For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Bible commentary, John 3:16
The last verse has spoken of “every one who believeth.” The thought went beyond the limits that Rabbis set to the kingdom of God. Its only limit is humanity. This thought is now repeated and strengthened by the “might not perish,” and the love of God is made the foundation on which it rests. Perhaps no verse in the Bible has been so much explained as this; perhaps no verse can be so little explained. Most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt and thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; and this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others.
God so loved the world.—Familiar as the words are to us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time. They are the revelation of the nature of God, and the ground of our love to God and man. (Comp. Notes on 1John 4:7-11.)
His only begotten Son.—Here, once again, the Old Testament Scriptures suggest and explain the words used. Every Jew knew, and loved to think and tell of his forefather who was willing to sacrifice his own and only son in obedience to what he thought to be the will of God (Genesis 22). But Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. God wills not that Abraham should give his son, but He gave His only begotten Son. The dread power that man has ever conceived—that is not God; the pursuing vengeance that sin has ever imagined—that is not God; the unsatisfied anger that sacrifice has ever suggested—that is not God. But all that human thought has ever gathered of tenderness, forgiveness, love, in the relation of father to only child—all this is, in the faintness of an earth-drawn picture, an approach to the true idea of God. Yes, the true idea is infinitely beyond all this; for the love for the world gives in sacrifice the love for the only begotten Son.
Believeth in.—Better, believeth upon. The preposition is not the same as in the last verse. (Comp. John 1:12.) There the thought was of the Son of Man lifted up, in whom every one who believes and can interpret spiritual truth, ever has eternal life. Here the thought is of the Son of God given for the world, and every one who believes upon, casts his whole being upon Him, and, like Abraham, in will rests all upon God, finds that God has provided Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering instead of human sacrifice or death.
Everlasting life.—Better, as the same Greek word is rendered in the previous verse, eternal life. For the meaning of this word see Note on Matthew 25:46. It is of frequent use in this Gospel (seventeen times), and always used in reference to life.
Bible Reading Plan ( Jesus Teaches Nicodemus )
3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned,but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
John Testifies Again About Jesus
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testifiedabout—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sentspeaks the words of God, for God[i] gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.