Roelf L. Ruffner
“Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:63-64). The above verses reflect one of the greatest tragedies in history—the illegal trial of Jesus Christ and His illegal condemnation by the ancient Jewish council, or the Sanhedrin. These learned and respected men of Judaism rejected the prophesied Messiah whom they publicly yearned for. Moments before the high priest Caiaphas had publicly asked Jesus, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). Without hesitancy Jesus had replied, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).
I have always had respect for Nicodemus. He was a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) or a member of the Sanhedrin whom Jesus referred to as “a master of Israel” (John 3:10). One night he spoke with Jesus in an honest exchange, not trying to entrap Jesus as other Pharisees did. He defended Jesus before the Jewish chief priests and the Pharisees when they tried to get the temple police to arrest him at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (John 7:51). They showered contempt upon his defense of Jesus. Nicodemus was apparently a secret disciple, like Joseph of Arimathaea (John 19:38).
Did Nicodemus speak up for Jesus at the trial before the Sanhedrin? Did he say “amen” when Jesus declared His Sonship before this kangaroo court? Or did Nicodemus consider Jesus’ confession blasphemous as Caiaphas did? The Bible is silent. Yet the word “all” (Mark 14: 64) is ominous. It suggests that he at least was silent during the proceedings. It may be that Nicodemus did agree with Caiaphas when he tore his clothing in utter rejection of what Jesus had said (cf. Ezra 9:3). If this is a correct interpretation of the Biblical narrative the question remains “Why?”
Perhaps he thought Jesus was a prophet but not the Messiah. “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Many Jews in Jesus day hoped He was the Messiah. Their concept of the Messiah was the proverbial man on a white horse who would relieve them from Roman occupation and lead Israel back to the golden age of David and Solomon. The wanted a political Messiah. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone” (John 6:15—After the feeding of the 5,000). Even His apostles leaned toward this view. Their view of Christ was shattered when he was arrested and crucified. Even at His ascension into Heaven their views of the Christ and His kingdom were befuddled. “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Nicodemus may have seen this man he once admired, bound and humiliated, as anything but the Messiah of his dreams.
Millions today are disappointed in the Christ. They expect a Savior which will overlook their transgressions and grant their every request. But when they read and hear the words of the Master in the New Testament, they back away from Him. “ And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Nicodemus may have been overwhelmed by the opposition to Jesus. Here was the high priest Caiaphas and many others loudly opposing this man from Galilee. This is why many turned away from full allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth during His ministry. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43).
In our own day some brethren’s allegiance to the Lord is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” When false doctrine or church politics or fellowship issues raise their ugly heads they check to see which way the wind is blowing before taking a stand, if they take a stand. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). The last we hear of Nicodemus is when he joins with Joseph retrieving Jesus’ body from the cross and burying it in a new tomb. He even brought seventy-five pounds of expensive aromatic burial spices to anoint the body. This was a bold public move which probably alienated him from the Sanhedrin. I like to think that Nicodemus went on and believed the apostles’ witness of the resurrection of Jesus, repented and was baptized for the remission of his sins on the Day of Pentecost.
Dear reader what about our faith in the Son of God? Is it unbelieving when we get to the “rough stuff” in New Testament Christianity? Do we follow the whims and opinions of men rather than the words of the Master? It is easy to beat our chests and declare our love for the Lord when things are going well, but what about when we face the challenges and fears of this life? “ Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat. 7: 13-14)