Author Note: This post is Part 3 of a four-part series through John 3:16–21. The content is a reduction of my personal notes from a sermon I recently preached. At a glance, the progression has been moving as follows: Part 1: 3:16; Part 2: 3:17–18; Part 3: 3:19–20 [this week]; Part 4: 3:21. Here is the main point of John 3:16–21: The extraordinary love of God opens the door for salvation to everyone who would love his Son and depend wholly upon him.
In Part 1, we saw that although God does genuinely love the world (i.e., his universal love), there is a special privilege that he grants to those who believe in his only Son—namely, eternal life (i.e., his unique love). That is, within God’s universal love for the world is a type of love that is unique and exclusive for only those who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.
And in Part 2, we saw that the purpose for which God sent his Son was that salvation be readily available for the entire world (v. 18). Yet, even though God’s love is for the world, only those who believe in the Son of God with saving faith (cf. John 3:3) will receive such a gift. Likewise, v. 18 reveals the outcome of those who do not believe in the Son—namely, they receive condemnation because of their unbelief. And the type of condemnation manifested is a present-day condemnation that bleeds into eternity (cf. Rom 1:24–32). Therefore, the wrath of God currently remains on those who do not trust in God’s love manifested in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 3:36).
We now turn to vv. 19 and 20 of John 3. But first, let’s take one step back and look at our text as a whole:
(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. (18) 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. (19) And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (20) For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (21) But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
What I want you to see is that vv. 16–18 and vv. 19–21 say the exact same thing. That is, vv. 19–21 restate vv. 16–18. In vv. 19–21, John asserts that the one who believes in the Son (v. 16) is one not condemned (v. 18), and as one whose works utterly depend upon God alone (v. 21). Likewise, the Son is also mentioned as having come into the world (v. 16, 17, 19); only now, he is said to be “the light” (v. 19).
Man's Suicidal Love (3:19)
So, if the one who refuses to believe in the Son of God is condemned where he stands because of his unbelief (3:18; cf. 3:26), we must therefore ask: what is the nature of such condemnation? In verse 19, the word for “judgement” is κρίσις (krisis), and it is the same word for “condemned” in verse 18. Therefore, we could faithfully translate verse 19 as: “And this is the condemnation.” But how is it condemnation, and why is it condemnation?
It is condemnation because men see the Son of God who descended from his royal throne— whom John calls “the light”—and love the darkness rather than the light. This is suicidal, akin to a man drowning in the ocean and rejecting his only hope of survival: a coast-guard descending from a hovering helicopter. And why did they do this: Because their works were evil (v. 19). That is, the very essence of their lives was evil. This is what it means to be enslaved to sin. Just as Jesus says later in John’s Gospel,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)
“The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35)
Their works are evil because that is all they can be. They are slaves to a master that forces his slaves to do his own works. That is why in 1 John 3:8 he writes,
“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
And again, in 1 John 3:10:
“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
They Hate Jesus Because He Exposes Their Sin (3:20)
Since the very essence of their works is evil to the core, they hate the light and do not come to it. For what purpose? That their works might not be exposed (v. 20). The desire to keep their sin hidden far outweighs the mere thought of coming to the light. This text should cause all Christians everywhere to tremble when deceptive thoughts of concealing sin cross the mind. You cannot love your sin and treasure Jesus Christ. You cannot serve two masters (Matt 6:24). You will either love one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. That is what this text says.
And that is the condemnation. God Almighty in the flesh, the completely sovereign and absolute Creator of the universe, came into the world—which is full of enemies who hate him—in order to display his love for those very enemies (Rom 5:10) by rescuing them from their terrible plight and misery, and what do these men do? They hate him.
Some reading this blog post might even hate Jesus. You might hate him because he reveals to you your wicked and shameful ways. That is, you want reality to look like a non-reality. You want to conceal the truth. The word “exposed” here in v. 20 refers to the type of exposure that brings shame and conviction. It’s the kind of exposure that a teenager experiences when his mother finds the porn on his laptop and exposes his dark and hidden habit.
For some of you, the reason you do not love Jesus Christ, but hate him (v. 19), is because you love the wickedness of your works too much to see them go away. You think that what you are doing right now is more satisfying than what God has to offer. This text defines that as condemnation it itself. If you hate Jesus Christ, your day of perishing will come (v. 16). But for now, you stand condemned and, as John 3:36 asserts, “the wrath of God remains on [you].” In other words, the fact that you do not believe in Jesus Christ is the very wrath of God displayed in your heart. You are experiencing God’s wrath right now because of your unbelief (Rom 1:18, 25, 26, 28).
The Transcendent Love of God
But we mustn’t forget verse 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.” Therefore, the extraordinary love of God opens the door of salvation for everyone who would loves his Son and wholly depend upon him. Verses 19–20 are meant to be read in light of verses 16–18. Only those who do not believe stand condemned and will perish forever. But those who believe in the only Son of God are not condemned, and will attain eternal pleasures in heaven. So, God's universal love extends even to those who hate him (v. 16). And we all once hated him (Rom 3:9–18; Eph 2:1–3). But God in his love even granted haters of himself the right to become children of God (John 1:12; Eph 2:4–10).
Conclusion to Part 3
To conclude, the reason why people don’t come to Jesus is because they love other things more (v. 19). And the reason they love other things more is because their works are evil (v. 19). Even further, they not only come to Jesus, but they hate him (v. 20). Yet, even these people experience the universal love of God (v. 16). The reason I say that “the love of God opens the door of salvation for everyone who would love his Son and depend wholly on him” is because of verse 21. This last verse, which we will explore in Part 4, reveals two major truths about the one who believes in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, and brings full circle the message underway: (1) It reveals the inward heart of the believer—namely, that he loves the Son; and (2) It reveals the reason why he loves the Son; this reason is what I will call “God’s decisive work of love.”