I looked up “world” in several Greek lexicons. The Greek word is kosmos and has several definitions. It can mean the earth, the universe, or the inhabitants of the world or even a smaller subset of people. An interesting side note is that the word didn’t always have these various definitions. According to Homer and Plato it meant “order” or “ornament or adornment.” Plato in later writings and other later uses started using it as world in the sense of an ordered system. 1 Peter 3:3 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes” is the only place it is not translated as world but uses the older definition or adornment.
· Did God love the world i.e., the planet so much that he sent Jesus?
· Did God love the world i.e., the orders of society or other institutions so much that he sent Jesus?
· Did God love the world i.e., all the people on the planet so much that he sent Jesus?
· Did God love the world i.e., all unbelievers so much that he sent Jesus? (Redundant with the previous because we were all unbelievers at one time or another.)
· Did God love the world i.e., a subset of the unbelievers so much that he sent Jesus?
How are you going to decide which of these options fit when
you find a verse like John 3:16? You can look at different commentaries or books
on theology. However, if you want to really know, you only need to look at the
Bible and find other versed to find the correct theology. Doing so reveals that
the last option is the correct one. This is supported by the following verses,
note the emphasis added in each:
All these verses emphasize that Jesus came to save sinners. But the question is whether or not this means all sinners, everyone, everywhere. That would be the casual reading of the verse. But Acts clearly defines who out of all the sinners in the world will believe. And it is only those who believe who will have eternal life so it is obvious that many do not believe and in fact refuse to believe.
In addition to Acts, we have the testimony in Luke that God gives peace to those with whom he is pleased. God is certainly not pleased with everyone. If that were so would not have passages that show evil people are enemies of God.
Peace with God comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from our trying to be good or performing some sort of liturgical practices.
We only have peace with God when we are justified by faith. The question has to be raised, is everyone justified by faith?
God gave his one and only Son. This is the will of the Father. It is a sacrifice, and it is one the Jesus fully accepted both as human and divine. The Father didn’t force Jesus to the cross. He willingly went even though he dreaded it. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 NIV).
I could go on about the one and only Son, but that was covered in chapter 1. We should be aware at this time that Jesus is God incarnate and the second member of the Trinity. We don’t have to keep working through that.
Whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life. Verse 16 explains some vital facts. It indicates that salvation is secure. One you are saved, you will not perish. A believer has eternal life. They don’t have one-year life or ten-year life but eternal life. Every word in God’s word is important. You can’t call it eternal life if you are saved for a few years then fall away and perish. Jesus repeats this in John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). Have you ever seen anywhere in Scripture where Jesus didn’t tell the truth?
Verses 16 and 18 elaborate on who is saved, for whom Jesus’ sacrifice is effective. It is effective for everyone who believes. It is not effective for those who do not believe. If it were, then they too would believe. Now if world in verse 16 means all people, then his sacrifice would cover everyone for it would be unjust for God to punish anyone who doesn’t believe. But Jesus also says that unbelievers are already condemned in verse 18.
World is repeated twice in Verse 17. It may be confusing to say that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. He didn’t have to and the reason he doesn’t have to is made clear in the following verses. Everyone who doesn’t believe is already condemned. Since they are condemned, he doesn’t have to rub their noses in it.
Based on this rather loopy analysis, the world cannot be interpreted to mean everyone on the earth.
· Verse 16 – it must mean those whom God has called to eternal life – a subset of all sinners.
· Vs 17 – the first occurrence could be all people or all who are called to eternal life.
· Vs 17 – the second occurrence must be only those who are called to eternal life.
Why is it that some don’t believe, and others do? Because Jesus is the light; he has come into the world. His light exposes the deeds of darkness. Evil people don’t just ignore Jesus; they actually hate him. They hate him because his very presence exposes their sinfulness as it did with Peter. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8 ESV).
Peter was exposed to Jesus and recognized his sin. If he had not been called by God for salvation, he would have expressed his hatred for Jesus just as the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders did.
On the opposite side of the Jesus haters are those who live by the truth. “What is truth,” Pilate asked (John 18:38). Jesus has told us he is the truth. So those who live by Jesus, those who have him living in them, who are born again by his Spirt are the only ones who can come to the light. Note carefully that verse 21 does not promote salvation by works. It promotes that salvation brings about good works as God works in a person.
 Thayer's Greek Lexicon, PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.