Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ponder This!

Think about the literary significance of John's account concerning Nicodemus. He reports, "This man came to Jesus by night" (John 3:2). It may not be evident upon one's first reading of this that "by night" is not just a time indicator concerning when Nicodemus came to Jesus. Given the prominence of the "light"/"darkness" motif in John's Gospel, surely the mention of "night" also describes Nicodemus's spiritual condition--at that time he was in spiritual darkness.

Yet, there surely is more that John is suggesting by telling readers that Nicodemus came to Jesus "by night." The darkness of night is often the cover evil people use to conceal their evil deeds. Yet, here, Nicodemus, a man who is yet in spiritual darkness uses the darkness of night to conceal not an evil act but a good act, his coming to Jesus.

Trace the other accounts of Nicodemus in John's Gospel to discover that he finally emerges into the light. He begins to move from darkness to light, daring to raise his voice in dissent within the Sanhedrin (John 7:50) and later, in the end, he even does a good act in daylight not at night by assisting Joseph of Arimathea to receive and to bury the corpse of the Christ (John 7:50; 19:39).


Anonymous said...

I like your point about concealing a "good act." I think there is a progression toward the removal of the darkness using some redemptive language.

What I mean is that immediately Jesus affirms Nic in seeing God at work when he says that one cannot see the kingdom "unless one is born from above" (3.3), which is similar to Jesus' remark to Peter that God is behind what is beginning to take shape in Nic's life (Mat 16.17).

I admit to a preference for "from above" as a helpful translation of γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν by such versions as ASB, IVP, LEB, and I think it follows the descending/ascending redeemer motif. Otherwise, my quotes are ESV.

This pattern of being born from above continues (3.5) and Jesus encourages Nic not to marvel that this new "seeing" will continue (3.7-8) though Nic cannot explain the mystery. But that this is something God has been getting his people to see from the beginning.

Jesus' comment in verse 21 that he who "does what is true comes to the light" seems to indicate, at least to me, that Nic is on the right track. The language of darkness in part works as a caution not to abort the living out of one's baptism and describes Nic's transformation: however, it is in an infantile stage.

I think the text does support a progression from darkness to light. Too bad I won't be at ETS this year to hear the rest of what you have to say. Thanks for the post!

Steve Scott said...

So much for the "Remember when you were first saved and you were so excited you went and told everybody you knew about Jesus?" guilt trip about how little evangelism goes on within Protestantism after one becomes "mature" in the faith. Hearing that for years doesn't necessarily encourage one in the faith, especially if that wasn't one's conversion experience. It appears that Nicodemus was brought to faith on God's own terms and on His own timeline. Should we despise him for coming to Jesus by night?