John 3:16–21 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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. 18 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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
In John 2:23-25, John showed us why Jesus does not believe in man.
• The heart of man is depraved, full of sin and iniquity and is incapable of saving faith.
In John 3:1-13, John revealed to us the nature of the new birth.
• The new birth is something made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit.
• It is a regeneration of the heart which makes saving faith possible.
In John 3:14-15, John introduced the necessity of Jesus work on the cross.
• It is our belief in the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross as punishment for our sins that is the object of our saving faith.
In our text today, John 3:16-21, John explains both the reason God chose to provide for us the object of our saving faith and the consequences of having or not having saving faith.
• In order to really dig deep into these verses, we will look at the implications developed “behind” the text.
• We are introduced to 3 concepts – Two Worlds, Two Whoevers, Two Wills.
• We will deal first with Two Worlds.
1) TWO WORLDS
John 3:17 (ESV) — 17 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.
We get a glimpse of these “Two Worlds” in verse 17.
• John tells us Jesus as Messiah did not come to condemn or pass judgment on the world.
• He came to save it.
• John echoes this same thought in chapter 12.
o John 12:47–48 (ESV) — 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
“Judge” or “Condemn” is the Greek word “krima”.
• It is an action whereby the righteous are approved and the wicked are condemned – Strongs.
• From this, we can see that John is telling us that the purpose of Christ’s incarnation was the first action and not the second.
• God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to die (the action) to save those that would “look at the bronze serpent and live” (John 3:14-15).
• The “First World” is the one which contains “the action” of Christ’s work on the cross that believers might be saved.
From this observation we can conclude what the “Second World” is.
• Revelation 20:13–15 (ESV) — 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
• The “Second World” is the one which contains “the action” of Christ’s judgment of the unbelievers.
• That action is the 2nd coming of Christ.
So we have a clear picture of the world about which John was talking in our text today; it is the “First World”.
However, it doesn’t take long to discover that within John, there are some apparent contradictions to what we have just learned.
• John 5:27 (ESV) — 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
• John 9:39 (ESV) — 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
These verses answer squarely those that try to argue that “Jesus didn’t come to judge us”.
• But, how do we reconcile them with John’s words in verse 17?
• We know that whatever judgment Jesus is talking about, it is not the “Second World” judgment.
The world into which Christ came was not a neutral one morally and in relation to the truth of God.
• Christ, the Light and the Truth, came into a wicked and fallen world.
o Remember, in John 2:25 we are told that Christ couldn’t believe in men because he knew what was in them.
• So when Christ shed His Light and Truth into this “First World” there were and are unavoidable consequences for unbelievers.
• There is a judgment taking place – just not the “Second World” judgment.
• “The provision of “salvation for all who believe implies judgment for those who do not believe”; while “the purpose of Christ’s coming was redemptive, when His saving work is rejected, judgment results. Even though judgment results from unbelief, condemnatory judgment was not the purpose of the incarnation” – Andreas Kostenberger.
This implied judgment is why John says as much when he tells us in our text today:
• John 3:19–21 (ESV) — 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
o When Christ’s light shines, judgment is unavoidable.
Now let’s deal with the Two Whoevers that reside in the world Christ came to save.
2) TWO WHOEVERS
John 3:18–21 (ESV) — 18 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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
BTW – The contrasts presented here are another excellent example of what we discussed in the Heart and Mind of Belief lesson.
• Born again believers with regenerated hearts think and thus act in the direction and presence of the Light.
• Unbelievers with wicked hearts think and thus act in the direction and presence of darkness.
Moving on, our text must be understood in light of the “Whoevers”.
• Remember, Jesus is telling Nico about being born again (what makes saving faith possible) and the cross (the object of our saving faith).
• In our text today, John is revealing the consequences of the presence or absence of saving faith.
• And John does this by introducing us to the Whoevers (ESV).
The first “Whoevers” John describes as the following:
• They believe
• They come to light
• They are not condemned
• They do truth
• These are the people described to Nicodemus as the born again in John 3:1-8 and thus have saving faith.
The second “Whoevers” John describes as the following:
• They don’t believe
• They hate the light
• They are condemned
• They do wickedness
• These are the people John tells us about in John 2:23-25; they have no saving faith.
There is no 3rd option.
• All of humanity is either the first or the second Whoever.
• You are either in the light (3:21) or you are in the darkness (3:19-20).
To understand the gravity and consequences of the Whoevers, we need to answer the following:
• Which Whoever does Jesus say will “see the kingdom of God” in 3:3?
• Which Whoever does Jesus describe to Nico as able to “enter the kingdom of God” in 3:5?
• Which Whoever does Jesus say understands “heavenly things” in 3:12?
• Which Whoever does Jesus send His only begotten Son in 3:16 to save?
• Which Whoever “is not condemned” in 3:18?
• Which Whoever “comes to the light” in 3:21?
This leads us to an obvious question, did God even send Jesus into the “First World” for the “Second Whoevers”?
• Our next section on Two Wills will help us answer this question.
3) TWO WILLS
John 3:16a (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world…”
• John goes on to tell us that an expression of this love that God has for the world is demonstrated in Christ.
But implicit in John’s declaration of God’s love is that His love for the world has a purpose.
• In other words, it is not a flimsy, superficial, feel-good, worldly love.
• For God to express His love to the world in Christ, is God expressing an intention He has for the world.
And this intention or purpose is what leads us in these verses to a discussion of the Two Wills of God.
• Understanding the Two Wills of God will help us further understand our text today and answer the question mentioned earlier, “Did God send Jesus into the “First World” for the “Second Whoevers?”
What are the Two Wills of God?
(1) God’s Prescriptive Will
• This is God prescribing what HUMANITY SHOULD DO.
• God desires for everyone to respond to gospel with belief and bring them under His saving grace.
• However, God’s Prescriptive Will is often disobeyed.
Examples of God’s Prescriptive Will:
• 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) — 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
• 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) — 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
• Matthew 23:37 (ESV) — 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
(2) God’s Decretive (Decreed) Will
• This is God determining what HE WILL DO.
• God does not save the unbeliever, but brings him under His holy and just wrath.
• God’s Decretive Will is always accomplished.
Examples of God’s Decretive Will:
• Acts 18:9–10 (ESV) — 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
• John 12:37–40 (ESV) —37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
• Romans 1:18; 24–25 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
An implication of God’s Two Wills:
Does all of humanity “come to knowledge of the truth” or “reach repentance”?
• No, and in fact Scripture tells us they “would not” in spite of the fact that “God so loved the world…”
• God wants them to, but because they are the “Second Whoevers”, Scripture tells us “they could not believe”.
• So God’s salvation is, on the Prescriptive level, available to all, but on the Decretive level, only for a few (Matt 7:13-14).
• “The free offer of the gospel is broad enough to encompass the vilest sinner (1 Tim. 1:15), yet narrow enough to exclude all who reject Christ (John 3:18)” – John MacArthur.
So as asked earlier, did God send Jesus into the “First World” for the “Second Whoevers?”
• It seems the answer is yes, but not in the same way as for the First Whoevers.
• John Piper says, “…all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is “the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” [But all men are not] intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way.”
Here is how this is best understood:
• Prescriptively, we learned that clearly God loves the Second Whoevers and wants them to be saved.
• And Jesus had to come for that to ever be a possibility.
• But Decretively, they are not the beneficiaries of God’s work on the cross in the same way as the born again are because God’s holiness must condemn the unbeliever.
How do we know they don’t benefit the same way?
• John 3:17–18 (ESV) — 17 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. 18 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.
o Here, John tells us Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but then in verse 18 qualifies his statement with “whoever believes” is not condemned and “whoever does not believe is condemned already”.
o There is a clear difference in how the Two Whoevers relate to the “Son of God” – the first have saving faith and the second do not.
But how do the Second Whoevers benefit from the cross?
• “How is God just to withhold judgment from sinners who deserve to be immediately cast into hell? The answer is that Christ’s death so clearly demonstrates God’s just abhorrence of sin that he is free to treat the world with mercy without compromising his righteousness. In this sense Christ is the savior of all men. If God sent Jesus in the same way for everybody, everyone would be saved” – John Piper.
And another way to dig into the Two Wills of God is via the following questions:
• Did God send Christ to die hoping that people would believe (prescriptive will)?
• Did God send Christ to die knowing that people would believe (decretive will)?
o And did He know simply because He knew the future or because He chose them ahead of time?
Lesson for Us:
• If God wants to save everybody why doesn’t He?
• This question may not have a good answer this side of heaven, but Piper urges us to realize that God is glorified in this First World with the consequences incurred by both Whoevers.
• “The coming of Jesus into the world clarifies that unbelief is our fault, and belief is God’s gift. Which means that if we do not come to Christ, but rather perish eternally, we magnify God’s justice. And if we do come to Christ and gain eternal life, we magnify God’s grace” – John Piper.