Have We All Mis-Understood John 3:16?
We have heard it time and again that God loves everybody, but does He do so literally or figuratively? How the Bible explains it is what we should believe to be the truth.
Basically, the idea that God loves everyone comes from what we read in John 3:16, which says:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The first part is from where the idea comes that God loves everyone. Specifically from the word “world”, for God so loved the “world”. Does this mean that it is talking about everyone, every single being, who has or ever will live?
From Strong’s Concordance we read the following concerning the word “world” as used in John 3:16:
Probably from the base of G2865; orderly arrangement, that is, decoration; by implication the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively [morally]): – adorning, world.
We do see the word “inhabitants” so it could mean each individual, if that is something about which Jesus was talking. Remember, Jesus had been talking to a Pharisees named Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jews. the Pharisees and all of the Jewish people believed that God’s love, or God’s favor, was only for the descendants of Israel; the Israelites called the Jews.
During the conversation Jesus was talking about the need for being born again and that all who look to Him would be saved and have everlasting light. Nicodemus was only thinking that Jesus was talking about the Jewish people but Jesus had to remind him that this salvation, this eternal life, was for anyone regardless of their race, creed, religion or color. In other words, the offer of eternal life was for anyone, any inhabitant of the world, and Jesus was talking in a figurative way, not literally. Here’s why.
In John 12 we read the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, what we call Palm Sunday. Many people were celebrating as Jesus was coming into town and the Pharisees saw what was happening. They knew about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and that He was starting to gather a great following. Finally , in John 12:19 we read the following:
The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”
Again, the same word for “world” was used here. If the word “kosmos” in John 3:16 meant everyone, all individuals, then it should mean the same thing here, but it doesn’t. All it means here is the same as what it means in John 3:16, that it is talking about people of all kinds, that Jews and Gentiles alike, in general terms, were starting to follow Jesus. It did not mean that everyone was following Jesus because they were not, but many people of all kinds – who were in the world – were starting to become followers of Jesus
To support all of this, there are verses that talk about whom it is that Jesus does love. We’ll take a look a couple of them and you will be able to see that John 3:16 does not talk about individuals but people in general, that is Jews and Gentiles alike from all walks of like. Anyone can be born again and given eternal life and that it is these people who we will see are the ones whom God loves.
In John 13:1 we read the following:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
In this verse we see that the word “world” is the same word used in John 3: 16, but what we see different is that this verse speaks specifically who it was that Jesus loved while in this world (kosmos). The verse says that Jesus had loved his own who were in the world (kosmos), not everyone, but only His own.
Now in John 14:21-24 we read the following as more supporting verses about who it is that Jesus will love:
21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.
Do you see it? They who love Jesus and obey Him are the ones whom He will love and they are the only ones whom the Father will love, and they will make themselves known only to them. In addition, another follower asks Jesus why does He make Himself known only to them and not to the world? Again, the word “world” (kosmos) is the same word found in John 3:16. In fact this is so important that Jesus again says that “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him.”
Jesus is very specific in saying that the only ones whom He, and the Father, will love are they who love Them. And this means that anyone in the “world” (kosmos) no matter who they are, what their color, race, creed are, whether male, female, young, old or in between they are all given this offer.
Still not convinced? Let us look at one more verse. Actually what I would like for you to read is John 17. This is where Jesus gives His great high priestly prayer for all of His followers. Specifically, however, I would like for you to read the following from John 17:20 – 23:
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Very clearly Jesus prays for all who will believe and follow Him, and what He asks is for the “world” (kosmos) in general to know that God the Father loves all who will follow Jesus just as the Father loves the Son. Basically what Jesus is asking is for all unbelievers to know that God loves all believers of Jesus – they who follow Him.
In all of these verses, and there are more, what is specific is that God loves anyone, no matter from where they come or who they are, who will follow Jesus and be born again into the family of God.
So, have we all mis-understood John 3:16? The answer is an absolute “yes”…
However, the one thing that you should know is this. Whether or not you believe what the Bible says or what some preacher says, this one thing is very clear. It is not the verse where Jesus says, “For God so loved the world (kosmos)” upon which that we should focus… No, what follows next is the most important thing that Jesus says in John 3:16.
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
If you do not believe in Jesus, have bowed the knee to Him and proclaimed Him to be Lord, and believe that He was raised from the dead, it does not matter what you believe about who God loves, if “you” do not believe “you” will be among those who will perish and you will not have everlasting life.
You may know John 3:16 but do you know John 3:35 & 36:
35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
My friend, believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved. Then, and only then, will you be able to truly say, according to the scriptures that we have seen and read, that you are among those whom Jesus and the Father loves. For God so loved “me”… Now that is nice, and that is only for the believer in Jesus. More importantly it is also scriptural…