We are continuing our study of John chapter 3, which is a very familiar text. In it we have Yeshua's conversation with Nicodemus, who is a high ranking religious leader in Judaism. Nicodemus' unasked question is, "How do I enter the Kingdom of God?" To which Yeshua responds that he must be "born from above." Nicodemus is used to self effort, he is used to obedience to the Law, but Yeshua says he needs a birth from above, he needs a supernatural act of Yahweh to make him fit for the Kingdom.
So the message of our Lord is basically this, "You need to be born from above and that's a work of Yahweh. And you don't participate in it. You must have a spiritual heart surgery to take out your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh."
I was reading a Catholic writer last week who asked the question of fellow Catholics, "If you were to be asked by a Protestant friend if you had been 'born again' and are you 'saved' how would you answer?" Then he tells them how to answer, "You could answer that in the baptism of Jesus Christ we have been 'born from above' or 'born again' [the double meaning of the Greek word anothen] through the power of water and the spirit into the family of God. In that sense Catholics have absolutely been 'born again.' This sacrament of our re-birth, our baptism, was our entrance into the New Covenant and many of us enter that Covenant shortly after birth just as babies of the Old Covenant entered the Covenant as babies."
So what is he telling these Catholics? He is saying that they are "born from above" when they are baptized in water. The sacrament of baptism saves them. This is not what Yeshua was teaching. We are saved by His work, not ours:
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:14-15 NASB
Yeshua connects the serpent, which is lifted up on a pole, with His own death at Calvary, when He is lifted up on the cross. If anyone is to be saved from the penalty of their sins, they must "look" to Him for salvation. All those who "look" to Him in faith, trusting in Him to remove the judgment for their sin, like the Israelites of old, will be saved. He didn't tell them to run to the river and get baptized, He told them to look in faith at Yahweh's provision.
You might ask, "Why would God give eternal life to anybody who just believed in Him? Why would God not reserve eternal life for the people who kept the rules? Why is eternal life given to whoever believes, and not just Jews that believe, but whoever believes?" And the answer is this,"For God so loved the world."
"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. John 3:16 NASB
As I said before, we are not absolutely certain whether these words are words that Yeshua spoke to Nicodemus or whether they are words that Lazarus wrote, because the words of Lazarus merge imperceptibly into the words of our Lord and vice versa. But either way they are the inspired text of the Word of God.
The construction of the Greek sentence underscores the intensity of God's love. He gave His best: His unique and beloved Son. The Jews believed that God loved the children of Israel, but Lazarus affirmed that God loved all people regardless of race.
"God so loved the world"—is not speaking about God's common grace. His love for His creation. This is not the love that moves Him to provide rain and sunshine where it is not deserved. This love is God's electing love, or God's regenerating love, or God's covenant love. With this love, God does more than offer salvation. He overcomes rebellion and resistance so that these loved ones receive His offer of salvation.
People don't like God making choices independent of our free will, but He does. Look at this sovereign love in God's election of the people of Israel:
"Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. "Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 10:14-15 NASB
Yahweh did not just offer to be Israel's covenant God; He chose Israel. He took them from all the people. He didn't negotiate. He freely and sovereignly and unconditionally chose Israel.
We see this same sovereign kind of love in God's raising us from spiritual death and causing us to be born again:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB
So it is God's sovereign quickening love that makes us alive. And when He gives us life, then we are able to believe.
"Whoever believes in Him shall not perish"—the implication of "shall not perish" is that some will perish. "Shall not perish" is an aorist middle subjunctive. The aorist tense looks to a point in time where this destruction takes place. The use of the subjunctive mood indicates that the outcome is uncertain. Their perishing is directly related to their lack of a faith response in Yeshua.
I said last week that "perishing" implies annihilation, not eternal conscience torment. There are some who say that annihilationism contradicts Daniel 12:2:
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 NASB
This is The Resurrection of the just and the unjust. Now remember that this is in the context of verse 1, the time of Great Tribulation in the end time or last days of Israel, which ended in A.D. 70. This Resurrection happens after the time of Jerusalem's destruction, not at the end of time as most believers think. Most Christians think that The Resurrection is a yet future event. The unjust were raised for judgment:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. Revelation 20:11 NASB
The unjust were raised out of hades, were judged and thrown in the lake of fire:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. Revelation 20:14 NASB
Here we see that "death" is destroyed. They don't burn forever in the lake of fire, they are burnt up and are gone. They perish! Since the resurrection and judgment, when an unbeliever dies they simply perish.
"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 NASB
This "for" that begins this verse explains the "gave" of verse 16. This is God's purpose in sending His Son. Notice that this verse replaces the word "give" with "send." So the giving of verse 16 is God's sending His Son into the world on a mission from heaven.
God sending His Son into the world assumes the pre-existence of the Son, and the fact that Yeshua is from above and is not of this world. This concept is repeated several times in this Gospel.
Here Lazarus uses the word kosmos (world) again. Last week I said, If you look up all of Lazarus' uses of kosmos you will see that he uses the term in different senses. Well in this verse he uses kosmos three times and each time it has a different sense. "For God did not send the Son into the world"—this use refers to that part of the habitable world where the Lord Yeshua ministered. It's not referring to the whole world, but into the habitable part of the world in which Yeshua ministered. Then he said, "to judge the world," and here it refers to all men in the world. He didn't come to condemn all because condemnation was not His prime aim, He came to save His own. And then the third occurrence, "But that the world might be saved through Him," this is a reference to the elect of God who are living in the world. So He does not fail in saving all of His elect. So Lazarus uses kosmos three times in this verse and each use contains a different sense. The senses of terms are derived from usage.
So in this verse Lazarus further clarified God's purpose in sending His Son by explaining what it was not. It was not "to judge" or condemn mankind. The verb rendered "judge" (krino) can mean simply "to judge"; but in this and many other passages in John, the judgment is clearly adverse. Judging, as Lazarus uses it here, is the opposite of saving, so it has the idea of "to condemn." Thus the believer is not condemned and will not be condemned.
If you are familiar with Scripture you may be wondering, How can Yeshua or Lazarus make such a statement in the light of other verses in this Gospel?
"For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. John 5:26-27 NASB
"I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 5:30 NASB
And Yeshua said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." John 9:39 NASB
How do we reconcile these verses with what we see in our text? Well in John chapter 5 Yeshua is talking about the judgment He will execute at the resurrection of the dead (see verses 25, 28-29). The judgment spoken of in John 9 was a secondary duty associated with saving, but saving was Yeshua's primary purpose.
Carson points out, "Jesus didn't come into a neutral world in order to save some and condemn others. He came into a lost world to save some." (The Gospel According to John, p. 207) That not all of the world will be saved is made perfectly clear by the next verses (vv. 18-21).
Notice the similarity of our text to these verses:
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. "If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. John 12:46-48 NASB
So here we see that Yeshua judges at the Last Day. This was a reference to His Second Coming, which included the resurrection and judgment.
Yeshua said to her, "Your brother shall rise again." 24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." John 11:23-24 NASB
Yeshua taught that the resurrection would happen on the last day. When is the last day? To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. During the Second Temple Period they distinguish between two types of olam: olam hazeh (this world) and Olam Haba ("the world to come"). The "olam hazeh," or "this world," is characterized by darkness, wickedness, sin, and death. It is called "night." The "Olam Haba," or "the world to come," as it was called by the rabbis, was known as a time of joy, peace, light, eternity; it is known as "day." The rabbis connected the olam haba and the resurrection.
That Messiah did not come to judge was completely opposed to Jewish thinking. The Jews believed that the Messiah would be sent for the express purpose of judging the world, meaning the Gentiles:
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. John 3:18 NASB
"He who believes in Him is not judged"—this is the same as in 3:16 : "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish"—in verse 16 the one believing doesn't perish, in verse 18 they are not judged. The difference is that the result of believing and not believing is not described in terms of our perishing and eternal life, but in terms of being condemned or not condemned.
This time, the tense of the verb changes. It is no longer a present tense. This time, it is a perfect tense. The perfect tense describes an action that took place in the past and which has continuing results. The judgment that is described here took place in the past and its results continue forever.
"He who believes in Him is not judged"—there are different usages in the New Testament and specifically in the Fourth Gospel of the verb "to believe" with prepositions that follow. Here Lazarus uses pisteuo plus the preposition "eis," or to literally believe into, it means: "to have confidence in." So when we read, "He who believes in Him," the reference is to having confidence in Him. To rely upon Him. To rely upon Him in what sense? Well, to rely upon Him as our Deliverer from the condemnation of sin. To be saved through reliance upon Him.
What's interesting about this is that the Council of Trent said that, "Cursed is the one who thinks that a person is saved by reliance upon Jesus Christ alone." Well that is what Lazarus is saying, he that relies on Him as the Son of God who has offered the atoning sacrifice. He stops relying upon anything else: his church membership, his culture, his education, his good works, his observance of the ordinances or whatever it may be and relies upon Yeshua the Christ.
"He who does not believe has been judged already"—this is the condemnation of unbelief. Notice that he doesn't say, He is going to be condemned, but he is already condemned. In fact, everybody is already condemned, we are all born condemned:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—Romans 5:12 NASB
"Death through sin"—through Adam's personal sin, original sin came to all mankind, and all humanity was affected. We are all born in a state of spiritual death. If a man dies physically while in a state of spiritual death, he will spend eternity separated from Yahweh.
"Death spread to all men"—every human being born is born separated from God, dead in sin. All men are born dead in sin because Adam's personal sin is "imputed," that is, put to the account of every individual in Adam's race. So you were born spiritually dead because you were personally and individually charged with Adam's sin. That is imputation! When Adam sinned, he sinned as our federal, or representative head. Adam's sin applies to and affects every individual that he was representing. His act was a representative act; you and I as being represented by our federal head, participated in Adam's act. Paul goes on to say:
The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. Romans 5:16 NASB
We see here that Adam's sin resulted in judgment, which is the Greek word krima, a sentence, or a decision on the part of a judge. This sentence from the judge resulted in condemnation, katakrima. Katakrima is defined by Suttor in his Lexicon as the punishment following the sentence. It is in a passive formation in the Greek and it is not likely to refer to the sentence as an edict from the judge, but rather to the punishment. Adam's sin is imputed to all, this is condemnation, which is spiritual death, separation from God:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. Romans 5:18 NASB
Again, in this verse we see the same idea. Adam's transgression resulted in condemnation, katakrima, or spiritual death, to all men. When Adam sinned, he sinned as our federal head or representative. Adam's sin is imputed to the account of every individual in Adam's race. Everyone is born spiritually dead, separated from God because of Adam's sin. His act was a representative act, and you and I, as being represented by our federal head, participated in Adam's sin.
Romans 5:12-21, is a comparison of two men, Adam and Christ. The comparison is very simple. There are two men, who each performed a single act that brought forth a single result, and the result is experienced by every member in their respective races. In Adam there was nothing but death and hopelessness; but in Christ there is life for He has brought His people out from under the rule and authority of the sin and the death.
Now notice what Paul says in:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Yeshua. Romans 8:1 NASB
"Now no condemnation"—reading this in the original text the emphasis rests upon the word "no." "There is now therefore no condemnation," that's the emphatic word in the Greek text.
The Greek word that Paul uses here for "condemnation" is katakrima the same word he used in Romans 5:16 and 18. Adam's sin resulted in condemnation, spiritual death, separation from God. But here the condemnation is removed in Christ. There will never be, in the life of any believer, spiritual death. There will be chastening and discipline in this life, but there will never be any separation from God.
Who are those who can lay claim to "no condemnation"? There are parameters to that claim. This promise is only "to those who are in Christ Yeshua"—only those "who are in Christ Yeshua have life." Some are in Him and some are not. Paul assumes this everywhere in his writings. There are those "in Christ" and there are those "outside." Paul is not a Universalist. He says explicitly in Romans 9:3, with grief, that there are those who are "accursed, separated from Christ." And we see in Matthew 25 that there are sheep and goats:
and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:33-34 NASB
The sheep get eternal life, but the goats get eternal death:
"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:46 NASB
The Bible does not teach Universalism. Yeshua doesn't love, and He didn't die for everyone. When a man or a woman believes in the Lord Yeshua the Christ, they are placed in Christ. That is their position. And being in Him, they now are free of eternal judgment because the penalty has been paid by a substitute. The Lord Yeshua came and bore that judgment, and because our penalty has been paid, it is impossible for us to have that penalty laid upon us.
If you are in Christ, what happened to Him, happened to you. Union with Adam, the first man, led to our condemnation/death. Union with Yeshua, the Second Adam, secured our righteousness/life.
Lazarus goes on to say that he is condemned, "Because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God"—the reason for his or her condemnation is what? Failure to believe. Faith is the instrumental means by which we obtain salvation. Failure to exercise faith in Yeshua will result in condemnation, spiritual death, just as failure to believe in the brazen serpent resulted in physical death for the Israelites.
To believe in His "name" is to believe everything that Yeshua revealed to us about His person and character. It is to believe He is the Son of God, it is to believe that He died for our sins and that He was raised from the dead to raise those who believe in Him to eternal life.
The Bible teaches that by faith you come into a status that can be defined as, "No condemnation, full pardon, rescued from the curse of the Law, cleared from all guilt, declared righteous, united with Christ, granted eternal life, never to be removed."
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. John 3:19 NASB
Lazarus here explains the process of mankind's judgment. He uses krisis, here, which is the idea of: "separating or distinguishing," not krima, the sentence of judgment. Even though the Light entered the world, people chose "darkness" over the Light.
When Lazarus here records, "The Light has come into the world" he is primarily speaking of the coming of Yeshua, in whom God is revealed, and who claimed "I am the light of the world."
"Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil"—this is a major theme of the Fourth Gospel: the opposition of light and darkness. These symbols are prominent in the Gospels and in the teaching of our Lord. They are also employed by Peter. Light and darkness are prominent themes in Paul's Epistles. The symbols of light and darkness are not new in the New Testament; they are themes which are rooted in the Tanakh and which are drawn upon and applied in the New. Light is a significant metaphor in Scripture, and the word "light" occurs on the very first and very last pages of Scripture and more than 250 times in between. Let's look at a few of them:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 NASB
So we have the darkness over the earth:
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Genesis 1:3-5 NASB
This may seem like a straightforward account of physical realities of light and darkness, but it is much more than this. If you have studied the Genesis creation accounts in their Ancient Near Eastern context, you know that a lot more is going on. In the ancient world the sea and the darkness were synonymous with gods of chaos and death.
In the ancient imagination, darkness was understood to be a problem, so the creation of light and the separation of light and darkness in Genesis intends to communicate Yahweh's dominance over [the gods of] darkness, death, and chaos.
At the beginning of this creation account, the earth was dark and in disarray (formless and void). At the end, it has light and is ordered. The progress is from darkness to light and from disorder to order. Light was created by God to dispel the darkness.
God creates light as something of an antidote to darkness. Light comes from God. Darkness is a problem that needs to be contained. It is from here that the prolific concept of light and dark as good and evil is born:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 NASB
So we could say that light and darkness are synonyms with good and evil. We live in a day when people call good, "evil" and evil, "good." People today are proud of their sin. Movie stars and other celebrities go on television to tell about their immoral behavior. I recently heard a celebrity bragging that she had had two abortions. People have "gay pride" celebrations to boast in what God condemns as evil.
In the Psalms light and darkness are used symbolically. Light becomes the symbol for salvation:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? Psalms 27:1 NASB
Light is a symbol for truth:
O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Psalms 43:3 NASB
Light is a symbol of Yahweh's splendor and presence:
You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence. Psalms 90:8 NASB
As light "shines" in the darkness, so Yeshua brought the revelation and salvation of God to humanity in its fallen and lost condition. One's response to the light demonstrates his or her moral and spiritual condition:
For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:20 NASB
The Greek word translated "evil" is phaula, meaning: "worthless." The unsaved man does not come to the light because he doesn't want his evil exposed. The word translated "exposed" means: "to be convicted in a court of law." It was used of an attorney proving his case.
This verse is talking about our moral inability. Moral inability is like a man who owes a great debt that cannot be repaid. Although he is responsible to honor his debt, he does not have the ability to do so. That is our position before God prior to the Holy Spirit applying the new birth. Man owes a debt he cannot repay, but he is still responsible for it. In other words, we are required to have faith in Christ, but our love for darkness and hatred of Light keep us from doing so.
If it is true that no one ever seeks after God, and it is true that all turn away, then how is it that anyone is ever saved? As Yeshua has said, we must be born from above. It is only as a person is changed on the inside and given a new birth and drawn by the Holy Spirit that he will come to God.
Look at what Paul said about us being in darkness:
for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light Ephesians 5:8 NASB
"For you were formerly darkness"—the conjunction gar is explanatory, giving the reason why believers should not be fellow participants with those who are of the world. The verb "were" is emphatic, and emphasizes a past condition. This is further verified by the enclitic particle of time, pote (formerly). This is our past, we all have a dark past, we were darkness. We see our former condition back in chapter 2:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 NASB
"You were," there's the emphatic "were" again:
in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2 NASB
We "were" dead, we "formerly" walked; this is our past. But something drastic happened to change all that. The text goes on to say, "But God... made us alive." Paul put it this way to the Colossians:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Colossians 1:13 NASB
Apart from Christ we were darkness:
"But now you are Light in the Lord"—a contrast is seen both by the adversative conjunction deh (but) and by the adverb of time nun (now). We were darkness "but now" we are Light in the Lord. How did this happen? How did darkness become light? "In the Lord"—that is a positional truth that doesn't fluctuate with our performance. The one doctrine that I hope you really grasp is the doctrine of the believer's Union with Christ. That is that through faith the one who trusts in Christ is actually joined with Christ so that whatever is true of Christ is true of the believer (righteousness, sonship, seated in the heavenlies, new life), and whatever was belonging to the believer before being in Christ (sin, punishment, death) has been transferred to Christ on the cross.
Lazarus finishes this section by saying:
"But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." John 3:21 NASB
This describes the characteristics of the believer. He is not afraid to come to the light because his deeds will not condemn him. On the contrary, it will be demonstrated in the light that those deeds have been "wrought in God." Because as Paul said, we "are Light in the Lord."
"Practicing the truth" is a Semitic expression, which means to act faithfully or honorably (Carson, p. 207). "Truth" is an important concept for Lazarus. He uses the word 25 times in his Gospel and 20 more times in his Epistles. Truth is embodied in Yeshua Himself, who said:
Yeshua said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6 NASB
Calvin, commenting on John 3:21 writes, "'But he who doeth truth' This appears to be an improper and absurd statement, unless you choose to admit that some are upright and true, before they have been renewed by the Spirit of God, which does not at all agree with the uniform doctrine of Scripture; for we know that faith is the root from which the fruits of good works spring." (Calvin's Commentary on the Bible)
"So that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God"—Westcott says, "This strange expression makes it clear that the lover of light is not some intrinsically superior person. If he or she enjoys the light, it is because all that has been performed, for which there is no shame or conviction, has been done 'through God'—'in union with Him, and therefore by His power'" (Westcott, 1. 124).
These verses do not tell us how one moves from the darkness to the light, i.e. how one becomes a Christian, but simply focuses on the fundamental distinction that must be made between those who at the moment are rejecting the ultimate revelation of God in Yeshua, and those who are delighting in it. One fundamental difference between believers and unbelievers is their attitude toward the light.
This whole section, verses 8 to 21, validates Yeshua's statements of verses 1 to 8, demonstrating that indeed one must be "born from above" by the Spirit of God, in order to see or enter the kingdom of God. Left to ourselves we are perishing, we are condemned, we hate the light and love the darkness; we do not want our rebellion exposed. Only the gracious regenerating action of the Spirit of God can change this.
John Piper summarizes this text: "The coming of Jesus into the world clarifies that unbelief is our fault, and belief is God's gift. Which means that if we do not come to Christ, but rather perish eternally, we magnify God's justice. And if we do come to Christ and gain eternal life, we magnify God's grace." (DesiringGod.org, "This is the Judgment: Light has come into the World")