It’s the ultimate Bible verse.
But what is it that makes John 3:16 so special?
John 3:16 is easily the Bible’s most popular verse. It’s the entire Gospel message packed into one sentence. Many people can recite it by heart even if they don’t know anything else about the Bible. Its roots go deep into the Old Testament, yet it is uniquely a New Testament verse.
But how often do we stop to think about what it means? And do we ever meditate and consider the profound depth and layers of meaning to this wonderful verse?
Well-known Bible verses seem to take on their own life after a while and we tend to forget the context they are in. Sometimes this context brings whole new levels of interest and meaning if we take a minute to consider it.
Let’s take a few moments with this beloved verse:
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son Jesus Christ that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
This one verse of the Bible has impacted so many lives through the centuries. It’s the Gospel in a nutshell. That is to say that it sums up the entire Gospel message in one sentence.
How does it do that? It’s really amazing how so many profound layers of meaning can be packed into this one sentence that has meant so much to so many people over the last two thousand years!
Since its message is so clear, we tend to think of it as a standalone verse, but once we consider it in the light of other scripture, its impact is even stronger.
In the Beginning, God
God is the ultimate giver of love and giver of life. He’s “the Great I am.” And he’s the one who so loved the world.
He is there in the beginning, in Genesis 1:1 where it says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” –Genesis 1:1 (NET)
He’s there in the shema “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deut 6:4 (ESV)
He’s there in the beginning of Hebrews, where it says “After God spoke long ago in various portions and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.” –Hebrews 1:1, NET
He’s there in John 1:1 where it says “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was God, and the Word was fully God.” (John 1:1, NET)
And he’s there in 1 John1. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” -1John 1:1, (KJV)
God is at the beginning of John 3:16, and he is at the beginning of every one of these verses. And he should be there at every one of our beginnings.
Anything good needs God and flows from God. The imperfect can never attain the perfect. Only the perfect can help those who are imperfect. That’s what God has done for us.
Let’s take another look.
God is Love
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.1 John 4:10 (NET)
God first loved us. And he loved us so much that he sent his own Son to die our death so we could live his life.
In this, God gave us his all. He took action to save us. He did not just stand idly by while we continued to perish. He loved us enough to do something about the situation. He loved us enough to save us.
This isn’t just a vain philosophy where people make interesting observations and comments. The true God is a God who puts his love into action. He’s a God of faithfulness. He is our great God!
Read More: Is it Wrong to Question God?
And since his love for us is so great, we also need to love our own neighbors as ourselves.
Let’s break down the whole verse as we would a sentence in English class. The subject is God. For God so loved… God is the greatest subject there could ever be in a sentence. He’s right there at the beginning of the sentence.
“God so loved.” The greatest possible emotion is love. God is love. God is perfect. His love is perfect. But love is more than an emotion. God so loved. The adverb “so” means he loved the world greatly.
He first loved us before we ever knew him. “We love because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:19, (NET)
True loves leads to something. “That” God so loved the world THAT –he GAVE. (He didn’t just stand around and wait for something to happen. God ACTIVELY GAVE.)
When you give, you transfer ownership. When you give, it’s an act of LOVE. The first mention of the word “love” in the Bible is when Abraham gives Isaac. “Take your son – your only son, whom you love” Gen 22:2 (NET).
Four thousand years ago, Abraham bound his son to the wood. God bound his son on the cross. God dearly loves his son, -the Messiah, Jesus Christ, yet he gave up his dearly beloved son for us.
Imagine! He loves you and me so much that he gave his dearly beloved son in exchange for us!
Now we are called the beloved.
Now we can give as it has been given to us.
THAT –whosoever believes in Him.
…BELIEVES in him. You need to respond on your part. Respond to the light from the Eternal One. Say “Amen” to God. That’s having faith. Choose to trust in Messiah.
…will not perish… The one who receives the sunlight is the one who gets lit up.
Perish –in the Greek- means utterly destroyed.
Whosoever Believes in Him
A few verses earlier, Jesus tells Nicodemus “You must be born again” –John 3:3 (ESV)
This was a radical departure from the Jewish thought of the day. They thought all they had to do was be Jewish to have eternity with God because they were (and still are) God’s chosen people. It was their birthright.
But Jesus says there must be an attitude of the heart –and inclination toward God. We must believe in him. “Whosoever believes in Him” will not perish but have everlasting life.
The gift of everlasting life requires action on our part. We must believe.
And we have plenty of evidence for our belief. Jesus’ claims to be God are backed up by multiple eyewitness accounts.
Many amazing and intricate details of the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ were prophesied in the Bible hundreds of years ahead of the fact.
Hundreds of archaeological discoveries, thousands of copies of New Testament scriptures, over a dozen contemporary references from extra-Biblical sources all point to the most remarkable life ever lived.
Greater Love Has No one Than This
The beginning of John 3:16 is “For God so loved the world…”
How do we really know that God loved the world? The answer comes a little later in the Book of John.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13 (NKJV)
Jesus loved us so much that –even though he knew the price to be paid, he willingly paid it for us. He paid a price we could never pay so we could have –not only a long eternal life- but a rewarding eternity with him. An eternity with joy and happiness beyond our imagination.
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1 Cor 2:9 (ESV)
Before and After
In the two verses immediately before John 3:16, Jesus tells Nicodemus how the Son of Man must be lifted up as the brass serpent of Moses in the wilderness, and that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
So here Jesus is already making the claim (by claiming to be the Son of Man) that he is equal with God and he is prophesying his death on a wooden cross in the same manner in which the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness by Moses.
Afterward, in John 3:17, Jesus says “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” –John 3:17 (NET)
So Jesus clarifies –ahead of the fact- that he was sent to redeem mankind by being lifted up on a wooden cross- and that he was sent to save and not condemn.
An excellent resource for further study is David Guzik’s Study Guide for John 3 at https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/archives/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Jhn/Jhn_3.cfm