(Excerpt from ‘Expository Notes: Gospel of John’, chapter 3 verses 17-19.)
(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.
In sending his Son into this world, it was not the purpose of the Father to condemn the world. The day of final judgment has yet to come. Christ came into this world to provide salvation and forgiveness of sins to all who would believe on him. The Father’s intention was that—through his Son—the message of eternal salvation should be proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Luke 19:10; John 12:47-48; 1 John 2:2; 4:14)
As we have seen, this does not imply the salvation of every single individual in the world. It implies merely that a countless multitude of individuals out of every tongue, tribe, people and nation will be brought to repentance and faith in the Son of God. The contrast is between the way of salvation provided under the old covenant through Judaism exclusively, and the universal proclamation of eternal salvation provided under the new covenant: namely, by means of the Gospel. Now, any individual whom God calls, of any nation, can receive God’s salvation through faith in his Son. There is no longer any need for them to accept the Jewish faith, or the rite of circumcision.
As has been noted, the term ‘world’ is not necessarily all-inclusive. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, it becomes evident that when God speaks of sending his Son to ‘save the world’, he means he has sent his Son to save individuals out of every nation on earth; i.e. his elect. This election accords with the sovereign will of a holy and righteous God.
(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.
Anyone who believes in the Son of God is no longer condemned. He no longer remains alienated from God and at enmity with God on account of his sin. Because of his faith in the Son of God as his Saviour and Lord, the repentant and believing sinner has been acquitted—or justified. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. Those whom God justifies cannot be condemned. (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1,28-34)
Anyone, however, who does not believe in the Son of God stands condemned already. He stands condemned because of the unforgiven sin in his life. He stands condemned for refusing to accept the atoning sacrifice for his sin that God has provided—Jesus, the Lamb of God. Such people—and this includes everyone who has not believed in Christ—remain under the enduring wrath of God. (John 3:36; Heb. 2:3; 12:25)
This verse tells us further that these people stand condemned because they have refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son (or ‘one and only Son’, or ‘only begotten Son’). To believe in the name of someone, is to believe in everything which that name represents. The name of Jesus means Yahweh [ is] Saviour. To believe in the name of Jesus, therefore, is to believe in him as God and as Saviour. Much more is implied. This, however, would be as much as the people would be required to understand about the name—and to believe.
Such terminology was not unfamiliar to Jewish ears. It is used in the Old Testament of the Lord God himself. Faith in the Name meant faith in the God whom the Name represented. The Name speaks of the character or attributes of the Almighty God. It represents the ‘I AM’—a phrase that all Jews knew referred to the unpronounced name of YHWH (or Yahweh; transliterated, Jehovah). (Exodus 3:13-15; 6:3; 34:14; cf. Lev. 24:11,16)
(19a) “And this is the judgment…” (ESV)
— Or this is the verdict and sentence of condemnation…
(19b) “…the light has come into the world…”
The light of life in Christ Jesus has come into this sin-darkened world. This penetrating and revealing light shines into every corner of a person’s life.
In this context, ‘light’ is that which exemplifies and emphasises spiritual and moral purity, holiness, justice and righteousness, and which exposes and condemns fallen mankind’s sinful nature together with his sinful thoughts, words, deeds, inclinations and attitudes.
Verse 19 continues by declaring:
(19b) “…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (ESV; bold emphasis added)
Instead of welcoming the Light of the world, most people hated or despised that Light. This Light was exposing their evil deeds—but they loved (cherished, enjoyed or delighted in) their evil deeds. (John 1:4,5; 8:12)
The word used here for love (Gk., agapao) is the same word used to express God’s love for the world. Sinful men and women loved their wicked and ungodly way of life so intensely that they detested the light that exposed their evil lifestyles and condemned their sins.
(19b)…and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (ESV; bold emphasis added)
The phrase ‘rather than’ implies that people were much more willing to cherish their sins than to seek God’s forgiveness. Their love for their evil way of life was greater by far than their love for God or for his Son. The way of righteousness, holiness and truth was a way with which they had no desire to become too closely acquainted. This, of course, was a judicial consequence of spurning repeatedly the grace of God and refusing wilfully to hear the word of God. (Rom. 1:28-32)
(Read or download the full version of these Notes on John’s Gospel from the Expository Notes section of this website.)