Gospel of John Sunday School | Week 10

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Notes on John 3:16-21

John 3:16 rightly holds a very prominent role in so many people’s understanding of the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus Himself. It communicates a message of love and hope. It defines the point where God rescues and redeems. It summarizes the contrast between the natural fate of sinful man and the blessed future of those who believe.

John 3:16, like any other verse in scripture, does not exist outside of context.

The wonderful thing about reading John 3:16 in context is that the surrounding verses provide details, amplification of truths, and more of the same message. The immediate context of the passage includes the conversation with Nicodemus in verses 1-15 and the explanation of that dialogue in verses 16-21.

Really, the core concept in this explanatory passage is judgement. Jesus came to save, not to judge (17). The reason being, the world was already under judgement (18). The world was and is under judgement because men – all men, “the world” even – love evil (19, and Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:1-3, etc.). The result, is that men not just love evil but hate the light (20). The light, as we well know from John 1, is Jesus. This hatred in the hearts of men towards God is precisely why Christ had to come, take on flesh, and die. Men cannot fulfill the law or achieve righteousness on their own.

This doesn’t negate the “happy” message of John 3:16. If anything, John’s explanation of judgement and the opposition of light and dark intensifies the good news of John 3:16.

Those who practice truth (literally, “do truth”) embody the light of Christ (21). The reason is because they are the ones who believe and whose deeds demonstrate the empowerment of God. They will not be judged with the judgment reserved for those who don’t believe. Their inheritance is eternal life. Jesus, the only deliverance available to people of any tribe, tongue, and nation of the world, secured their salvation.

In this passage, the sovereignty of God is on display. As Christians, our righteous deeds and desire for righteousness originate from God to be a testimony of His love and light (see Ephesians 2:10).

While we should always be so thankful that we can rest in His grace, we shouldn’t ever shrink from opportunities to serve Him. Nicodemus, like most Jews of the day, didn’t think that “the world” deserved the love of God. We can view our culture in the same way. Knowing that Jesus has all authority on heaven and on earth (this passage, Matthew 18:18, etc.), we can and should confidently share the fullness of the gospel. This includes pointing out the darkness that all who “come to the light” turn from, which is essential to saving faith.

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