God so loved the world.--Familiar as the words are to us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time. They are the revelation of the nature of God, and the ground of our love to God and man. (Comp. Notes on 1 John 4:7-11.)
His only begotten Son.--Here, once again, the Old Testament Scriptures suggest and explain the words used. Every Jew knew, and loved to think and tell of his forefather who was willing to sacrifice his own and only son in obedience to what he thought to be the will of God (Genesis 22). But Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. God wills not that Abraham should give his son, but He gave His only begotten Son. The dread power that man has ever conceived--that is not God; the pursuing vengeance that sin has ever imagined--that is not God; the unsatisfied anger that sacrifice has ever suggested--that is not God. But all that human thought has ever gathered of tenderness, forgiveness, love, in the relation of father to only child--all this is, in the faintness of an earth-drawn picture, an approach to the true idea of God. Yes, the true idea is infinitely beyond all this; for the love for the world gives in sacrifice the love for the only begotten Son.
Believeth in.--Better, believeth upon. The preposition is not the same as in the last verse. (Comp. John 1:12.) There the thought was of the Son of Man lifted up, in whom every one who believes and can interpret spiritual truth, ever has eternal life. Here the thought is of the Son of God given for the world, and every one who believes upon, casts his whole being upon Him, and, like Abraham, in will rests all upon God, finds that God has provided Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering instead of human sacrifice or death.
Everlasting life.--Better, as the same Greek word is rendered in the previous verse, eternal life. For the meaning of this word see Note on Matthew 25:46. It is of frequent use in this Gospel (seventeen times), and always used in reference to life.
""let them bring forth their witness", that they may be justified, Isaiah 43:9 (say (b) the doctors) these are Israel; "or let them hear and say it is truth", these are "the nations of the world".''
And again (c),
"the holy, blessed God said to Israel, when I judge Israel, I do not judge them as "the nations of the world":''
and so in a multitude of places: and it should be observed, that our Lord was now discoursing with a Jewish Rabbi, and that he is opposing a commonly received notion of theirs, that when the Messiah came, the Gentiles should have no benefit or advantage by him, only the Israelites; so far should they be from it, that, according to their sense, the most dreadful judgments, calamities, and curses, should befall them; yea, hell and eternal damnation.
"There is a place (they say (d),) the name of which is "Hadrach", Zechariah 9:1. This is the King Messiah, who is, , "sharp and tender"; sharp to "the nations", and tender to "Israel".''
And so of the "sun of righteousness", in Malachi 4:2, they say (e),
"there is healing for the Israelites in it: but the idolatrous nations shall be burnt by it.''
And that (f).
"there is mercy for Israel, but judgment for the rest of the nations.''
And on those words in Isaiah 21:12, "the morning cometh", and also the night, they observe (g),
"the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning is for Israel, and the night for "the nations of the world".''
And again (h),
"in the time to come, (the times of the Messiah,) the holy, blessed God will bring "darkness" upon "the nations", and will enlighten Israel, as it is said, Isaiah 60:2.''