Reintroducing John 3:16

February 13, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Posted in John, Salvation | 2 Comments
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For many years the Bible verse that has been generally considered the most popular, or at least most well-known, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The danger for some of us when studying a very familiar verse is that we become inoculated through over-exposure and make the mistake of thinking we know everything we need to know about it already. Let me encourage you not to make that mistake with John 3:16. Sit down (with your spouse if you are married) and go through it word by word, slowly, considering the import of each word, and looking at the verses before and after it to better illuminate the context.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

I didn’t really need to print it here, did I? Most faithful Christians probably have it memorized. But let’s examine it closely. The first word, “for,” refers back to:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Lest Verse 15 lead anyone to think that God the Father needed to be changed in His dispositional impassibility by God the Son from not loving us to loving us, the Holy Spirit had John make it clear that the Father’s love was the motivating cause of the plan of salvation.

“For God SO…” If you’ve been attending a Baptist or evangelical church for very long, you’ve probably seen the pantomime of a preacher stretching his arms wide to demonstrate a child’s expression of what it means to love someone SOOOOO much, but John 3:16 does not leave the question of “how much is so much?” open-ended. The word “that” is used to introduce the concept of: “THIS is how much the Father loved us.”

He loved us so much that He “GAVE.” This word, too, is worth closer inspection. God “gave” His Son in at least two respects: (1) In the Incarnation, the Father sent the Son from His Heavenly home to live in a world of sin, the effects of sin, and sinful rebels, and to experience, in His humanity, all the difficulties, pain, rejection, scorn, betrayal, sorrow, and human shortcomings and temptations known to mankind (but in response to which, He, unlike us, never sinned); (2) During His arrest and the events leading up to His death, the Father “gave” the Son into the hands of sinful men to be tortured and crucified, and to experience death as the substitutionary sacrifice for us.

This Son who came to live and die for His people was the Father’s “only begotten Son,” the Monogenes, His special and unique Son. He was the eternal Son of God, not “begotten” in the sense of having been born as touching His divinity, nor in the sense of His having been created (for He was not), but in an echo of the Old Testament type that we see in the episode of Abraham and Isaac.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

Genesis 22:1-13 (emphasis added)

Isaac was not, strictly speaking, Abraham’s “only” son, yet He was the son of promise – the special and unique son promised to Abraham by God. Yet he was designated as a sacrifice to be offered to God, not because Isaac’s loss was something to be lightly borne by Abraham, but rather because he was so precious to Abraham. In John 3:16 we see the ultimate fulfillment of what had been played out and interrupted in Genesis 22, and we learn that God loved us wicked rebellious sinners SO much that He gave His absolute best, His most cherished, His most valuable, His eternally perfect Son for us.

Would you give up your life to save the life of a loved one? Perhaps you would. But would you give up the life of one of your beloved children to save the life of another loved one? I doubt it. What about to save a stranger? Even less likely. Now, what about sacrificing the life of your only, beloved child to save the life of your worst enemy? Unthinkable. The love of the Father for us is too great for us to fathom. It is in a whole different realm of love from anything we can comprehend.

“God so loved THE WORLD… that WHOSOEVER…”

Does this mean that Jesus’s death on the Cross – the gift of the Father – secures the salvation of every single person? A consistent universalist would answer “yes.” He would say that Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, along with everyone else who has ever lived, will one day be in Heaven holding your hands and singing “Kumbaya.” However, this is incorrect, because the “whosoever” in John 3:16 is inextricably linked to the next word: “believeth,” and likewise to “in Him,” meaning Jesus, the Savior. The “world” that is so loved by God includes both Jews and gentiles, which would have been a radically different concept for the vast majority of those who heard Jesus’s teaching for the first time. The “world” in John 3:16 also means that all people are in fact “loved” by God in a general way, but not that God loves the world’s fallen, sin-controlled “system” that the words “the world” often describe in the Epistles. Not everyone in “the world” experiences the same benefits of God’s love that those who believe on Jesus Christ unto eternal salvation experience. The bronze serpent referenced in John 3:14 was lovingly lifted up by Moses for all to see, but only those to whom God granted faith looked and lived.

As you read this you might be wondering, “Am I a John 3:16 ‘whosoever’ or not? How can I tell?” You can settle this by looking to Jesus in faith right now, believing His Gospel. LOOK and SEE. If you will not look, see, and believe, you cannot be a John 3:16 “whosoever.” And there is only one other default position. If you will not be a John 3:16 “whosoever,” you must be a Revelation 20:15 “whosoever.”

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

“Perish” is what it’s called in John 3:16, but do not imagine it as some peaceful extinguishment. It is not a blinking-out into oblivion. It is eternal death and destruction, never-ending, conscious, excruciating pain, darkness, and torment, as opposed to present tense eternal “have everlasting life.” Everlasting life is the opposite of perishing: light instead of darkness, joy instead of pain, peace instead of torment. I beg you to trust Jesus this very moment.

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  1. […] at least a little familiar with these verses. At most major sporting events, the reference of John 3:16, if not the actual text, can be seen on a sign or banner. Seldom do we see a movie or TV program […]

  2. […] a previous post I looked at the importance of the word “for” which begins the well-known verse, John […]


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