The newest volume in the Osborne New Testament Commentaries is John Verse by Verse. Respected biblical scholar Grant R. Osborne invites the reader to become caught up in the dramatic masterpiece of the Fourth Gospel. In the excerpt below, he explores one of the most well known verses in the entire Bible and shows us how it’s crucial to understanding the mission of Jesus.
The opening words, “God so loved the world,” tell us that the cross was an act of love on the part of God. “So” translates the Greek houtōs and indicates degree, so that many translate, “God loved the world so much that …” (gnb, ncv, nirv). Others prefer to see it as explanatory: “God loved the world in this way …” (csb). Both are viable, but I prefer the former, stressing the incredible love of God. As we saw in 1:10–11, the world does not love God, but God’s love is so deep that “he gave his one and only Son” to be the atoning sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of the lost. This is a central verse, for the entire mission of Jesus flows from it. Parallel verses are found in 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”) and 9 (“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him”).
The Gospel begins with the love of God, for that is the only reason that can suffice for God creating a species he knew would rebel and reject his love. He wanted an object for his love and so willed that it be possible for this sin-laden species to find salvation and reconciliation with him. The only way was to send “his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The mission of Jesus, the reason he was sent, was to be “lifted up” on the cross and procure salvation for a lost and hopeless people, who find it through faith-decision. The result then is that they “shall not perish,” the certain end for a hopelessly fallen race, and that they “have eternal life,” which as was said in the commentary on verse 15 means new life now and ongoing life in the future. Eternal life is a present possession as well as a future promise.
John explains this saving purpose of the love-driven mission of Jesus further in verse 17. God’s loving character led to his resultant action, sending his unique Son into this sinful world to die so he could save it. The mission of the Son “sent by the Father” occurs forty-one times in John and stems from the Jewish idea of the shaliach, or “sent one,” a representative or ambassador who is the voice and presence of the sender. This is at the heart of the mission theme in John—Jesus as the Revealer or divine envoy of the Father.
Following the format of verse 16b, John highlights the negative side first. The mission of the divine envoy is not judgment; God wants no one to be destroyed (2 Pet 3:9). The purpose is to provide salvation, not condemnation, though as we will see later that will indeed take place. God sent his Son “to save the world through him.” This is the first time “save” appears, and it is synonymous with “born from above” in verse 3 and “have eternal life” in verse 16.
There are two sides to the offer—salvation and judgment, developed further in verse 18. For those who come to faith-decision there is no condemnation. They stand before God justified, or declared right with him in his courtroom (Rom 3:24). Unbelievers, on the other hand, stand “condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” The “already” refers to the moment they rejected Christ. This is not the final judgment at the Great White Throne of Revelation 20:11–15 but the general condemnation that rests on those who refuse to believe. Every person is drawn by the convicting presence of the Spirit (John 16:8–11) to faith-decision in the “name of God’s one and only Son” (1:14). As discussed in the comments on 1:12; 2:23, the “name” of Jesus refers to all he is as the God-man.