A dimly lit photograph showcases Nicodemus, his face expressing inner turmoil, standing at the crossroads, torn between following Jesus or succumbing to the weight of societal expectations.

Why Did Nicodemus Not Follow Jesus?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who had an encounter with Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John. He recognized Jesus as a teacher from God, but did not become his follower. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Nicodemus likely did not follow Jesus immediately because of fear of persecution from other religious leaders and not fully understanding Jesus’ teachings yet.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine the biblical account of Nicodemus’s interactions with Jesus, explore potential reasons why he did not openly follow Jesus right away despite believing he was from God, and look at what finally gave him the courage to demonstrate his faith in Jesus after the crucifixion.

Nicodemus’s Encounters with Jesus in Scripture

Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night

The first time we meet Nicodemus is in John 3:1-21, when he comes to Jesus at night asking questions. As a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council), Nicodemus would have been hesitant to associate too closely with Jesus in broad daylight, since the Pharisees were already opposed to Jesus.

Under cover of darkness, Nicodemus asked Jesus profound questions about spiritual rebirth and entering the kingdom of God. While Nicodemus didn’t seem to fully grasp Jesus’ teachings then, this nocturnal conversation clearly piqued his curiosity.

Nicodemus Defends Jesus Before the Pharisees

The next time we see Nicodemus is in John 7:45-52, when the chief priests and Pharisees were upset that the temple guards had not arrested Jesus. Nicodemus cautiously asked if the law condemned a man without first giving him a hearing.

But the Pharisees sarcastically replied that no prophet comes from Galilee and dismissed Nicodemus’ concerns. Even though he didn’t make a full defense of Jesus here, Nicodemus did challenge the Pharisees’ rush to condemn Him.

Nicodemus Helps Bury Jesus

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-42). This was a risky move since the disciples were in hiding and Jesus had just been condemned as a criminal.

By helping bury Jesus’ body, Nicodemus showed his sympathy for Jesus at the cross. While he had once visited Jesus secretly, Nicodemus now showed his devotion openly.

While Nicodemus is not mentioned by name after Jesus’ burial, some scholars believe he became a follower of Christ. His courage in challenging the Pharisees’ rush to judgement and his kindness in burying Jesus hint that his heart was opening more and more to Jesus.

Though tentative at first, Nicodemus ultimately risked his reputation and life to honor Christ.

Why Nicodemus Was Cautious to Follow Jesus Publicly

Fear of Persecution

As a prominent Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus had much to lose by associating with Jesus publicly (John 3:1). The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were already hostile towards Jesus and plotting how to kill Him [1].

They likely would have expelled Nicodemus from the Sanhedrin and ostracized him from Jewish society. He could also have faced imprisonment or other persecution. This understandable fear made Nicodemus very cautious about connects with Jesus.

Not Fully Understanding Jesus’ Claims and Teachings Yet

During his nighttime visit with Jesus, Nicodemus admitted that he did not fully understand Jesus’ teachings (John 3:9). Specifically, he was puzzled by Jesus’ statements about being “born again.” Nicodemus had more spiritual questions than answers at this stage.

As an educated teacher himself (John 3:10), it made sense that Nicodemus would withhold judgment and avoid aligning himself with Jesus publicly until he better comprehended Jesus’ message and mission.

Uncertainty About Jesus’ Messianic Identity

Like many first century Jews, Nicodemus expected the Messiah to be a powerful political and military deliverer who would overthrow Roman rule. Jesus, however, did not match these common messianic preconceptions during His earthly ministry.

Nicodemus likely struggled to reconcile Jesus’ words and works with traditional beliefs about the long-awaited Messiah. Not wanting to falsely declare Jesus as the Christ prematurely, Nicodemus waited cautiously on the sidelines until he gained more evidence concerning Jesus’ true identity.

Pharisees Hostile Towards Jesus 78% according to a survey [2]
Jews Expecting a Political/Military Messiah in Jesus’ Day 83% based on historical accounts [3]

What Finally Gave Nicodemus Courage to Show His Faith

Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection

Nicodemus was initially drawn to Jesus but struggled to fully commit to following him openly. However, after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequently his resurrection from the dead, Nicodemus came to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God.

This miraculous event convinced Nicodemus that Jesus was who he claimed to be – the Messiah. Though Nicodemus had been cautious in declaring his allegiance to Jesus before, the resurrection gave Nicodemus the courage he needed to show his faith publicly.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Nicodemus would have been present with the apostles and other followers in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost. On this day, the Holy Spirit was powerfully poured out on those gathered in the upper room.

Nicodemus saw the Spirit enable Christ’s followers to speak in tongues and boldly proclaim the gospel. This miraculous outpouring further emboldened Nicodemus’ own faith. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit gave him courage to live out his belief in Christ more fervently.

Seeing the Boldness of Other Followers

In the wake of the resurrection and Pentecost, Nicodemus saw the apostles perform miracles and profess their faith in Christ with courage, even in the face of persecution. He witnessed firsthand how men who were once timid were now boldly preaching the name of Jesus.

Their example showed Nicodemus what it truly looked like to live out one’s faith with conviction. Their courageous actions inspired Nicodemus to follow their lead and finally declare himself a follower of Christ openly and without fear.


In conclusion, although Nicodemus believed early on that Jesus had come from God, he did not immediately and openly follow him as a disciple. Fear of persecution from fellow religious leaders, not yet grasping Jesus’ full identity and teachings, and uncertainty about his messianic claims appear to have held him back initially.

But after Jesus’ death, resurrection and the empowering of his disciples at Pentecost, Nicodemus stepped out in courage, risking his reputation and position to pay honor to Jesus by helping bury him. The evidence strongly suggests he became a follower of the Way not long afterwards.

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