The most loved verse

"For in this way God loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever continues to believe in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Do you have a favourite verse? This verse is perhaps the best known, and much loved, favourite text in the Bible. Many would say that this verse is a very good summary of the gospel, the good news concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. It is often quoted, preached upon, and even printed on T shirts!

The words “For in this way” at the start of this verse, were deliberately chosen and spoken, to cause us to look back at what has been previously said by Jesus to Nicodemus. In other words, this verse is part of a bigger conversation, and so we must be careful to explain what is said in John 3:16 not in isolation. With this in mind, we should look at the surrounding verses, as these shed much additional light to our overall understanding of John 3:16.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life “ (John 3:15)

Jesus had just been referring to an occasion, an event that occurred in Israel's historic past. Nicodemus would have instantly known and understood how Jesus draws a very startling comparison between himself (as the Son of Man) and the snake in the wilderness. This story can be found in Numbers chapter 21.

At that point in their history, the Israelites were passing around (detour) a region called Edom. They had left Egypt, and were heading to the land which had been promised to them by God. They began to feel impatient with the journey, and generally discouraged with their lot. These feelings eventually caused them to moan against God and against Moses. This was not for the first time! They said:

"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  (Numbers 21:5)

God had graciously, continuously, provided them with more than enough food and water. This “worthless” food was the Manna which God had supernaturally provided for them each day to eat (Numbers 11:7). It was more than enough to sustain them. Therefore in judgement, God sent among them poisonous serpents, or snakes which bit them. As what was happening dawned on them, they cried out to God for help, for many were dying and had died. God heard, and in mercy told them to make make a bronze snake, a representation of what was causing their pain and death, to be nailed to a pole and lifted up high so the people could see it. God then said that whoever looked at the bronze snake would live. And that is exactly what happened, those who were bitten and looked at the snake lived. Those that didn't died.

I guess by now you can see the amazing illustration and point Jesus was making to Nicodemus. Jesus was liking, comparing himself to the bronze snake and the situation in Israel's past. He too would be lifted up, and only those who would look and believe, who trust in him by faith, will have or gain eternal life. The flip side is this. If you do not have faith in what Jesus did on the cross, then you will die in your sins, and face the judgement of God. Sin is like snake venom, and is present in each and every one of us. It will ultimately lead to death and hell, which is the meaning behind the word “perish”, meaning in Greek literally to be “permanently destroyed”, a very strong word to use!

The only way to be saved is to trust in Jesus Christ and what he did upon the cross. There is no other way. This is the whole message and meaning of John 3:16. God has lovingly given us a way out of our mess, despite our rebellion against him, and the problem of sin, God in judgement must punish sin. Yet God does not wish anyone to perish, but to believe in his Son and be saved. In his love, he acted (notice “loved” is past tense in John 3:16) 2,000 years ago by sending his Son into the world, so that everyone can be given the chance to escape the venom of sin. He did so while we were yet unborn, and in time were in rebellion against him! We didn't love him! There is nothing in us that deserves his love. What grace! He first loved us before we were even born! John puts this another way in his first letter.

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9)

Will you not take a good long look upon Jesus lifted up on the cross? Why? The whole reason Jesus came to this earth was as a rescue mission. This is what he was describing lovingly to Nicodemus by illustration back in the past. He took your sin, your penalty upon himself, he became sin for us, like the image of the bronze snake nailed to the pole, and crucified. He was punished by God the Father so you can go free. He only asks you to keep on believing and looking to his Son, and what he did in order that you may not be condemned in the judgement to come and perish, but be saved and have everlasting, eternal life. Can you imagine Nicodemus's thoughts and shock when he later saw Jesus upon the cross, and he remembered Jesus' prophetic words spoken to him, and what they meant, the personal implication of those words? Jesus still speaks today, His message is exactly the same, and is now spoken lovingly, personally to you.

There are only two possible outcomes, which one will you choose?

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

The text used for John 3:16 is slightly modified. This is to bring out the true intention and meaning of the original Greek which is not clear in most modern translations of the bible for this verse, but is translated better in other New testament verses. The text also includes additional words not found in the Greek, to express a Greek tense (continuous present) which does not exist in the English language.

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