Anyone who watched sporting events in the 70s and 80s saw Rollen Stewart. While you may not have known his name, you definitely remember his hair. While rainbow hair may be in style now, I can assure you that Rollen's do stood out in a crowd.
While His hair stood out, so did his sign. He would simply hold up a sign, or wear a shirt during the game that read, "John 3:16" or "Jesus Saves". The commentators would always make comment on this guy and poke fun. Today, I doubt they would even flash a camera his way in fear someone may actually read the sign.
Why would Rollen, also known as Rockin' Rollen or Rainbow Man, use John 3:16? Glad you asked. The best way to approach this, or any scripture for that matter, is to see what led up to the verse in question. John Chapter 3 begins with an encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. It is during this encounter that our most celebrated verse is spoken by Jesus.
Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus? Look in chapter 2 of John. After leaving the wedding at Cana, Jesus, His family, and His disciples go to Capernaum. It is while there that Jesus leaves to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. After entering the temple, Jesus made a scourge of small cords and drove out the money changers and those selling merchandise. This obviously was a big deal as the Passover brought literally millions to Jerusalem to celebrate and sacrifice. For those who would travel any distance, it was easier to purchase a sacrificial animal in Jerusalem than to travel with the animal. The leadership of the temple knew this and created quite a network of money making. Jesus was wroth. He drove them out.
The leadership confronts Jesus over this. Jesus tells them a "sign" of His authority was His resurrection. He masked it in the "temple" reference of rebuilding in three days. They understood what He was saying later as seen in Matthew 27:63. It was this group of Pharisees that produced Nicodemus. He came to Jesus by night. Who does that? Obviously someone curious, yet afraid of repercussion.
A side note here is that when we do that which God has called us to do, we will inherently make those around us angry who do not wish to have their proverbial apple cart upset. However, it is always possible that a Nicodemus might be in the crowd and come forth for further understanding.
Nicodemus begins by letting Jesus know that the group of Pharisees knows He is from God. While the majority must have known for Nicodemus to say this, it is clear that their pride or lust for power prevented them from being humbled. They came to this conclusion that is seen in Acts 10:38. This is the source of Jesus' power.
Jesus then cuts to the chase. Now whether because He was tired and it was late, or because He took Nicodemus to be who he was, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter. Keep in mind that Nicodemus was one of the rulers and also one of the three richest men in Jerusalem.
After a brief volley of words with Nicodemus, Jesus lays out the plan of redemption from beginning to end.
John 3:15 through 3:18 is the best gospel message to share. In verse 14, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of the brass serpent in the wilderness and then shows the reasoning behind it. Jesus lays out a four part plan which was so eloquently versed by Matthew Henry in his commentary series. The first is the necessity and nature of regeneration, or the new birth. The second is how we came to be so. The third is the great design of His own coming into the world and the happiness of those that believe in Him. The fourth is the deplorable condition of those that persist in unbelief and willful ignorance.
John 3:15 – That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
According to Finis Dake, Jesus is giving the reason for the crucifixion here. When tied into verse 14, it makes perfect sense. If the crucifixion was truly for all, the scriptures would have to be clear about that. In this encounter with Nicodemus, “whosoever” is used four times. Twice the Greek word pas is used as “whosoever” and twice it is used as “every one”.
During the latter portion of this encounter, Jesus lets Nicodemus know in four separate verses that ANYONE can be saved. The word “perish” here means “to destroy fully”. Dake points out that it never means annihilation. That is sobering. Therefore in such a short period of verbiage; Matthew Henry came to his conclusion of the “four discourses” Jesus made. If one is to “be born again” in order to be saved, is it any wonder that this is the lead up to the most quoted scripture verse? Even at ball games on signs held by guys with rainbow colored hair?
In order to be saved, one must understand who they are. If we can understand that we are “whosoever”, then being saved is a simple understanding of what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. The word for “believeth” is “to entrust”. If we will entrust ourselves to Jesus, we will NOT be destroyed.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
With the focus of this verse on God and His love, and rightly so, look at the word “world”. This “orderly arrangement” is loved by God. You can read “kosmos” as our “social system”. God has “agapao” love for this “social system”. Putting this together means The Supreme One loves us in a moral sense. This is the greatest of loves, if ranking them. Proof? He gave His only begotten Son. He then repeats verse 15 in the latter part of verse 16. The same word in Greek for “everlasting” in verse 16 is used in verse 15 of “eternal”. He repeats Himself in these two verses.
When scripture repeats itself, it is VERY important. When Jesus tells us something, it is important. However, when He adds a “verily”, or even two, it must be super important. Telling Nicodemus of why the serpent was lifted in the wilderness was brilliant. To bring it home with why? Beyond brilliant, it was love.
We must understand the importance of this series of verses. With an eternal implication looming, pointing out the repeated verbiage can help drive this home. Jesus was not repeating it to hear Himself speak; He understood how important it was for Nicodemus to get it.
John 3:17 – For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
The action here is on God’s part. He sends His son. He sends His son into this “kosmos” or “social system”. He sent His son to be one of us. It is important to note that He did NOT send Him to “condemn” the “social system”. He sent Him that the “social system” might be saved. Saved here in Greek means “deliver or protect”. Interesting choice of words. Here we have the action God made for the predicament we created for ourselves. The need to understand Matthew Henry’s assessment is paramount. The four discourses are exactly what the eternal plan was.
It is interesting to see the definition of “condemn” in Greek. It means “decide”. This is a judicious term. By implication, it means to “try, condemn, or punish”. Having been a police officer, I fully understand the court system. The premise of a court hearing is one is found guilty and thus judged per predetermined law. This verse assumes our guilt and that we too will be judged by predetermined law.
If we can understand that we are guilty as charged, accepting the grace given by the court (God) is only a word away. Nicodemus is like us; he did NOT get it at first. We know from later scripture that he did ultimately.
John 3:18 – He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This follow up about condemnation is driven home as a repetitive charge. However, He does it by making sure Nicodemus understands the “name” and the believing in it. Jesus means “Savior”. He is making the point that without a “Savior”, we perish.
This is my favorite of the four verses. It is here that we can put to rest the notion that we need to decide. Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus, and by extension us, that by not choosing this provision God gave us for our sin, we have indeed chosen the condemnation”. Our charge should be clear and concise. Trust in Christ or suffer the condemnation; Plain and simple.