Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are interesting characters in the gospel story.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling counsel (John 3:1) whose heart had been stirred by Jesus.
“He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘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
Jesus then explained to Nicodemus what it means to be born again in John 3:1-21, which includes the well known verse John 3:16.
Here in John 3 and then again in John 19 it points out that Nicodemus visited Jesus at night. The implication is that–at least in some ways–Nicodemus was a secret follower of Jesus because of his position as a Pharisee and place on the counsel.
In John 7 the Pharisees are trying to have Jesus arrested and Nicodemus speaks up and says,
“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” – John 7:51
They respond harshly saying,
“Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” – John 7:52
After that we don’t see Nicodemus until he and Joseph of Arimathea are burying Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man (Matthew 27:57), a “prominent member” of the Jewish ruling council (Mark 15:43), and “a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action” [to have Jesus crucified] (Luke 23:50). We also know that he buried Jesus in the tomb that he had prepared for his own death (Matthew 27:60). Up until the death of Jesus, He was a secret believer.
“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.” – John 19:38-39
A few observations about Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea
- They both believed in secret at first because of peer pressure or fear of the authorities.
- They both used their influence and resources to honor Jesus. Joseph gained permission for his body from Pilate and buried him in his own tomb. Nicodemus brought seventy-five pounds worth of myrrh and aloes. Both the tomb and the spices would have cost quite a bit of money.
- They eventually made their beliefs and support known publicly.
The timing of the last point is interesting to me. While Jesus was alive, teaching and working miracles, their belief and support was secret or minimal as best. At the time of His death, when most of the disciples had fled, then their support became the clearest and most public.
Obviously it was all part of God’s plan that they would do so, Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53 points to His death as a criminal with other criminals (on the gross between two thieves) as well as being buried with the rich (Joseph’s tomb).
“He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death” – Isaiah 53:9
What others factor motivated Nicodemus and Joseph to act?
Maybe over time they became more and more convinced of who Jesus was? Maybe as they saw Him being unjustly tried and convicted they made up their mind to no longer stand in the shadows?
Whatever it was, Jesus’s popularity was at its lowest earthly point and these two “secret believers” came forward. They disagreed with the council and then honored Jesus as king in His death. By doing so they became key figures in the gospel story and played a role in setting the scene for Christ’s victory.