We are all familiar with the less than appealing presentation of the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3:1-10. He comes to Jesus by night, obviously coming in secret, to inquire of Jesus. He appears to be rerouted by Jesus’ talk of being “born again” and then the author depicts him as totally lost and unable to comprehend how someone can be born twice.

To make matters worse some Johannine scholars (e.g. R. Alan Culpepper) see this story as sitting in juxtaposition to the story about the Samaritan woman in 4:7-29. Nicodemus is a respectable Jewish Pharisee (3:1). He comes in secret at night (v. 2). He is seeking Jesus and he appears to know that there is something special about Jesus (vv.2-3). And then the rest of the narrative depicts him as totally lost about who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing.

Meanwhile the Samaritan woman is a reproachable Samaritan with a history of failed marriages, who is currently living with a man who is not her husband (4:7-18). She meets Jesus by the city well in the middle of the day (v. 6), which was not the ideal part of the day to be gathering water (which has led many to comment that she likely was not accepted by the other women of the city and therefore she did not go to the well during the more traditionally cool morning and evening hours). She is sought out by Jesus (v. 4). And once Jesus begins to reveal himself to her she realizes who he really is and begins to publicly proclaim him (vv. 39-41).

Nicodemus appears to be the goat of chapter 3-4. Yet the author of this gospel, as my pastor Jeff Garner has pointed out, has a very complex vision for discipleship. It is no wonder that Nicodemus reappears in this gospel, although only briefly. It also appears that his final scene is nothing less than redemption.

In 19:39, following the passion narrative, we again meet Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Joseph of Arimathea asks to care for Jesus’ body and the author calls him a “secret” (κεκρυμμένος) disciple, adding to the author’s complex vision for discipleship (v. 38). He is accompanied by Nicodemus, who the author reminds the reader is none other than the one who had first come to Jesus by night (v. 39). Although Nicodemus is not directly referred to as a “secret” disciple like Joseph, he does accompany Joseph, and therefore it could be implied that he is a disciple in a fashion similar to that of Joseph.

Whatever the case may be regarding Nicodemus’ discipleship, one thing is for sure, in vv. 39-40 he, along with Joseph, is depicted as taking care of the body of Jesus while the rest of the disciples, who had been public disciples, are no where to be found. Nicodemus begins this gospel unfavorably as a literary juxtaposition only to end it as one whom we see to be a man of courage, although only at a glimpse.