“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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
As we continue our study of John 3, we should note that most commentators believe that verses 16–21 were not spoken by Jesus but are rather John’s expanded commentary on Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus. Lest we be confused about the fact that looking to Christ in faith alone is necessary for salvation (vv. 14–15), John elaborates on the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world and shows us that it is rooted in God’s desire to save sinners. Of course, that these are the words of John and not Jesus does not make them any less inspired or authoritative. All Scripture is God-breathed and finds its origin in our triune Creator.
John 3:17 explains that the purpose for the Son’s coming into the world was not condemnation but salvation. Certainly, John does not deny that condemnation results from the mission of the Son (v. 18), but what he is saying in verse 17 is that condemnation was not the primary purpose of the Son’s incarnation and ministry. Condemnation was more of an incidental or secondary result of the primary focus of the Son. He came into a world already darkened in sin and under condemnation (1:5), not primarily to increase the world’s condemnation but to provide a way for sinners to escape it. However, the opportunity for salvation is limited. Jesus is coming again, and God will judge mankind at that time by Christ Jesus, condemning the impenitent (Rom. 2). In a sermon on today’s passage, the early church father John Chrysostom observes, “There are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be; and the two are not for the same purpose; the first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to [judge and condemn].”
Full and final condemnation of the impenitent is coming when Christ returns, but that does not mean condemnation is not already here in some sense. If Christ is the only way of salvation, as John’s gospel makes clear in passages such as 3:16 and 14:6, then to reject Him as Savior is to put oneself under condemnation. This is the point of John 3:18. The fullest expression of condemnation will not come until the last day, but rejection of Christ before then means that the sentence of condemnation is already pronounced and all that awaits is final punishment. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Romans that “those who look to Christ escape condemnation, but those who refuse to trust Him are as good as condemned already.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We proclaim Christ as Savior because the primary purpose for His coming into the world was to provide salvation. Yet, we cannot forget that condemnation also results when people reject Him. As you share the gospel with others, take care to warn them that rejecting Christ as Savior will mean their eternal condemnation.