The use of the Greek word kosmos (κόσμος) has several uses in John 3:16. Note the differences in the intended sense in the below excerpt:
16 For God so loved the world (kosmon, people) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world (kosmon, creation) to condemn the world (kosmon, People), but to save the world (kosmos, people) through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world (kosmon, creation), but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
John 8:23 – He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world (kosmou, world system, philosophy); I am not of this world (kosmou, world system, philosophy)
John Testifies Again About Jesus
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends to the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”[h]
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God[i] gives the Spirit without limit.
35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
- John 3:3 The Greek for again also means from above; also in verse 7.
- John 3:6 Or but spirit
- John 3:7 The Greek is plural.
- John 3:8 The Greek for Spirit is the same as that for wind.
- John 3:13 Some manuscripts Man, who is in heaven
- John 3:14 The Greek for lifted up also means exalted.
- John 3:15 Some interpreters end the quotation with verse 21.
- John 3:30 Some interpreters end the quotation with verse 36.
- John 3:34 Greek he
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Verse 16 is perhaps the most beloved and memorized verse in the entire New Testament. The message is now expanded. The reason that Jesus has come is that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son. This is the amazing new revelation that surpasses all that has gone before, that God was such that He had not only seen man’s need but has met it in the only way possible at the greatest cost to Himself. ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be a propitiation for ours sins’ (1 John 4:10). A further interesting fact is that it is ‘the world’ that is in view. His love is reaching out to the world. Jesus is not just a Messiah for the Jews; He is the Christ for the world. Jesus’ distinctiveness is again being drawn out. ‘His one and only Son’, ‘the only Son from the Father’ (John 1:14; John 1:18). And the purpose? Negatively, to save men from ‘perishing’. Positively, they might have eternal life.
Mythical gods came to the world to condemn it, never to save it, but God’s purpose in sending His Son was to save. He wanted to give men eternal life. He wanted to save them from ‘perishing’. There was only one way to do so, by taking their deserving to suffer on Himself. Notice the stress on the fact that Jesus is ‘God-sent’. His sending by the Father is a theme of the Gospel. God’s purpose towards the world is one of love. But this must not lead us to presumption. If we reject that offer of love and refuse to come to His light so that our sins might be revealed, because we love our sins too much, then we face the awful alternative of condemnation.
In verse 18 He stresses that it is not God Who condemns men, rather they condemn themselves. When they see God’s supreme Word, Jesus, revealing His glory and the glory of God, their very refusal to acknowledge Him condemns them. They are showing what they really are. For had their hearts been open and true they would immediately have believed in Him and received Him gladly. And we made their sin worse because they are rejecting ‘the only Son of God. We then emphasized this in another way.
‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. What an incredible truth. For the one whose full trust is in Jesus Christ, there can be no condemnation. “whoever does not believe stands condemned already.” This is the opposite side of the picture. What greater condemnation could there be than the rejection of God’s offer of mercy? Their rejection of Him shows the hardness of their hearts and their utter sinfulness.” because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This in the end is why the condemnation is so great. It is not just anyone they are rejecting, but the only true Son of God. It is almost incredible. The creature rejecting its Creator!
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
God bases His condemnation on the fact that Jesus has come as ‘the light’ into the world and, by His life and teaching, has offered the light of life and revealed the light of truth. Men turn from Him because they love their sins and His light shines on them and condemn them. They do not want to give up their lives which ‘come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the glory revealed by Jesus, and so they reject Jesus and even say evil things against Him, and are in danger of the unforgivable sin, the final rejection of the clear testimony of the Spirit. If we refuse to open our lives to the light of Jesus, we have no one to blame but ourselves when we are finally condemned.
Men naturally ‘hate the light’. They do not want to be exposed as what they are. They do not want to know the truth about themselves and will do anything to hide from it nor do they want to be ‘reproved’ or condemned. So they hide in the darkness where they are satisfied that we cannot see their sins. But in Jesus’ light had come, and it was shining through His life and teaching and they must now respond. What they must never forget is that one day a light will shine on their lives from which they cannot hide and then judgment will be passed and they will ‘perish’.
Those who do what is right have no fear of the truth about their lives coming out. They gladly come to Jesus and listen eagerly to His words and to the word of God and let Him examine them, for they know His words will help them get rid of sin and that when He examines them, He will help them rid themselves of what is spoiling their lives. They want their lives to be open to examination and be put under the spotlight of God, so that they really can be seen, that they are true children of God.
Is John 3:16-21 the words of Jesus?
The impression given by the passage is that we do have here the words of Jesus. It is not of course possible to assert dogmatically that those who take another position are not correct, for each must see it as he will. But there is nothing in the passage which is not said elsewhere by Jesus in one way or another. John 3:13-15 is equally ‘extreme’ in their ideas, and many would not deny them to Jesus. There is not any theology in it that is not spoken elsewhere by Jesus. He elsewhere speaks regularly of ‘the Son’, which by inference means ‘the only Son’.
A major argument for the position of those who see this as a comment of John’s is that here Jesus speaks emphatically of ‘God’ whereas normally He speaks of ‘the Father’. However, the fact is that God is only mentioned twice in the whole passage, while Jesus does equally suddenly and pointedly say ‘God’ elsewhere. See John 13:31-32; John 4:10; John 4:24; John 5:42; John 6:27; John 6:33; John 6:46; John 7:17; John 8:40; John 8:47; John 11:4; John 14:1.
Here Jesus is in personal and close conversation with a seeker and wants the idea to come over with full force. Furthermore, this is at the beginning of His ministry and we could equally suggest that He had not yet finalized His later way of speaking. So there really is no strong reason for denying that these words are the words of Jesus.
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.
The land of Judea is in Southern Palestine, below Samaria. Galilee was above Samaria in northern Palestine. Across the Jordan from Judea was Perea. All are differentiated from Jerusalem, which looked on itself as a city on its own. This had been true from the days of David. Jesus may have gone into the Judean countryside from Jerusalem. It is significant that until John 6:1, John omits a Galilean ministry. He does of course mention the visit to Cana and Capernaum in chapter 2, which appears to have been for a few days, and he will mention a further visit in John 5:43-47, but there is only the slightest suggestion of any ministry there in that we are told that ‘the Galileans welcomed Him’ (John 4:45). Nothing further is said. There is no suggestion of a public ministry. This agrees with Mark’s statement that Jesus’ Galilean ministry, of which the other Gospels are full, started after John the Baptist was put in prison (Mark 1:14 – After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.) which has not yet happened at this stage as he is still baptizing at Aenon near Salim. We have in John’s Gospel valuable new material about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, which is not mentioned by the other Gospels. It shows that His first ministry was in Judea, and carried out in parallel with, and alongside, John the Baptist’s.
It is stated in John 4:2 – although in fact, it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. That Jesus Himself did not baptize but left the responsibility to His disciples. Aware of His special status, it would certainly have been wise for Jesus to leave baptizing to His disciples, as otherwise, all kinds of problems could arise as people fought to be baptized by Him. Jesus knew what was in men. He would know very well the complications that could arise later if some people had been specifically baptized by Him. We can compare how Paul clearly left the baptizing of people to others (1 Corinthians 1:11-17) and was thankful that he had done so.
23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before they put John in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
John the Baptist did not feel that his work was over because the One to whom he pointed had come, nor did he feel it necessary to become a disciple of Jesus (in the technical sense). The relationship between Jesus and John is informative. John is happy to go on preaching but to ‘decrease’ and turn people to Jesus. Jesus is careful not to bring discredit to the ministry of John, but to work alongside him. Both recognize that each has a purpose to fulfill in God’s service.
They had not yet put John into prison. This is before the ministries of Jesus were mentioned in the other Gospels. Jesus is quite happy at this stage to be connected with John, for whom He had a profound admiration and they engage in parallel ministries. It was only when He learned that there was talk about His greater success than John, that He took the step of moving to Galilee so as not to upstage John. It is clear around this time that John was put into prison, and it is only then that Jesus was prepared to begin a wider, active ministry. While John was around, Jesus wished to act as support to his ministry and did not draw on his pool of disciples. But once John is in prison, Jesus feels free to begin a new ministry in the power of the Spirit. We should note that we learn from the other Gospels that crowds followed Him ‘from Judea’. This confirms that there had been an initial Judean ministry.
A discussion arose between John’s disciples and ‘a Jew’ (or ‘the Judaizers’). Possibly one representative of the Jewish eldership (or a group of them – the authorities are relatively equally divided on the question) was seeking to pin down the meaning of John’s baptism, possibly mistakenly seeing it as an aspect of ceremonial purification or connecting it with the proselyte initiation ceremony, for when a non-Jew became a proselyte he would be required to undergo a ceremonial bath, although that was self-administered and of a very different nature. Maybe while seeking to argue this theological point, he commented to them concerning the fact that Jesus was more successful than John. He was probably seeking to cause a division between John and Jesus. That the author is aware of what the discussion about showed how close he was to the action, but he deliberately leaves the matter vague. That he does so shows that it is not important to the meaning of this section. It is only mentioned because it happened. There was clearly constant communication between John the Baptist’s group and the disciples of Jesus. John’s disciples bring to their teacher the news of Jesus’ great successes. Had they listened as carefully to their teacher as the writer had previously, they would not have been so disturbed. But even genuine people very often only hear what they wish to hear.
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”[h]
John recognizes that each man must do well in the task he has been given. He has been given the position of being ‘the voice’ preparing the way, and he is satisfied with that. It is Jesus Who has been given the greater task of being the Messiah. John is happy at doing well the job he has been sent to do. There is no room for jealousy under the Kingly Rule of God. Heaven is the source of that which is worthwhile and effective in God’s work. He recognizes that Jesus’ very success is proof of God working through Him so that John is well content.
In the Old Testament, Israel was regularly pictured as God’s bride (Isaiah 62:4-5; Ezekiel 16:8; Hosea 2:19-20), so when John says that it is right that she should listen to the bridegroom, there is implication of Jesus’ status as Son of God. The bridegroom’s helper can only be glad at hearing the Bridegroom’s voice because it means that he has been carrying out his duties successfully. The depiction of Jesus as the Bridegroom is another sign of His status, for in the Old Testament, God was the bridegroom and Israel the bride. John gladly recognizes the total superiority of Jesus as a unique, divinely chosen figure.
He must become greater; I must become less.”[h] John does not hide the truth from himself, nor does he wish to. These words should be written on all our hearts. We are most successful when we are unimportant because men’s eyes are turned on Jesus. John is content to become unimportant so that the One to whom he testifies is recognized for what He is.
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God[i] gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
It is sometimes difficult in this Gospel to know when the speaker’s words cease and the comments of the writer begin, and many would see these words as the comment of the writer, in which case he now summarizes what he has been writing. He contrasts the One Who has come from above (compare v. 13) with the one who is but an earthling. The latter can only speak of earthly things, however exalted, for he is limited to earthly knowledge even if it is revealed knowledge. But the One Who comes from Heaven is above all. This is repeated twice for emphasis. He has knowledge both of earthly things and of things that none on earth can know, even by revelation, for He is over everything in Heaven and earth. This contrast is true not only of John in contrast with Jesus but of all men in contrast with Jesus. Men who claim special heavenly knowledge deceive themselves. It is beyond their understanding.
Only the One Who has come down from Heaven can understand such things. This is because He has actually seen and heard them. He bears witness to what He has seen and heard above. Even John in Revelation only had a partial revelation of such things in dreams and visions which were largely symbolic, for they are beyond man’s vision even when in the Spirit. Jesus, being Himself ‘Spirit’, and being above the spiritual and angelic world, has full knowledge of all things. This is the most emphatic statement possible of the uniqueness and unique knowledge of Jesus.
God’s giving of the Spirit to Jesus enables Him to speak the words of God.. Others see it as referring to Jesus as the giver ‘without measure’ in speaking the words of God, a giving that is not restricted in any way. Still, others see it as a general statement that God always gives the Spirit overflowingly. He does not give by measure, and that this is especially exemplified in the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus receives the Spirit without measure because He is ‘the Son’ and ‘the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands. The title stresses His total uniqueness. He is not one of many but the only One, with a unique relationship to ‘the Father’ above that of the angels. This is why all things without exception are given into His hand.
Not listening to the Son is dangerous indeed. He who does not obey the Son will not see eternal life, but God’s divine anger will rest on him with its consequent results. Those who believe will always obey, although belief precedes obedience, and lack of obedience shows lack of faith.
A note on Father/Son
Why was Jesus called ‘the Son’? Did this show subordination to the Father? The answer is that it was only for the period during which He carried out His work of salvation that He was subordinate to the Father. In eternity, there was no ‘father-son’ relationship (they are earthly terms based on earthly experience). Each member of the Godhead was co-equal and co-eternal. The application to Jesus of the term ‘Son’ is based on using as a picture the earthly relationship of father and son. Its stress is on the fact that both share the same nature, and that the latter performs the will of the former; as the One Who has the same nature as the Father, and has been sent by the Father, Jesus is ‘the Son.