It’s the most famous verse in the whole Bible: John 3:16. But no matter how well you THINK you know this verse, I promise, there’s always more to learn. Even though I’ve known this verse since I was a little kid, as I was studying it recently … it blew my mind. Let’s hold this verse in our hand like a precious gem and take a closer look at each part of it.
“For God so loved the
world ...” The New Testament was written in the common Greek language of Jesus’
day, which had seven or eight words that can be translated as “love.” Three of
them appear in the New Testament: “Phileo,” the tender love between friends or
brothers; “Storge,” a love for one’s family; and “Agape”—unconditional,
self-sacrificial love. Even when Agape love isn’t appreciated or responded to
favorably, it always works for another’s greatest good. It’s the purest and highest
form of love. Not surprisingly, this is the word for love we find in John 3:16.
God’s love for lost and dying people is the purest, highest kind of love. Nothing
you think, nothing you say, nothing you do can stop God from loving you. Notice
in John 3:16 WHO God loves. Not just
“… that He gave His one and only Son …” It would have been easy for God to SAY He loved everyone. But God proved His agape love for the world as “He gave His one and only Son.” John 3:16 makes it clear that God took the initiative. Not me, not you. Before you and I ever thought of God, He was thinking of us. Before we ever loved Him, He loved us. When we were still lost and dying in our sins, God loved us and gave us the greatest gift in the universe. Because God’s love for the world is Agape love, He gave us the most precious gift He had to give: His one and only Son.
“… that whoever believes in Him …” Just as faith in God was the key to being saved from the deadly effects of venomous snake bites in Numbers 21, faith in Christ is the key to being saved from the deadly effects of sin in eternity. When Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus, he had spent his entire life trying to be good enough and religious enough to make it into Heaven. If Nicodemus came to Christ with a heart filled with pride and arrogance, Jesus’ teaching about saving faith would have disappointed him. But if he came with a heart that was humble and teachable—as I believe he did—Jesus’ teaching about salvation through faith would have brought him great relief. After so many years of obeying hundreds of Jewish laws, Nicodemus had no guarantee that he would make it to heaven. But now he understood, through Jesus’ teaching, that he could have assurance of eternal life by God’s grace through faith.
“… shall not perish but
have eternal life.” In this verse, the word “perish” is a translation of the Greek word
“Apollumi,” which means “to be destroyed, to be utterly lost.” If you believe
and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you will be given the gift of
eternal life in the
Now, at this point some critics ask: “If God is loving as Jesus makes Him out to be here in John 3:16, how could He possibly condemn anyone to hell?” Good question. And there’s an even better answer: In a very real sense, God doesn’t condemn anyone to hell. People condemn THEMSELVES.
Years ago, a rather arrogant man was given a guided tour of a famous art gallery filled with priceless masterpieces by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso. After the tour, the man told the museum curator, “I think those old pictures are ugly, and looking at them was a waste of my time.” The curator calmly responded, “Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are not on trial, but those who look at them are.” All that the man’s reaction had done was show his own foolish blindness.
F.F. Bruce says it so well: “What is true in the realm [of art] is equally true in the spiritual realm. The man who depreciates Christ, or thinks Him unworthy of his allegiance, passes judgment on himself, not on Christ. He does not need to wait until the day of judgment; the verdict on him has been pronounced already.” William Barclay says it equally well: “God sent Jesus in love. He sent Him for the salvation of those people; but that which was sent in love has become a condemnation. It is not God who has condemned them; God only loved them; the people have condemned themselves.”
God so loved the world that He gave us the most precious gift He ever could have given us: part of Himself … the Son of God. Through Him, God has provided a way for ANY person—male or female, young or old, black or white, Jew or Gentile, religious or irreligious—to be snatched from eternal perishing in hell and be brought into eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is the highest form of love in this world AND in the world to come. It’s a love that is indescribable, unimaginable … mind-blowing. And that’s the kind of love God has for you and me.
Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us at our new worship