So Loved the World
John 3:16 is the most familiar, most memorized verse in the Bible—for good reason. What the naive reader gets out of it is there and profoundly true. But we will miss a good bit of its meaning if we fail to read it as part of the whole conversation with Nicodemus. We must also remember Nicodemus's Jewishness, and that for him, concepts like the new birth have not been part of his frame of reference for as long as he can remember. This makes the new birth and the word "world" jump out at us in a completely new way.
Nicodemus is expecting God to love not "the world" but "Israel." Jesus is challenging all of his preconceptions about the Messiah and the Kingdom. Nicodemus must be born again. He is not ready to talk about the politics of overthrowing Rome—is not within a hundred miles of that topic—until the Kingdom causes a complete, internal, spiritual transformation in his life. And he needs to remember the Abrahamic Covenant. The whole point of calling Abraham's family was so that, through it, all the families of the earth would be blessed. Jesus' Kingdom is about a bigger and more radical regime change than Nicodemus was yet capable of imagining.
Rome, schmome! Jesus has bigger fish to fry. Nicodemus needs to rethink everything—everything! And he won't be able to do it until he believes.
By chapter 19, we realize that Nicodemus did. Will we?
Donald T. Williams Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Toccoa Falls College and the author of Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016) and Ninety-Five Theses for a New Reformation: A Road Map for Post-Evangelical Christianity (Semper Reformanda Publications, 2021).
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