Updated: Apr 7
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Episode 7 of The Chosen brings us to the climax of Nicodemus' journey, when he finally encounters Jesus and they have their famous "born again" conversation. It's a powerful scene, with Jonathan Roumie's charisma in the role of Jesus on full display, and Erick Avari delivering a moving portrayal of Nicodemus. The scene also reminded me of the unique value of an extended series like The Chosen. I've read this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus dozens of times, but by giving their interaction greater history and context, The Chosen made it pop in new ways.
In the process of adapting this discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus for the screen, The Chosen (wisely) makes several changes. The Gospel of John presents the discussion as pretty one-sided, with Jesus waxing theological while Nicodemus just makes a handful of comments. The Chosen makes the scene much more dynamic, with a lot more back and forth: Jesus invites Nicodemus to respond at several points and builds upon his comments; he also draws some of his metaphors from the setting itself rather than introducing them seemingly out of nowhere. The Chosen also makes Nicodemus much more explicitly receptive to what Jesus says than in the Gospel of John, to the point of apparently arriving at a pretty high Christology.
The most interesting change, however, comes at the very end of the conversation. The Gospel of John doesn't really provide a proper conclusion to the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus. In fact, it's debated how the conversation actually ends. In some translations John 3:16-21 are Jesus' words, while in other translations they are presented as commentary from the narrator (remember that quotation marks, paragraphs, red letters, and headings are not found in the original text). Regardless of how one weighs the debate about verses 16-21, it's still unclear where the relationship between Jesus and Nicodemus is at by the end of Jesus' words. Nicodemus doesn't get a final word in and the scene doesn't give us any other clues about his response to Jesus' teaching.
It would be infuriating for a show like The Chosen to cut off the scene as abruptly as John does. And yet, while The Chosen does bring the scene to a proper close, it still ends on a very ambiguous note. Jesus invites Nicodemus to follow him - and then gives him several days to consider the offer.***Spoiler Alert*** In the next episode Nicodemus doesn't show up to the rendezvous at the appointed time but looks on with regret and longing. The audience is left to wonder where he's at spiritually and how his failure to follow will affect his view of Jesus going forward.
There's a lot to dig into here with youth. Our focus will be on how the ambiguity of Nicodemus' spiritual condition is suggested by both the Gospel of John and The Chosen, albeit in very distinct ways.
Intro to The Chosen Episode 7: The Mystery of Nicodemus
To begin, ask your students:
Have you ever had a hard time telling whether someone really believed in Jesus? Why?
It might help to begin by sharing your own personal example. Maybe talk about a friend you knew who would go to church but never really seemed to take it seriously or a family member who said they believed in God but you had a hard time telling if they fully understood the Gospel.
Now explain to your youth:
Sometimes we act as if people fit into just two boxes, the box for people who believe in Jesus and the box for people who don't believe in Jesus. In real life, we know that it's not quite so easy to categorize people. Many people are interested in Jesus and may believe he's special in some way but they aren't ready to fully trust him with their salvation.
During Jesus' life, there were many "seekers" like this. They saw the miracles that Jesus performed and knew he must have been a prophet of some kind, but they weren't ready to entrust themselves fully to him.
One of the most famous encounters between Jesus and a seeker is his famous "born again" conversation with Nicodemus, a famous Pharisee scholar.
Now read John 3:1-21:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:1-21 ESV)
After reading, I would clarify with your students that you won't be able to get into all the intricate details of what Jesus is saying. Your focus is instead on the interaction that he's having with Nicodemus. Ask your youth:
Going into this conversation, what do you think Nicodemus believes about Jesus? On a scale of 1-10, how much faith does he have?
During the conversation, what's Nicodemus' tone? Why is he asking these questions? Is he curious? Defensive? Just confused?
What do you think Nicodemus believes about Jesus by the end of the conversation? On a scale of 1-10, has his faith increased, decreased, or stayed the same?
Point out to your youth:
You might notice that the conversation cuts off and goes immediately to another story. In real life, Nicodemus probably responded to what Jesus said, but John leaves that out. He wants us to be unsure about Nicodemus - just like how we're often unsure about where "seekers" are at and how much they believe in Jesus.
Nicodemus only shows up a couple more times in the Bible. His next appearance is at a meeting of the chief priests and Pharisees, most of whom hate Jesus. They send some guards to arrest Jesus, but the guards come back empty handed.
Now read John 7:45-52:
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:45-52 ESV)
After reading, I would ask your youth:
Where do you think Nicodemus is at on his journey toward belief in Jesus? On the faith scale, where's he at?
What barriers are preventing Nicodemus from believing more fully in Jesus?
There's some real ambiguity in this scene. We don't know if Nicodemus sticks up for Jesus because he really does believe in him and is trying to support him in a sneaky way without outing himself or if he's still unsure about Jesus but just wants to be fair. In either case, the narrative makes it clear that the other Pharisees and chief priests come down on him hard merely for wanting to give Jesus a fair hearing. It makes sense why he might be afraid to declare belief in Jesus - and yet, at the same time, the insecurity of the Pharisees may actually increase Nicodemus' conviction that he's on the wrong team.
Explain to your youth that Nicodemus appears in one last scene in the Gospel of John and read this final passage:
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42 ESV)
Point out to your students:
This passage connects Nicodemus to another Jewish disciple named Joseph of Arimathea. It tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus in secret because he feared the Jewish authorities.
Joseph and Nicodemus together bury Jesus' body. Nicodemus brings a mixture of burial materials that would have cost a fortune.
Now ask your youth:
Where do you think Nicodemus is at on his faith journey? On the faith scale, where's he at?
Now turn your conversation back to The Chosen and point out to your students:
This episode of The Chosen puts the spotlight on Nicodemus. We're going to see his "born again" conversation with Jesus. You may notice that the show changes some details. Don't get too hung up on that. Focus on the character of Nicodemus. Ask yourself, where is he at in his faith journey? How much does he believe? We'll talk more after the episode.
Viewing The Chosen Episode 7
Due to COVID restrictions, my youth group watched The Chosen online using Zoom. You can find episode 7 on YouTube here. If you want to avoid the ads (there's a lot!) or the need to stream it, you can find it on Amazon.
While watching The Chosen, I made occasional comments through the chat but I tried to not do too much teaching. I wanted the youth to enjoy it and not just see The Chosen as an elaborate preaching illustration. For the most part, I just clarified who characters were and occasionally I briefly explained a reference or allusion that was confusing to my youth.
Discussing The Chosen Episode 7
To begin your discussion, ask your youth:
What did you think of the episode? What stuck out to you?
What stuck out about the "born again" conversation?
Based on how The Chosen portrays this scene, how would you rate Nicodemus on the faith scale?
Do you think Nicodemus will follow Jesus?
I would point out to your students:
In The Chosen, Nicodemus responds to Jesus by clearly expressing belief - not merely that Jesus is a miracle-worker but more importantly that Jesus is the Son that God has sent to bring salvation to his people.
Remember back to when we read this scene in the Gospel of John. We weren't given a clear sign of what Nicodemus believed at that point. It was more ambiguous - we just had to guess.
Even though The Chosen makes Nicodemus much more clearly express belief in Jesus, it still leaves us guessing about how deep his belief goes. He seems doubt whether he'll be able to make the sacrifices necessary to follow Jesus - and we'll see next episode what happens.
Sometimes we have friends like Nicodemus. They may express a degree of belief in Jesus, but it's hard to tell how deep their belief goes.
To conclude the conversation, ask your youth:
What did you notice about how Jesus responded Nicodemus as a seeker?
How should we walk with our friends who seem to be seekers but may not have full-fledged faith?
Have posts about The Chosen like this one helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
The Chosen Controversies Series
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
The Virgin Mary in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Mary Magdalene in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara