In his excellent little book The Emotions of Jesus, Robert Law offers a passing contemplation about how the Savior would have seen the world through the lens of sinless human experience. He writes: “Though little is directly reported of it in the Gospels, this also belonged to the perfection of our Lord Jesus. No one has ever lived in such a marvelous world as he, to whom ‘the glory in the grass and splendor in the flower’ continually revealed the diviner miracle of a Heavenly Father's munificent love and care.”
If anyone could have sung the words of the hymn “This Is My Father’s World” with a heart full of delight at the manifestation of the glory of God in the intricately created plants, trees, animals, fish, sunsets, oceans, seasons, minerals, gems, rocks, scents, food, and drink, it was the sinless Son of God incarnate. And yet, there was another world that the Savior viewed from the side of sinless humanity. These two worlds collided when the Son of God entered the first world in order to redeem men out of the second. The mystery of the incarnation is that “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10).
As He walked the dusty Palestinian streets, moving ever closer to the cross, Jesus declared the essence of what He had come into the world to do. In addition to coming to atone for the sins of His people—and in addition to conquering the evil one—Jesus came to overcome the world. He made this clear when He said, “Now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:31). Again, as He brought the Upper Room Discourse (John 13–17) to a close, Jesus told His disciples: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Judging and overcoming the world was an essential part of Jesus’ work on the cross.
Of course, in order to rightly understand the nature of Jesus’ victory over the world, we have to come to a right understanding of His use of the word “world” in these two places in John’s gospel. Jesus surely did not have creation per se in mind. Though it is subjected to futility on account of the sin of man (Rom. 8:20), there is nothing inherently evil about creation. It couldn’t be that Jesus was frowning on the world that He had created together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. It must have been another “world” altogether.
The Apostle John spelled out what Jesus had in mind when he described the world of which Jesus spoke: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17). It is the world under the sway of the evil one to which Jesus referred when He spoke of overcoming it. He had come to conquer the prince of the power of the air—the (little r) ruler of this world—and to overthrow the dreadful results of the rebellion into which the evil one had led mankind. One writer captured so well what Scripture has in mind when it speaks of this fallen world:
It is the world with its power and might, its knowledge and wisdom, its commerce and industry, its culture and civilization, without God and in opposition to Him; the world with its pride and self-exaltation, its trust in man and in the power and wisdom of man, its hatred for God and of one another, its covetousness and lust for power, and for the glory of man; the world with its lust of the flesh, its idolatry and adultery, its profanity and deceit, its striving after pleasures and treasures, its . . . vanities; the world, too, with its strife and debate, its unrest and revolutions, its wars and destruction.
Just as Jesus came to conquer the sin of His people and the stronghold of the evil one, He came to overcome this present evil world by His death on the cross. But, how could He say that the judgment of the world had already come when He was on the earth? After all, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of the world.” The answer is found in the already/not-yet of His finished work on the cross. In the death of Jesus, the world was put on trial. When the Son of God was being condemned before human judges, the Judge of all the earth was condemning this fallen, evil world. When He hung on the cross, the Son of God was tearing away the facade of goodness with which the world masks its idolatry, pride, foolishness, self-righteousness, and lawlessness. When we see Christ crucified, we see the world as it really is—in all of its rebellion and deceit. There is a day coming in which the verdict, which was rendered at the cross, will be fully and openly manifested. In that day, all of the world’s deceit and hypocrisy, falsehood and wickedness will be laid bare and viewed in light of the righteous judgment of the Son of God.