Jesus undoubtedly caused quite a stir when He cleared the temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of His earthly ministry (John 2:13–22). Yet, He did not immediately leave the city after driving the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple. As we read in today’s passage, He remained in Jerusalem at least long enough to have a meeting with Nicodemus (3:1–2).
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and thus would have been exceedingly scrupulous to observe the law. Because the Pharisees are well known for being some of Jesus’ most persistent opponents during His earthly ministry (see, for example, Matt. 23), many people believe that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night so that others, particularly other Pharisees, would not see him meeting with their “enemy.” The text does not state this outright, and it could be that Nicodemus came at night because it would be easier to have a lengthy conversation with Jesus once the day’s activities were over. If Nicodemus did come at night out of fear of being seen by others, it is interesting that Jesus did not rebuke Him for that but was willing to receive and talk with Him. That would be quite in keeping with our Lord’s refusal to put out a faith that, being mingled with fear, seems to be a smoldering wick (Isa. 42:3).
It seems that whatever beliefs Nicodemus had about Jesus when he met Him in Jerusalem, he lacked a full understanding of who Jesus was. After all, at this time Nicodemus addressed Jesus only as a rabbi—a teacher (John 3:2). Still, Nicodemus did understand that Jesus was sent by God and that the signs or miracles that Jesus performed attested to that fact. That is, no one could do such signs “unless God [was] with him” (v. 2).
As Dr. R.C. Sproul has often noted, true miracles corroborate a person’s claim to be giving special revelation and attest to an individual as one to whom we must listen. It can be easy to think that throughout the biblical period, miracles were commonplace, that people saw them just about every day. But if we read the biblical narrative carefully, we see only a few periods characterized by a flurry of miracles. During Moses’ ministry, the miracles of the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna, and more testified to His identity as the old covenant mediator. Later, the miracles associated with Elijah and Elisha confirmed the institution of the prophetic office. Jesus’ miracles confirmed Him as Messiah and mediator of the new covenant.