Our world is prone to death, corruption, and destruction. Mountains erode, apples spoil, buildings eventually fall. Science calls this entropy – the eventual movement from order to disorder, from complex to simple. We know that all living at this moment, from the smallest cell to the complexity of human life, will die. That undeniable and unwavering fact makes the next phrase of John 3:16 shocking.
Jesus said, “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. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16–17, NASB95)
The promise is simple; whoever believes in Him (Jesus) shall not perish. This is false from a purely logical and scientific outlook – either that or no one in 2000 years has truly believed. But that is taking a decidedly westernized view of scripture which only considers physical evidence.
Neither was Jesus speaking metaphorically. He meant what He said. Scientific thought may not want to recognize it, but life is much more than physical. Within humanity, there is something spiritual in addition to our physical being. We may not agree on the shape, form, or purpose, but there is some sense of an internal existence connected yet separate from physical existence across all cultures. In Christian thought, this is expressed as either our soul or our spirit, depending on some theological assumptions.
So, we have this puzzle. If the world’s natural course is towards death, what does Jesus mean by “shall not perish?” How could Jesus change the seemingly universal constant of death? The answer to that question is the overarching narrative of the entire Bible. It begins with how a good creation was corrupted by sin. Displays over and over again how sin leads to death and separates us from God. In its pages, we read how the wages of sin is death and how Jesus took sin upon Himself to die in our place. And the Bible tells how one day the dead in Christ will rise again to eternal life with God.
How this all works is somewhat of a mystery. Are we spiritually aware after death or “sleeping” until the return of Christ and the end of the age? Does it really matter? Either way, Jesus’ promise that those who believe “shall not perish” is fulfilled.
Besides the obvious of defeating death, there is also an application for today. Believing in Jesus is not fruitless. We, as Christ-followers, do not take on life in fatalism and seeing everything ultimately futile. The love we give, for instance, has a far-reaching, death-defying, life-giving impact that defies the rules of entropy and corruption. We don’t believe to survive, but to thrive and grow and build – even if it means laying down our lives for another.
Unless Christ returns, we will all die, but we will not all perish. Those who believe in Christ hold that promise as a sacred treasure. Yet this is only half of the promise. In full it reads, “shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What that life is and what it looks like is the topic of our next article.