Somewhere, somehow, you have seen it posted prominently: “John 3:16.”
People hold up “John 3:16” signs at sporting events. Others have attempted to copy the “3:16” concept because of its popularity. Whenever people see “3:16,” their minds will most likely associate it with John 3:16. What makes John 3:16 so popular?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
John 3:16 is spoken by Jesus as a part of a longer conversation between Him and Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews called the Pharisees. Jesus is trying to explain “heavenly things” regarding salvation to Nicodemus, and John 3:16 is Jesus’ explanation for why the He, the Son of man, would have to be crucified for mankind (cf. John 3:14-15).
John 3:16 is popular because it communicates a lot about the message of the Gospel in just one verse. In John 3:16, Jesus explains why God is motivated to act to help mankind, and in so doing, the whole world: His love (cf. 1 John 4:8). The gift of God, otherwise known as the outpouring of His grace, is clearly identified: God gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, a way of describing the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 4:7-12). Jesus also provides the result of these matters: those who believe on the Son should not perish, that is, be condemned eternally, but to have eternal life: to be joined with the Father and the Son in the resurrection of life for eternity (cf. Romans 2:5-11, Revelation 21:1-22:6).
It is therefore very understandable why John 3:16 is so beloved and popular: in one verse, Jesus speaks of God’s love, grace, the offer of salvation through the Son, belief, and eternal life. The essence of the Gospel message is found in John 3:16.
While John 3:16 presents the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it does not provide the full substance. For that we have the benefit of the rest of the message of the Bible (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus is the Son of God promised to mankind through the prophets of Israel; His death is necessary because God created a good world, but humans sinned, and need a Rescuer if they will be saved (cf. Acts 10:43, Romans 5:6-18). Jesus did not just die and remain dead; He was raised in power on the third day and now rules heaven and earth (Matthew 28:1-20). One day He will return to judge the living and the dead (Romans 2:5-11).
John 3:16 provides a wonderful message, but it is not enough to just affirm that it is true. No one will be saved because they accepted the truth of a fact (cf. James 2:14-26); if we would be the ones who should not perish but have eternal life, it is because we have trusted in Jesus. We can only trust Jesus by doing what He says, following after Him (1 John 2:1-6). Let us take the wonderful message of John 3:16 to heart and follow after Jesus the Risen Lord, submit our will to His, and obtain eternal life!
Ethan R. Longhenry