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John 3:17-21 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:45 mins 36 secs

Coming to the Light, Staying in Darkness
John 3:17-21
John Lesson #30
November 30, 1998

John 3:16 NASB  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." John explains that Jesus' primary mission in the first advent was not to bring judgment on the earth. He was not here to judge but to be judged for sin. Yet in the very act of rejecting His judgment on your behalf, if you reject that judgment then you in turn as a consequence be judged. John 3:18 NASB "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

He who does not believe is in a state of condemnation, but not because of his sin. That is very important for us to understand. The issue is not sin because at the cross God the Father imputed to Jesus Christ all the sins of human history.  The barrier of sin that was between God and man is no longer there, it is eradicated. But man still possesses minus righteousness [--R]. All of his human good adds up to nothing more than R. God's character is +R. What the righteousness of God demands the justice of God must execute. The righteousness of God can only have fellowship with +R, so therefore what the righteousness of God rejects in man, which is R, the justice of God must condemn. That is the point of verse 18, that he who believes in Him is not judged. Why? Because at the moment you put your faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation God the Father takes the +R, perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and credits that to the believer so that the believer has the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So the righteousness of God can look at the righteousness in the believer and what the righteousness of Gods approves the justice of God blesses. As a result, God imputes to us eternal life, His very own life, so that we can have a relationship with Him. But to the person who does not believe has been condemned already, not because of sin because that was judged on the cross, but because his R is not good enough. So at the last judgment, the great white throne judgment, he is judged for his works which fall short of God's +R and he is condemned. So the issue is not what we do, it is the possession of that perfect righteousness. The unbeliever is not condemned because of sin but because he lacks perfect righteousness.

John 3:19 NASB "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." The first question that should come to mind is that when John talks about the Light that has come into the world, is he talking about the incarnation of Christ? Or is this talking about the general revelation of truth from the creation? To answer that question and to understand what John is talking about we have to understand some of the terminology here. The subject here is Light, and this is a favourite metaphor that is used in Scripture primarily by John. Light is used as a metaphor for two things in relationship to God: a) to express His absolute perfection, 1 John 1, "God is Light, and in Him is no darkness whatsoever"; b) in terms of revelation. Light illuminates; it is a conveyer of information. Where there is no light we can see nothing. The verb here in this verse in the Greek is the perfect active indicative of erchomai [e)rxomai]. As a verb it has tense, mood and voice. The tense here is a perfect tense, which emphasizes a past action; it has occurred in the past and is completed action in the past with results that go on. If it is an intensive perfect, as it is here, it is emphasizing continuing results in present time of a completed action in past time. So it says, "This is the judgment that the Light is come," a correct translation emphasizing the present tense aspect of this revelation. In terms of John the present tense of the past action would be the current incarnation, but remember the present tense includes a past action; something that occurs in the past with results that go forward. John 3:20 "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Even though you are looking at the results right here of the present incarnation it still includes the idea of the past action. So it includes the idea of revelation and illumination that has continually taken place in the past.

To understand light in any passage of Scripture one of the first things you do methodologically is to try to understand how the author uses light. For John that is a very rich study and we will develop our understanding of the doctrine of light as we go through the Gospel. But right now to understand what John is saying about light we have to go back to verse 9 of chapter one. NASB "There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." The Greek uses the verb, the imperfect active indicative of the verb eimi [e)imi], and the imperfect tense is en [h)n]; there continually was, the imperfect tense emphasizes continual action in past time. This is a third person singular, so it would be translated "he, she, or it was the true light." In the previous verse, v.8, the subject is the man introduced in v. 6, John the Baptist. So if we were to translate v. 9 "he was the true light," the implication would be that John the Baptist was the true light, and that is false. The subject of the verb is the phrase that follows the verb. Here we could translate this, "The true light was [continuously existed] coming into the world." That was the true light that was continuously existing, so it is focussing on Jesus as the true light using that as the subject of the verb. Jesus is called the true light which distinguishes him from a false light. The verse should be translated: "The true light who enlightens every man was coming." And this brings us to the verb erchomenon [e)rxomenon] which is an imperfect, indicating continual action in past time up to the present. What this is talking about is the true light was coming. It starts in the past and continues throughout human history, and this is what is called theologically, progressive revelation—starting with Adam and progressing incrementally as more and more revelation is given through the Old Testament period up to the present time. Not only does it refer to progressive revelation but it refers to common grace, that the throughout the Old Testament there has been continual and increasing revelation into the world that enlightens every single man.

How do we know that John 1:9 is talking about progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament and not talking about the incarnation? We know that because John starts off in 1:1 talking about Jesus in eternity, then in v. 9 the shift is to God's revelation in human history, and you don't get to the subject of the incarnation until verse 14 where we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." So everything from 1:1 to 1:13 is talking about Old Testament activities of the Logos in relationship to creation. So what we are saying is that when we talk about how John expresses the concept of light and divine revelation he goes back to the beginning of time and says that throughout human history there has always been the revelation of God in terms of common grace. What is this common grace revelation of God?

We see it in non-verbal revelation and this is described in Psalm 19:1 NASB "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." That tells us that the creation speaks non-verbally of the glory of God and of His essence. We see this same thought expressed in Roman 1:18, 19 NASB "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. [20] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." From the moment of creation of Adam and Eve and the fall, all the way up through all of human history, there has been on the one hand a non-verbal revelation. We call this general revelation, a non-verbal revelation testifying to the reality of God from His creation.

Along with that there has been a verbal revelation given through history with the revelation given through Moses and others down through the Old Testament. The non-verbal revelation is available to every single human being. Everyone knows that God exists. They may deny it, they may claim to be an atheist, they may never admit that deep down in their soul they know that God exists, but they do; that is the testimony of Scripture. They may cover it up through negative volition and piles and piles of scar tissue of the soul, what the Bible calls hardness of the heart. They have callused their souls with negative volition. As calluses are built up in the soul, hardening them to the truth of revelation, they reject the truth. This is the thought that is made in 1:9-11.   

Returning to John 3:19, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world." Specifically now it is in the form of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the true Light that has come into the world. This is reiterated in John 8:12 NASB "Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." John 9:5 NASB "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."

So the Light has come into the world, and what happens? "… and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." This is expressive of the characteristics of what has happened throughout human history. John is not talking in v.19 about just what is happening in his immediate context, although it is included, He is talking about how this has characterized all of human history. This is what we calla gnomic principle, a principle that is true in all human history and all cultures throughout time; that as Light comes in to the world men love the darkness rather than the Light. This is negative volition at the point of God-consciousness. This is the sad testimony of the human race: they have preferred the darkness, "for their deeds were evil." As soon as light comes in the very nature of light is to expose what is in the darkness, and the bright, intense light of God's Word exposes the sin that is in the dark recesses of our lives, the sin that we love, the sin that we wish to cover up.

John 3:20 NASB "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Evil includes good. The sin nature has two basic areas of operation. The area of weakness is where we produce personal sins; the area of strength is where we produce human good and morality. Human good and morality have nothing to do with the spiritual life. There are many people in this world who are incredibly moral with high ethical standards, yet they have no relationship with God, no spiritual life or spiritual truth, it is all produced in the sin nature and this is defined in Scripture as evil because it distracts and distorts and keeping people away from the truth of recognizing their own sinfulness and their own need for salvation. Everyone who practices evil hates the Light. There is a conflict going on. We must understand this. There is a spiritual war raging.

We see this emphasized throughout Scripture. Job 12:22 NASB "He [God] reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light." That is the role of God in our lives. If you are a child of God then you are to be continually bringing the light of God's Word to bear in your life. We dare not be like those mentioned in Job 24:13 NASB "Others have been with those who rebel against the light; They do not want to know its ways Nor abide in its paths." That is true of many believers. They come out on Sunday morning but you hardly ever see them on Wednesday night. They come once a week or every couple of weeks, they don't show up during the week. They don't really understand the process, that when we are saved our minds are filled with all kinds of data and information, assumptions, concepts and constructive reality. And yet all of this is based on human viewpoint. There may be some establishment truth there but the whole process of Christian life, Romans 12:2, is that we are to renovate the mind in the light of God's Word. This can't happen in one hour per week. The mind of Christ must dominate our thinking.

So what we see in verse 20 is the principle that everyone who does evil practices evil, and hates the light. This is characteristic of the unbeliever and the carnal Christian. They do not come to the light. They don't come to Bible class, they don't want to hear the Word because their deeds will be exposed, their though forms will be challenged, their assumptions about life that they hold so dearly will be shown to be invalid and they will have to rethink. They would rather enjoy their sin than have to rethink their thinking.

John 3:21 NASB "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." This refers to the individual primarily who is positive at God-consciousness and begins to seek more truth and revelation in order to understand the truth of God's Word, so it applies to the unbeliever who is positive at God-consciousness but it also has application to the believer who is positive at gospel hearing and hearing doctrine. He practices the truth, he continues to learn doctrine and to put it into practice. He is characterized by his desire to come to the light so that the Word of God can shine into those dark recesses of the soul.

The believer who is positive to God's Word makes it his practice to continually come to the Word. But if you are carnal, out of fellowship with the Lord, you are not going to want to come to the Word; you are grieving the Holy Spirit, quenching the Spirit. But when you confess your sins (1 John 1:9) you are again filled with the Holy Spirit and are ready to move forward. This is the standard. You come to the light of God's Word continuously so that you can renovate and reshape your thinking.

Psalm 27:1 NASB "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?" There is a parallelism in this verse. "The Lord is my light and my salvation" is parallel to the concept, "The Lord is the defence of my life." What we learn from that is that if we are going to have the Lord operating as that defence the result is that we have no fear, no anxiety, no worry, because we are relying upon God.

Psalm 36:9 NASB "For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light." Notice the relationship in many of these passages between life and light. True life comes when we have our souls flooded with the light of God's Word. The only way we can see truth in the world is under the concept of God's revelation.

Psalm 119:105 NASB "Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path." Our path includes every aspect of our life. It is God's Word that illuminates everything in pour path and gives us the foundation for living.

Psalm 119:130 NASB "The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple."

John 12:46 NASB "I have come {as} Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness." The sad thing is that there are many believers who trust in Christ for salvation but they remain in darkness because they do not take the time to study God's Word, to understand it, and to have it as the basis for spiritual growth. That is our goal; that is why God saved us. God is in the business of conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. That means that God has a plan for your life, and to take you from where you were at the point of salvation and to work on your character until Jesus Christ is demonstrated in every aspect of your life. But if you are negative to God's Word and you are headed in the direction of living life on your own the result is going to be constant and continuous divine discipline, because God is trying to take you from the path of autonomy and independence to the path of dependence upon Jesus Christ and His Word and its application so that He can transform your character into the character of Jesus Christ.