It’s the Bible verse so famous it gets to go to the football, the Olympics, even the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (see image to the left). It has its own webpage (lookup316.com). How many Bible verses have that as a claim to fame?
It is, of course, John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
It’s all good, but this post is all about the perish part of the verse. This word does a lot of good work in John’s gospel, so it’s worth having some time just following its path through the story of Jesus (and those who trust him).
‘Perish’ in John
John 3:16 is the first use of perish in the gospel. It is the danger which those who believe Jesus avoid.
Perish reappears in John 6. After feeding thousands, Jesus orders the scraps to be collected, so that ‘nothing may be lost‘ (6:12). It seems an odd detail, for the leftovers make no further appearance. But then we read Jesus’ urging us not to eat food that perishes, instead filling ourselves on food for eternal life (6:27). That food is Jesus himself, and the manner of eating is trusting him. The wonderful promise is this:
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39, esv)
Jesus proves himself to be the one who holds on to his people. The collected scraps of food exemplifying his desire that even the apparently worthless remain collected with the whole.
As John 10 puts it, Jesus is the good shepherd who gives life to his sheep, and will never let them perish (10:28). Jesus is a success at this. His prayer to the Father reports ‘job complete’: ‘not one of them has been lost‘ (17:12). Even in Jesus’ arrest, no one else was lost (18:9).
Sadly, though, Jesus and his followers were under attack. The sheep are under siege from thieves, who come to steal and kill and destroy (10:10). Their plan centred on putting Jesus to death. Ironically, their plan was almost right. They though Jesus’ death would protect against destruction, ‘that the whole nation should not perish‘ (11:50).
Jesus’ death does prevent destruction. It prevents the destruction of his followers. In his death, he took our destruction. And in his death he gathers us (like broken fragments of bread?) to himself (see 12:32).
What’s this all mean? Two consequences.
1) All who trust Jesus are perfectly safe from destruction. There may be hatred, opposition, pain. Yet the over-arching reality is eternal safety, eternal life. Life and safety are gifts from the Son of God, won by the Son on the cross, and guaranteed to all eternity.
2) All who trust in Jesus are perfectly free to lose life (12:25). We are so safe, that we are to give up everything to follow Jesus. We are so secure that we are follow Jesus by giving up everything. We were once subject to destruction, weak pawns with no future. Through trusting Jesus we become free, able to willingly imitate the once who saved us.
That is what I call life!