John 3:14-21 and Waldenström's Commentary

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Verse 14 — And,l as Moses elevated the snake in the desert,2 so must3 the Son of Man be elevated,4

  1. Now that the Lord has emphasized the basis for his credibility, he portrays, in the following, belief in him as the road to salvation, and unbelief as the reason for condemnation. Thereby, he naturally wants to emphasize for Nicodemus the importance of believing and the peril of not believing.
  2. The event is told in Numbers 21:8ff.
  3. According to God's counsel; compare Matt. 16:21 and Luke 24:26.
  4. On the cross. See John 8:28, 12:32ff. The Lord is not talking about his elevation into glory or including it. This is shown by the distinct comparison with the snake's elevation which took place by hanging it from a wooden standard.

Verse 15 — so that each and everyone, who believes, might have eternal life in him.1 (See Luke 19:10; John 6:40, 54.)

  1. That is to say, by being in him. Belief places the believer in communion with Christ and, through this communion with Christ, the believer has eternal life. A picture of this is given in the story of the snake in that each and everyone who saw the snake lived.

Verse 16 — Because God so1 loved2 the world3 that he gave4 his son, the only-begotten,5 so that each and everyone6 who believes on him,7 shall not vanish8 but have9 eternal life. (See Romans 5:8 and I John 4:9)

  1. That is to say, to such a high degree. Compare Gal. 3:3 and Heb. 12:21. Just as the Swedish word SO sometimes denotes WAY and sometimes DEGREE, the same is true of the Greek word in the original text
  2. This refers to the time when God sent the Son. That God continues to love the world is naturally not denied. God is love.
  3. That is, all of humankind. These words break down every conclusion that God has especially chosen certain people. His love and saving grace deals with all of humankind without distinction.
  4. Namely to the world. The word GAVE says more than the word SEND, which is used in the next verse. "Send" explains in what way the giving happened. Giving includes not only the giving of the Son in death or in general degradation, it also expresses THAT GOD GAVE HIM PERSONALLY AS A SAVIOUR TO THE WORLD (I John 4:14). Only this understanding corresponds fully with the concept which is in the word GIVE. In his every deed and his every quality, in his degradation and his elevation, Jesus was and is the saviour given to the world from God.
  5. In the word "begotten" love is strongly emphasized: God gave "the ONLY-BEGOTTEN". Compare Rom. 8:32 and Heb. 11:17.
  6. Note the universality of God's saving grace: not merely a few are specially chosen, but each and everyone who believes. But note, also, how SALVATION depends on the INDIVIDUAL'S relationship to the SAVIOUR whom God gave TO THE WORLD. Believing on the Son means keeping oneself to Him with one's whole heart
  7. Verbatim: INTO HIM. See comments to Mark 1:15.
  8. In the Messianic judgment, which one day shall come over the world.
  9. Not only RECEIVING in the future but ALREADYNOW — HAVING eternal life (See verse 36). Eternal life is completely opposite to eternal death, with which the Messianic judgment shall strike the unbelievers. Note in this verse how all of God's plan of salvation is presented by declaring: (1) how God loved the world, (2) how he died for the salvation of the world for the sake of His love — namely gave His only begotten Son, (3) how the world shall be saved through the Son — namely through belief, and (4) how salvation enters the moment a person becomes a believer and, at that moment, begins to live the eternal life.

Verse 17 — Because God did not send His Son out in the world so that he could judge1 the world, rather that the world may be saved2 through Him.3 (See John 12:47; I John 4:14)

  1. JUDGE is used here in opposition to SAVED. Although it expresses a judgment to condemnation, it is at another time that the Lord shall come again to judge (John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31)
  2. Note again the universality of God's saving grace. His intention is that THE WORLD shall be saved.
  3. When salvation cannot happen any other way than through Christ and because humankind's relationship to Him depends on themselves, it is never God's fault that someone is lost. His intention is that ALL shall be saved. When objections are made towards this, it is said: "If God' s intention is that no one should be lost, it must go through. Otherwise God is not perfect." This is a fallacy which contradicts all experience. As an illustration of this, it is only necessary to point to the following: When God allows the Gospel to be preached, it is God's intention that all shall obey it, convert, and believe on Christ. It is obvious that God's intention does not win everyone. This is not because of God's imperfection but, rather, humankind's freedom which is from God. This freedom contains the basis for the possibility of salvation and condemnation.

Verse 18 — Anyone who believes on Him shall not be judged;1 anyone who does not believe is already judged,2 because they do not believe3 on God's only begotten Son's4 name.5 (See John 5:24, 6:40; Acts 4:12)

  1. Here is judgment that includes the condemnation which one day shall overcome the unrighteous. Through belief, humankind will be in relationship with Christ and will have, through him, eternal life. In this condition there is no cause for anxiety (John 5:24).
  2. Judgment is already resting over one, one's judgment is already decided. In this way the Scriptures present the future as if it has already been accomplished by calling attention to what has already been decided and settled. See for example Rom. 8:30, in which Paul says about the believer's future righteousness: God HAS glorified them. Compare also Eph. 2:6, Heb. 12:22, and Rom. 8:24. The same expression is used in our own language, also. "We are lost," say the shipwrecked when their destruction appears to be unavoidable before it even happens. And, "WE ARE SAVED," they will say before it happens when they see a ship coming near and their salvation appears to be decided.
  3. The Greek word form in the original language expresses not having become a believer and still not being one.
  4. The circumstance that Jesus is the only begotten Son makes it so much more dangerous and reprehensible not to believe on him.
  5. To believe on his name is the same as to believe on him. The name is the manifestation of the person himself.

Verse 19 — But this is the judgment,1 that the light2 has come into the world, and humankind3 loved rather4 the darkness than the light,5 because their deeds were evil.6 (See John 1:5, 10f.)

  1. That is to say, the condemnation judgment which is resting over the unbelievers is based on the circumstance that they remained in the darkness and did not accept the light when it came into the world. The Lord's word that this IS the judgment is in agreement with many Biblical statements. See for example II Cor. 1:12 and I Thess. 2:20. In the same way we often say: "It was his misfortune that he did so and so," when we want to say that somebody's misfortune HAD ITS BASIS in this or that deed. The foundation of the judgment itself is presented as judgment's actual and innermost nature, while at the same time it develops from it.
  2. That is to say, Christ, in whom Godly truth and righteousness is revealed, in contrast with the darkness which predominates in the world (that is, lying and unrighteousness). Even though Christ did not come to judge, there falls, through his arrival, a judgment over everyone who continues to love the darkness.
  3. That is to say, humankind in general. That exceptions were given in Scripture is not thereby denied.
  4. The Lord does not say that humankind loved both the light and the darkness, but loved the darkness to a higher degree than the light. Rather, his meaning is: They did not love the light; quite the opposite, they loved the darkness.
  5. Not in the intellect but in the will is where the spiritual darkness rests. The world hates the Godly light, not because it does not agree with Godly understanding, but because it does not agree with Godly work.

Verse 20 — Because each and everyone who commits1 the bad,2 hates the light3 and does not come to the light,4 so that one's deeds will not be punished,5

  1. That is to say, still lives in and commits bad.
  2. That the Apostle here says: "THE BAD," and not as in the previous verse: "THE EVIL," does not change the understanding. Compare John 5:29, Rom. 9:11, and II Cor. 5:10.
  3. Because it exposes and punishes one's unrighteousness.
  4. But flies away from the same instead.
  5. One shrinks back, in part from oneselves and in part from others, not to be convicted of sin. This timidity is an expression, on the one hand, of PRIDE, which makes one not want to humble oneselves and, on the other hand, of COWARDICE, which makes one lack courage to see (or allow one to see) one's condition as it really is. A person' s salvation always begins with one's coming to the light with all one's deeds.

Verse 21 — but they, who do the truth,1 come to the light, so that their2 deeds may be revealed,3 as they are done in God.4

  1. That is to say, they who in their life realize the Godly truth. This truth is not only the guiding rule for the intellect's discernment but also the rule for the ethical life. It requires the person's whole being with all its power. Compare I John 1:6, I Cor. 5:8, and Ps. 119:20. The Godly truth is nothing more than a revelation of the true God's own being, such as this revelation is given to us in creation's work, in the law and prophets, and in Christ.
  2. In the original text there is a strong emphasis on THEIR — (his or her) in contrast to the ungodly.
  3. They are not afraid for them to be revealed; on the contrary, they wish it so. And therefore, they come to Christ, who is the light of the world. This does not happen because of false ambitions or self-righteous self-praise but, rather, they have need on the one hand of the Lord's approval for their own self satisfaction and for "that honor which comes from God" (see John 5:44, 12:43; Rom. 3:23), and, on the other hand, because the good which has been revealed serves God's honor and the good's victories in the world (Matt. 5:16).
  4. That is to say, it is God, God's will, God's desire, that has been the determining force in this work. God has, so to speak, been the element in which this work has moved. When the Lord began His work, He met not only those who were committing evil, but also those who did the truth, Israelites of true and genuine piety, such as Nathanael and ~ others. The evil placed themselves against Christ; the trueQ Israelites came and joined Him. These latter ones were of God and heard his word (John 8:47). They were willing to do God's will (John 7:17) and they were God's and by God given to Jesus (John 17:6). It is not certain what else is going on concerning verses 16-21. Are the disciples hearing the Lord's conversation with Nicodemus, or is this made up by the Evangelist himself as a teaching account which he attached to the Lord's speech? If so, this should conclude with verse 15. It is most probable and simple to understand that everything was spoken by the Lord.