from its pagan oppression. The Messiah has come to save the world. This means that salvation is not only for His People, but for the whole world.  However, there is a pre-condition. Those that believe in Messiah will be saved, but those who do not believe will be judged.

Y’Shua is explaining that the Messiah is not about the physical salvation of the nation of Israel, but the individual spiritual salvation. It is not about the sins of the nation, but the deeds of the individual.  This brings us back to the initial message that started with John the Baptist. If you really want to see the Kingdom of YHVH, you have to start by repenting and making your way straight.  If the Light then shines on your deeds, they will be found to be good.  If you practice the truth, you will not be afraid to come to the Light. We can they pray as the Psalmist:

Psalm 25:4–5
4 Make me know Your ways, O YHVH; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the Elohim of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.


We do not know if this conversation ever convinced  Nicodemus that Y’Shua was the Messiah whom he had been waiting for.  However, we do know from his actions, that Nicodemus did have respect for Y’Shua and believed that the message He brought was from YHVH.  Thus, he later took issue with members of the Sanhedrin who wanted to prosecute Y’Shua. He also defiled himself ahead of the Pesach feast to ensure that Y’Shua get a proper burial.

We see that in this very short conversation Y’Shua had given Nicodemus an explanation of:

  • who Y’Shua actually was,
  • what the role of the Messiah was if you wanted to see the Kingdom of YHVH,
  • what the Messiah did not come to do, and
  • how the teachings of John the Baptist fit into all of this.

The content of this discussion is as relevant today as it was when it actually happened.  Whenever we have these long and passion-filled discussions about the Word of YHVH and how to apply it to our lives, it is always good remember to look up!  Center to all we do and believe must be the Messiah. Yes, He told us to repent and make our ways straight, but faith in the Messiah is the key component to seeing the Kingdom of YHVH.

We must all thank Nicodemus for asking the difficult, but crucial, questions.


  1. Paulien, J. (1992). Nicodemus (Person). In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.
  2. Bromiley, G. W. (Ed.). (1979–1988). In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans.
  3. Neusner, J. (2011). The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
  4. Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed., Jn 3:1). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.
  5. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Jn 3:2–4). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
  6. Duling, D. C. (1992). Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage. In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.
  7. Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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6 responses to “What did Nicodemus really hear?”

  1. Grant

    I’m very glad this was broken down. The words of the master are often very cryptic and full if meaning. I would like to point out a few things. No one seemed to question John the. Artist when he made his lamb declaration. Why would no one do this? I think it is because the people in that immediate area DID recognise Johns authority. He is the son of Zechariah who was a priest! I also think Master Yeahua was referring to the spirit as the body that one receives after death. What do I mean? The Master was able to enter houses unannounced and disappear after he rose from the grave. He had a new body. He could come and go as he pleased just like His description of the wind!

  2. Vi

    to GRANT

    Very good point you made, because salvation is past, present and future!

  3. Vi

    Moreover, the article is excellent. Baruch HaShem! Thank you for it! The historical context is very important! I was thinking the same, that the ones who buried Y’shua, would be unclean for 7 days according to the Torah!

  4. Joseph

    Thank you for all time you put into this topic to clarify this important teaching

    Grant: shalom brother, I believe the “death” that Yeshua is speaking of in this context is spiritual not literal.
    We put on our new bodies at his 2nd coming.
    Martha (Lazarus’ sister) clearly understood this: Jn11:23,24 “do you believe your brother will live? Martha replied, yes Lord, in the LAST day at the resurrection”.
    Regardless of ones opinion about “death and going to heaven” that is not the context of this discussion.

  5. Yadria

    I Thank to YHVH who sent this to u and to me.. I learned all about this.. It help me understand very clear. I keep His words in my heart.. Thank you..

  6. Gary

    i think u need to be more careful with words of born again and born from above so i use isr scripture of verse say Joh 3:3 יהושע answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he is unable to see1 the reign of Elohim.” SO if u continue say born again mean born from flesh , again is impossible. right one of born from above where kingdom of elohim where u shall see after receive setapart spirit from above as not from flesh , and hope that help u get better understand … ALSO his real name is Yahusha so shua mean cry out as look at concordance so usha mean deliverance at concordance , thanks

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