“The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, CSB).
John 3 contains two Messiah-affirming stories of Jesus: (1) the secret meeting between Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jesus from which originates those iconic and rudimentary Christian propositions: “You must be born again” and John 3:16: “For God so loved the world….” and, (2) the defection of some of John the Baptist’s disciples to Jesus’ ministry, which John the Baptist acknowledges with a seeming air of expectancy, “He must increase but I must decrease” (vs. 30).
Then, the final six verses of Chapter 3 provide a theological recap of the case John is making through these two stories for the Messiahship of Jesus.
John declares that there is some metaphysical angst that accompanies unbelief in Christ’s divinity–the potential for eliciting the wrath of God. We often express this tension in the gospel message in terms like this: “If you believe in Jesus you go to heaven when you die, but if you don’t believe in Him you go to hell when you die.”
But, the case that John presents in Chapter 3 is a little more theologically nuanced than is sometimes expressed through our pithy explanations. While we focus on the “what” of the gospel, John focuses on the “why” of the gospel.
Our explanations of the gospel often lean more towards what happens when we don’t believe–experiencing the wrath of God–than what happens when we do believe–experiencing the love of God.
We often condemn the unbeliever with God’s judgment rather than affirm the love of God for lost humanity. When we quote John 3:16 that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to explain what God did to save us, we need to complete the proposition with John 3:17 to explain why God did it: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Jesus lived, suffered and died to save people, not condemn them! In Jesus, God the Father made a statement to humanity that He wants to save us from eternal destruction, not find a reason to send us to eternal destruction.
Sure, the unbeliever is condemned by his unbelief, but it is not God condemning him or her. It is one’s own unbelief that condemns: “Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.”
“Already condemned” is the default condition of everyone that is born into this world. God so loved human beings that He created them with the capability not to love Him back! So, condemnation is the starting point for salvation; it’s the place where salvation begins: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:26).
In Jesus God saves us from our innate condemnation.
God saves us not to avoid hell but to enjoy heaven. Because God so loved us, He accordingly saves us to spend eternity with Him.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, CSB).