John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most quoted passages in the entire Bible. Indeed, the whole New Testament message is pretty well summed up in it.

John 3:14-21 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (15) so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (16) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (17) "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (18) "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (19) "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (20) "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (21) "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

If you’ve read this passage before, or seen it on bumper stickers or T-shirts, or heard evangelical Christians proclaim it, you might be tempted to just blast over it. Don’t! Let’s look at it carefully and see what it says. This is Jesus speaking, by the way- that’s what the red text indicates.

The first statement refers to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Let’s look at that passage…

Numbers 21:4-9 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. (5) The people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food." (6) The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. (7) So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. (8) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." (9) And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Here we see the people speaking out against God, who delivered them from bondage (created them, actually!!) and giving them "light bread" (manna from heaven!), and God rightly punishing them by sending serpents to bite them. They then repented (an important word!) and asked Moses to pray for them. He did and God had those that were bitten look at a brass serpent upon a pole. Now, you might ask, "why couldn’t they just carry a little brass serpent around in their shirt pockets instead of having to go gaze at this pole?", or "why didn’t God just take the snakes away?". Firstly, they were told to look at a single pole- a standard- and not just any old pole. Had they been able to carry around their own little brass snakes, each a little different from the other, they would not have had to acknowledge Moses’ standard. Thus, their eyes would have been drawn to individual gods and not a single One. Looking at this standard made them acknowledge their disobedience against God. Secondly, looking at the pole made them obedient to God because that was what He told them to do to be saved. The snakes remained as punishment to remind them of their sins. Those that were bitten and refused to look at the standard and acknowledge it, died.

Jesus is saying here that He, too, must be lifted up, literally, on the cross. It’s a perfect analogy in that sinful people must look to the single standard given by God- Jesus. Then, those that recognize and acknowledge their sins will look to Him for the cure- those who refuse to acknowledge and admit their sins will refuse to look at the cross and at Jesus upon it and perish, just as those who refused to look at the brass snake on the pole also perished. Those who look will understand why Jesus was dying young in great pain on the cross and why he was not merely a great teacher living for a long time under relatively favorable circumstances. Those who do not look and acknowledge Him, never understand.

In the second statement, Jesus says that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life That’s a pretty clear statement and doesn’t need much explanation. He seems to repeat it in the next statement: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  This one is a little different, though. There is great emphasis in the first 6 words: For God so loved the world… Who loved the world? God. How much? He SO loved the world. And who did God love? The world, not just pieces and bits here and there, but the entire world. Contrast these two statements: For God so loved the world, and "God loved the world"- do you see how much stronger is the first?

Now notice that the statement says God "gave" his son. It doesn’t say God "sent" his son, or God "told his son to say". It says God "gave". And remember, this is Jesus speaking well before He was actually crucified, that is if you believe that Bible is correct and inspired by God, and that the writers- uneducated fishermen- didn’t create this extremely precise wording after the fact. So, God "gave" his "only" begotten son to the world. Why? that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. And the last statement For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him clearly tells us that Jesus didn’t come to condemn us but to save us. Note, however, the very last part of that phrase: that the world might be saved through Him.  The statement doesn’t say through anyone else or in any other way, it just says "through him". And what do we have to do?

Acts 16:29-34 And he [the jailer] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, (30) and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (31) They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

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