Christ's crucifixion, his "lifting up", to achieve "eternal life" for all who believe, leads John to reflect on God's love for humanity, a love which is powerfully expressed in the cross. John's reflection is, as B.F. Westcott puts it, "a commentary on the nature and mission of the Son." Christ's death serves to rescue humanity from destruction, yet some still face destruction, but it is their own doing; they prefer darkness rather than light, death rather than life.
v16. Here we have one of the best loved verses in the Bible and this because it presents the gospel in a nutshell. In v15 Jesus states that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be crucified so that those "who believe in him may have eternal life." John now reflects on this truth and identifies its cause. God's love for humanity, not just Israel, has prompted the Father to give up his Son to the cross, so that whoever believers in the Son may have life eternal.
v17. Jesus, in like manner with the gospel, does indeed condemn unbelieving humanity, or more properly, reiterates the condemnation already hanging over them. Yet, this is not the purpose of Jesus' coming; Jesus is sent to save, not to condemn.
v18. Having stressed that the purpose of Jesus' coming is to save lost humanity, John now underlines the truth that belief in (trust in, reliance on) Christ is the necessary prerequisite for a person to escape condemnation. The person who does not believe confirms their condemnation, and this because they have ignored the salvation offered in God's unique Son.
v19-21. The final three verses are difficult to interpret, but there is a clue to their meaning and it lies in the phrase, "this is the verdict." The Bible commentator, Leon Morris, suggests that the "verdict" is likely referring to the process of judging, rather than the actual judgment itself. So, John is explaining how the process of judging works. On the one hand there are "those who do evil" and fail to come to the light. They live in habitual evil and hate the light because they fear that their evil will be exposed. They are happy in their evil and don't want their cosy world disturbed by the glaring reproof of Christ. On the other hand there are "those who do truth", that is, they acknowledge the truth of God in Christ and so happily come to the light.
When I commenced ministry in my last parish I hung a banner outside the church; "Under new management - same Boss." Church notice boards and banners can tell us allot about the agenda of a church. There are the "come and join the FULL gospel church" versions which suggest superiority. There is the no message church, other than the service times, usually without notification if cancelled. The "you are unimportant to us" message is emphasized if the notice board is next to unintelligible. There is the embarrassingly dumb and unoriginal, "CH__CH, what's missing?" In Australia a local hotel replied with "P_B, what's missing?" There is the finger-pointing judgmental banner proclaiming that church attenders are going to heaven, but the rest are going to hell. Then there is the gospel, the light shining in the darkness.
The "light" is the love of God radiating in the person and work of Christ, a life-giving light to a lost and broken world. The gospel message is easily displayed on a church notice board. "Jesus lives and loves unconditionally"; how simple is that!
In our passage for study, John ponders the impact of God's offer of "everlasting life." In a world facing destruction, there are those who come to the light, who believe in Jesus, who rest on the truth of God's grace in Christ, but there are also many others who hate the light and flee from it. John suggests that those who grip onto their selfish lifestyle do not come to the light because they fear the exposure of their life and thus, the loss of a life apart from God.
When we banner the gospel, many of those caught up in the push and shove of life will ignore, even flee the light, but some will be attracted to it. So, banner the gospel; something better than "Jesus Saves", given that we don't know which bank he used!!!
Create a banner that serves as a light to the world.