John 3:16 is back in the news with a commercial put together by Focus on the Family, that was aired during the NFL playoffs. It’s a great verse, and a great commercial. Yet this verse often gets a bad rap, as if it is cliche or taken for granted. It shouldn’t, mind you, but it does. But what is really cool is to go back and translate the verse from the Greek and as you do, you find that there is a lot packed into this verse that you may have even taken for granted or not even thought about. So I offer you my translation and “gloss” (fancy way of saying “commentary”) on the verse:
For in this way, God loved the World as follows: He gave the only-begotten Son, in order that all who trust in Him would not perish eternally, but would have life eternal.
Quite often the “God SO loved the World” is understood, mistakenly as “God loved the World so much.” As nice as that sentiment of “so much,” it’s even greater to hear “this is HOW God loved you.” Think of it in terms of a relationship between husband and wife. One can say “I love you so much.” That’s great! Would more couples say that to each other on a regular basis. But just listen to a wife talk about HOW her husband loves her: ”My husband is great: he gave up that promotion so we can spend more time together.” You see, our God is a God of action. Even His Words are active and creative… and sending His Son as the Word-made-flesh for us and on our behalf. We can look and see for certain God love us.
The next amazing thing about this verse is the WHO/WHAT God loves: the World. Not “just Christians,” not “those who would eventually believe,” but “the World.” Yes Jesus came for all. He died for all creation. Jesus died for fallen man… and yes the world itself which was fallen because of man. This is why it is truthful to say to anyone “You are forgiven, your sins are atoned for through Jesus death on the Cross.” Yes, even the unbeliever’s sin is forgiven. In fact it is this very proclamation… that Jesus died for sinners, for enemies of God that creates faith, and to which faith takes hold of and receives. This is why those who do not believe are condemned (Mark 16:16). Their condemnation rests not in anything lacking or incomplete on God’s part, but on themselves.
Finally, “in order that all who trust in Him would not perish eternally, but would have life eternal” gives us the purpose of God sending His Son. The goal, the purpose, is that those who trust in Him would not perish, but have life eternal. Faith is a “trust” which clings to a promise and proclamation. Faith says “Amen,” “I believe.” This faith can only come about because that good new proceeded it. Once that message enters one’s ear hole (or eyes for the deaf/reader, or fingers for the blind reader), the Holy Spirit creates faith to trust that very Word (see Romans 10:17). Thus faith is not our work (Ephesians 2:8-9), but a gift. And faith clings to that “It is finished,” Jesus has done it all FOR YOU proclamation.
“So” what? It’s all about what God has done for you by sending His only-begotten Son to live, to die, and to be raised FOR YOU… that’s what.
Some cool Franz Pieper quotes on this:
An essential prerequisite of justification by faith, or of subjective justification, is the objective justification (the reconciliation) of all mankind. If God had not in His heart justified the whole world because of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, and if this justification were not offered in the Gospel, there could not be a justification by faith.
Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999). 508.
We note, finally, that the assurance of justification is bound up with the truth that the creation of faith and justification occur at the same moment. Apology: “Faith reconciles and justifies before God the moment we apprehend the promise by faith.” (Trigl. 213. See also Trigl. 149, Art. IV [II], 97; 147, ibid., 87.) Objective justification precedes faith, for it is the object of faith, and its proclamation creates faith (Rom. 10:17). Subjective justification, however, does not take place prior to faith nor later than faith. To assume a prius or posterius in time would abolish the “by faith” (πίστει) and thus also the assurance of justification.
Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999). 552.