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.
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(17) To condemn the world gives to the English reader a stronger impression than that of the original Greek. The word (κρίνω, krino, the Latin c(k)erno, and the English dis-cern) means originally to separate, and in the moral sense to separate good from evil. Passing from the act to the effect, it may mean to absolve; but as the usual effect of separation is to exclude the evil, the word has attached to itself more frequently the idea of condemnation. Our word judge, which has itself something of this double meaning, is probably the best rendering in this context.

Part of the current belief about the Messiah’s advent was, that he would destroy the Gentile world. The authorised expositions of many texts of the Old Testament asserted this, and Nicodemus must ofttimes have heard it and taught it. God’s love for, and gift to, the world has just been declared. This truth runs counter to their belief, and is now stated as an express denial of it. The purpose of the Messiah’s mission is not to judge, but to save. The latter clause of the verse changes the order of the thought. It would naturally be “but that He might save the world.” The inversion makes prominent the action of man in willing to be saved.

3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?To condemn the world - Not to judge, or pronounce sentence on mankind. God might justly have sent him for this. Man deserved condemnation, and it would have been right to have pronounced it; but God was willing that there should be an offer of pardon, and the sentence of condemnation was delayed. But, although Jesus did not come then to condemn mankind, yet the time is coming when he will return to judge the living and the dead, Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-46. 17-21. not to condemn, &c.—A statement of vast importance. Though "condemnation" is to many the issue of Christ's mission (Joh 3:19), it is not the object of His mission, which is purely a saving one. The word we translate condemn, krinh, signifies to judge, as well as to condemn. The Jews were mistaken in their proud conceit, that Christ came to judge and destroy all those that were not of their nation; thus, John 7:47, he saith, he came not to judge, but to save the world. Nor is this contrary to what he saith, John 9:39, For judgment I am come into this world; for that is ex accidenti, from the corruption of men, shutting their eyes against the light, and hardening their hearts against the offers and tenders of Divine grace. Christ will come in his second coming to condemn the world of unbelievers; but the tendency of his coming was not for condemnation, but to offer the grace of the gospel, and eternal life and salvation, to men in the world.

For God sent not his Son into the world,.... God did send his Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, being made of a woman, and made under the law; and which is an instance of his great love, and not of any disrespect to his Son, or of any inequality between them: but then this was not

to condemn the world; even any part of it, or any in it: not the Gentiles, as the Jews thought he would; for though God had suffered them to walk in their own ways, and had winked at, or overlooked the times of their ignorance, and had sent no prophet unto them, nor made any revelation of his will, or any discovery of his special grace unto them; yet he sent his Son now, not to destroy them for their idolatry, and wickedness, but to be the Saviour of them: nor the Jews; for as impenitent and unbelieving, and as wicked as they were, he did not accuse them to the Father, nor judge and condemn them; he was to come again in power and great glory, when he would take vengeance on them, and cause wrath to come upon them to the uttermost, for their disbelief and rejection of him; but this was not his business now: nor the wicked of the world in general; to judge, and condemn them, will be his work, when he comes a second time, in the day God has appointed to judge the world in righteousness.

But the end of his mission, and first coming is,

that the world through him might be saved; even the world of the elect in general, whom God determined to save, and has chosen, to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ, and has appointed Christ to be the salvation of; and who being sent, came into the world to seek and save them; and his chosen people among the Gentiles in particular: wherefore he is said to be God's salvation to the ends of the earth: and all the ends of the earth are called upon to look unto him, and be saved by him, Isaiah 49:6.

{6} For God sent not his Son into the world {p} to condemn the world; but that the {q} world through him might be saved.

(6) Christ does not condemn, but rather despising Christ condemns.

(p) That is, to be the cause of the condemning of the world, for indeed sins are the cause of death; however, Christ will still judge the living and the dead.

(q) Not only the people of the Jews, but whoever will believe in him.

John 3:17. Confirmation of John 3:16, in which ἀπέστειλεν answers to the ἔδωκεν, κρίνῃ to the ἀπόληται, and σωθῇ to the ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον of John 3:16. Considering this exact correspondence, it is very arbitrary with modern critics (even Lücke, B. Crusius) to understand the second τὸν κόσμον differently from the first, and from the τ. κόσμον of John 3:16, as denoting in the narrow Jewish sense the Gentile world, for whose judgment, i.e. condemnation, the Messiah, according to the Jewish doctrine, was to come (see Bertholdt, Christol. pp. 203, 223). Throughout the whole context it is to be uniformly understood of the world of mankind as a whole. Of it Jesus says, that He was not sent to judge it,—a judgment which, as all have sinned, must have been a judgment of condemnation,—but to procure for it by His work of redemption the Messianic σωτηρία. “Deus saepe ultor describitur in veteri pagina; itaque conscii peccatorum merito expectare poterant, nlium venire ad poenas patris nomine exigendas,” Grotius. It is to be remembered that He speaks of His coming in the state of humiliation, in which He was not to accomplish judgment, but was to be the medium of obtaining the σώζεσθαι through His work and His death. Judgment upon the finally unbelieving was reserved to Him upon His Second Advent (comp. John 5:22; John 5:27), but the κρῖμα which was to accompany His works upon earth is different from this (see on John 9:39).

The thrice-repeated κόσμος has a tone of solemnity about it. Comp. John 1:10, John 15:19.

John 3:17. οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλενδιʼ αὐτοῦ. For whatever the result of Christ’s coming has been, in revealing a love of sin and bringing heavier judgment on men, this was not God’s purpose in sending His Son. The Jewish idea was that the Messiah would come “to judge,” i.e., to condemn the world.—κρίνω and κατακρίνω, though originally distinct, are in the N.T. sometimes identical in meaning, the result of judgment so commonly being Condemnation; cf. crime. But although the result is judgment, the bringing to fight a distinction among men and the resulting condemnation of many, yet the object was ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος. John repeats his favourite word κόσμος three times in this verse that there may be no possibility of missing his point, that so far as God’s purpose was concerned, it was one of unmixed love, that all men might be saved. The emphasis was probably due to the ordinary Messianic expectation which limited and misrepresented the love of God. Westcott remarks on this verse: “The sad realities of present experience cannot change the truth thus made known, however little we may be able to understand in what way it will be accomplished”. It might on similar grounds be argued that because God wills that all men be holy in this life, all men are holy.

17. the world] Note the emphatic repetition: the whole human race is meant, as in John 3:16, not the Gentiles in particular.

not … to condemn] This does not contradict John 9:39, ‘For judgment am I come into this world.’ Comp. Luke 9:56. Since there are sinners in the world Christ’s coming involves a separation of them from the good, a judgment, a sentence: but this is not the purpose of His coming; the purpose is salvation. ‘Condemn’ is too strong here for the Greek word, which is simply to judge between good and bad; but the word frequently acquires the notion of ‘condemn’ from the context (see on John 5:20). Note the change of construction; not, ‘to save the world,’ but ‘that the world might be saved through Him.’ The world can reject Him if it pleases.

John 3:17. Ἵνα κρίνῃ, that He may judge [“to condemn,” Engl. Vers.]) Although men accuse God of this. To judge, is by judgment to cast away into deserved destruction.

Verse 17. - For - notwithstanding your vain and selfish interpretation of the older revelation - God sent not his Son to judge (ἵνα κρίμῃ, with a view to judge, to discriminate the evil from the good. "Judgment" in this sense may be identical with "absolution," and may also connote "condemnation," but in itself it leaves the issue undecided) the world. Observe that the word "sent" replaces the word "gave" of the previous statement (ἀποστέλλω, not πέυπω). The word carries with it "the sending on a special mission" (see notes on John 20:21), and arrests attention by denoting the immediate function of the Son of God's mission into the world. He was sent, not to judge the world. This judgment is not the end of his manifestation. This statement is not without difficulty, because we learn from John 5:27, 28 and John 12:48 that there is a great function of judgment which will ultimately be discharged by him, and which does, indeed, follow from the contact of all men with his truth and light. This is confirmed by the declarations of our Lord in Matthew (Matthew 13:24-30, 47), that the judgment would be delayed till the consummation of his work, but would then be most certain (see Matthew 25.). But judgment is not the end or purpose of his mission. Judgment, discrimination of the moral character of men, is a consequence, but not the prime nor the immediate purport of his coming. Numerous passages from the Book of Enoch and the Fourth Book of Esdras, and the literal interpretation of Psalm 2:9; Malachi 4:1, etc., may be quoted to show the Jewish prejudices against which our Lord here protested. But God sent his Son that the world through him maybe saved. "Saved" is here the analogue and interpretation of the not perishing and the having of eternal life. Christ is "the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42). Hengstenberg says truly, "The Old Testament basis for the words is found in Isaiah 52:10, 'And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.'" His coming will, as he goes on to say, exercise a discriminating process and a saving energy. There will occur a further advent, when he will consummate both his judgment and his mercy. "In the Old Testament," says Lunge, "the Judge becomes Redeemer by judging; in the New Testament, the Redeemer becomes Judge by his redeeming." Through him the world may be saved from its ruin, by reason of individuals accepting his grace. The saving of humanity as a whole issues from the believing and living of men. God's love of the world and his sending of his Son aim at the saving of the world as their Divine end. Salvation (σωτηρία) is the largest of all the famous biblical terms which denote the restoration and blessedness of man. It means all that is elsewhere denoted by "justification," but much more than that. It connotes all that is included in "regeneration" and "sanctification," but more than these terms taken by themselves. It includes all that is involved in "redemption" and "adoption" and the "full assurance," and also the conditions of "appropriation" - the subjective states which are the human antecedents of grace received, such as "faith" and "repentance," with all the "fruits of the Spirit." These Divine blessings originated in the bosom of the Father, where the only begotten Son forevermore abides, and they are all poured forth through the Son upon the world in the coming of the Christ. He was sent to save. John 3:17Sent (ἀπέστειλεν)

See on John 1:6. Sent rather than gave (John 3:16), because the idea of sacrifice is here merged in that of authoritative commission.

His Son

The best texts read τὸν, the, for αὐτοῦ, his.

Condemn (κρίνῃ)

Better, as Rev., judge. Condemn is κατακρίνω, not used by John (Matthew 20:18; Mark 10:33, etc.). The verb κρίνω means, originally, to separate. So Homer, of Ceres separating the grain from the chaff ("Iliad," v. 501). Thence, to distinguish, to pick out, to be of opinion, to judge. See on Hypocrite, Matthew 23:13.


The threefold repetition of the word has a certain solemnity. Compare John 1:10; John 15:19.

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