God so loved the world, that he gave his only son – John 3:16

John chapter three and verse sixteen is one of the most well known verses in the Bible. Most people who have taken an interest in the Bible would have heard of this verse.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

So why is it so well known? Well probably because it nicely summarises the central theme of the Bible. What is the verse telling us?

God’s Love

Well it starts off with telling us about God. It is telling us of a characteristic of God. That characteristic is that God loves. Does he have love for just a few people? No, it says in this verse that he has love for all mankind. He loves the whole world.

He may love us, but the more important question is. How much does he love us? It is so great a love that it is almost beyond our understanding. We know that because it says that he gave his own son for us. If you have children, can you imagine letting one of them die so that others might be saved. Well this is what God did. God so loved mankind.

So God loved us or felt compassion for us. Compassion means feeling sorry for others because of their suffering. When God looked at mankind he felt sorry for them because of their suffering. He felt pity for them and he wanted to show mercy.

God’s solution

He could see that sin had come into the world and it was causing suffering. Sin had been in existence from creation and all it had done was bring suffering to this world. So God created a solution to this problem. And God would give mankind this solution willingly. I should emphasise that it was not the right of mankind to be given this solution. It was a gift from God.

The solution was the sacrifice of his only son. With the death of his son, mankind would be given a way out from death. This was God’s gift to us. But there was a condition governing the receiving of this gift. And we can see that condition in the next part of the verse: “that whoever believes in him”.

If there wasn’t this condition then many people would not appreciate the gift of life in the Son. So we must believe in Christ. We must have faith if we want to receive this gift from God. What happens if we believe in him? Well, the last part of the verse explains that when it says you will “have eternal life”. But notice how God contrasts that gift with the opposite. He is saying that there are only two options available- to perish or to have eternal life.

The first option is to live your life out and eventually die.

The second option is to live your life, eventually die, but then be resurrected and be given eternal life if you are found acceptable.

The salvation of mankind

So this verse is a wonderful verse to summarise the great theme running through the Bible:

The main purpose of Christ’s coming is for the salvation of mankind (men and women).

It is a salvation on offer to all mankind and not just to one select group like the Jews. We know that because it uses the words “the world” in the verse.  It is on offer to everyone in the world.

The next few verses after verse sixteen in chapter three nicely continue with the message we have read in verse 16. These are the words recorded in  John Ch.3 and verses 17 to 18

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

Christ was sent that the world might be saved. What people of the world must do is believe in the name of Jesus who is the son of God.

An example – Abraham and Isaac

I want to now dig a little deeper and consider an example from the Bible which helps us to have a greater understanding for our own lives. The example I want to consider is Abraham and Isaac and the sacrifice Abraham was asked to make. Some of you may know the story but I don’t think it will hurt to briefly remind you of it before we get some spiritual lessons from it.

A son is born

Around 2000BC Abraham had a wife called Sarah. Now, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90, they had child called Isaac. Given that Sarah was 90 years old, from a human point of view it was impossible for Sarah to provide Abraham with a son. She was past the age of child-bearing. Abraham, too, was old, but with God nothing is impossible. As a result, Isaac was born.

Now the name Isaac means “laughter”. Isaac was given this name because he brought happiness and laughter to his parents. So we can see from this that Abraham even at the end of his life had ample evidence of the power and faithfulness of God.

A sacrifice is requested

Isaac, naturally, was very deeply loved by his parents as he grew to manhood. The time came however when God said to Abraham these words found in Genesis chapter 22 and 2:

Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
Abraham and Isaac walk towards the place where Isaac was to be offered

When God said a “burnt offering”, He meant that Abraham was to kill Isaac, and burn his body as an offering to God. This was the great test for Abraham. Abraham loved Isaac, but obedience to God was the supreme thing in his life. So early next morning Abraham, who was now living near Beer-sheba, saddled his donkey, prepared wood for the burnt offering and set off with two of his young men and Isaac to the place appointed for the sacrifice. That place was Moriah where Solomon’s temple was later built.

Three days later, they came near the place where Isaac was to be offered. As they drew near to the mountain, Isaac said to his father, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. This showed that although what God was asking him to do was a very hard thing, nevertheless he believed God would see that all was well.

They came to the place, Abraham built the altar, laid the wood in position, and he then bound a submissive Isaac on the wood. Abraham took the knife to kill his son. At the crucial moment an angel of God called upon him to not kill Isaac. God now had ample evidence of the faith of Abraham, knowing that he would even give up his son if God demanded it. Looking behind him Abraham saw a ram caught in the thicket. He used this as the sacrifice instead of Isaac.

This took place some 4000 years ago but it still has a strong influence on us today.  

Abraham’s love

Isaac had been born miraculously. It would be difficult for us to appreciate the level of love that Abraham had for him. Both Abraham and Sarah were past the normal age of child-bearing, so we can only begin to imagine what their love must have been for him. I think it is safe to say that it certainly would surpass anything experienced by ourselves. But we shouldn’t also forget that that Isaac was the son through whom God would fulfill His promises, and this was something that Abraham fervently believed in. As a result, we can only speculate as to the amount of love Abraham had for his son Isaac.

The question may come to your mind – Why did God test Abraham in this way? Maybe there was a danger that Isaac was loved too much and God wished Abraham to demonstrate whether his love for Isaac was less or greater than his love for God.

What was Abraham’s response when asked to sacrifice Isaac? Did he argue, protest, or plead with God? No, he didn’t. When we read the Bible it actually suggests the opposite. It says in Genesis chapter 22 and verse 3 these words:

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

The scriptures are saying that Abraham didn’t protest to God but was instantly obedient! So in this record of what took place back then we can see the tremendous love of this man for his son. But we can also see the greater love he had for God.

What was Abraham’s secret behind this overwhelming love. The apostle Paul tells us the secret in Hebrews chapter 11 verses 17 to 19:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

Abraham was so sure that God would keep His word regarding the promised seed that he believed that even if he had slain Isaac, then God would have raised him to life again.  He could kill Isaac but he knew Isaac would be brought back to life. His level of faith was staggering. This is the kind of faith that can move mountains!

The love of a father for his son

So what is God teaching us in this story of love? He is teaching us at a simple level the love of parents for their children, in this case, the love of a father for his son. But at a deeper level God is teaching us about two sons:

The first son is the one we just read about in Hebrews chapter eleven – Isaac was the son of promise. But that son points forward to another son –

The second son is the Lord Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.

What are the scriptures bringing to our attention when Abraham’s love for Isaac is talked about? The scriptures are showing us the even greater love of the Lord God for His son, the Lord Jesus. It is a love we cannot really fully appreciate. It is a love that far exceeds any emotion that we can experience.

Therefore, when we read of the love of Abraham for his son, Isaac, God is directing us to see His love of His son (the Lord Jesus Christ). In addition, when we read of Abraham being asked to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, we are being directed to see the sacrifice of Jesus many years later.

When we think about the incident of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac we no doubt think of the human emotions following the request. The horror of Abraham when he realised his precious son would have to die. There was the terrible prospect of Isaac’s blood having to be spilt out on the ground through no fault of his own.

When we feel these human emotions we are then better able to appreciate what God must have felt when He saw His own beloved Son suffering abuse and ultimately death at the hands of evil men. He was unworthy of it because he was without sin, yet he still needed to die as a sacrifice.

God so loved the world

So, why did God do it? Why did he allow his son to be sacrificed? We know why Abraham was obedient in preparing to sacrifice his son —it was because of his greater love for God. He trusted God completely. That is why he did it, but why did God do it? The answer is in those exalted words we are considering in this article from John chapter 3 and verse 16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

That is the reason God did it.  It was the love of God for His children. This is confirmed in the wonderfully reassuring words of the Psalmist in Psalm 103 and verses 13 and 14.

As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

We surely must marvel at the amount of God’s love for us. Each one of us is a sinner, yet He still gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for those who are called to be “children of God”. This is what it says in 1 John 3:1.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

This is what true love is all about and it is this love that was foreshadowed so long ago in that incident recorded in relation to Abraham – the willingness of the father Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Things God wants you to know

The love of God for each one of us is the message of the verse we are considering in this article – John 3:16.  God loved us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only Son whom he loved deeply.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

When we think about Jesus Christ we see a life of sacrifice in obedience to his father. He was also willing to give his life so that those who believe may be saved. He was a man with a perfect heart and as a result, he had a gift to each one of us and that was the offer of salvation – the chance to live forever.

Above all we should not fail to recognise that all these marvelous things come from the Lord God Himself who:

gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This is what God wants us to know.