Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted, that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world”. Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race,” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of the earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Savior came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world”, and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares, “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
Scripture declares that,
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28).
To Israel God said,
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2).
In view of these plain passages, who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgments which will yet be poured out from heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the 20th chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgment, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love. But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world”. True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said, “Shew Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind”? When the Pharisees said, “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the apostle wrote, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on the earth? When Revelation 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast”, are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? What of the godly Jewish Remnant, who will be slain (Revelation 20:4) rather than submit?
These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force. Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus—a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond”. In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world”, then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.
In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly”. If then, there is a world of the ungodly there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider.
“For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and
giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33).
Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offereth life unto the world”, but “giveth”. What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused, but a thing “given”, necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted, it is not “given”, it is simply proffered. Here, then, is a scripture that positively states Christ giveth life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly”, i.e., God’s own people.
One more: in 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read, “To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”. What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following, “not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Here again, “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly”, for their “trespasses” are “imputed” to them, as the judgment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But <470519>2 Corinthians 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled”, reconciled unto God, because their trespasses are not reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible—the world of God’s people!
In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people—search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1:
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end”.
We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.