God’s love for the world—and judgement—in John 3 video discussion

The gospel lectionary reading for Lent 4 in Year B is John 3.14–22, the monologue ending of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, which includes perhaps the best-known verse in the New Testament at John 3.16. It is intimidating to talk about such a well-known passage—can we say anything new?—but also to deal with such a large theological subject as the love of God.

But there are some important things to note about the passage—not least that we appear to see a seamless transition from the speech of Jesus to the reflection of the gospel writer, in part demonstrated by the inclusion of reference to the later events of the resurrection and ascension. And although John 3.16 is well known, it is also mostly misread and misinterpreted, so there is plenty to say here as well!

(For those looking to preach on the ‘Mothering Sunday’ reading in Luke 2, see the discussion here.)

Come and join Ian and James as they explore all these questions and their implications.

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25 thoughts on “God’s love for the world—and judgement—in John 3 video discussion”

  1. I have long thought that John 3; 19 is a neglected verse. It gives a useful and positive counterbalance to the common narrative in gospel preaching of God ‘sending’ people to hell; in this verse it is rather that humans choose hell themselves and that God will allow that choice if they really must. It opens up lots of helpful ways of looking at judgement and questioning various ways we think about it.

    • I tend not to believe in ‘hell’ as such but rather annihilation. But either way, is it still not God who decides the judgement/punishment? If people really appreciated the coming judgement, would they really ‘choose’ it?

      I also think of relatives who lived a typical life in the UK. Left school at a young age due to poverty, worked their whole lives in blue-collar jobs, had families and brought up their kids as best they could, retired, helped with grand-children & pottered around. Then died. “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” – does that apply to such people who did not claim to be ‘Christians’ but who lived what would be deemed a ‘normal life’?


      • Peter… If i get your drift…

        Why would it not apply? Are they not in need of “the cross”? Doesn’t make any logical sense to me if only Christians need salvation… which is not earned by “so-called good deeds”.

        “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

        • Stephen above referred to this verse in the context of God’s judgement. That people brought the judgement on their own heads because they did not want their ‘evil deeds’ to be brought into the light.

          My question is, when God looks at such people as the relatives I mentioned, does He really see them in that light, people who ‘loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.’ Im not so sure.


          • Peter – well, I find the example of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 useful. The Ethiopian eunuch believed on Him, even though he did not know who He was. Note that he isn’t saying to Philip ‘this text is intellectually beyond my grasp.’ His question is, rather, ‘who is this man?’ In the context of today, ‘the church’ has given Jesus such a bad press and misrepresented Him so badly that I’m quite prepared to believe that there are people who actually believe in the sense that Philip believed, without being able to bring themselves to acknowledge Jesus. There are many with a social conscience who may well fall into this category.

            At the same time, Hebrews 6:4 makes it clear to us that there are also many who have been thoroughly enlightened as to what it is all about and they have turned their back on it. In Luke, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is important – discerning the attitude of the rich man. God isn’t interested in those whose only – or main – motivation is to flee from the wrath to come; those in the Saviour’s family are those who actively want the heavenly life, who taste and see that the Lord is good. He simply isn’t interested in those who are so entranced by the sinful ways of the world that they say something along the lines of, ‘Oh Lord, make me Holy, but not yet’.

          • Yes it is God who ‘makes the decision’ – but in this case it is a decision to let humans have what they want….
            Thing is, although in a way it’s hard to avoid, it is actually perhaps unhelpful to think of heaven and hell as simply places where God ‘puts’ people. The issue is arguably more about the kind of person they are and whether it is appropriate to put a fish ‘out of water’.

            As I see it, God makes us and our choices ‘real’ – our choices have real consequences and one of the consequences is the kind of people we become by our choices. (I was ‘clued in’ to this angle by CS Lewis who looks at this kind of thing both at various points in the Narnia stories and in his ‘grown-up’ theological/apologetic works)

            If people make themselves ‘choosers of darkness’ there is a sense in which even God faces one of those ‘logically impossible’ alternatives which limit even divine omnipotence. In effect the ‘choosers of darkness’ will not change; and in that case note that God ‘magically’ changing them is kinda meaningless. The result of such a ‘magical’ change is not so much that the original person truly changes; rather, God would be creating a totally new person disconnected from the original, discontinuous. A ‘real’ change needs to involve things like repentance based on self-understanding, and an arbitrary coercive change does not achieve that. A real life has the possibility of a real going wrong.

            I am sure God is way more merciful than we deserve, indeed; but the choice of darkness remains a real possibility, and one we cannot blame on God. And a chooser of darkness is not necessarily an obviously evil person doing obviously evil deeds; I can see at least the possibility that a life of indifference, of taking God’s mercy for granted, can still be that dreadful choice.

            Also as I understand it the ‘torment’ of hell is not an arbitrary or vengeful punishment; it is that people who will not admit their sin to be sin, who insist on ‘owning’ their sin, will justly pay the debt that sin incurs.

      • Usual language, Peter. ‘Tend not to believe’ and ‘really appreciate’ the coming judgement.
        What formed your relatives beliefs, Church, atheism, friends relatives? Blue collar culture?
        Were they like a lot of people today think that when they die they, like everyone else, except Hitler, go to heaven to be with friends and family, but oddly without God being there?
        Or that death was the end of life ( in theoogical terms. ‘annihilation.’)
        So the alternatives are reduced to 1. universalism or 2 annihalism, regardless of belief or works.
        Did they believe God? Did they want God?
        Is there not a hint in your comment of
        1 Pelagianism
        2 salvation by works
        3 little or no recognition of sin/ fall of humanity but its innate goodness

        Why was it necessary for humanity for the incarnate Son Jesus to die, in our place? For the joy set before Him?

        • Im sorry Im not as sure as you, Geoff, when it comes to important issues such as eternal conscious torment.

          The reason I say, for example, I ‘tend to believe’ when it comes to such questions is because Im strongly on the side of the annihilationism position, but that is not to say there is no validity at all in the alternative, based on certain passages in Scripture. Personally Ive ruled out universalism, as I simply cannot reconcile that view with the NT as a whole.

          As for, for example, salvation by works, there are as you know certain verses in Scripture which seem to indicate at least that salvation is dependent on our behaviour, ie works of obedience, rather than simply grace (undeserved mercy). Even the idea that Jesus referred to that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others is a measure of behaviour. Indeed it seems a number of commentators to this blog believe precisely that, though they often dress it up in such a way that it is confusing as to what they actually mean. I think, in the end, God will be more merciful than you or I because His thoughts are not our thoughts, and He will look on everyone with merciful eyes, through the death of the Son.

          But we’ve had that discussion before with no clarity forthcoming, so Im no longer asking it here.

      • Anglican Article 9 “Original Sin…it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man….and is of his own nature inclined to evil….”.
        I await Ian Paul (and anybody else) to debate with me (and hopefully with others) whether the Bible agrees with that!
        Phil Almond

        • Im not sure what ‘inclined to evil’ even means. We all choose to do good things as well as bad. In that sense we all sin. Note that in Genesis, where presumably neither Adam nor Eve were ‘inclined to sin’, they still made the choice to disobey. So ‘inclined to evil’ does not actually explain why people sin!

  2. In his commentary on John, Dale Bruner points out that he once saw John 3:16 laid out as follows as a way to highlight the amazing power in this most famous of Bible verses:
    “God ……………………………………………………………The greatest subject ever
    So (much)……………………………………………………… The greatest extent ever
    Loved………………………………………………………….. The greatest affection ever
    The world (kosmos)………………………………………. The greatest object ever
    That He gave His One-and-Only Son…………………. . The greatest gift ever
    So that every single individual, whoever, …………………. The greatest opportunity ever
    Who is [simply] entrusting oneself to him…………………. The greatest commitment ever
    Would never be destroyed, …………………………………. The greatest rescue ever
    “But would even now have a deep, lasting Life.” …………. The greatest promise ever
    It took a long time for the disciples to understand the significance of the Cross, perhaps not until after the Resurrection of Jesus.
    However, looking back, they remembered that right from the beginning He had spoken of it, as recorded here by John.
    Perhaps for modern day “disciples” the significance
    is equally not fully appreciated and seldom heard, preached or taught in my experience.

    For an amazing treatise on the significance of the Cross I recently read a small book by Tom Austin-Sparks;
    The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1948) @
    The Cross is the fulcrum of history and should be better understood and appreciated by our “soundbite” generation.

    • Hello Alan
      That is a meaningful way of unpackaging this passage although the ‘so’ seems to miss the point brought out in the psephizo discussion… that it means ‘In this way…’Through sacrifice, God loved the world. Rather than ‘ God loved the world this much.

  3. Interesting conversation. It’s hard to shake that the the reference to Moses healing the snake bites is also an allusion to Genesis – where the serpent in Genesis is synonymous with sin, and we get the idea that the one who is really going to crush the serpents head is Jesus. That would also to join up the idea that we need to healed of sin as much as forgiven. This is a classically Orthodox idea that sin should be viewed as a wound or sickness – hence, sin, which alienates us from God, has death as its wages, because to be cut off from God is to be cut off from life.

    • That’s interesting…but I cannot see any textual evidence of the further connection to Genesis.

      And it is odd that the serpent in Num 21 is a sign of healing!

      • I guess my mind just jumps there as soon as we start talking about snakes and sin (as John 3 does).

        The image in Numbers is one we’ve perhaps forgotten, but our predecessors knew it well. In Greek mythology you have the Rod of Asclepius (snake on a pole) which becomes the all-purpose symbol of medicine, and even earlier in Egypt we get depictions of their god Thoth (associated with science, magic, and medicine) holding snakes on poles.

        • The Israelites may have already been using a sign of a serpent taken with them from Egypt. Perhaps God through Moses invested new meaning to an idea commonly understood?

          • I think there’s a couple of things to unpick.

            One is what was going on in the desert in Numbers. As you say, is God getting Moses to repurpose some familiar Egyptian symbols? Is the whole thing a throwback to Genesis – a sign of sin and the Fall is enmity between man and snakes: crushing heads and striking heels? So maybe we shouldn’t be too shocked that the immediate consequence visited on a sinful people by a God who’s just inflicted the plagues on Egypt, is a lot of snakes to strike at their heels.

            The second, is what is John doing pointing to the snake on a pole in his discussion of the Gospel? John may be writing to a Jewish audience, but it’s one steeped in the Greek culture of the eastern Mediterranean. They would have known the Rod of Asclepius and what it symbolised. But in drawing on Moses in Numbers, John is changing the sign in an important way. The Rod of Asclepius has a living snake crawling up it (lots of potential discussion about why – the duality of medicines that can both heal and poison etc.). Moses’s snake is bronze and very much dead. Is it more akin to Jesus on the cross? That puts me in mind of Romans 8 when Paul talks about what is happening at the crucifixion: “sin is condemned in the flesh”. As N T Wright likes to point out, it’s interesting to observe that it is sin being condemned, not Jesus. So, perhaps it’s not too fanciful to see the snake (the symbol of sin), dead on the pole, because it is condemned, and therefore this is the true healing.

            But as Ian points out I’m making a lot of leaps and connections in a less than scholarly way. It’s probably an unsatisfactory sleight of hand to see Jesus on the cross, and say that he has drawn sin to him to be condemned so the snake is there also. Just a bit of free thinking on my part.

          • Interesting thoughts AJ. … snakes at their heels.
            I’m intrigued by Ian’s ‘sign’ . I wonder if , in the mind of John’s first hearers, a Roman standard/ banner was visualised?

          • Just another random….
            If Aaron was telling the truth, the golden calf’s form was serendipitous. Bronze was poured out on the ground and it looked like a calf once it cooled. I imagine the snake was similarly poured out and took the form of… well… hmmm. A snake!
            Perhaps the reason it did not survive was because it lacked artistic merit. It was just a stream of solidified bronze. The crucifixion was in turn, an unaesthetic, crude, pouring out.

  4. Just a quick aside about Mothering Sunday – it surprises me that more people don’t make a fuss about the original meaning. Mothering Sunday was supposed to be about remembering your mother church, i.e. where you were baptised and initially raised in the faith. That led to the idea of returning to that church, which usually meant seeing your own actual mother (because she was very unlikely to have moved).

  5. The Big Issue is Sin
    The distinction between Sin and Sins is significant and not often understood.
    Sin is our disposition which we cannot overcome [New Birth is the receiving of a new disposition] except through repentance.
    The practice of many churches is to formally confess sins, which is no bad thing,
    But it may be like the old economy that there is continual sacrifices for the same sins week after week, repentance is a need to be delivered from the power of sin.

    Hence Paul: 2 Cor 7:11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

    AJ Bell
    March 5, 2024 at 2:27 am makes a good comment concerning Health and a very fruitful study which combines with “lifting up”
    Ps 4:6 There be many that say, “Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
    Ps 43:5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

    Sin disfigures wounds blinds and hangs around hence the work of God’s healing salvation to give us the heath of His salvation. As with any ill health. healing requires the ministry of the “healer” and the cooperation of the afflicted for the benefit of the remedy.

  6. Kathryn Vessey
    March 5, 2024 at 11:00 am
    Thankyou Kathryn I had n ot spotted the “so [much]” in Dale Bruner’s quote. I do agree with the points made by Ian and James on this point.


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