Wednesday, June 28, 2006
FOR GOD SO loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
That verse, John 3:16, is probably the most frequently misused and misinterpreted in all of Holy Scripture.
The typical teaching today sounds something like this:
God loved the whole human race so much that He made provision for all men to be saved by having His only begotten son die on the cross. And now it is up to the sinner to believe and thereby have eternal life, or not to believe and thereby perish.
Nothing could be farther from the truth!
The sad part of this misuse and misinterpret is that it deprives the child of God, who in himself is an utterly lost sinner, of the very comfort and solid assurance that this Word of God is intended to convey and, more importantly, it deprives God of the full honor and glory that He deserves for providing such a gracious salvation plan.
Does "the world" mean everyone?
But doesn’t that verse clearly say that God loves the world?
Whether taken as the cosmos or as the human race, doesn’t "the world" (which is from the Greek word Kosmos) clearly cover all men?
In fact, if we are unwilling to say Christ died for all men, aren’t we then placing the infinite love of God under an illegitimate restriction?
To answer this question, let us first examine some other passages of Scripture that contain the term "the world" from the same Greek kosmos.
Prayed for vs. not.
In His high priestly prayer before the disciples, the Lord Jesus says in
For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them, which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
It is evident the “the world” in this passage refers to a different object from that of "the world" in John 3:16. To even consider that our Lord Jesus Christ would refuse to pray for the world that God the Father loved would be blasphemous.Moreover, "the world" in John 17 cannot possibly mean all men because the Lord clearly distinguished “them” who God had given him, who believed that the Father had sent Him and unto whom He had given the gospel-from the world for whom he prayed not. In short, "the world" in John 17 does not include any believer at all.
Temporal vs. eternal.
The same truth is found in I John 2:15-17. There we read:Love not the world, neither the Things that are in the world. If any Man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is In the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of Life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.Here again, the term “world” obviously cannot possibly mean all human beings. For one thing, would God enjoin His people from loving the same world that He loved? For another, would the world that is the object of God’s love pass away instead of abiding forever? To ask these questions is to answer them.
Hatred vs. love.
Here’s one more passage. In John 15:18,19, the Lord says to His followers:If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you.Once more, God differentiates "the world" in this verse from those whom He has chosen out of it. We believers love God, because He first loved us. Obviously, therefore, we cannot be part of the world that hates Jesus.
Does God love everyone?
Speaking of hatred, if we say that God loves all men, and then we must also declare that He hates no man. And if we should teach that, then we would be heretics, for the Bible that speaks of the love of God also speaks of His divine hatred.We read in Psalm 5:4,5, for example: "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers if iniquity."We also read in Psalm 11:5,6, "The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup."And in Romans 9, a chapter that discusses this subject of God’s sovereign choice in much detail, we read in versus 10 to 13:
And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even By our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
From all these passages, it is perfectly evident that there is a hatred of God as well as a love of God, and that some men are the object of the divine hatred, while others are the object of the divine love. It thus follows that God does not love all men, and that the term "world" in John 3:16 cannot possibly mean all men.
Did God give His son for everyone?Before I go on further with the question "Whom does God love?" let me point out that the word "so" in John 3:16 is also widely misinterpreted. We are often told that it is used to emphasize the extent of God’s love. Because God loved the world so very much, they say, He gave His only begotten Son.Now that’s not what God is saying at all.
The Greek houtos for "so" means in this manner. The given of His only begotten Son is the manner by which God shows His love for the world. The fact is, God’s love does not come is degrees. It is absolute; it is infinite; it has no limit. Hence, the love of the Almighty God is divinely able to seek, find and save its object.
If, therefore, God gave His only begotten Son to effect salvation for the world that comprises everyone, neither that world nor any part of it can remain lost. Yet, the scriptures themselves teach us plainly that not all men are saved.Moreover, the justice of God demands that all those for whom God gave His only begotten Son must be redeemed. Before the foundation of the world, you see, God hath predestinated a group of people "unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself". Then, in the fullness of time, the Word became flesh so that He might die on the cross for the sin if those whom God had chosen. There is no way this gift of God can be either wholly or partially in vain. And there is no way anyone for whom Christ endured the Cross can end up in Hell.In short, God gave His only begotten Son for the world He loved, but not for all men.
Two opposite worlds.
Let us now face the subject head on by asking: Whom did God love in such a manner that He gave His only begotten Son? To whom does the "world" in John 3:16 refer?We have learned earlier from John 17, I John 2 and John 15 that in those passages, "the world" compromises the whole of reprobate, wicked men. They are those for whom the Lord Jesus refuses to pray, those whom believers are enjoined to love, and those who hate the Lord Jesus and His followers and who will eventually pass away.The world will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell on Judgment Day. God speaks of this in Revelation 3. There, the Lord is encouraging the church in Philadelphia for it has come under much persecution. He says in verse 10:Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee From the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.Here again, we see that the term "all the world" refers to the sum total of all the unbelievers that have ever dwelled in the earth; it does not include any children of God. The latter are those whom God loves and from whom He will keep the hour of temptation, or Judgment day.
The elect of God.
Here in John 3:16, God uses "the world" to denote those who, He so loved that He gave His only begotten Son to pay for their sin. From this juxtaposition, we can thus draw this conclusion: Depending on the context in which it appears "the world" in the Bible refers either to the totality of all God’s elect.According to His purpose, in other words, God views the human race as having two worlds, one comprising all unbelievers, the other, all believers.
Once we understand this principle, we can better see the truth conveyed by such other often-misunderstood versus as:The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world (John 1:29).For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:17)And said unto the women, now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world (John 4:42).And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47).
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:19).In all the verses above (and many, many others in the Bible, "the world" comprises the entire body of Christ, all those chosen by God before time began to receive salvation by grace-and nobody else.
Against that backdrop, we can now see that God Himself actually defines for us the meaning of "the world" in the second half of John 3:16. He says, "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."All, without exception, who believe shall never perish. They have everlasting life now in principle. Being kept in the power of God’s infinite love, they shall have everlasting life in perfection.Such is the Revelation of God’s infinite love for the world of His elect. And the end attained by that love is everlasting life for all believers.
by Homer C. Hoeksema