“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This verse is so popular, it has, perhaps become one of the most quoted verses in the Western hemisphere. During the 2011 Super Bowl, one Christian foundation attempted to buy an ad that had John 3:16 as its focus, but the ad was rejected. To this day, people hold up signs around televised football stadiums that simply say, “John 3:16.” You can find the chapter and verse on bumper stickers, necklaces and bracelets. You can even buy it on a refrigerator magnet. But has all this mania cheapened the message.
And have we become so focused on that verse as a slick mantra we’ve conveniently forgotten the context in which the verse was said and the verse that directly follows?
Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night to speak with him privately. The Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, believed in resurrection, an afterlife, and in the coming of a Messiah. His first statement to Jesus confirms his respect and belief in Jesus.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus intentionally confirms to Nicodemus he has been born again; Nicodemus doesn’t see it yet.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus, with compassion and love, takes the time to explain to Nicodemus in detail how this can be so, ending with, “whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
And here are the two verses together (emphasis mine):
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)
The Greek word used for judge is krino, which means to judge, call to account, vindicate, condemn.
Well, if God did not send Jesus into the world to judge, then who am I to judge? Who am I to call to account? Who am I to seek revenge? Who am I to condemn? Shame on me if I do!
Now, lest you think I’m ignoring what else Jesus says, here is how he completes his thought to Nicodemus that night:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their actions were evil. All those who do wrong fear coming to the Light because their actions will be exposed. But whoever does the right thing comes to the Light because those things – those thoughts, those words, those actions – have been carried out through God. (John 3:18-21)
So let’s examine what Jesus says here.
Whoever does not believe is condemned already. Well, we know Jesus didn’t condemn them because Jesus only does the will of our Father, and clearly, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge (condemn) the world.” Who did? It must be God. So if God has already condemned, it would be superfluous for us to do so, and certainly an insult for us to do God’s job.
And this is the judgment: Wow! Did you actually read this? The Light – Jesus – has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light. The judgment is that people choose darkness instead of the Light. This is the hell of one’s own making – to fear coming to the Light because their actions will be exposed.
This, to me, is profound. We never need to point fingers at anyone. We never need to tell anyone they are going to hell. Many are already there; and the many include those of us who call ourselves Christians. And we need to look deeply into our own hearts before we ever accuse, judge or condemn anyone else.
Our own actions, words and thoughts are exposed every day.
“Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
“I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know you are my disciples because of your love for each other.” (John 13:34-35)
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “But seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; (Luke 6:27)
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)