John 3:16-18


My discussion for Trinity Sunday is here.  The Gospel passage for Trinity Sunday is John 3:16-18.  The passage is a bit abbreviated:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Christian bible students like this passage because it is a clear and unambiguous statement that Jesus is sent by God.   This passage is very much a New Testament “mission statement,” explaining the purpose of Christ’s ministry. We should keep in mind, though, that the Sacred Author John wrote this of Jesus – Jesus did not speak this of himself.

Why is this passage the Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday?  The Lectionary wants to maintain some continuity with the Johannine readings featured throughout Lent and Easter.  Chapter 3 of John is simply a commentary on the observation of Nicodemus: “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.”

"Jesus and Nicodemus." Crijn Hendricksz. 1641

In response to this comment, Jesus turns the comment around.  In verse 5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be “born of water and Spirit” in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus also expresses annoyance that Nicodemus does not make the connection between his own faith and the fact that Jesus is sent by God.

Jesus then brings back the matter to himself, suggesting that,

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life…

Though Jesus spoke these words, John the Evangelist appears to have felt they were unclear. What, exactly, does Jesus mean when he says the Son of Man must be lifted up? In order to clarify, John decides to add the commentary in verses 16-18 that clearly explains that Jesus is the one sent by God: his “only Son.”

Note that in chapter 3, Jesus is concerned with the faith of Nicodemus, in relation to the Spirit and himself.   But John, the writer, wants to make sure the reader understands that the un-named Son of Man in verse 14 is Jesus himself. It is John the Evangelist, not Jesus, who gives us the strongly-worded gloss that whoever does not believe has already been condemned.

The first part of John’s Gospel – the Book of Signs – weaves together the seven major “signs” that suggest to the reader in gradual fashion that Jesus is the Son of God.  In the Gospel of John chapter 3, Jesus performs no sign, but he clarifies to Nicodemus that while Jesus is sent by the Father, Nicodemus himself must be regenerate – baptized in spirit and water, to be saved.  John adds to that the statement that not to believe in Jesus is to reject the Father – to be condemned. Ironically, John 3 ties together faith and baptism in much the same that Mark 16:16  does:

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Here are my posts on the Trinity, and my commentary on John 3 and the theme of Jesus “being lifted up,”  a phrase which occurs three times in John’s Gospel.

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