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.
— JOHN 3:16
John 3:16 has become so familiar that we no longer find its words astonishing. But this remarkable Bible verse reveals an amazing truth that should delight us every time we hear it.
John 3:16 makes the surprising claim that God loves the world. God, the maker of heaven and earth, is self-sufficient and needs nothing outside of Himself. He is the Holy One whose pure eyes cannot look upon sin (Hab. 1:13). His desires are always upright, His love completely pure, and His affection never misplaced. How can such a God love the broken, sin-marred world?
In the broadest sense, the world represents the universe that God created. God loves the creation that He brought into existence by His word. His love for the sin-corrupted world is bound up in His plan to totally restore heaven and earth (Acts 3:21).
More specifically, the world represents the human inhabitants of the earth, the human race filled with rebels, traitors, and idolaters. These objects of God’s affection are far from being worthy of God’s love. Because man sinned, God would have done no injustice by letting us all perish (Rom. 3:19). Instead, God chose to love us.
Christ uses the word world to show the mystery and fullness of God’s love, which is not limited to people of one race or to those who lived at a particular time or place. Note that Jesus does not speak of universal atonement here. He says He died for those whom God chose to believe in Him (John 6:37) and in whom He works saving faith as a gift of grace (Eph. 2:8). Still, God loves sinners and has provided a way of salvation for them through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. John 3:16 affirms the certainty of God’s love.
God’s love for the world seems incongruous, far-fetched, and even impossible. To believe in this love, we need irrefutable evidence. Jesus’ coming to the world is the irrefutable evidence of the Father’s love for it. People can talk about their love for others, but the proof of love is action, not words (1 John 3:18). The apostle Paul speaks of Christ’s death for us as proof of God’s love, asserting, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
John 3:16 also reveals the riches of God’s love. The kind of love God showed the world was not sentimental but sacrificial. It was agape, a committed and costly affection proved in action. It was “love, no matter what.” According to John, only one event in the history of the world is capable of demonstrating true love. He writes, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
God’s love for His people can only be understood in relation to His love for His Son. The only begotten Son is the eternal object of the Father’s affection. Two times during Christ’s public ministry, the Father shattered heaven’s silence to affirm His love for His Son (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). It is impossible to imagine the depth of love that binds the Father and the Son. Our love for our children is diminished by both our sin and theirs. Even the love of Jesus’ earthly family and friends for Him was limited (Mark 3:21; John 7:5). But the love between God the Father and God the Son is perfect, personal, intimate, deep, and committed. It is love without limits, which is not subject to change or decay.
Christ came to earth to show us the riches of God’s love. This is the good news of Christ’s advent. In Jesus Christ, God loves His believing children with this same incomprehensible, infinite, and unchangeable love. The Father sent His Son to earth where He would die on the cross to deliver us from sin. Is it possible that He will now withhold from us any good thing (Rom. 8:32)? No, for Christ’s incarnation confirms that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation
By Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein