John 3:16 is the best known Bible verse. Even most atheists know the verse. It’s posted on signs at sporting events, it appears on bumper stickers, is emblazoned on t-shirts and is often quoted from the pulpit. This Golden Text of the Bible is known and quoted by people even if they do not know any other Bible passage. It is special.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The verse comes as part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus has just said that he must be lifted up before men (John 3:14, 15) signifying his coming death (John 12:32, 33). The verse (3:16) explains why he is to die; he dies because, or for the reason, that he loves us. Break the verse into pieces and a greater lesson is taught.
God is the source of love and he alone reached out to man in his sins. 1 John 4:8, 16 declare that God is love. It is not simply that God gives love but God is love. It is a necessary part of his component. He cannot be God apart from love. All that we know about true love comes from God. As the source of love he is also the source of salvation. It was while we were sinners that God sought us (Romans 5:8), not while we were good and loving people ourselves.
The love that God shows is active. It is a decision of goodness and commitment that the Father directs toward his creation. Today, we think of love as a warm feeling of affection toward someone. But true Biblical love is so much more than a feeling. It is a decision to care for another. God’s love is active in that he gave us what we did not have, but needed, at great cost to himself (Romans 5:6, 10).
Building on the thought of Romans 5:8, it was a love directed toward all men, the world. His love was not directed at people who were lovable, but toward rebellious, anger-driven people (Colossians 1:21). Some believe that Jesus only came and died for certain ones, but the text says otherwise. He died for the world and that includes all men, everywhere and from all times.
Jesus was a gift, He was an unearned gift that none of us deserved or could even pay for. Apart from Jesus there is no salvation of any kind. The death of Jesus justified God’s actions through history in restraining condemnation until Jesus’ blood was shed. His death also justified sinners who desired and sought salvation but could not find it on their own (Romans 3:21-26). Jesus was a gift.
Translators have struggled with the Greek word, ????????. It is usually translated “only begotten” or simply, “only son.” For our purposes here, we understand that the gift given was unique. There was none, nor will there ever be, like Jesus. He is one-of-a-kind. We begin to understand the uniqueness of the gift in Genesis 22:2 ff when God told Abraham to offer his only son as a sacrifice. Still the true nature of Jesus is almost beyond understanding.
Believes in Him
Apart from belief in Jesus there is no hope. Belief, the mental assent of his existence and unique nature, is the starting point. One would never obey if they did not believe. Since obedience is required (John 3:36, Acts 5:29, 32; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8) belief must come first.
Eternal life in the presence of God is the end gift of Jesus. It is Jesus who, at this moment, is preparing our home (John 14:1-4). We can live forever in his presence and apart from anything that is destructive or hurtful (Revelation 21:1-4; 22-27).
There is good reason John 3:16 is so beloved. In it we see the majesty of God and his goodness directed toward us. The only question is this: What will you do with this wonderful message?