By Stephen Leonard
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
It is the best-known Bible verse in the world. But what does it mean? Do people miss some of its truth? It certainly explains God’s abundant love. He so loved that He was willing to give His Son to die for people in the world and to give them everlasting life. To receive the gift of eternal life, these people must believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And those people who will not believe, what of them? John 3:16 strongly implies that there are only two types of people: believers and unwilling non-believers. Believers are given eternal life. Others perish, for they will not believe that Jesus Christ died for those who come to trust Him as Savior and Lord.
This is what the verse clearly says. Some will certainly not perish, but there are others! This verse is undoubtedly the most awesome promise! At the same time, it is a severe warning. “Whosoever believes” is non-discriminatory. It describes people who trust Him of every tribe, language, race, and nation, as Revelation 5 says. But then there are those, also of every tribe, tongue, race, and nation, who willfully choose not to believe in the Son of God. Instead of receiving everlasting life, they perish!
This is a very loved verse, but only by some. Others do not know it or, if they do, choose to ignore it, despite its warning. They are simply numb to the real possibility of perishing. It does not prod their conscience enough to stir repentance to the God who most assuredly is. Some may see the promise of God’s love but fail ever to acknowledge His love is genuinely set on those who will trust Him in the offer of His Son.
There is in many an overwhelming gratitude that Jesus died for them, but there is also a message here beyond your gratitude for everlasting life; there is an acknowledgment that some will perish if you do not share the good news that they do not need to perish.
John 3:16 is written not only to inspire personal thankfulness in your heart, but also to express the urgency of sharing the gospel with those obviously perishing. If there are not any who will perish without your witness, there would be absolutely no urgency for you to speak at all. But this verse is your true encouragement not to remain silent. You must speak! And speak with genuineness out of your own life!
Only God knows who the “whosoever’s” are; as far as you are concerned, everyone in the world is a candidate who needs the gospel message. Speak into the lives of all God puts by His Providence in your path. Some may always be in your path, and some may never pass your way again. Love them the same. But for God’s sake, speak!
“Then will I teach the world thy ways; sinners shall learn thy sovereign grace; I’ll lead them to my Savior’s blood, and they shall praise a pard’ning God.”
(6th verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn from Psalm 51, “O Thou That Hear’st When Sinners Cry,” 1719)