© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

We are now confronted with a very important question: how does this happen? How and why does God grant salvation to sinners? How can a just and holy God accept us into his kingdom? How can he give us eternal life when in Genesis 3:22-24 he banned us from eternal life?

We will now look in detail at relevant verses in John 3:14-36.


A. JOHN 3:14-15

John 3:14-15: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’

Just as ... so … in the same way, to replace immanent death with life, with a life-giving purpose, and the only way out of the predicament ..

must ... a strong word ... absolutely necessary ... unescapable ... no other way it can be achieved [cf 3:7 and 4:4]; one could well say ‘a divine necessity’.

be lifted up ...

[1] the immediate and primary reference is to the lifting up of Jesus Christ on the cross, that is, to his shameful death in which he bears the punishment and curse of our sin. See 1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:10-13.

[2] involved in this lifting up on the cross is a secondary meaning: the glory or exaltation of Christ. See John 17:1-5; Philippians 2:5-10; Revelation 5:1-14.

that [so that] ... purpose/result of the lifting up of the Son of Man. The cross/glory of Jesus Christ is welded in the purpose of God. The cross is not some unfortunate end; it is not some ‘plan B’, nor is it Jesus Christ falling into the devil’s trap, or becoming prey to the devil. Jesus Christ is the ‘Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’. Our salvation, and the way of our salvation, is anchored in the will of God. This is also verified by the Genesis 3:15 prophecy, the flood, the Passover, the whole sacrificial system, the Psalms and the prophecies. All of this multi-faceted anticipation is included in this ‘so that’.

everyone who believes ... [pas ho pisteuon ] = all the [ones] believing.

Note: it is present tense. We will notice this right through John’s gospel: belief is present continuous tense. John, and Jesus, are not interested in whether we believed in the past, whether we at some point in our personal history came to the point of faith. The integrity and genuineness of any claim we might make to have believed in him in the past is proved or disproved by this: do we now believe? Can we now be described as those believing in him. Belief that is not present tense is not belief.

[everyone ... Assuming that present faith is there no one is excluded.]

in him ... The Biblical focus of faith. Faith is never in faith, despite what we might be told by certain contemporary writers and TV preachers. The power of faith is never in itself but in its object. The value of faith is never in its size or strength but in its object. The object of faith here is simply him. As we have already seen in John 1:12 it is faith in his name. And as we shall see as we progress further in John’s gospel, even in this chapter, this Christ-centred faith is taught again and again.

Note: there is strong reason to read this ‘in him’ as connected with the phrase following - in him may have eternal life - rather than as connected with believing. This does not mean what was said above is incorrect; it would just mean that this verse in not saying it. The following verses certainly say it. If this alternative understanding is accurate, it is teaching us, as do other parts of the Bible, that eternal life cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. We have eternal life in him. If we have him, we automatically, by the merits of his cross, have this gift of eternal life. You can’t have one without the other. If you have Jesus Christ, you also have eternal life, whether you know it or not.

may have eternal life ... The purpose of the lifting up of the Son of Man: that we who are believing in him may have eternal life. What is eternal life?

      • our present possession [see 3:36 ]
      • dependant on the cross [‘so that’]
      • qualitative rather than quantitative - life appropriate to the endless age to come. It is everlasting, but it is not only that. Westcott: ‘It is not an endless duration of being in time, but being of which time is not a measure.’ Morris: ‘Eternal life is life in Christ, that life which removes a man from the merely earthly.’ It is life that is ‘spirit’, not just ‘flesh’ [see John 3:6].
      • it is a gift from God.
      • it is always and only in Christ.
      • it is only for believers


Reflection : What is the most significant thing you have learned from these two verses?





B. JOHN 3:16

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

For .. [ 3:16 ] ... Here we are introduced to the rationale or purpose or reason behind Christ’s statement in 3:14 -15, perhaps behind his entire response to Nicodemus. For this reason ... for this purpose .... this is why it has to be this way ...

God so loved ... the reason behind it all ... the foundational reason ... the essential reason without which it would not have happened ... had God not loved we would have been left in our predicament ....

This verse also prohibits and outlaws any idea that puts a division of intention between the Father and the Son. It is not just the Son who loves us. The coming of the Son to die for us is the purpose of the Father. He so loved the world.

the world ... the extent of God’s love - not parochial, not limited to one time or place ..

Also the extent of human failure – it is worldwide; the whole world stands in need of this loving, saving action of God.

that he gave ... anchored again in the purpose and deliberate action and decision of God. God gave his Son in sending him into the world. He also gave him as a sacrifice on the cross as our substitute. God gave his Son. The Son is God’s gift. All other gifts are ours in him. There is not one gift, not one aspect of salvation, that is ours apart from Jesus Christ. Note Ephesians 1:3. Also keep this in mind as we study through John’s Gospel. See also Ephesians 1:3-14.

Notice also that the giving of the Son is the measure of God’s love. If ever we are tempted to doubt the love of God for us we have only to look at this: this is how much God loves you: he gave his one and only Son.

his one and only Son ... knowing all that was in his purpose for our salvation he gave his beloved, one and only, Son; he purposed it from before the foundation of the world; he planned and prophesied it, depicting it in countless rituals and sacrifices through history. This is the amazing love of which we sing. Overwhelming. Awe-inspiring. Demanding.

Note also that all of this absolutely rules out ‘cheap grace’ or ‘easy grace’. It outlaws a thoughtless, flippant, self-centred response to the Gospel. Anyone who ‘comes to Jesus’ to ‘get saved’ and has no feeling of awe, no overwhelming gratitude, no humble bowing down in adoration and praise, has not understood anything about the cross at all, and, I would suggest, is not even saved.

Note also , that Jesus is here identified as the Son of God.

(so) that ... the resultative purpose

the (ones) believing in him ... The ‘in him’ here is different from 3:15 . It is the same in as in 1:12 . It is literally believe into him, or into his name ( 1:12 ). Some translations read on. The Greek expression reflects a Hebrew phrase which conveys a moral element of personal trust and reliance: not just an intellectual judgement about Jesus Christ but a moral and personal commitment to him. It is always this kind of belief to which the New Testament calls us. See James 2.

shall not perish ... the necessitating cause .... the dire state, the inescapable fate, the utter destitution and inability ... unless God did something. It is this from which Jesus died to save us … this fate, this inevitable destiny that is here called perishing: not ceasing to exist, not annihilation, but perishing. It is the opposite of eternal life. It is the opposite of life. It is the condemnation to which verses 17 & 18 refer; it is being under the wrath of God to which verse 36 refers. It is that severance from the source of life that occurred in Genesis 3. It is the present state of all who do not believe (1Cor 1:18 ; 2Cor 2:15 ). It is also their final state. This is where we were before we believed.

but have eternal life .. the purpose of 3:14 ,15 repeated, contrasted with its opposite.

Reflection : What new truth has impacted you from this verse?





C. JOHN 3:17

‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’.

For ... a continuation and expansion of the explanation of 3:14 ,15.

God did send his Son into the world ... assumes the pre-existence of the Son, and the fact that Jesus is not of this world. This concept is repeated several times in this Gospel.

to condemn the world ... the opposite of salvation, the state in which we were before God saved us through Christ. As Jesus makes clear in the next verse, all who do not believe in him are already condemned.

but to save the world through him ... the opposite of condemnation, our removal from under the wrath of God.

Let us note in passing that for the person relating to God on the basis of performance, that is, the legalist, Jesus Christ is not a saviour but a measuring rod and thus a rod with which to beat oneself. Christ’s moral goodness is, for the legalist, his condemnation, rather than his righteousness. Let us be careful that we neither carry this idea ourselves nor convey it, albeit unintentionally, to others.

Reflection : To what extent is this verse understood in the contemporary church? Explain your answer.





D. JOHN 3:18

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’

Whoever believes in him... This is the same as in 3:16 : the ones believing in (into) him. This is not just a believing about or a believing that. It includes both of these, for we need to believe about and that before we can commit, but it also includes personal acknowledgement of and commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that is, as Lord.

Note also that the ensuing statement is made about whoever believes in him. This is the only condition or prerequisite. There is no ‘work’ of ours listed save this: that we have this true Biblical belief in Jesus Christ.

is not condemned ... that is, is no longer under the judgement of God. Those who are believers in Jesus Christ are completely removed from the arena of judgement and transferred into the arena of salvation. We are taken out from under the wrath of God. It no longer hovers over us. It no longer threatens us. (Remember the lists above of what it means to be saved and the opposites of being saved). The implications of this truth should impact every moment of our lives.

but whoever does not believe ... Like the positive statement preceding it, this negative statement is in the present tense. The content and object of belief is not stated but can be inferred from what preceded and from what follows.

is condemned already ... the judgement and wrath of God are already on him, irrespective of whether or not he is experiencing them. He is not in a neutral/nowhere state. He has already been condemned and continues under condemnation.

because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son ... because of this charge: that he has refused to believe, and continues in that state of unbelief . Note the focus of belief: the name of God’s one and only Son.

Reflection : In what way does this verse provide a foundation and motivation for mission and evangelism?





E. JOHN 3:19-21

‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.’

this is the verdict ... this is the judgement’ = ‘this is the process of judging’ rather than ‘this is the sentence of condemnation’ (Leon Morris) [krisis, not krima] . That is, this is the process by which the sentence of condemnation came about.

Light has come into the world...

[1] superficially: light = good, as opposed to darkness = evil.

[2] more significantly, especially in the writings of John: light = Jesus Christ = the true God, as opposed to darkness = ignorance of God.

When John here records ‘light has come into the world’ he is primarily speaking of the coming of Jesus Christ, in whom God is revealed, and who claimed ‘I am the light of the world’.

but men loved darkness instead of light ... following on from the above, we have here the reason why Christ is rejected: men prefer to stay ignorant of God, they prefer not to know him.


because their deeds were evil ... because of sin we prefer to remain ignorant of God, we choose to reject him.

‘Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed …’

This further explains the end of 3:19 . Here John refers to the guilt, shame, and also the love of evil and rebellion, that prevents people from acknowledging and coming to Jesus Christ. In his presence sin and evil are shown up for what they are; in his presence rebellion against God is shown up for what it is.

Notice the strength of John’s statement: ‘hates the light’. No one likes exposure and conviction.

‘… but whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.’

This verse is difficult. It seems to mean: whoever lets the truth (that is Jesus Christ) impact his life, comes to the light (that is, Jesus Christ); the purpose/result of this is that it demonstrates that God is at work in him (in terms of the new birth of verses 1 to 8).

This whole section, verses 8 to 21, validates Jesus’ statements of 1 to 8, demonstrating that indeed one must be ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God, in order to see or enter the kingdom of God. Left to ourselves we are perishing, we are condemned, we hate the light and love the darkness, we do not want our rebellion exposed. Only the gracious regenerating action of the Spirit of God can change this.

Reflection: How do these verses help you to deal with the fact that most people don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus Christ?





F. JOHN 3:36

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’

In John 3:22-35 John the Baptist affirms the eternal heavenly origin of Jesus Christ; this Christ is the focus and the purpose of his ministry; this Christ is the ‘one who speaks the words of God’; this Christ is the Son into whose hands the Father has placed everything. Having strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, John closes off this chapter with this equally strong affirmation that those who believe in the Son have eternal life and those who reject the Son will not see life, but remain under God’s wrath.

If we listen to what this verse is teaching we find some instructive equals and opposites:

To have eternal life is the opposite of remaining under the wrath of God.

To not see life is to remain under the wrath of God.

To believe in the Son is the opposite of rejecting the Son.

We either

    • accept Jesus’ testimony and therefore certify that God is truthful, and
    • believe in the Son and therefore have eternal life

or we

      • reject the Son and therefore do not see life and
      • remain under God’s wrath.

Notice the strong emphasis, which we have seen in Chapter 1, and right through this chapter, on the central focus of faith, the key question that is being asked of us, the sine qua non without which we cannot be saved: to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Reflection: Compare verse 36 with verse 18. Identify their similarities.





Extra note: 3:27 -30 ... John the Baptist’s testimony

.27 an acknowledgement of submission to God’s sovereign purpose

.28 an indication that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ, and that John’s role is that of Isaiah 40:3

.28 Christ is given the place of honour: the bridegroom. Note there has already been an introduction of the wedding theme in chapter 2. Here Christ is identified for the first time as the bridegroom. This identification will repeated in Revelation.

.29-30 John identifies himself as the friend of the bridegroom who attends him, waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears his voice. Note his firm affirmation: that joy is mine, and it is now complete. Rather than enter into the debate about ritual washing into which the Jews were try involve him, John focuses on the Christ and there finds fullness of joy. Rather than succumb to jealousy because of the crowds flocking to Jesus, John knows that this is how it was meant to be: he must become greater, I must become less. He has fulfilled his role. He has prepared the way for his Lord. That is enough. To see people follow him was always his goal.