As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [trusts?] in him should not perish but have eternal life.
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who 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, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God. (John 3.14-21 – RSV – the KJV is very similar)
This passage for me raises a number of questions. Jesus didn’t come to judge but to save! Sinners need a Saviour but what happens when people are unaware of their need for a Saviour? I feel that there is a need to understand the real meaning of sin and what it means to be adopted.
Damned and condemned come from the same Greek words that are related to judgment. Consider for a moment your own children or grandchildren. Would you damn or condemn them forever if they didn’t ‘toe the line’, or would you judge them and hope that they would change?
I frequently use the J B Phillips translation – for these verses there are some differences:
The Son of Man must be lifted above the heads of men – as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert – so that any man who believes in him may have eternal life.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost, but should have eternal life.
God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it – through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment – that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God. (John 3.14-21).
For perish Strong’s suggests destroy fully or lose.
In the RSV and KJV the words condemn or condemned are used three times. According to Strong’s there are several different meanings for condemn including to distinguish, try, condemn, punish, determine, judge, call in question, sentence to, think – an implication of justice.
The word save has meanings of save, deliver or protect.
The word damned appears only three times in the NT. Damned and condemned come from the same Greek words that are related to judgment.
We have all sinned and fallen short, whether we realise it or not (it’s worth considering that the Orthodox Church belief is that sin is a sickness). Those who believe will inherit eternal life. It is not clear from scripture what happens when we die, but there seems to me to be the possibility that between death and judgment there will be a chance to repent and believe.
[Consider John 3.36 – wrath of God – Phillips uses anger of God – could be translated as God’s displeasure rather than anger or indignation?].