Before we resume our series in Genesis, would you like a taste of how a familiar text jumps to life when read from a kingdom perspective?
John 3:16–17 (ESV)
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This text expresses God’s love for his world, i.e. the gift of his Son who changes everything. Jesus is indeed the central character of the entire biblical narrative, so let’s situate this familiar text within the story of God’s kingdom.
The world (κόσμος) in John’s Gospel is the world in rebellion against its sovereign. The world is his creation, but the world does not recognize its ruler (John 1:10). You can easily track how John describes the world like this if you examine the 78 times he uses the word.
God (θεός) is our sovereign. He created the world, and he never gave up on it despite its rebellion against him. In fact, this sovereign has sent a gift to his rebellious realm in order to bring it back under his governance. The gift he offers is his son. His intention in offering this gift is reconciliation—the restoration of his world under his care.
This Son (υἱός) is the prince of heaven, the one who was with the sovereign in the beginning, who shared in creating the realm, and whose coming reveals the Father. The Son shines the divine light into the world that went dark, revealing to the world the one who is its true ruler.
In the Old Testament, before Jesus came, there was already a story about the “son” who represented the heavenly ruler. Israel was God’s son (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1). The kings of Israel who represented the heavenly ruler were called his “son” (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7,12; 89:26-27). They were flawed representatives, but Jesus is the Son who perfectly reveals our ruler in heaven.
So the Son is sent by the Father, the rightful ruler of the rebellious world. The heavenly sovereign sends his Son as a gift in order to resolve the problem of the territory that resists his reign. We could read our text like this:
John 3:16-17 paraphrased
Our sovereign reached out with astounding love to his rebellious realm. The gift he gave us was his unique Son! Anyone who trusted this prince would not be wiped out, but would have life in his eternal reign.
You see, the sovereign did not send his son on a war mission (to crush his rebellious realm into submission) but on a peace mission (to rescue the rebellious realm back into his care).
Read these verses in context. The pericope began with questions about the kingdom (John 3:3-5). It ends by affirming the authority entrusted to the Son by the Father (3:35). The Son alone can lead us out of our heavenly ruler’s displeasure and into life (3:36).
What do you think? Does the kingdom story provide a rich context for familiar texts?
What others are saying
George Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 2002), 51:
A confessional summary of the Gospel follows: it originates in the love of God for a disobedient world, it centers in the giving of the only Son to and for the world, and its end is that people may not be lost but live under the saving sovereignty of God.
Adela Yarbro Collins and John J Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2008), 2:
The king is explicitly called “son of God” not only in Psalm 2, but also in Psalm 89 and in the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. There are also other passages, most notably Psalms 110 and 45, that appear to attribute divinity to the king. There is a long-standing debate, however, about the interpretation of these passages.
Updates 2016-09-21 and 2016-1-19: added the quotations below.
N. T. Wright. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (New York: HarperOne, 2016) 43, 213:
John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Look at the two verbs: God so loved the world that he gave his son. The trouble with the popular version I have described is that it can easily be heard as saying, instead, that God so hated the world, that he killed his only son. And that doesn’t sound like good news at all. If we arrive at that conclusion, we know that we have not just made a trivial mistake that could easily be corrected, but a major blunder. We have portrayed God not as the generous Creator, the loving Father, but as an angry despot. That idea belongs not in the biblical picture of God, but with pagan beliefs. …
“This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age” (3:16).