Evangelical Christians LOVE John 3:16? In fact, Tim Tebow, a dude that I totally respect, drew a lot of attention to this verse when he wore it under his eyes in the 2009 National Football Championship game. That day there were 94 million google searches of that verse!
Jesus spoke it…so let’s read it. 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.
I don’t disagree with one word OF that verse. But one word IN that verse has, in my opinion, been completely misinterpreted. That word is, PERISH.
For the record, I absolutely believe in and confess that Jesus is my Savior, yet I have also come to believe that He is the Savior of ALL and that one day, every knee will bow in worship to Christ and every tongue will confess the truth that He is the Lord and the Savior (see Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10 and Revelation 1:7).
I used to believe and was taught that to perish meant to be eternally separated from God in a place that you would not wish upon your worst enemy, even for a day. Well, maybe for one day, but certainly not for two! But I have gained a new perspective on this word.
I believe the bible teaches that to perish, or to be perishing, is not something that is going to happen in the future to unbelievers in Jesus, but rather, is actually happening to them, watch this… right here and right now!
The word “perish” found in John 3:16 and in many other passages, is the Greek word “apollumi.” Apollumi means to “to lose, or to be lost.” Jesus famously used this word in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. In Luke 15 there is a shepherd who has 100 sheep. One wondered off, it was lost right then! So Jesus says, “does not (the good shepherd) leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?”
Here is a super key point…notice that it was the shepherd’s job to seek and save the lost. It was not the sheep’s job to CONFESS that he was lost and then to PROFESS his belief in the shepherd in order to be saved!
Yet that is exactly what Christianity has become in many circles. Jesus did His part but now you have to do your part. “YOU need to confess Jesus and profess that He is YOUR Savior, otherwise the Savior will have no choice but to cause you to perish forever!” Perish to them means eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell.
If “perish” or to “be perishing” means that once you die as an unbeliever, you’re lost forever with no chance of restoration, if that’s what it means, well then, we’re going to have to change the bible.
In Luke 2:10 (NASB) an Angel proclaimed to terrified shepherds in a field; “Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for ALL the people.”
We have to change that to read: I bring you good news of great joy which will be for SOME people.
If perishing is a forever deal for unbelievers in Jesus, then we have to change Romans 3:23-24 (HCSB); “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They (all) are justified freely by His grace.”
We have to change that to read: ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but only SOME of them will be justified.
No, I don’t want to change the bible, and I especially LOVE John 3:16 because God does so love THE WORLD! I do want to change what I believe is a faulty application. Perishing is something that is happening now:
- dying while you live
- not knowing Jesus now
- not experiencing life of the coming age now
- not having assurance of your eternal future
What would the church be like if instead of sharing Jesus while scaring with the threat of eternal torment, we just shared Jesus?
In closing, I believe that to perish or to be perishing is to be missing out on the life we could be living in union with Jesus Christ, right now. Does perish mean to die and go to hell forever? Perish the thought.
P.S. Here is a complimentary video version of this blog; FIVE MINUTE POWER MESSAGE #90: Does John 3:16 warn of perishing…forever?
Phil Henry is a financial adviser and also an ordained minister who founded and produces short videos and blogs at Phil Henry Power Gospel.