John

3:16-21

The Ministry of Messiah, 2:1-12:50

1. Jesus offers abundant new life, 2:1-3:36

iv] God's love in Christ

Synopsis

John now moves from the Nicodemus discourse, a discourse which focused on Christ's crucifixion, his "lifting up" to achieve "eternal life" for all who believe, to a meditation / reflection on God's love for humanity, a love which is powerfully expressed in the cross.

 
Teaching

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him should not face destruction but gain eternal life, 3:16.

 
Issues

i] Context: For Jesus offers abundant new life, 2:1-3:36; See 2:1-12..

 

ii] Structure: This exposition / commentary, God's love in Christ, presents as follows:

God's love for the world, v16-18:

Proposition, v16:

"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son ....."

Purpose, v17;

Consequences, v18;

Mankind's love of the world, v19-21:

Proposition, v19:

"Light has come ...., but people loved darkness instead."

Consequences, v20-21.

 

iii] Interpretation:

This meditation / reflection by John is, as Westcott puts it, "a commentary on the nature and mission of the Son." Jesus' death serves to rescue humanity from destruction, yet some still face destruction, but it is their own doing; it seems they prefer darkness rather than light, death rather than life.

By expanding on Jesus' discourse with Nicodemus, John draws out the meaning of Jesus' coming. The opening verse gives us "the gospel within the gospels", Luther, v16. John tells us that in an act of sublime love God gave up his Son, "gave" in the sense of sent ("the one who came from heaven" = the incarnation) and delivered up ("the Son of Man must be lifted up"). The purpose of this act of divine love was "so that" (iJna + subj.) those who believe in Jesus should not perish, but have eternal life. Then, in v17, John explains further the purpose of God's love in Jesus for the whole world, namely, salvation rather than condemnation - the blessing of eternal life for all who believe. Verse 18 confronts us with a particularly harsh reality. Although the purpose of Jesus' coming is not condemnation, his presence brings with it judgment. A person who believes in Jesus discovers that "there is now no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus", Rom.8:1. Yet, for those who do not believe, the eschatological day of judgment arrives at their doorstep. The person who rejects Jesus stands condemned already - they are disowned by God, and this by their own doing. In verses 19-21 the ground of divine judgment is further explained in terms of light and darkness. In Christ, light burst into the world like the brilliance of a sunny day, but many preferred to live in shadows rather than light, they "preferred to live without such knowledge of God, without such brilliant purity .... They were not willing to live by the truth; they valued their pride more than their integrity, their prejudice more than contrite faith", Carson.

 

Where do Jesus' words end and John's / the evangelist's commentary begin? Verses 13-15 are likely to be the words of Jesus, particularly as he uses his favorite title, "Son of Man." Verse 16 seems to be where John beings his meditation / reflection / commentary. This is supported by: the use of the introductory phrase ouJtwV gar, "for this"; the use of the past tense when speaking of the cross; the use of the word monogenhV, "one-of-a-kind Son", a word used only by John and not found on the lips of Jesus.

 

"Those who adhere to the truth in Christ come to the light in order that their deeds might be seen for what they are, deeds done in union with God", v21. It could be argued that such a person comes to the light because their life is worthy of exposure, but if that were the case John would have used a word like goodness, faithfulness or righteousness. No, although such a person's righteousness is but filthy rags, they have discovered an amazing truth, a truth that they now rest on, namely, that their life is now hid in Christ and therefore they are judged according to his righteousness. Such a person no longer fears the light.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 3:16

John's exposition of the issues of the salvation of those who believe, the issue central to Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus, v16-21. i] God's love for the world, v16-18. a) Proposition, 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 believes in the Son may have life eternal.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why God made eternal life available to those who believe, namely, because he loves his creation.

ou{twV adv. "[God] so" - [god loved the world] in this way, thus, so. Modal adverb, expressing manner, emphatic by position, probably referring back, but possibly forward. It is often taken here as a simple elative / intensive, "so dearly", Moffatt, "to such an extent", Harris; God's love for his creation, particularly human creation, was so great "that as a result" (w{ste) he gave up his Son to the cross.

hgaphsen (agapaw) aor. "loved" - [god] loved. John is focused on the word love, using the verb 36 times in the gospel. He constantly refers to the Father's love for the Son and the Son's love for the Father, the Son for disciples and disciples for the Son. The particular meaning is dictated by the context. The common thread involves a relational process rather than just feelings. A word like "compassion", may suit. The consequence of God's love for "the world" is the sending of Christ to be lifted up.

ton kosmon (oV) "the world" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to love." Not the creation as such, but rather the world of humanity and human activity.

wJste + ind. "that" - . Introducing a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that, so that, consequently, ..." Carson says an actual result is intended. It is because God loved the world that he gave up his Son to the cross.

edwken (didwmi) aor. ind. act. "he gave" - Here, gave in the sense of "sent" to the cross. The tense indicates a shift from Jesus' words to John's reflection, although some argue that the shift is later in the passage.

ton monogenh adj. "only [Son] / one and only [Son]" - [the son], the only begotten, one of a kind, unique. Accusative direct object of the verb "to give." John is stressing Christ's unique relationship with the Father. In fact, John only uses the word "son" of Jesus and never of Jesus' disciples. This serves to underline the unique nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son.

iJna + subj. "that" - Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, or consecutive clause expressing result. Harris suggests purpose with an implied result. The Son is lifted up "in order that / with the result that" those who believe shall not perish.

oJ pisteuwn (pisteuw) pres. part. "[whoever] believes" - [all] the believing ones. The participle with paV may be classified as substantival, or adjectival, depending on whether we treat paV as an adjective "all, every", or a substantive "everyone". Possibly "anyone who believes" if understood as a generalized construction.

mh apolhtai (apollumi) "not perish" - may not perish, destroy. The natural state of humanity is death. Only God possesses life, and by extension, those who believe in Christ.

all (alla) "but [have eternal life]" - but [have life eternal]. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not [perish], but [have ......]"

 
v17

b) The purpose of God's love, 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.

gar "for" - More reason than cause, here a clarification of Christ's mission into the world and so probably more reason than cause; "God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world; he sent his Son that through him the world should be saved", Barclay.

ou apesteilen (apostellw) aor. "did not send" - [god] did not send, send forth, commission [into the world]. Used of an authoritative sending and therefore constantly used of Christian mission, which meaning John obviously wants to convey. God's mission, in the sending of Christ, is not the condemnation of mankind, but rather the salvation of mankind.

iJna + subj. "to" - that / in order to. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose; God did not send "in order to condemn."

krinh (krinw) aor. subj. "condemn" - judge, decide against / condemn [the word]. Either sense is possible. Technically the word is used to offset salvation which is the purpose of Christ's coming. God sent Christ in order to save, not to condemn, although a consequence of Christ's coming is the reiteration of the condemnation already hanging over humanity. Note, the agent of judgement / condemnation remains God, not Christ.

all (alla) "but" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....... but ......."

iJna + subj. "to [save]" - that [the world might be saved]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose.

di (dia) + gen. "through [him]" - through, by means of [him]. Instrumental, expressing agency; the Father does the saving, through the Son.

 
v18

c) The consequences, 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) Jesus 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 through God's unique Son.

oJ pisteuwn (pisteuw) pres. part. "whoever believes" - the one believing, putting faith, resting. The participle serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to believe."

eiV + acc. "in [him]"- into [him is not judged]. The prepositions eiV, "into", and en, "in", when used for belief into / in Christ, probably both express direction / goal, although McHugh argues that eiV demands the sense "believes-and-trusts."

de "but [whoever does not believe]" - but, and [the one not believing]. Transitional, here introducing a contrast, as NIV.

kekritai (krinw) perf. "stands condemned" - has been judged. In the "perfect tense the judgment is already past, but the sentence remains", Barrett.

hdh adv. "already" - already, now = now after all this waiting. Temporal adverb. The condemnation of those who do not believe applies in the same way as the justification of those who believe; they have already faced the judgment and are declared lost, condemned, because of their unbelief.

oJti "because" - Here serving to introduce a causal clause, as NIV.

mh pepisteuken (pisteuw) perf. "he has not believed" - The perfect tense is expressing "the settled state of unbelievers' condemnation and unbelief", Kostenberger. Note the use of the negation mh with the indicative, a rare usage. The negation ou would be expected. See Harris for suggested reasons.

to onoma (a atoV) "name" - [into] the name. For the ancients, a person's name represents the person. Insult a person's name and you insult the person.

monogenouV gen. adj. "[only [Son] / one and only [Son]" - of the only [son of god]. See v16. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "the name that belongs to ..."

 
v19

ii] Mankind's love of the world - the basis of divine judgment, v19-21. a) Proposition, v19. "Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light."

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the argument; "This is the verdict."

auth pro. "This" - this [is]. The demonstrative pronoun points forward to the explanation of the "verdict", namely, that people like darkness rather than light.

hJ krisiV (iV ewV) "the verdict" - the judgment, decision. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Barrett suggests that the word means "condemnation", but Morris thinks that at this point in the passage it means "the process of judging" rather than the sentence of condemnation. This process proceeds on the basis of "practical misbehavior which prevents a person from advancing into the light", McHugh. "They were not willing to live by the truth; they valued their pride more than their integrity, their prejudice more than contrite faith", Carson. "The fact which really judges men is that light came into the world ....", Barclay.

oJti "-" - that. Here introducing an epexegetic clause specifying the content of the verdict.

to fwV "light" - the light [has come into the world]. Nominative subject of the verb "to come." "Light" is an Old Testament image used to describe both wisdom and the law and the prophets. God's revelation is light and its enlightening enlivens; it enlivens because it is good. For John, Jesus is divine life, and this life radiates a pure divine truth which gives life. See the Prologue, 1:9.

kai "but" - and [men loved the darkness more than / rather than the light]. Here contrastive, as NIV - a Semitic use of the conjunction.

gar "because" - More reason than cause, explanatory, evidential; humanity loved darkness "as can be seen from their evil actions", McHugh.

autwn gen. pro. "their [deeds]" - [the works] of them [was evil]. The genitive may be classified adjectival, possessive, "their deeds", or verbal, subjective, "the deeds they performed." Note, as usual, the plural neuter subject takes a singular verb.

 
v20

b) The consequences, v20-21: The final verses are difficult to interpret, but there is a clue to their meaning and it lies in the phrase, "this is the verdict." 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 functions. 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.

gar "-" - for. Here again explanatory, introducing a clarification of v19 and therefore left untranslated. The clarification covers v20 and 21, first negatively and then positively. It is important to note that the two verses are not logically parallel. Judgment proceeds ("the verdict", v19) on the basis of a person's doing evil and hating light, or on the basis of a person's living by the truth and coming to the light. Clearly, v19 is addressing ethical / moral behavior, but v20 is addressing adherence to Christ.

paV ... oJ ... prasswn (prassw) pres. part. "everyone who does" - all the ones doing, practicing. Here paV + the articular participle may be classified as substantival, or adjectival, attributive, limiting the substantive adjective "all the ones". See "everyone born", 3:8.

faula "evil" - foul, bad, evil [hates the light and does not come to the light]. Accusative direct object of the participle "doing".

iJna + subj. "for fear that" - lest [the works]. Introducing a negated purpose clause, "in order that not = lest their deeds be exposed."

autou gen. pro,. "their [deeds]" - of him. As autwn, v19.

elegcqh/ (elegcw) aor. pas. subj. "will be exposed" - may be exposed, shown something (and therefore "reproved"). Following usual form, a singular verb is used with a neuter plural subject. Used of the Holy Spirit in 16:8 who will "prove the world wrong about...." Barrett suggests "convincing exposure." Morris suggests that "to come to the light means to have one's darkness shown for what it is and to have it rebuked for what it is." The child of the dark does not want their life exposed, while the child of the light does, cf. 21b. A person under the grace of God is free from guilt and quite willing to have their sin exposed, while a person apart from God denies guilt and fears any exposure.

 
v21

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a counter step in the argument, so "but".

oJ poiwn (poiew) pres. part. "whoever lives by [the truth]" - the one doing [the truth]. The participle serves as a substantive. Heb., "to keep faith". Dead Sea Scrolls: "the men of truth, the doers of the law, whose hands do not grow slack from the service of truth." Barrett defines this person as "he who practices the true (Christian) faith and life." Tasker opts for "the man of integrity", but this is unlikely. Carson is surely right when he argues for "adherence to the truth as it is in Jesus Christ." Judgment is passed in favor of the person who is committed to Christ and who, under the cover of divine grace, comes into the scorching brilliance of his light.

iJna + subj. "so that [it may be seen plainly]" - [comes to the light] that [his works may be manifested]. In v20 this construction introduced a purpose clause, and it would seem likely that the same sense is intended here, "in order that", but many commentators argue for a consecutive clause, "so that / with the result that", eg. McHugh. The clause is by no means clear, but the sense seems to be that the person who adheres to the truth in Christ willingly comes before the brilliance of God in order that their life may be seen, not on the basis of what they have done, but on the basis of what God has done in them and for them, as an act of divine grace - works which are "in union with him, and therefore by His power", Westcott.

oJti "that" - Here epexegetic / appositional, introducing an explanation of the nature of the ta erga "the works / deeds" that the person who comes to the light wants made manifest. Obviously not their own deeds, since "none are righteous, no not one", but rather works "wrought in God", AV.

estin eirgasmena (ergazomai) perf. pas. part "what he has done has been done" - they having been done. The perfect periphrastic construction possibly serves to underline the completeness of God's work in Christ worked in us.

en + dat. "[through] God" - in [god]. Here the preposition may take an instrumental sense, "through", so Beasley-Murray; it is "by the instrumentality of" the grace of God that we may possess salvation through faith in Christ. Accompaniment is also a possibility standing in place of kata, "in accordance with", so Schnackenburg, although this seems unlikely. A local sense, "in", in the sense of "in union with", seems more likely; "that his deeds might be seen for what they are, deeds done in oneness with God", Cassirer.

 

John Introduction.

Exposition

 

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