• O Lord our God, other masters besides You have ruled us; But through You alone we confess Your name. [Isa 26:13 NASB]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. [Mat 11:29 NASB].

John 3:16-18 – Does God Love Everyone in the World?

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].

John 3:16 is America’s favorite Bible verse. It is quoted by the saved and the sinner alike. It gives comfort to be assured God loves us – that He loves all of us. It gives comfort to know if we choose to believe in Him, He will give us eternal life. But is this what the verse says?

To understand the meaning of any Scripture, it is important to understand the context around it. An examination of the context would begin with “who is talking?” and “to whom is the conversation directed?”.

THE ERROR OF THE JEWS

In this case, Jesus Christ was talking to Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee; a leader and a teacher of the Jews. In John 3:16 and 17, Jesus cleared up two errors the Jews held to regarding regeneration and salvation.

The first error was their view of regeneration.

According to the Jewish tradition and teaching, regeneration was the work of man and accomplished by keeping the Law.

Leviticus 18:5 says if a person is to keep the Law, they must live by it. But the Apostle James warned if you keep the Law but fail in one point, you have broken the entire Law (Jam 2:10). This is why the Apostle Paul said no one is justified by the Law (Gal 3:11). The Law cannot regenerate man. Paul wrote to the Romans the more one tries to keep the Law, the more it exposes their sin (Rom 3:19-20).

The Apostle Paul wrote the Law and the Prophets pointed to a Redeemer. Mans’ inability to keep the Law and the knowledge of a Redeemer, which the sacrifices typified, should have led Israel to repentance. Rather than repent of their sin, the Jew added man-made laws to God’s Law and became prideful in their law-keeping.

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. [Rom 3:21-22].

This is why God sent His Son so His Son would take on our sin and clothe us in His righteousness.

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. [2Co 5:21].

The second error was their view of salvation.

Israel believed salvation was exclusively for the Jews and they held to a false theology the Messiah would come to judge the nations and exalt Israel.

When Christ said, “For God so loved the world…” He was explaining to Nicodemus He had come to bring salvation to the world – the Gentile as well as the Jew. This is also clear because in the next verse, when He said He did not come to condemn the world, He was arguing against the theology saying He would come to judge the nations and exalt Israel.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. [John 3:17].

Once again, “the world” means Jew and Gentile alike.

Even the disciples had it wrong at the ascension of Christ, when they asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Act 1:6].

This is the mystery of Christ. The mystery is how God would save the Gentiles, also – the world, not the Jew only.

Paul explained this mystery in Ephesians 2:11-3:6.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision [the Jew] … were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. … When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

This whole idea of God loving the world was foreign to the Jew. In previous generations before Christ came to earth to redeem mankind, God had shown His favor exclusively to Israel – His chosen nation. Nicodemus and the Jews believed one had to be child of Abraham or a proselyte to be saved. Jesus told him God has brought salvation to the world – not solely to the Jew.

THE COMMON MISINTERPRETATIONS OF JOHN 3:16

Most Christians hold to a misinterpretation of this verse: “For God so loved the world…” They treat it as a standalone verse proclaiming the greatness or value of the world in God’s eyes – that it could command God’s love. It is true God holds a common grace or love for His creation, in that, the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Mat 5:45). But God does not love the world to the extent He would send His Son to die for those who do not believe. The Psalmist wrote God is a righteous judge and is vexed with man everyday (Psa 7:11).

The Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans chapter five, while we were unable to save ourselves, while we were sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us. But this refers to those who believe – not the whole world.

The world holds no value that would draw God to it. Everything God does is for His glory – not for mans’. In sending His Son into the world, He demonstrated His greatness not the world’s. Some theologians explain the verse, “This is how God showed His love – by sending His Son into the world.”

Another problem is most professing Christians don’t understand who can be saved.

If Christ died for the whole world, then 1) either He failed, because most the world does not believe; or 2) all people are saved through His death and resurrection. Certainly, the Bible does not teach universal salvation – the idea that all men are saved. Even the Jews, in their limited view of redemption, knew that not all children of Abraham were saved.

To save argument, most Christians will settle for a compromised interpretation: Christ died for the sins of the whole world but only those who believe are saved. And, in the face of competing doctrines, this interpretation can appear to be safe – and less controversial – but it is wrong.

It is clear in Scripture God does not love evil and there are many Scriptures listing the evil men God hates. For example, in 2Peter chapter 3, the Bible says God is not willing any should perish. But in the chapter before this, there is a whole list of people God is willing to condemn.

So when the verse says “loved the world,” either Christ died for everyone’s sin and God is looking at the world as forgiven, or there must be some exclusions to the definition of the word “world.” Even John 3:16 suggests some exclusions, in that, Christ implied some cannot be saved when He said, “whoever believes,” because this means some will not believe.

Here are a partial list of verses which use “all” or “world” along with John 3:16. When studied in context, it becomes clear the words “all” and “world” do not refer to everyone in the world. In most cases, the words refer to those who believe – those who follow Christ.

  • “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [1:29].
  • “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] to Myself.” [12:32].
  • “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” [Rom 5:18].
  • “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things.” [Rom 8:32].
  • “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised”. [2Co 5:15].
  • “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” [2Co 5:19].
  • “Who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” [1Ti 2:6].
  • “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” [1Ti 4:10].
  • “. . . so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” [Heb 2:9].
  • “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1Jo 2:2].
  • “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” [1Jo 4:14].

Therefore, we must conclude, “the world” in John 3:16 cannot mean everyone in the world. It must have a limited scope, similar to these listed verses.

THREE SCRIPTURES TO HELP UNDERSTAND JOHN 3:16

There are three Scriptures I believe are key when considering who Jesus was referring to when He said, “God so loved the world.”

The first is Mark 10:45. In this verse, Jesus said He came to give His life as a ransom for many. The first thing to consider in this is the ransom: A ransom is paid to redeem someone who belongs to you – it is not generic. The second thing to consider is the “many.” Christ did not claim to ransom “all” or everyone in the world.

The next Scripture to consider is Revelation 5:9. The praise in this verse is, “by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Here again is the concept of a ransom and the ransom is for people from the whole world – every portion of the world but not everyone in the world. This defines the “many.”

The third Scripture to consider is Isaiah chapter 53. In verse 6, Isaiah wrote, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Later in the chapter, in verses 11 and 12, it is more clear, who is the “us all.” In these two verses, the prophet reveals the Messiah will “make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.” Here again, is the “many” – the ones who will “be accounted righteous” and it is clear it is for their iniquities He suffered. Three times the “many” are referenced in these two verses and the third time it is reinforced whose sin Christ bore on the cross – “He bore the sin of many.”

These three passages are key to identifying who Christ died for – and the quantity. Did Christ ransom the entire world from sin, or the many? And, if the many, who are they? John 1:12-13 and 6:44 help us to understand who are the many.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [1:12-13].

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. [6:44].

FREEWILL AND JOHN 3:16

Another misinterpretation of John 3:16 is the use of the word “whoever.” Evangelist and preacher have used this verse to enshrine freewill as a Christian sacrament. But in John 1:12-13 and 6:44 we find those who receive Christ are drawn by the Father and are saved by the will of God, not by the will of man. We are not saved because of our choice but because of God’s choice (1:13) and Christ confirmed this when He said no one comes to Him unless the Father draw him (6:44). Furthermore, in John 6:65 Jesus said, “no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Paul said we are saved by God’s grace alone; not by works or anything else we can do – we cannot even “make a decision” – lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9). We don’t “give our hearts to Jesus.” We don’t give God anything. God gives to us and salvation is a gift.

Our only participation in the Gospel of Salvation is that of recipient (Joh 1:12). We can only receive it – and even this is by the grace of God (Joh 1:13). The Bible is clear we have all turned away from God; there is NO one who seeks after God (Psa 14:1-3; Isa 53:6 ; Rom 3:10-11). The natural bent of our hearts is rebellion toward God. Once again, as Paul explained in Romans chapter five, while we were too weak to save ourselves, while sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for our sins.

To summarize a quote from Charles Spurgeon arguing against the theology of free will: a man’s will is either held captive by sin or it is held in the blessed bonds of grace. Does man have freewill? Yes, but the Apostle Paul explained in Romans chapter six, a slave to sin will always choose sin.

Therefore, it is important to interpret John 3:16 in the context of God’s sovereignty. It is wrong to use John 3:16 to promote or exalt choice or free will. Our sovereignty never trumps God’s.

CONDEMNED ALREADY

In verse eighteen, Christ told Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” This is just after the verse saying Christ did not come to condemn the world. In verse seventeen, the lack of condemnation is directed to “the world,” refuting the Jewish belief the Messiah would judge the nations. Now, in verse eighteen, the condemnation is directed to the unbeliever.

The modern American gospel declares to the unbeliever, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” In this verse, Jesus warned man is condemned. His first recorded sermon was, “Repent for God’s judgment is at hand.” [Mark 1:15]. It is true, Christ said He came to bring life and bring it more abundantly but this promise is to those who believe and receive Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist explained judgment this way:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. [Joh 3:36].

Another misinterpretation of John 3:16 is “whoever believes” is saved. The modern American gospel says, “God loves you the way you are” and allows many to be saved and remain “carnal Christians.” John the Baptist said if you do not obey Christ, God’s wrath remains on you. There are no carnal Christians.

My friend, God loved the world, in that, He sent His Son to redeem those who are His. Will you follow Christ and be among those who are His? Jesus said about those whom the Father draws to Him: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” [Joh 6:37].

Are you one of Christ’s? Will you follow Him today?

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