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  • John 3:1-2 NKJV - There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
  • John 7:50-51 NKJV - Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”

I can think of 3 possibilities for him coming at night:

  1. Fear of Association
  2. Desire for a Private Conversation
  3. A Busy Schedule

Nicodemus seems to have publicly defended Jesus so perhaps Nicodemus wasn't as fearful as I had initial conceived. This leads me to my main question:

Why did Nicodemus visit Jesus at night?

Is there anything in the text that lends itself as a reason for Nicodemus visiting during the night as opposed to the day?

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  • "Nicodemus seems to have publicly defended Jesus". When? If after all the night-time visits, then it would seem that he got over his fears.
    – RonJohn
    Commented May 7 at 14:37

7 Answers 7

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We are not directly told the answer to this question but here are some plausible reasons for the night visit of Nicodemus based on educated guesses:

  1. Nicodemus was a pharisee and thus came from a sect of Judaism that was very spiritually proud and arrogant (generally). Therefore, Nicodemus was likely scared of being seen to be asking questions and seeking to learn from what many would have regarded as a spiritually inferior person
  2. Jesus, as is made plain in the end of John 2, had already drawn the ire of the pharisees by making some (to their minds) outrageous claims. Thus Jesus was already becoming a heretic in the minds of many pharisees. Thus, Nicodemus may not have wanted to be seen with such a heretic.
  3. During the day, Jesus was almost always surrounded by crowds and thus, Nicodemus may have wished for a private and extended conversation to probe the many question that he obviously had.
  4. Nicodemus obviously had doubts and if Jesus had turned out to be another in a long parade of spiritual charlatans, he did not want to lend this new preacher any of his own credibility. [As it turned out, Nicodemus was convinced Jesus was the Messiah and often later used his influence to forestall any harm to Jesus.]

The real reason that Jesus visited Jesus to surreptitiously (at night) was likely a combination of all of these reasons and possibly more.

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The name Nicodemus appears in the Bible five times all in John.

  1. John 3:1
  2. John 3:4
  3. John 3:9
  4. John 7:50
  5. John 19:39

Twice - John 3:2 and John 19:39 we see that Nicodemus visited Jesus by night.
At no point is scripture specific as to the reason for the timing of the visit.

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"Busy schedule" is the best choice, especially considering Nicodemus' duties as a member of the Sanhedrin, which convened every day except festivals and sabbaths in Jerusalem.

  • Fear of Association. This is possible because in John's gospel, Jesus had already attacked the Temple moneychangers, putting himself squarely at odds with the Sadducean authorities who controlled the Temple. But arguing against it is Nicodemus' character as described elsewhere. He stood up in the Sanhedrin to defend Jesus in John 7 and was willing to go to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body after the crucifixion. Later, the historical Nicodemus also showed considerable courage in opposing the Zealots and those Pharisees who supported them in the run-up to the revolt against Rome.

  • Desire for a Private Meeting. This is very plausible. Jesus was still an unknown quantity, and he had engaged in violence against the moneychangers (driving them out with a whip) in John 2. But Nicodemus, who as a Pharisee was not aligned with those who controlled Temple commerce, had already formed a positive opinion about Jesus based on the signs that he performed. Reading the text in a straightforward manner, a desire for a private meeting fits well; whether or not Nicodemus feared being associated with Jesus.

  • A busy schedule. This is very likely. Nicodemus was a wealthy man (see link above) with many business affairs to attend to, not to mention duties as a Sanhedrin member. The Sanhedrin convened daily with few exceptions. Moreover, it was forbidden to conduct trials at night. So a daytime meeting would probably interfere with Sanhedrin business -- think of meeting a Supreme Court justice when when the court is in session -- but a nighttime meeting was less likely to do so. Jesus too was busy during the day with public activities. A meeting at night thus might fit both of their schedules best.

Conclusion: Although all three explanations are plausible, I think fear of association is the least likely, based on Nicodemus' powerful position in society and his character as a courageous man of principle. He probably desired a private meeting, and both he and Jesus had busy schedules which precluded a leisurely conversation during the day. All three choices are plausible but of the three, "busy schedule" is the clearest choice, because of Nicodemus' duties as a member of the Sanhedrin, which met during the day.

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  • This is a very well written and analyzed answer. +1
    – Jason_
    Commented May 8 at 23:21
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The last clue before John 3:1-2 is John 2:13-17.

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The next clue after John 3:1-2 is John 5:16-18.

16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Also John 9:22

22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

From these, I would conclude that Nicodemus came at night to avoid being associated with Jesus.

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Besides chapter 3 in John, the following are the only passages that we have about Nicodemus. After that we can only speculate.

Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”  They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:50–52, ESV)

The other Pharoses silenced Nicodemus abruptly.

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38–42, ESV)

This was a sacrificial act since made Nicodemus unclean for the Passover. It showed that Nicodemus had great respect for Jesus.

The speculation based on these two passages is Nicodemus wanted a private conversation with Jesus without interference from others, without Pharoses judging Nicodemus's statement:

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2, ESV)

and judging Jesus' statements, interfering with their conversation.

John's including "by night" matches his theme of light and darkness in his Gospel. This implies that Nicodemus was in the spiritual state of darkness when he came that night.

You may be interested in this: Why did John use the name Nicodemus, a Greek name, instead of his Hebrew name in John 3:1?

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  • Thank you for your answer. +1
    – Jason_
    Commented May 7 at 23:45
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From a literal standpoint, there are a number of possible reasons why Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night. The passage, however, does not offer any explanation but instead explores the metaphorical contrast between light and darkness and the spiritual implications of the absence of light. This theme is threaded throughout the passage and represented in the concept of night.

The passage begins with a description of Nicodemus as a ruler of the Jews. Despite this status, Nicodemus respectfully addresses Jesus as Rabbi and comes to him with a genuine desire to learn. He came to Jesus by night, a time marked by the absence of light.

John 3:2 NKJV

2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

In Jesus’ reply there is a subtle play on the verb ὁράω (Strong’s 3708), a word that can mean either seeing (with the eyes) or perceiving (with the mind). Jesus explains that a person would need to be born again by the Spirit.

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus admits that he doesn’t understand.

9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.

That Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night can thus be viewed as symbolic of his lack of understanding and faith. Jesus is the light, and Nicodemus comes to him as one who is still in darkness. But the darkness of night is one that has the hope of dawn. Nicodemus’ relationship to the light is therefore fundamentally different from those whose deeds are evil. Unlike Nicodemus, they hate the light and do not come to it.

19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

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  • +1. I like that you took a different take on the situation than the others.
    – Jason_
    Commented May 18 at 0:03
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He was afraid, or as minimum, was at unease to communicate openly with Christ because he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin and the latter did not acknowledge Christ as He claimed Himself to be - the Messiah.

Thus, Nicodemus was likely to be afraid of being frowned upon by other members of the Sanhedrin or even excommunicated from Sanhedrin and synagogue for taking seriously Christ's claim about Himself and listening to Him earnestly, with the same logic as in John 9:22. This fear was common to him and Joseph of Arimatheia (John 19:38).

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