1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
The chapter break here is unfortunate. Chapter 3 closely links to 2:23-25. Jesus did not “entrust” Himself to superficial belief (Jn 2:24). Nicodemus was one of those with phony or insufficient belief in Jesus. He is an example of someone with insufficient faith.
Now we come to a famous interview between a religionist and the sovereign Son of God. This conversation was between someone who had a shallow understanding of eternal issues and the other who had ultimate understanding of these things. This gospel introduces Nicodemus as a representative of a member of the religious class.
1 [and] There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus,
The NKJV does not translate the Greek word de here. This word could be translated and or now. “And” is explanatory. Nicodemus is an example of unbelievers listed in 2:23-25.
Nicodemus represented both religion and leadership in the nation of Israel. He was a Pharisee, member of a religious cult that came into being during the intertestamental period. The Sadducees came from Levites or wealthy priests, but the Pharisees came from the middle class. Josephus, the Jewish historian, indicated that there were about 6,000 Pharisees during the time of Christ. They were influential in the Sanhedrin (Ac 5:34-40). After AD 70 the Pharisees were the dominant group; the Sadducees were off the scene by this time. John was written in the AD 90s.
Pharisees were highly legalistic and lived by rules. They could not live up to their rules, so they were highly hypocritical. As a Pharisee Nicodemus was an ultimate legalist. His whole thought process revolved around personal effort to prove that he was acceptable to God. His emphasis was on external religion, not on a change of heart.
a ruler of the Jews.
Nicodemus was more than a Pharisee. The term “ruler of the Jews” indicates that he was an influential member of the Sanhedrin. There were about 70 members in the Sanhedrin. This institution was responsible for both religious and civil issues in Israel. It was the Sanhedrin that later put Jesus on trial.
Nicodemus was a virtuous representative of the best of man. He was a good man but lost, religious but lost. He was religious but not a genuine believer.
Religion obscures the truth.
Religion is man’s attempt to gain God’s approbation by his own merit and without trusting Christ. Outward conformity to the law does not impress God. No matter how good or righteous a person may be, he stands in as much need as the abject sinner. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, but he needed to be converted on the road to Damascus.
Religion without what Christ did on our behalf is the worst possible obstruction of our relationship to God. It will distort understanding of how to become a Christian and how a person can go to heaven. God is not satisfied with superficial faith. Surface understanding of signs will not save a soul. Dry-as-dust dead orthodoxy does not impress God.