If I was asked to guess the most famous verse in the Bible, I would say John 3:16. It is the only verse that a work colleague has ever asked me to quote over lunch. He’d been watching a sports game over the weekend, saw a sign with John 3:16 on it, and asked me what it was. However, the problem with things that are very familiar is that we can recite them without considering what they really mean. 

Let’s start by looking at the context for John 3:16. It’s Passover time, the first during Jesus’ public ministry recorded in the book of John. Jesus entered the temple and cleared out those using it as a marketplace. He was challenged by the Jewish leaders, but many people were beginning to believe in Him.

Then one evening Nicodemus, a Pharisee, found Jesus. Nicodemus says in John 3:2, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Who are the ‘we’ Nicodemus was talking about? Was it the Jewish ruling council? Or some of Jewish leaders, or some of the Pharisees? We don’t know. But what is evident is that Jesus was being talked about by the Jewish religious leaders, and some recognized Him as being sent by God as a prophet or messenger. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus tried to help him see who He really is.

Jesus challenged Nicodemus, saying that a person must be born again to see the kingdom of God. This confused Nicodemus, as he was thinking about physical rebirth—which would be impossible! But Jesus was talking about being reborn of the Spirit. 

In verses 13–15, Jesus compared Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to how the Son of Man must be lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” This reference to Moses is from Numbers 21:4–9 where the Israelites, rescued by God from slavery in Egypt but refusing to enter the promised land, were complaining again about being in the desert and about the “worthless food.” God justly sent venomous snakes among the people, and many died. The people realized their error and asked Moses to pray. The Lord told Moses to make a snake and set it on a pole. If anyone looked at the bronze snake when they were bitten, they would live. The people had to choose to look to be saved.

Jesus was sent to earth so that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, as they deserve, but have eternal life. What grace! When we look to Jesus, lifted up on to the cross for us, we don’t live as the Israelites looking at the bronze snake did, we have eternal life! The Son was not sent to find the world guilty and punish it, He came that we would be saved through Him. This is absolutely mind-blowingly good news!

While we don’t hear Nicodemus’s response, we can see later in Scripture this exchange with Jesus was the beginning of a change in his life. We find him again in chapter 7, defending Jesus among the Jewish leaders, and in chapter 19, after seeing the Son of Man lifted up, he expressed his great love for Jesus as he helped to bury His crucified body.

I think John 3:16 is so popular because the choice we all have to make is so clear. We have all been bitten and are infected by venom of sin. We can choose to look and believe in Jesus and be saved through Him. Or, we can choose our own way, to love the darkness, seek to hide our evil deeds, and face the consequences of our choices—death and separation from God. 

Knowing the words of John 3:16 is good. But believing and sharing the enormous Good News contained within it is even better! 

May we know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even more deeply as we remember the generosity of the Father; as we look to Jesus, giving thanks for His wonderful rescue and the certainty of eternal life with Him; and as we experience the beginning of this new life now through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 


Week 2 Challenge:

After all our readings this week we will have studied three of the miraculous signs Jesus performed. Record these first three signs in your journal. What do they tell you about Jesus? How do these signs prove John’s main message, that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to eternal life?

Week 2 Reading Plan

Week 2 Memory Verse

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Julie McIlhatton

Julie McIlhatton

Julie McIlhatton lives in the beautiful Northern Ireland with her lovely husband and two fantastic boys. She is blessed to be able to be a stay at home mum and be involved in different ministries at her church. In her free time she likes to watch movies, play board games, and go for walks (when it’s not raining!). She enjoys listening to music of various kinds and is amazed at how much easier the right music makes mundane tasks, like cleaning. She is acutely aware of God’s undeserved love and grace lavished on her. In response, she seeks to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

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