|Payment God will not twice demand,
First at my bleeding Suretys hand,
And then again at mine.
What a change when we discovered that we had been mixing and
distorting and adulterating Gods plain declarations! Then the evangel for today,
with its two distinct phases, conciliation on Gods side to the whole world whether
they believe or not, and reconciliation when they believe and receive the conciliation,
into their own hearts, enabled us to refrain from making God appear unjust.
Whosoever in Johns evangel is limited to those who believe.
Does this mean any ordinary belief of the mind? This was another earnest problem of the past. In this very gospel we read of those who believed into His name beholding the signs which He did. Yet He did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all ... ( John 2:23-25). This put quite a damper on our whosoever believeth. We tried to classify the various varieties of faith. It was very evident that there was something lacking with the faith of most Christians. One did not need much knowledge of mankind to distrust their profession. Here again Paul came to our rescue. No, a belief with the mind is not genuine. With the heart it is believed for righteousness ( Rom.10:10). A superficial assent is worthless. Only a faith which flows from the very core of our being is of any use. It is useless to say that we believe. If it is a living faith it will bear fruit, and by this we will recognize if it is genuine, and convince others of its reality.
NOT ON, BUT INTO
The kind of faith necessary for salvation has
disturbed the mind of many an anxious sinner. But Gods Word knows no species in
faith. The difference lies in its vitality and its depth. It must be with the heart,
that is, from the inmost center of our being. All else is sham and hypocrisy. The
character of faith is also most graphically expressed in the original by the accompanying
preposition. Our stammering English allows us to believe on or in. But
the more truthful tongue of inspiration prefers to believe into. Faith is a
moving force. When we believe we do not stand on, or even in, but we are
transferred from without to within. Out of the world and into Gods
Son. Not only is He the foundation beneath our feet, but He is above us and all around us.
The true force of into is seen in the very next verse. As God dispatched His Son into
the world so faith moves from out of Him into Him.
How much richer would be our life and experience if we should imitate God as beloved children, even in His ways of speaking! He seldom refers to the great change wrought by faith as a motionless position. Never is it faith in Him until after the great transactions done. Seldom, in Johns gospel, do we read of believing on. Yet nearly forty times, in nearly every chapter, we read of believing into. In the third chapter alone it occurs four times (16,18,18 36). These precious distinctions were lost early, as may be seen in John 3:15, where the three most venerable manuscripts each have it differently. Alexandrinus has it on, Vaticanus has it in and Sinaiticus has it believe into. But here there is the danger that it was adapted to the next verse. But in John 3:16 there is no question. It is those who are carried by the vital power of faith into the only begotten Son of God who shall not be perishing but may be having eonian life.
Yet there is motion into His name which, nevertheless, is not to be trusted. The difference seems to spring from the motive power. The perception of physical signs may not beget vital faith. It is a conviction concerning matters which are not observed. It comes by hearing the divine declarations. Its foundation today must always be, It is written. How much of the faith in the millennium is false is seen only at its close, when an innumerable multitude, who have known the powers of that marvelous eon, will follow Satan when he is loosed from his prison. And in our day, how little genuine belief is there in the great religious bodies with their millions of nominal believers! A colporteur in the eastern part of Europe was assured by a man who bought a Bible: It is true that I am a Christian, but I have never had this book in my hands before. God alone can read the heart. We must look for outward signs. There is no better evidence than to toil and suffer for Gods Word.
EONIAN, NOT EVERLASTING, LIFE
Do we not too often forget that John 3:16 was attuned to the
heart and the understanding of a learned Jewish rabbi? Have we not tried to trim it down
to fit the ignorant, irreligious sinner? What was the subject of the discourse? Was it not
that which occupied the attention of all who pondered the Hebrew Scriptures, how to enter
the kingdom of God? Before Nicodemus could say anything about it, our Lord anticipated the
thought of his heart, and told him that, apart from being begotten anew, he could not
perceive the kingdom of God ( John 3:3). Let us not forget this when we come to the
sixteenth verse. Here our Lord is opening up the way into this kingdom. Only in this light
can we understand what is really meant by shall not perish. Should we not take
these words as Nicodemus must have received them? Is it honest to
apply them to sinners and circumstances utterly foreign to their original
intent? It is this wresting of a few words from their context which causes the confusion
and the questioning of sincere seekers after truth in these days of dire apostasy.
Let us seek to put ourselves in the position of Nicodemus. He is looking and longing for another world or system, in the coming eon: the kingdom of God. To live in that day is his great desire. How can he attain it? What works must he perform? To begin with, our Lord seems to shut the door of access in his face. No man can do anything in order to be born anew. Having barred the way of works, our Lord opens the gate of faith, based on Gods love gift. This is the path into the kingdom of God on earth, not the portal into His presence for the nations today. In brief, the kingdom foretold by the prophets will be the portion of all who believe. Only those who have died in faith ( Heb.11) will find entrance there. And only the faithful will be preserved through the terrific judgments which precede it. These should not be perishing but may be having eonian life. Unbelievers, like those stubborn in the wilderness, will not enter the promised land. John 3:16, is millennial in its context and its scope.
The Hebrew rabbis spoke of the life of the age, or eon, the time of Messiahs reign and of Israels exaltation among the nations. This is the so-called everlasting life of this verse. The Hebrew root olam, which this represents, signifies obscure, and is usually rendered hide as a verb. To the prophets the future was still obscure to a large extent, hence the time of blessing which was dimly seen ahead was so called. But, with added revelations, the future became clearer, and, in the Greek Scriptures, this obscure term is displaced by a more definite one, eon. The eons emerge out of the mist and take a definite number and sequence. It turns out that, in the Scriptures, time is divided just the same as is space. As in the tabernacle, the outside, the camp, the court, and the holy places constitute five distinct divisions, so there are five eons or ages. Two are past. The present, in which Christ was crucified, corresponds to the court and the brazen altar. The next two, the eons of the eons, correspond to the holies of the holies, the two rooms in the tabernacle building.
The life of the eons, or eonian life, is life for the two concluding eons, the scene of the reign of Christ and His saints. This corresponds exactly with the facts, as gathered from other passages. The unbeliever is not made alive in the former resurrection, when the kingdom is set up. He is roused from judgment at the great white throne, and goes into the second death. Thus he shall be perishing, and has no part in the kingdom of God. The believer in Israel, however, is made alive soon after the advent of Messiah, and he lives and reigns with Christ, not only during the thousand years, but also in the succeeding eon, the day of God. He receives eonian life, according to John 3: 16.
Revelation has been gradual. The early prophets saw but one coming of Christ. Later, details were added, and His advent in humiliation was separated from his appearance in glory. So also it is with John 3:16, and all the prophecies of our Lord and His twelve apostles. He could not reveal to them all that was in store for mankind in the future, for they were concerned only with the blessing which should come through the elect nation. That is why the truth for today was not made known to them, for our blessing comes to us, not through Israels mediation, but in spite of their failure. The truth for today was a secret, revealed only through the apostle Paul after Israel was set aside. Until this had come to pass it is foolish to look for truth which is based upon it.
For the same reason the final state, the ultimate consummation, was never made known through the apostles of the Circumcision. Theirs is an intermediate process, by which God will reveal Himself to the denizens of earth, by means of one favored nation. Only through Paul has God made known what lies beyond the olams, the eons. This is entirely out of the range of John 3:16, and is in contrast with it. Paul reveals it in Romans five, First Corinthians fifteen and Colossians one. Then not only believers, but all will receive life. Then it will not be eonian life, but actually endless life, for death will be abolished and no longer operate. This is confirmed by the fact that the words perish and have, in the original, do not speak of a fact, indefinite in its reach, but of a process, which is terminable. The perishing and the having are future and during the period of the kingdom. But, when all rule is abolished, and the everlasting reign of the Son terminates with His abdication, then the perishing ceases, and gives place to reconciliation, beyond the kingdom era.
TRUTHS AND PROCESSES
Every now and then I am sent passages of Scripture which seem
to be absolutely contradictory, and this is acknowledged by men who have tried their best
to solve them. Time and again the solution has been simple, for one spoke of a fact, the
other of a temporary process. A glance at the Hebrew or Greek makes all plain. But our
English versions are lamentably lame in this regard. The Hebrew has two forms for its
verb, but who would ever dream of it if he was dependent on an English translation? The
Greek also clearly distinguishes three great groups of verb forms, the indefinite, the
incomplete or durative, and the perfect. It is of the utmost importance that we know of
any action, whether it is a fact without limitations, as God loves,
or a temporary process, limited to the indicated time, as should not be
How many who read should not perish, get the impression of a process going on during the eons? None! Even when correctly rendered should not be perishing only a few will grasp the significance of the change in grammar before it is pointed out to them. This ignorance of the force of these two verb forms, and the failure to carry it over into English translations, is a most potent stronghold of error. John three sixteen, in its popular form, contains two glaring and ungodly errors of this kind. Gods love and giving are relegated to the past, although they are timeless. The perishing is made timeless although it is definitely assigned to a limited period in the future.
I am well aware that this is not based on traditional Greek grammar. But why should I confine myself to stereotyped, ossified ideas about Greek, when constant contact with the living oracles has taught me vital facts which all the scholarship in the world cannot disprove? Let a real student examine all of the occurrences of the verbs in the sacred text, and classify them as to actual form (not traditional grammar), and then examine the classes, and he will see that the so-called incomplete (there is not even a good name for it!) always speaks of an action as going on, and always limited to the scope of the context. Permanent, abiding facts are put in the indefinite.
The errors which are fostered by the inability of translators to carry over these great distinctions are so vital and disastrous that I have made up my mind that, in future, every Concordant version will make the matter clear. It is true that the version at present does maintain this distinction, as a rule. In fact, that is the chief objection to it! But we have yielded to English idiom in some cases. In future, except with an accompanying sublinear, these must be noted, so that the distinction will be clear to the most ignorant. Then shall not see life, and abides ( John 3:36) will no longer deny other portions of Gods revelation. Such errors as these would not be so fatal if it were not for our human failingto believe what is false and obscure, and to reject what is right and plainly revealed. When we choose, our selection is sin.
It is true that even the misuse of this text has been accompanied with untold blessing, for God is a skillful Workman. If the power of His Word were dependent upon the intelligence of His servants and their choice of the proper tool for each operation, what would be accomplished? It is only another proof that this is an era of grace, when His slaves are allowed to use His Word with so little spiritual discernment without being called to account, or being set aside. Millions of copies of Johns gospel have been printed and distributed in our days because of the popular impression that it is especially adapted to the needs of sinners today. We can only applaud the sincere motives and great sacrifices which have made this possible. They will find a sure reward.
But how much more would it please God if we should spread the epistle of Romans, and the truths which it contains! The first five chapters of this epistle with a few extracts from Corinthians and Galatians definitely deal with the nations while Israel is set aside, and reveal the truth which is for unbelievers in this time of unparalleled grace. These deal with the individual sinner, not the world as a whole. They reveal Gods justice, as well as His love. They bring faith righteousness to the nations, after Israel had refused the pardon of sins. They set forth Gods present gracious attitude of conciliation for all mankind, the true heart of the evangel for today, which has been forgotten and ignored in our lawless desire to rob Israel of John 3:16 and other texts.
The appropriation of this text has made us poorer, not richer. If we leave it where it is, it speaks no whit less loudly of Gods love. Connected with Nicodemus, and those who enter the kingdom to be set up on this earth, it shines with a brighter brilliancy than ever before. Applied to sinners among the nations, contrary to its context, it cannot itself, be clearly understood, and it eclipses the brighter light and far greater grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. What a day that will be when our eyes will be opened to understand the Scriptures! How much that we have taught will ascend in smoke! Yet how thankful we will be that He knows our motives and judges our hearts and not our heads! Most of us read as much into the Bible as we read out of it. The less we read into it the more we will read out. All who really wish to understand John 3:16 must orient themselves in Romans, and view it from their proper standpoint. It is stolen goods which we by no means need, for we have even richer and rarer expressions of Gods love in His letters addressed to us and not to Israel.
A. E. Knoch
Copyright © Concordant Publishing Concern
P.O. Box 449, Almont, MI 48003 810-798-3563
This publication may be reproduced for personal use
(all other rights reserved by copyright holder).