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John 3:16-21

By Tim Butterfield, 19 October 2013 · 3,959 views

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “  This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. “  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  (John 3:16-21 NASB)


John 3:16 is the most iconic, most memorized verse in the New Testament.  Even unbelievers know it, but being able to recite it from memory does not mean that we understand it.  

“For God so loved the world” The Greek word kosmos generally means, in this context, all of the inhabitants of the earth, all men, and the human family as a whole.  God loves all of His creation, including man.  He pronounced it good, but all of creation groans under the curse that resulted in man’s rebellion.  Since the curse came through the actions of one man, so must its remedy come through of one man.  (Romans 8:19-22; 1st Corinthians 15:21-22)

“That He gave His only begotten son” In Isaiah 9:6 it says, For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;”   A child was born, the baby Jesus.  But that baby was also the Son of God; given by God the Father to help us do what we could not do for ourselves, deal with the problem of our sin.  We had no claim or merit that would allow us to expect or demand even the smallest thing from God to mitigate the fate we had earned by our rebellion against Him.  But God chose to give us free and unmerited the gift of his only begotten Son (John 1:14) His unique Son, who became incarnate in order to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sin (1st John 2:2).

“that whoever believes in Him”  Even though He died for all, not all will be saved.  Some will refuse to believe in Him.  Believing is more than an intellectual agreement that Jesus existed or even that Jesus is God.  It means putting our complete trust and confidence in him.  It is to put Christ in charge of our life and eternal destiny.  Believing is both trusting his words as reliable and relying on his promise of a new birth and regeneration.

shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  This new birth and regeneration allows us to spend eternity in the presence of God (John 17:3)   As Christians we have this eternal life (1st John 5:11-13) as a gift from God (Romans 6:23) even though we are still in mortal bodies and still sin.  Our eternal life is not yet fully manifested even though we are saved by faith (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9) it will only become fully manifested when we “Exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:23)

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world” God would have been fully justified to send Jesus to judge, that is, to pronounce sentence on mankind.  Man deserves condemnation, but God was willing to delay the sentence and offer a pardon.  But there will come a time when He will return to judge all who have refused that pardon.  (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; 2nd Corinthians 5:10; 2nd Timothy 4:1).  

“but that the world might be saved through Him.”  Who better to render final judgment than the one who gave His very life to secure a pardon for those who would accept it?  Mankind is not on trial; mankind is sitting in a cell in death row being offered a full pardon… and hesitating, even refusing to accept it!  A pardon can only be granted by someone who has authority and jurisdiction over the person by releasing them from the penalties of an offense.

"He who believes in Him is not judged” (Romans 8:1).  Some translations read condemned.  Both translations have merit.  A believer is not condemned because he never comes up for judgment on any charge where he can receive condemnation; he has a full pardon forgiving those acts.  The pardon may righteously be extended because God has received payment and satisfaction for those offenses by the blood of Christ for our sins and transgressions.  

“he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Jesus came to bring salvation, but those who reject that salvation condemn themselves.  To reject this pardon is an added offence before God, preferring your sins over God’s grace.  (John 3:36; Romans 2:5)  

“"This is the judgment,” Some translations translate “Here is the condemnation” it could also read “This is why they are punished.”  

“that the Light has come into the world,” This is Christ’s light, which illuminates our lives with instruction and understanding that allows us to see clearly our sins for what they are, and so, to see our need of a Savior.

“and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  But men preferred the darkness found in ignorance, error, superstition, and iniquity.  They often encourage these things to veil or justify their actions.  Evil deeds are revealed by the light, so people who want to do evil prefer the dark over the light because it makes it harder to expose their actions and catch them in the act.

"For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”  They know that their deeds will not only be discovered, but they be shown to be worthy of censure, and blame if not outright criminal.  The sinner believes a lie - that God will not punish, or that there is no God, or that there is no eternity and no hell.

"But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."  He can enter the light because he knows that there is a God, and that He will punish sin, but He would rather their eternal destiny to be spent in His presence and show mercy and grace.

Regarding John 3:16, it is not only the most iconic verse, it's also perhaps the most misused and misunderstood.  The emphasis in the New Testament is on God's love for His own more so than those who reject the gospel: John 14:21, 23; 15:13 (Note the emphasis on "friends"); 17:23; Eph 5:25.  The book of Acts, the most evangelistic book in Scripture, never once mentions God's love.  The emphasis of the gospel message is that all are sinners, sin is to be judged, and one must repent and believe the Gospel, receiving the finished work of Christ.  Modern evangelism places an overemphasis on love that is not found in the Scriptures.  That's not to say that God doesn't love His creation, but I do believe that we have distorted that to the point where the Gospel message itself becomes misunderstood.  D.A. Carson has a great book, "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God."  John Piper treats this subject succinctly in a Q&A found here: http://www.desiringg...-to-unbelievers

I am familiar with Piper's works, but when it comes to Reformation theology (as its adherants style themselves these days) I find RC Sproul of  Ligonier Ministries much more to my liking.


The book of Acts is the history of the growth of the early church, including the introduction and acceptance of Gentile believers (without the necessity of their becoming circumcised and following the Law first.)


There are enough mentions of God’s love elsewhere both in the Gospels and in the Epistles that its absence in the historical (NOT evangelical) story of the early church.  It spread through the evangelical teachings of Paul (want to prove to me that Paul did not emphasize God's love as part of his message?) and there is no shortage of mention of God's love (even for sinners) there as well in the Epistles written by Peter and John to counterbalance any lack of its direct mention in Acts.

If you wish to discuss this I would be happy to do so, but only if there are some ground rules.  Some common ground must be found upon which to begin our discussion, or there is nothing to discuss.


For instance if we cannot find a way to agree (for example) that Reformation Theologians, Arminianist Theologians and   Molinist  Theologians can agree that The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy ((http://www.biblerese...m/chicago1.html) expresses their basic beliefs and tenets as far as the Bible accuracy and authority goes…and therefore our differences lie in the realm of INTERPRETATION of the scriptures, then we would spend our time arguing “Straw man” issues rather than discussing (as Christian brothers can and should)  the differences in how we understand what we agree is God’s word.

Everyone has seen the other guys “proof verses”, in fact some times they have the same ones.  So let us discuss for understanding, not debate points…because arguing to win the argument loses more than it can possibly win.