The other day, a friend of mine from high school, whom has asked me questions concering the Bible in the past, posted a comment on my wall on Facebook asking, "What is your best interpretation of John 3:16?"
I think if I had not been exposed to the benefit of expository preaching of the Bible, I doubt that I would have been able to compose a response where Scripture interprets Scripture and explains itself.
Too often in today's preaching environment, there is a greater accommodation to the hearer than to the text of Scripture and those that adhere to such a philosophy do more harm to themselves and to those that hear them. Preaching in depth concerning Scripture is averted and scorned as being too deep, or not practical enough to help somone be able to understand and apply Scripture.
So what follows, is my response to my friend Billy. I hope that you find this as educational and a blessing to yourself and anyone that you may share it with.
How would I interpret this verse, or how should this verse be interpreted in its context?
My interpretation is not better than what the text says by itself and that is how we should seek to understand it. I can make it say whatever I want and that would be wrong, but what should be said is what the text says by explaining it.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16.
First the word believe is an important word in this verse and the word believe in Greek is the word pisteuo, which means to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), that is, credit; by implication to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being to Christ), according to Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary.
To believe in Christ as Savior and to have eternal life is not because a person mentally acknowledges Christ as God's Son, the One whom died for their sins and the sins of the world. No, a person must place their complete faith in Christ, entrusting Him with their spiritual well being upon death and into eternity. This begins by becoming born again, as Jesus explained in John 3:3-7.
What Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus is the selfishness of God's love for the world whom He sent His Son to die for the sins that were/are/will be committed against God. By placing complete trust for their eternal salvation, a person does not experience God's wrath that should have been upon them and their sin, rather it was placed instead upon His Son for the forgiveness of their sins. Those who have done this will live eternally and not perish.
By failing to place one's faith in the atonement of Christ for their sins results in the terrible consequence of perishing and not living eternally, which points to the second death (Revelation 20:14). Notice the following verses:
Revelation 20:6 - Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Those that have taken part in the first resurrection are those that have been born again and the second death, when those suffering eternally in hell will be destroyed for all of eternity, while those saved will live on forever in heaven, eternally.
Live forever with Christ, or suffer forever with Satan and every other sinner that has rebelled against God until the second death occurs.
Revelation 21:8 - But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Notice the underlined word, unbelieving. The unbelievers of Christ as the Son of God (Messiah), His Atonement and Resurrection, they shall not have everlasting life as Jesus said, but they shall have their place in "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," which is hell.
There is a severe and eternal consequence for not believing in Christ.
Matthew Henry's Commentary regarding this passage says, "Here is the great gospel duty, and that is to believe in Jesus Christ (Whom God has thus given, given for us, given to us), to accept the gift, and answer the intention of the giver. We must yield an unfeigned assent and consent to the record God hath given in his word concerning his Son. God having given him to us to be our prophet, priest, and king, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him.
"Here is the great gospel benefit: That whosoever believes in Christ shall not perish. This he had said before, and here repeats it. It is the unspeakable happiness of all true believers, for which they are eternally indebted to Christ, (1.) That they are saved from the miseries of hell, delivered from going down to the pit; they shall not perish. God has taken away their sin, they shall not die; a pardon is purchased, and so the attainder is reversed. (2.) They are entitled to the joys of heaven: they shall have everlasting life. The convicted traitor is not only pardoned, but preferred, and made a favourite, and treated as one whom the King of kings delights to honour."
I hope this has helped you understand the text a little better. So much more could be added to this too, but I hope this is sufficient and clear enough.
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Meyers, R. (2006). e-Sword. The sword of the Lord with an electronic edge (Verson 7.8) [Computer software].
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.