Calvary Road Baptist Church


John 3.17


Have you ever heard the phrase “A stopped clock is right twice a day”? It means that twice in a twenty-four hour day a broken analog clock with an hour hand and a minute hand will accurately report the time. Corresponding to that is the saying that a blind squirrel occasionally finds nuts. Squirrels with sight find nuts all the time. And blind squirrels as a practical matter will become the easy prey of predators or will starve to death. However, on occasion, even a blind squirrel stumbles upon a tasty morsel.

Those bromides hold out the hope that one can sometimes stumble upon a helpful hand, an applicable truth, a useful business opportunity, or a five-dollar bill lying in the street with which a poor man can buy his next meal. That said, don’t count on it. One typically does not stumble across a helpful hand, or an applicable truth, or a useful business opportunity, or money lying in the street when you are hungry and broke. It is he that goes who gets. Nothing ventured nothing gained is the general rule. And along that line, you almost never find any of life’s important answers unless you first ask life’s important questions. This morning I want to ask two important questions: First, I want to ask for what reason God sent His Son, Jesus Christ. To answer that question we will look to John 3.17: 

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 

But before we consider the answer to our first question about what God’s reason was for sending His Son, Jesus Christ, there is another question that needs our attention. What is meant by the word world that is found in our text?

The Greek word kosmoV that is translated world occurs 185 times in the New Testament, of which 78 are in this Gospel, 24 in John’s three epistles, and 3 in John’s Revelation. It is not frequent in the other Gospels (Matthew 8 times, Mark 3 times, Luke 3 times); in Paul’s epistles, it occurs 47 times. It is thus a word of some importance for the Apostle John and to a lesser extent for the Apostle Paul, but it is not used much by other New Testament writers. The word kosmos denotes order and is used for “ornament,” a use that has given us our word “cosmetic.” The universe with all its harmonious relationships is described by one commentator as the outstanding ornament, and the term is used for the universe at large. Some are of the opinion that this is the use of the word that we find in John 1.10 where we read “the world was made through him.” Perhaps, but the last portion of John 1.10, where we read “and the world knew him not,” is likely referring to Christ-rejecting humanity.

When Christ is called “the light of the world” (John 8.12; 9.5) or when it is said that He came or was sent “into the world” (such as here in our text and in John 11.27) the universe at large may be meant, though, of course, it is possible that it is our planet earth that is in mind. For the human race, this earth is the most significant part of the universe, so it is not surprising that the term came to be used for this planet on which we live. We see this in such a passage as John 16.33, where the Savior said, “In this world you will have trouble.” It is a natural transition to using the word world for the majority of people or a large number of people, for example, when the Pharisees said in John 12.19, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” They obviously were not referring to the entire human race, but to a great many people. But the majority has not usually been conspicuous for its zealous service of God. When Jesus Christ came, the world at large opposed Him, rejected Him, and in the end crucified Him. So it is not surprising that “the world” is used for people in opposition to Christ.

One commentator spoke of the world as “the sum of the divine creation which has been shattered by the fall, which stands under the judgment of God, and in which Jesus Christ appears as the Redeemer.” The world “is in some sense personified as the great opponent of the Redeemer in salvation history.” It is this use of “the world” as being hostile to Christ and all that He stands for which is the significantly new use the term acquires in the New Testament. It does not appear to have such a meaning in Greek writings at large; there it is rather something attractive, the order and the beauty of the universe. But for John and Paul the shattering thing was that those who live in this beautiful and ordered universe acted in an ugly and unreasonable way when they came face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ or with Gospel truth. The world hates Christ’s followers, and He could say, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” John 15.18. Long before this He said to His brethren in John 7.7, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” In line with this several passages in John’s Gospel speak of the Devil as “the prince of this world” or the like.[1] In John 16.20 our Lord declared that the world rejoices when the disciples are lamenting. As well, there is a spiritual blindness about the world. As mentioned before, when the Word came into the world the world He had made knew Him not, John 1.10. Nor does the world know the Father, John 17.25. Neither can the world receive nor does the world know the Spirit.

But John does not leave us with a picture of unremitting hostility between God and the world. It is true that the world is not interested in the things of God, but it is not true that God reciprocates. On the contrary, God loves the world, John 3.16. Christ speaks to the world the things He has heard from God, John 8.26. The whole work of salvation that God accomplishes in Christ is directed to the world. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ takes away the sin of the world, John 1.29. He is the Savior of the world, John 4.42. He gives life to the world, John 6.33. And He does this at great cost, by giving His flesh for the life of the world, John 6.51. From our text we learn that Christ came specifically to save the world, not to judge it. His success is shown by John’s record of our Lord’s references to the overthrow of Satan, the prince of this world. The victory remains with Christ, John 16.33, but this does not alter the fact that the world opposed Him. The word world thus has many shades of meaning, and John moves freely from one meaning to another, or even uses the term in ways that may evoke more than one of its possible meanings.[2]

With this background understanding of the word kosmos, translated world, consider the range of possible meanings of the word: First, the word kosmos can refer to the entire physical universe. Second, the word world can refer to our planet earth. Third, the word world can refer to the entirety of humanity. Fourth, the word world can refer to a large number of people. Fifth, the word can refer to all mankind who are unbelievers. Finally, the word world can refer to those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. To illustrate some of what this suggests I would like you to consider John 1.10 and 29: 

10    He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 

29    The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 

John 1.10 uses the word world three times, but the three times cannot each mean the same thing. Let me explain. The first two times the word world is used world could refer to the universe, our planet Earth, or the entire human race. But the last time has to refer to people, yet not all people. Why not all people? Because some people did know Him. Therefore, the last time the word world is used in John 1.10 its meaning is different than the first two uses of the word, and can only mean everyone who is lost.

Now, look at John 1.29, particularly that last phrase which reads “which taketh away the sin of the world.” Consider very carefully. Does the Lamb of God take everyone’s sin away? Or does He only take away the sin of those who trust Him? If He only takes away the sin of those who trust Him then the word world in John 1.29 cannot mean everyone, but only those who trust Christ. Therefore, in these two verses, we see this one word translated world having at least three different meanings. Don’t let this discourage you because this is precisely the way you and I talk in normal conversation, with the words you and I use changing their range of meaning according to the way in which we use the words.

With this better understanding of the word translated world, turn with me back to our text and the first of the questions we want to ask to get the answers we need to be prepared and to prepare others for eternity. Reading John 3.17 again, 

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 

Consider the most familiar verse in all the Bible, and you will recognize it to be a statement of why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ. John 3.16 reads, 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

The why of God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, is love for the world, the world likely being the entirety of the human race. The what of God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, is revealed in John 3.17, where the word world is used three times and possibly means three different things and is besides a twofold declaration: 


“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world.” 

There are four considerations I would like to set before you concerning this first part of our text:

First, the word for. This particular word is commonly used to begin an explanation that assigns a reason that follows. And I think it goes back to the beginning of John 3.16 and the phrase 

“For God so loved the world.” 

As I stated before, whereas John 3.16 is a declaration of why God sent His Son, John 3.17 is a twofold declaration of what God was doing when He sent His Son.

Next, it is reiterated that God sent His Son. To paraphrase this first portion of our text, for God sent His Son into the world, but not to condemn the world. So John does once again emphasize that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, with sending Him encompassing everything it entailed, His incarnation that required Him to leave heaven’s glory, His sinless life among sinful men here on earth, His sacrificial death on behalf of His own, His glorious resurrection in victory over sin, death, Hell, and the grave, and His ascension to the Father’s right hand on high where He is presently enthroned.[3]

God sent His Son. But where does this first half of verse 17 declare God sent His Son? Our third consideration. What do the two words world mean here? Are the readers being told God sent His Son into the universe? Are the readers being told God sent His Son to the place we call earth? Or are the readers being told God sent His Son into the realm of humanity, with the two words world meaning the entire human race? My opinion is that the two words world in this context encompass all three of the meanings I have suggested to you. God sent Jesus Christ to the physical universe, to planet earth, and to all mankind, but He was not sent to condemn all mankind.

The final consideration in connection with this negative declaration of what God was not doing by sending His Son is related to Jesus Christ not being sent by God into the world to condemn the world. There are two points I would like to make before moving on: Point #1. The venerable Baptist pastor, theologian, and Talmudic scholar of the 19th century, John Gill, informs us that it was the opinion of the Jewish people that when Messiah came, He would destroy the nations of the world.[4] They were wrong, primarily because they did not grasp the two advents of the Messiah, for when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again, He most certainly will execute judgment upon the nations, Matthew 25.31 and John 5.27. Point #2. When the Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, it was a lowly arrival rather than a majestic one, a humble setting of the foot on this world’s soil, unlike the regal splendor that will shine forth in glory and power when He sets foot on the Mount of Olives at His Second Coming.[5] The first time the Son of God came He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, while the second arrival to this world will be His arrival as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to seize by might and by force that which is rightfully His. Then He will bring condemnation. But about His first coming, He was not sent to condemn the world, with world here certainly meaning the entire human race of sinful wretches in desperate need of forgiveness and cleansing and life. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God, Genesis 3.10. From that day to this sinful men have fled from the face of God in one way or the other, expecting God to come upon sinful men in judgment and wrath. While it is true that judgment and wrath will certainly come upon sinful men, it is comforting to note that when God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He did not send Him on a mission of condemnation. That is a profoundly important truth to lay hold of. 


“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 

Three considerations in connection to the last half of our text:

First, we consider the meaning of world the third time the word is found in this verse. The first two times the word world is used a range of meaning is possible and even likely. However, this final use of the word world must and can only have a narrow meaning. The universe will not be saved. The planet will not be saved. These two will melt with a fervent heat and be made anew.[6] The word world in this final phrase refers to sinful mankind in need of the salvation that only Jesus Christ can provide.

Next, we consider that salvation must and can only be brought “through him.” Here our text establishes the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Savior of sinful men’s souls. This fits perfectly with His claim to Thomas in John 14.6, 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” 

and the pronouncement by the Apostle Peter in Acts 4.12, 

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” 

Lastly, we arrive at the stated reason God sent His Son, Jesus Christ. “Might be saved” translates a single Greek word that is written in the subjunctive mode, meaning it speaks not to what will happen but to what might happen. Contingent only upon a person’s faith in Christ, any sinner might be saved. This is why the Gospel must be preached to every creature. Thus, we have confirmation that the last time the word world is used in our text the entirety of the sinful human race is in view and anyone who trusts Jesus Christ is covered by this word “might be saved.” 

Have you ever pondered the question of why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ? If not you need to, since the right answers are unlikely to be discovered without first asking the right questions. This is one of those profoundly important right questions, my friend. This is a question you need to ask. Why did God send His Son? John 3.16 tells us why God sent His Son. He sent His Son because He loves us. If you know nothing else in your life you need to know that. God loves you, and because He loves you, He sent His Son. But a second question is important, as well. What was God doing when He sent His Son?

That is where John 3.17 comes in. The first half of the verse tells us what God was not doing when He sent His Son. He did not send Jesus Christ to condemn the world. Rest assured about that. Sinful men’s anticipation since Adam and Eve hid from God is that God would reach out in wrath and judgment. But He didn’t do that, did He? Rather, God sent His Son that the world through Him might be saved. Therefore, you have nothing to fear from Jesus Christ. At least not yet. And you have nothing to fear from God. At least not yet. As it presently stands, Jesus Christ is to you the Savior, the Rescuer, the Deliverer sent by God. That is what you should realize if you realize nothing else.

Your corresponding responsibility, as the custodian of your own eternal and undying soul, is to trust Him, to embrace Him, to believe in Him, to believe on Him, to receive Him, to come to Him for salvation full and free, and to do so quickly.


[1] John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11

[2] Much thanks to Leon Morris, The Gospel According To John - Revised Edition, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), pages 111-113, for his “ADDITIONAL NOTE B: THE WORLD” which I have cited with some changes to suit my purpose.

[3]Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; 6.9; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[4] John Gill, An Exposition of the Gospel According to John - Newport Commentary Series, (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, reprinted 2003), page 93.

[5] Zechariah 14.4

[6] 2 Peter 3.10, 12

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