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WHAT IS JESUS SAYING IN JOHN 3:16?

April 6, 2014

L. John Bost
L. John Bost
Last week: What Does It Mean To Be Born Again?
Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16. Most people associated closely with the Christian religion can quote it from memory. This is because of its brevity and importance. It reads, "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." But, though it may be the most well-known verse of scripture, it is also one of the most misunderstood, and miss-used passages. What does Jesus really mean by these words? A study in its context will help us answer this vital question.
In John 3:1-13, Jesus explains the concept of being born again to Nicodemus. Nicodemus asks, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9). In John 3:12, Jesus says, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" He continues, in John 3:13, "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." Our Lord now proceeds to explain why Jesus "came down from heaven."
Jesus says in John 3:14, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up..." Jesus came down from heaven to be "lifted up!" Why must He be lifted up? "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15).
Now we come to the verse in question - John 3:16. Notice that Jesus begins this sentence with the conjunction, for. This joins John 3:15 with John 3:16. "That," in John 3:15, joins that verse with John 3:14. So, all three verses are connected, and state the purpose for which Jesus is to be "lifted up" (John 3:14). Why is He to be lifted up? "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish..." Jesus further explains His mission in John 3:17 - "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Notice that this verse is connected with John 3:14-16 with the conjunction, for. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but that it through Him might be saved.
In context, then, Jesus is stating in John 3:16 the purpose for which He was sent to this earth. He is not stating all that a person must do to be saved, although He certainly makes it plain that He only saves those who believe. According to Thayer, the Greek word translated, believeth, is "Used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i. e. "a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah - the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ* ." So, belief is to be conjoined with obedience.
In John 3:20, 21, Jesus contrasts those who do evil with those who do good. Jesus says in Matthew 7:21, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." James says that one who is a hearer of the word and not a doer is like a man who sees himself in a mirror and forgets what he looked like. He says that one who is a doer of the work is one who is blessed in his deed (James 1:23-25; See also Hebrews 5:8-9). What else must one do to have the salvation that Jesus came to provide?
In this very context Jesus has told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). We noted in our discussion on the New Birth that one must put away his old sins and begin a new life (Romans 6:1-6). This accords with Jesus' words in Luke 3:3, 5: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (See also Matthew 9:13), and Peter's words in Acts 2:38: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Jesus and Peter clearly indicate that repentance, in addition to belief, is necessary for salvation.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:32-33, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." Paul writes in Romans 10:9, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Jesus and Paul clearly indicate that confession, in addition to belief, is necessary for salvation.
Jesus says in Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Jesus and Peter clearly indicate that baptism, in addition to belief, is necessary for salvation.
In John 3:16, Jesus is stating the purpose for which He came to earth and was "lifted up" (crucified) - so that believers might be saved. He is not stating all that is necessary for believers to be saved. He and the apostles (who possibly heard Jesus' words to Nicodemus, and no doubt heard Jesus talking about salvation in other instances) set forth the full requirements for salvation in other passages.
*Thayer's Greek Lexicon, PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database. ©2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.


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