“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God. The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.
“So Loved.” This is the Greek word ἀγαπn; agape. This is the highest and noblest love. It is a self-sacrificial love of the will. Therefore, it is a love which seeks other’s needs and not its own. It is a love not based upon one’s feelings but rather a resolute decision and act of one’s will. This is the love found in John 3:16. This is the love God possesses as an attribute of His character and displays as a behavior completely inherent within His being.
The Apostle Paul describes agape love in I Corinthians 13:1-8a. Paul also explained that agape love is the type of love a husband is to have for his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Paul also wrote that this is the kind of love of which God loved sinners in Romans 5:7-8. The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11.
“The World.” The most accurate interpretation of this word refers the reader to the fallen, sinful anti-God system of thought and behavior expressing itself in utter moral rebellion against God.
“That He Gave.” We must remember that the subject of John 3:16 is not us, but God. It is God who loves the fallen and sinful world that prompts Him to give the world something. The word “gave” comes from the Greek word δίδωμι; (didomi) which means to grant, to cause to happen, and even to pay. It is God who gives the world something from His entire being.
One commentator writes, “One of the most surprising twists of John 3:16 is that we are told God loves the world. We might be tempted to think that there is much about the world for God to love. After all, what’s not to admire about cityscapes and farmlands, fine cuisine and backyard barbecues, classical symphonies and folk ballads, Renaissance paintings and kindergarten squiggles? The world we know is filled with texture, intrigue, opportunity, and cheer. The problem is that for all that is good and interesting and beautiful about the world, it is overrun with sinners. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, the world has become a wasteland. No matter how wonderful the world may appear, it is not worthy of God’s redeeming love. Understanding how undeserving the world is of God’s love is the key to John 3:16. Only then will we appreciate the unexpected gift that God gives.”
What is the gift which God gave? The gift is symbolized by the cross of Jesus Christ. God gave His Only, Begotten Son. While we will certainly explore this further in our next installment, it is fitting to examine this gift in its nature, plan, giving, and purpose.
The nature of God’s gift is that He gave the fallen, sinful world His Son. Dr. Iain D. Campbell writes, “That fact alone ought to set the cross in the clearest relief. At Calvary, the world stood before God and said, “We hate you this much!” And at Calvary, God stood before the world and said, “I love you this much!”
The plan of God’s gift was that it was not an afterthought in the sovereign plan of God. In Genesis 3:15 and Ephesians 1:3-5 for example, we see the sovereign plan of God instituted before the foundation of the world.
Dr. Campbell explains, “The first proclamation of the promise in Genesis 3:15 sets the cross in a threefold context: first, the gift of a Savior was necessary because of the violation of the covenant of works between God and man; second, the gift was prepared in an intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption; and third, the gift would be given through a covenant of grace administered in history.”
The giving of God’s gift was in the fullness of God’s timetable. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Dr. Campbell continues, “We had been expelled from Paradise; so God sent His Son out of Paradise and into the far country. When Isaiah declared that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6), the final fulfillment of his words arrived when the Son of God became incarnate as one of us.
And ultimately, that Son was given in death, the Father not sparing Him but giving Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). It was the most costly of all gifts: God “became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). God, in the weakness of human flesh, achieved for us what we could not do in our own strength (1 Cor. 1:25). The cross was the ultimate gift of love.”
Romans 3:21-26 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The purpose of God’s gift was that sinners would be redeemed through the substitutionary gift provided by the Son: Jesus Christ. When next we meet, we will further examine the identity of the gift from God.
Soli deo Gloria!