“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.
“His only Son.” Jesus, speaking of Himself, gives Nicodemas, and us today, the identity of God the Father’s gift of the world based upon His love: His only Son. The Greek words for this phrase are μονογενής, υἱός; monegenes, huios. It means a unique, one and only, or a one of kind Son. The word Son addresses the endearing relationship the Son of God has with God the Father. This title takes us back to the initial statements in John’s Gospel about Jesus, the Eternal Word (See John 1:1-14).
Professor of Theology Dr. Scott Swain explains, “Only Son” describes Jesus’ filial relationship to the Father as the second person of the Trinity. What is the nature of this relationship? The only Son’s relationship to the Father is eternal: “In the beginning,” before the incarnation, before creation, He “was with God” (John 1:1). The only Son’s relationship to the Father is a relationship of equality: the Son who eternally existed with God “was God” (v. 1). The only Son’s relationship to the Father is unique: though God wills to draw many “children” into His family through adoption (v. 12), the only Son does not belong in a class with God’s creaturely sons and daughters. He, unlike us, is God’s Son by nature. He dwells eternally at the Father’s side (v. 18; cf. 13:23), set apart from all the rest, as the unique object of the Father’s love and affection, His most precious treasure (17:24).”
Dr. Swain continues, “The identification of Jesus as God’s “only Son” identifies Him as the supreme object of the Father’s affection: “the Father loves the Son” (John 3:35). Though God created the world very good, the world through sin made itself subject to God’s eternal wrath and condemnation (3:18–19, 36). In the midst of this perilous situation, John 3:16 proclaims the astounding nature of God’s love for unworthy sinners: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” As Abraham demonstrated his supreme reverence for God through his willingness to sacrifice his “only son” Isaac (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16), so God demonstrates His amazing love for us by giving His only Son to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36; 3:17–18; Rom. 5:6–10; 8:32).”
We must observe that the gift of God is His only Son. The recipients of this gift is the fallen, sinful world which hates God and is His enemy (Romans 5:6-10). How ironic. How gracious. How amazing.
Have you received the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ? If not, do so by repenting of your sin and trusting in the person and work and Jesus Christ alone for your redemption and righteous standing before God the Father.
Soli deo Gloria!