3:16 – The Rest of the Story – God’s Fulfillment of His Plan 2: John

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan (Current location of study)
  • Our Response

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This, of course, is the verse that sparked the idea for this entire Bible study series. As usual, I’d like to begin by looking at the context in which this verse finds itself. The book of John was the last of the gospel accounts and was written by the apostle John near the end of the first century A.D. He was no doubt familiar with the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and makes very clear his primary purpose in writing the book, as stated in John 20:30-31 – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Now, I believe that “all scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16),” which is another 3:16 verse we’ll look at a bit later. However, even though God directly inspired the writers of the Scriptures, He also allowed their own purposes and personalities to shine through. John’s gospel is written in such a way that he tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, but also adds commentary to further explain and develop his stated purpose of drawing the reader toward BELIEF in Jesus as the Son of God.

Before starting his historical narrative, John opens his gospel with the following passage (John 1:1-5):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The person that John is talking about here is, of course, Jesus and this is how John wanted to introduce the main character of his gospel – as the eternal creator God of the universe. In verses 6-8 he introduces the next person in his narrative – John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

Then, after introducing John the Baptist, John (the apostle) spends the next ten verses (9-18) providing commentary on the concept of Jesus being the “light” that John the Baptist introduced in verses 6-8. Following that discussion, he picks up in verse 19 with the narrative of John the Baptist again. This is a pattern that John employs frequently in his gospel, providing theological commentary and explanation to accompany the stories he has selected to tell in this book. That’s why it’s so important to understand the purpose that he stated (above) in chapter 20 and also to understand why his gospel reads somewhat differently than the other three – less like a historical narrative and more like a teaching commentary.

That brings me to the story he is relating in chapter 3. John relates the story of Nicodemus coming to visit with Jesus. In verses 1-15, John provides details of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

“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.”

It is at this point that our 3:16 verse comes into play. There is some debate on whether it is Jesus continuing his discourse, or if it is John the writer providing explanation. It is my opinion that the depth of the explanation falls more in line with the way that John tends to provide explanatory commentary.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

This popularity and familiarity of the verse lies in the fact that it so succinctly encapsulates the foundational message of the gospel. Let’s break it down.

  • For God so loved the world – As we’ve been seeing in the course of this study, God’s plan from the outset with the initial sin of Adam and Eve was to provide an offspring who would thwart Satan’s insurrection. Further, God’s patience and perseverance in fulfilling this plan is demonstrated through the continuing message of Scripture over the course of thousands of years from Adam to the time of Christ. He could have wiped the human race from the planet any number of times but deliberately chose not to because He loves us!
  • he gave his only Son – As we’ve seen in scripture so far, God proved to us repeatedly that we (the human race) are incapable of rising to His standard of perfection and holiness. The prophecies in scripture about the messiah leave NO doubt that this human deliverer would also be co-equal with God himself with descriptive phrases such as that found in Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  • whoever believes in him – The only action required of those who God chooses to save is BELIEF. John explained this back in chapter 1 verse 12 by saying “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
  • should not perish – A critical extension of this message of belief is the future result that is in store for All people – eternity. Those who make the choice NOT to believe in the saving sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus on their behalf will perish. This sounds like a cessation of existence, but we know from other scripture, including the words of Jesus himself, that this perishing entails an eternal state of perishing. Jesus said in Matthew 25:41, 46, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…. And these will go away into eternal punishment,
  • but have eternal life – The other option, provided to those who choose TO believe in the saving sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus on their behalf is to live for eternity in the presence of God and Jesus. This existence is described in several places in both Old and New Testament passages. It will involve worship of God, but also will involve activity which in comparison with our current existence might be described as enjoyable work, discovery, and recreation the likes of which is only hinted at in our present existence.

Before John continues his narrative, he continues in verses 17-21 with the thought he started in verse 16.

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.

There is no need for me to “explain” John’s explanation any further. What he said – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already. BELIEVE!

Next week we’ll explore Luke 3:16.

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