…He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

JOHN 3:36

The earnest and instructed Christian knows that the wrath of God is a reality, that His anger is as holy as His love, and that between His love and His wrath there is no incompatibility. He further knows (as far as fallen man can know such matters) what the wrath of God is and what it is not.

To understand God’s wrath we must view it in the light of His holiness. God is holy and has made holiness to be the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe. Sin’s temporary presence in the world only accents this. Whatever is holy is healthy; evil is a moral sickness that must end ultimately in death. The formation of the language itself suggests this, the English word holy deriving from the Anglo-Saxon ‘halig,’ ‘hal’ meaning well, whole.

Since God’s first concern for His universe is its moral health, that is, its holiness, whatever is contrary to this is necessarily under His eternal displeasure. Wherever the holiness of God confronts unholiness there is conflict.

To preserve His creation God must destroy whatever would destroy it. When He arises to put down destruction and save the world from irreparable moral collapse He is said to be very angry. Every wrathful judgment of God in the history of the world has been a holy act of preservation.

God’s wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys![1]

Christ Received All Authority from the Father

“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (3:35–36)

This last point explicitly states what the first four imply. Because of His love for the Son (cf. 5:20; 15:9; 17:23, 26; Matt. 3:17), the Father has given Him supreme authority over all things on earth and in heaven (Matt. 11:27; 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:2; 1 Peter 3:22). That supremacy is a clear indicator of the Son’s deity.

John’s affirmation of Jesus’ absolute authority demonstrated his humble attitude, even as his heralding ministry faded into the background. Having fulfilled his mission on this earth, John realized that his work would soon be finished. In fact, not long after this, he was arrested and beheaded by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (Matt. 14:3–11).

But before he faded from the scene, John the Baptist gave an invitation and a warning that form a fitting climax, not only to this chapter, but also to his entire ministry. Like Moses (Deut. 11:26–28; 30:15–20), Joshua (Josh. 24:15), Elijah (1 Kings 18:21), and Jesus (John 3:18) before him, he set forth the only two choices available to lost sinners: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The blessed truth of salvation is that the one who believes in the Son has eternal life as a present possession, not merely as a future hope. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24; cf. 1:12; 3:15–16; 6:47; 1 John 5:10–13).

But on the other hand, the one who does not obey the Son will not see life. The juxtaposition of belief and disobedience is a reminder that the New Testament portrays belief in the gospel as obedience to God, an essential element of saving faith (cf. Acts 6:7; Rom. 1:5; 15:18; 16:26; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9; 1 Peter 1:2; 4:17). The fearful reality is that the wrath of God (His settled, holy displeasure against sin) continually abides on disobedient sinners who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. Just as eternal life is the present possession of believers, so also is condemnation the present condition of unbelievers. The idea here is not that God will one day condemn sinners for their disobedient unbelief; they are already in a state of condemnation (3:18; 2 Peter 2:9) from which only saving faith in Jesus Christ can deliver them. The ultimate consequence of refusing to believe will be to experience God’s wrath for eternity in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10–15). But it was to save helpless, doomed sinners from that terrifying fate that God sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1:29; 3:17; 4:42; Matt. 1:21; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 John 4:14).

In this way, John the Baptist clearly declared the sovereignty and supremacy of Jesus Christ, emphasizing that He alone is able to save sinful men from the consequences of their disobedience. And what John proclaimed with his lips, he exemplified with his life, actively promoting Jesus’ ministry even at the expense of his own. Thus, the weight of John’s witness can still be felt today—as a warning to unbelievers, that they must repent and follow Christ, and as an example to believers, that they should seek the Savior’s glory rather than their own.[2]

3:36 God has given Christ the power to grant everlasting life to all who believe on Him. This is one of the clearest verses in all the Bible on how a person can be saved. It is simply by believing in the Son. As we read this verse, we should realize that God is speaking. He is making a promise that can never be broken. He says, clearly and distinctly, that anyone who believes in His Son has everlasting life. To accept this promise is not a leap in the dark. It is simply believing what could not possibly be false. Those who do not obey the Son of God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on them already. From this verse we learn that our eternal destiny depends on what we do with the Son of God. If we receive Him, God gives us eternal life as a free gift. If we reject Him, we will never enjoy everlasting life, and not only so, but God’s wrath already hangs over us, ready to fall at any moment.

Notice that there is nothing in this verse about keeping the law, obeying the Golden Rule, going to church, doing the best we can, or working our way to heaven.[3]

36 Verse 36 underscores a major truth that runs throughout the entire chapter. The destiny of every person is determined by his or her personal response to the Son. Those who put their faith in the Son receive eternal life; those who reject the Son will not see life but will endure the wrath of God (cf. 1 Jn 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”). The issue is clearly drawn. Worth noting is the fact that it is disobedience, not disbelief, that John sets in contrast with faith. The Greek apeitheō (GK 578) means “to disobey.” The verb is used regularly in the LXX of disobedience to God. Not to believe is to willfully reject. In Acts 14:2 the NIV translates the same term with “refused to believe.” Saving faith involves obedience as well as believing, a point often overlooked by those for whom correct doctrine tends to eclipse the necessity of a changed life.

Whoever “rejects the Son” (refuses to believe the words he speaks and consequently rejects the obvious implications regarding who he is) “will not see life” (i.e., the eternal life given to those who believe). Instead, God’s wrath remains on him. The wrath of God is not an emotional and vindictive reaction toward individuals. The rejection of divine love carries serious and necessary consequences. As G. Stählin observes, “Where mercy meets with the ungodly will of man rather than faith and gratitude, … love becomes wrath” (TDNT 5:425). That God’s wrath remains on the disobedient indicates that those who have not accepted the Son are already under condemnation (cf. 3:18).[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 132–133). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1482). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 405–406). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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