“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).
“That whoever believes in Him.” The meaning of “whoever” does not ignore the context of John 3. It recognizes and acknowledges that the “whoever” of John 3:16 are the ones who are sovereignly born again so they can enter into the kingdom of God as Jesus taught Nicodemas in John 3:1-8. This meaning acknowledges that faith in the person and work of Christ is a sovereign gift of God unto salvation (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1-2).
“Should not perish.” This phrase, from the Greek word ἀπόλλυμι; apollymi, refers to a personal destruction which is yet future and possible. The meaning involves a spiritual loss which is irretrievable. However to perish does not mean annihilation but rather a final destiny of “ruin” in hell apart from God who is the source of life, truth.
“But have eternal life.” Eternal life is a new quality of life. Eternal (αἰώνιος; aoinios) means an unlimited duration or immortality. Life (ζωή; zoe) means to not be separated from God, which is the definition of spiritual death.
The word have (ἔχω; echo) is a present, active state of being verb. It refers to the present possession of eternal life that each believer possesses in Jesus Christ alone. It is an eternal relationship with God as Savior and Lord which a believer has as a present possession and will possess forever (cf. 10:28; 17:3).
Pastor William Barcley writes, “Life is a prominent theme in John’s gospel. The Greek words translated by the English terms “life” and “live” occur more than sixty times in John. The most prominent of these are in reference to the life that God gives through Jesus Christ, sometimes called “eternal life.” Human beings long for immortality, and they seek it in a variety of ways. But Jesus says that the one who believes in Him for salvation has eternal life. John tells us that his purpose in writing his gospel is that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they “may have life in his name” (20:31).”
Dr. Barcley continues, “John sets his entire gospel in the context of creation. Why creation? Because at creation, God created all life. John’s opening line echoes Genesis 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” John goes on to reveal to us that the “Word” is Jesus Christ, and that Christ is the creator of all things (vv. 2–3). Then John makes this statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John is telling us here that if you want true life, you can find it only in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Creator of all life. Jesus later says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). Here’s the first important point: we never truly “live” until we know Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives us life.”
Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Only then will you have eternal life and then begin to know what it truly means to live.
Soli deo Gloria!