Leon Morris (1914-2006) on John 3:16-17 (with John 12:46-50)

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in John 3:16


16 God loved “the world” (see Additional Note B, pp.126ff.). The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It is a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love (I John 4:8, 16). It is His nature to love. He loves men because He is the kind of God He is. John tells us that His love is shown in the gift of His Son. Of this gift Odeberg finely says, “the Son is God’s gift to the world, and, moreover, it is the gift. There are no Divine gifts apart from or outside the one-born (sic) Son“.In typical Johannine fashion “gave” is used in two senses. God gave the Son by sending Him into the world, but God also gave the Son on the cross. Notice that the cross is not said to show us the love of the Son (as in Gal. 2:20), but that of the Father. The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. It is not something wrung from Him. The Greek construction puts some stress on the actuality of the gift: it is not “God loved so as to give”, but “God loved so that He gave”. His love is not a vaguely sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to Him. For “only begotten” see on 1:14, and for “believeth on” see on 1:12 (also Additional Note E, pp. 335ff.). The death of the Son is viewed first of all in its revelatory aspect. It shows us the love of the Father. Then its purpose is brought out, both positively and negatively.

Those who believe on Him do not “perish”. Neither here nor anywhere else in the New Testament is the dreadful reality behind this word “perish” brought out. But in all its parts there is the recognition that there is such a reality awaiting the finally impenitent. Believers are rescued from this only by the death of the Son. Because of this they have “eternal life” (see on v.15). John sets perishing and life starkly over against one another. He knows no other final state.

17 Now John uses the thought of judgment to bring out God’s loving purpose, and once again he employs the device of following a negative statement with the corresponding positive. God did not send the Son into the world, he tells us, in order to judge it. Elsewhere, however, he tells us that Jesus did come into the world “for judgment” (9:39). The resolution of the paradox demands that we see salvation as necessarily implying judgment. These are the two sides to the one coin. The very fact of salvation for all who believe implies judgment on all who do not. This is a solemn reality and John does not want us to escape it. Judgment is a recognized theme in contemporary Jewish thought, but it is the judgment of God, and it is thought of as taking place at the last day. John modifies both these thoughts. He does, it is true, speak of judging sometimes in much the normal Jewish way (8:50). But it is quite another matter when he says that God has committed all judgment to Christ (5:22, 27). He goes on to speak of Christ as judging (5:30; 8:16, 26) or not judging (8:15 [but if. 16]; 12:47), and of His word as judging men (12:48). His judgment is just (5 : 30) and it is true (8:16). How men fare in the judgment depends on their relation to Him (5 24; 3:19). As the cross looms large Jesus can even speak of the world as judged (12:31) and of Satan likewise as judged (12:31; 16:11) . Clearly John sees the whole traditional doctrine of judgment as radically modified in the light of the Incarnation. The life, and especially the death of Jesus have their effects on the judgment. So far we have referred to future judgment, the judgment of the last day. But this is not all of John’s teaching. He sees judgment also as a present reality (v. 18). What men are doing now determines what will happen when they stand before Christ on judgment day. All this has obvious Christological implications. Clearly John has a high view of Jesus’ Person. His teaching on judgment is yet another way in which he brings out the messiahship of Jesus, his great central aim.

In this verse “judge” has a meaning much like “condemn” (AV), as the contrast with “be saved” shows. Some men will, in fact, be condemned, and that as the result of Christ’s coming into the world (v. 19). But the purpose of His coming was not this. It was on the contrarythat the world should be saved“. So John brings out his positive corresponding to the negative at the beginning of the verse. Salvation was central to the mission of Jesus, a truth which is brought out also in the Synoptists (Matt. 27:42; Mark 8:35; Luke 19:10, etc.). We should not overlook the “through him” at the end of the verse, for this attributes the salvation in question ultimately to the Father. It is also worth noticing that in this verse we have another example of John’s habit of giving emphasis to certain words by the simple device of repetition. He uses “world” three times in this verse.

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1971), 229-232.

For general interest:


46 “I” is emphatic. Whatever be the case with others Christ’s own activities and purpose are clear. “Am come” in the perfect tense denotes a coming forth and remaining. For Christ as “the Light” see on 8:12. Once again we have the duality of light and darkness (see on 1:4). Darkness is the state of the natural man but Christ came in order to deliver men from such a state. It is not His purpose that men should continue in darkness. In view of the preceding section with its strong emphasis on the hand of God even in the unbelief of sinful men this verse is important. The purpose of Christ’s coming was salvation. He came to deliver men from darkness, not to imprison them within it.

47 The same truth now receives emphasis from another direction. Those who have an intelligent understanding of Jesus’ teaching and yet do not keep it, are certainly condemned. But Jesus can say “I judge him not”. We are not to think of Him as standing over men as a judge. There is indeed a sense in which Christ judges (5:2, 27, 30; 8:6, 26; 9:39). But in a very real sense men judge themselves (3:18f.). Jesus did not come for the purpose of judging the world (if. 8: 15). Notice the repetition of “the world” (the pronoun “it” might easily have been used). John puts a certain stress on the word by the repetition (if. 3:17).

48 As always in this Gospel there is another side to the saving action. Where the saving word is spoken and where a man despises the Speaker and persistently rejects. His sayings, that man does not go scatheless. He has a judge, and that judge is the very saving word itself. In the last day his judgment will be that the word of salvation came to him and he rejected it.

49 “For” introduces the reason for the foregoing. It is because Jesus’ message is divine in origin that it is the fitting judge of men on the last day. “I spake not from myself” is an emphatic disclaimer of personal responsibility for the message. Jesus is not, of course, saying that He disagrees with it. It is the word He has always proclaimed. What He is saying, and saying in the strongest possible terms, is that the saving word did not originate in any human source. It is the Father who gave the commandment (see on 4:34). Once again the Father is spoken of in terms of the Son’s mission, “the Father that sent me”. That is to say the Father is bound up with the mission of the Son. He has, so to speak, committed Himself in the Son. “He” is emphatic. It emphasizes that it is the Father and no other who gives the commandment. “Hath given” in the perfect tense shows that the gift is permanent. It is not withdrawn. It is difficult to put a difference between “say” and “speak” .126 But the two words together stress the totality of Jesus’ message. For the thought if. Deut. 18:l8f.

50 The final words of Jesus’ public ministry contain a renewed note of certainty. The Father’s commandment is no harsh restriction. On the contrary, it “is life eternal”. It does not simply speak of life eternal, nor is it the case that keeping it leads to life eternal (as Twentieth Century: “Immortal Life lies in keeping his command”). The commandment is life eternal. It is God’s great love acting upon us, and acting upon us for our salvation. “Therefore” (the word is important) the things that Jesus speaks He speaks just as the Father has spoken to Him. “Hath said” in the perfect tense stresses the permanence while the present “speak” indicates that Jesus continues right to this moment to speak in this way. The whole verse puts stress on the permanent relation between the Father and the Son. This is a striking note on which to end the account of the ministry of Jesus. “Jesus is not a figure of independent greatness; he is the Word of God, or he is nothing at all” (Barrett).

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1971), 607-609.


1Morris’ footnotes here can be long, technical, and of little relevance to our purposes here, therefore, I have not included them.

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