Us calvinists occasionally get in debates about John 3.16. “Does God love everyone in the world?” some ask. And we get painful explanations about how “world” (kosmos) means world of the elect.
Well, I as strange as it may sound, I don’t think John 3.16 really refers to the whole world.
I think it refers to reprobate Israelites.
First of all, when the Gospel of John uses the term “world” we know it, at least sometimes, does not mean the whole world.
My most obvious example: John 15.18-16.4a:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also.
If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.”
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
So “the world,” here, are those who have witnessed Jesus’ miracles and witness, who have the Law of the Old Testament, who will cast the disciples out of synagogues, and who persecute in the name of God, not of Caesar or Diana of the Ephesians.
The world is the establishment of First-Century Judaism.
What about John 3.16? In context, is there any reason to think that Jesus is still speaking to Nicodemus? Despite the red-letters in many passages, we know John starts commenting without warning. This reads to me like one of those instances.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. 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. 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.
John is summarizing what happened, looking back on the outcome after the years have passed. Jesus came to bring salvation to Israel and Israel chose judgment.
John 3.16, then, would be pretty much the same message as Jeremiah 13.11:
For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.
The whole point of John 3.16 is the tragedy of rejecting the Son. It isn’t dealing with the secret decrees of God but of His sincere offer, motivated by a love that sent His Son.
On the day of judgment, God’s not going to accept the claim from the reprobate, “You never loved me, anyway.” And I don’t want to hear any of them add, “At least that’s what I learned from internet calvinists.”
For Further Reading:
Postscript: Is there a verse that says God so love the world (as we know it)?
Yes! Of course there is. It is found in Genesis 12.3:
Now YHWH said to Abram,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham wasn’t chosen at the expense of the world but for the sake of the world! The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, identifies God’s message to Abraham as the Gospel itself:
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Thus, postmillennialism is extremely important to the Gospel!