Questions From Readers
● At John 3:16, 17, what “world” did God love so much, and what “world” did God send Jesus, not to judge, but to save?
In John’s account of Jesus’ life the English word “world” is translated from the Greek word kósmos, which occurs at least seventy-nine times in the original text of John’s account. Fundamentally, kósmos means “order,” that is, a constituted order, an arrangement, an ordering of things according to a certain design, an arrangement of things according to a certain pattern.
However, whenever in John’s account we read the word kósmos, we must not in every case at once think of a world made up of heavens and an earth, the heavens being composed of invisible controlling spirit forces and the earth being composed of human creatures subject and submissive to the control of those invisible spirit forces. Hence we should not at once think of such kinds of world which have been or will yet be associated with this earth—the Edenic world of Adam and Eve’s innocency; the world outside the garden of Eden or the world of the ungodly before the Flood; the present world of the “heavens and the earth that are now”; and the coming new world of “new heavens and a new earth.” If we always think of such worlds we may run into confusion and wonder which is the one of those several worlds that is meant.
For example, take John’s first four uses of the word kósmos or “world.” We read: “The true light which gives light to every kind of man was about to come into the world . He was in the world , and the world  came into existence through him, but the world  did not take note of him. He came to his own home, but his own people did not take him in.” (John 1:9-11) Now, into what world did Jesus come as the true light? It is true that this occurred during the time of the world made up of the “heavens and the earth that are now.” (2 Pet. 3:7) But is this the “world” that John 1:9-11 means? Was this the world that “came into existence through him”? Was this “his own home” to which he came, but none of which took him in?
We must keep in mind that Jesus came out of the invisible, higher spirit realms into the visible, lower earthly or fleshly realms. This was why he said to the Jews: “You are from the realms below; I am from the realms above. You are from this world; I am not from this world.” (John 8:23) Here Jesus was identifying one world with the “realms above,” and another world with the “realms below.” He said that the people from the realms below were “from this world.” He himself, being from the realms above, was therefore “not from this world.” What, then, was this world? Yes, it was an established order or an arrangement; but for there to be an order or arrangement, there have to be things or people to be set in a certain order or to be arranged a certain way. It is clear, then, that the word “world” in its usage by John here would mean the people who are in a certain arrangement or constituted order and subject to a certain system of things.
Now, to return to John 1:9-11: Jesus, the true light that gives light to every kind of man, was once about to come into the world, that is to say, come in among the arranged people or the people subject to a certain set order. Jesus came from above, from among angels, and he came among people on earth, human creatures living according to the order of things that prevailed among them. As long as he was in the flesh, and particularly during his public ministry when he sought contact with all the people, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he was in this world of people. He was the Word of God, by means of whom all things came into existence. Hence Jesus Christ was responsible for the existence of this world of people, although not exactly for the arrangement or constituted order according to which they lived and worked.
Did this world of people “take note of him”? John 1:10 says that it did not. That is, the majority of the people did not do so. They clung to their preferred order to which they conformed; they wanted no change. So his own people, creatures who owed their existence to his original work, did not take him in, not even the Jews. But did nobody at all accept the light or take note of him or take him in? John 1:12 says that some did so. It says: “However, as many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name.”
Since the greater part of this world of people treated Jesus that way, it could be said that the world hated Jesus. When Jesus’ own half brothers said to him: “Manifest yourself to the world,” Jesus said to them: “The world has no reason to hate you, but it hates me, because I bear witness concerning [the world] that its works are wicked.” (John 7:4-7) For this reason Jesus did not manifest himself to the world of people, but went up secretly to the feast at Jerusalem, to thwart attempts of the world to kill him out of its hatred. For the greater part, the world of people did not love him and they would not love those who came out of this world of people and became Jesus’ followers. So he said to his apostles: “These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.”—John 15:17-19.
In order to hate, the world has to be made up of people, creatures with the capacity to hate. Jesus did not pray for these haters, the hateful world of people. To his heavenly Father he prayed: “I make request concerning them [the men you gave me out of the world]; I make request, not concerning the world, but concerning those you have given me, . . . Also I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you.” “They are no part of the world just as I am no part of the world. Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me forth into the world, I also sent them forth into the world.” “I make request, not concerning these only, but also concerning those putting faith in me through their [apostolic] word, in order that they may all be one, . . . Righteous Father, the world has, indeed, not come to know you, but I have come to know you, and these have come to know that you sent me forth.”—John 17:9-11, 16-18, 20, 21, 25.
Now in this connection, who was it that the heavenly Father, Jehovah God, loved? Was it the whole world of people, of whom his apostles and later believers ceased to be a part? Let Jesus answer these questions in his own prayer: “I in union with them [not with the world] and you in union with me, in order that they may be perfected into one, that the world may have the knowledge that you sent me forth and that you loved them just as you loved me. . . . because you loved me before the world’s foundation.” (John 17:23, 24) God loved those who loved the one whom he loved, his Son Jesus Christ. The world of people did not love the Father’s beloved Son. Those who ceased to be one with the world of people and who became one with Jesus Christ loved him. Those in union with Jesus Christ were the ones whom the heavenly Father loved. This excludes the world of people from the Father’s love. Any of this world of people who desired to come into the Father’s love had to quit hating Jesus as the world was doing. They had to separate from this loveless world and had to love God’s Son and come into union with the Son. These become the ones whom God the Father loves just as he loves his Son.
On this basis of understanding, let us now consider John 3:16, 17, over which the original questions were raised. The verses in question read: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. For God sent forth his Son into the world, not for him to judge the world, but for the world to be saved through him.” Jesus’ words here do not refer to that large, comprehensive arrangement or constituted order made up of symbolic heavens and earth, “the heavens and the earth that are now.” Jesus is here talking about people, about people living on the literal earth and living according to a certain order or arrangement, as they are living under the invisible “ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil. (2 Pet. 3:7; John 12:31) Certainly God did not love the symbolic heavens, composed of Satan the Devil and his demons. Hence the world that Jesus said God loved is a restricted one and does not include the symbolic “heavens . . . that are now.”
Certainly in sending his Son into this world of people on earth Jehovah God the Father was performing a loving act toward this world. The taking of steps to save people of this world, instead of destroying this world of people outright with every member of it, was an action of love toward this world. No particular individuals in this world of people were singled out, although Jesus was sent directly to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Thus anybody and everybody of this world of people could take advantage of what God was doing through his Son. Because it was a loving act of God for the benefit of anyone and everyone in this world of people, God’s giving of his Son was an expression of love for the world of people living under the “ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil.
This did not mean, though, that everybody of this world of organized people would respond to that love and would come into God’s love and prove worthy of God’s love. That was why, without naming names of any individuals and without specifying any certain persons, Jesus added the conditional words: “In order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” It is only “everyone exercising faith in him” that will “have everlasting life.” Those not “exercising faith in him” will “be destroyed.” Those not exercising the necessary faith prove to be in the majority, for which reason the world of people in general, without naming names, will be destroyed.
So from being a general love for this world of people, Jehovah’s love becomes a specific love for those who exercise faith in his Son and who love his Son and come into union with him. These are the ones who will “have everlasting life” in that righteous new order of the future and who make up a part of its new heavens and new earth. They are really people of the new order, for by coming into loving union and association with God’s given Son they cease to be a part of this world of people.
God knew that there were lovable persons, or persons who could become lovable, in this world of people. He, with his discerning eyes, knew that there were individuals who by birth were a part of this world of people but who were really not in heart harmony with the “sin of the world” and who desired to get free from the condemnation that was due to the “sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Hence God did not send his Son into this world of people to pronounce a blanket condemnation of this entire world of people, an indiscriminate condemnation of every member of this world of people without first an opportunity to show how individuals felt about the world’s condemnable sin and sinfulness. So God sent his Son into the world of people, “for the world to be saved through him.”
This is not saying that all the world of people will be saved through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. It is saying that the opportunity is open for anyone and for all to be saved, without partiality to anyone. Nevertheless, the world of people becomes judged. This is the meaning of Jesus’ words later on to a crowd of Jews: “Now there is a judging of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And yet I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw men of all kinds to me. I have come as a light into the world, in order that everyone putting faith in me may not remain in the darkness. But if anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I came, not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that disregards me and does not receive my sayings has one to judge him. The word which I have spoken is what will judge him in the last day.”—John 12:31, 32, 46-48.
Not all the people of this world get saved; not all this world of people escapes judgment that results in a condemnation to destruction, even though Jesus at his first coming did not come to judge and condemn the world of people in its entirety. Why does not the whole world of people therefore get saved and escape judgment? It is because, as Jesus added, “he that exercises faith in him is not to be judged. He that does not exercise faith has been judged already, because he has not exercised faith in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. Now this is the basis for judgment, that the light has come into the world but men [not angels] have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked.” (John 3:18, 19) Consequently, the only ones of this world that do not get judged down and that get saved are those who put faith in God’s Son and come out of the world’s darkness into the light in order that their “works may be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God.” (John 3:21) Except for these, the world of people in general get judged as unworthy of salvation.
Concluding now the discussion, we say that the “world” that God loved so much and that he sent Jesus, not to judge, but to save, is the world of people on earth as represented by those members who break away from the worldly, organized people and who exercise faith in God’s gift of his only-begotten Son and then come into union with him or into association with him, proving themselves to be worthy of God’s love through his only-begotten Son. Such faithful believers and followers are reserved for everlasting life in God’s promised new order of “new heavens and a new earth.”—2 Pet. 3:13.