"The revelation in the world of the love of God was made by the Only-begotten Son of God. The revelation was personal, and was not a communication made to Him. No creature was competent to undertake this revelation. An angel could have conveyed to man a message of what was due from him to God, but the highest celestial intelligence could not manifest what was in the heart of the God of love towards man. Since "God is love," only omniscience can fully know that infinite love, and only omnipotence can adequately declare it. These all-comprehending attributes, which no creature could possess, are fully possessed by the Son of God in His essential Being. Moreover, this knowledge and competency to be the Revealer of divine love are expressed simply in scripture by the designation of the Son of His love — "the Only-begotten Son of God."
The Gift of the Only-Begotten Son of God
The term "only-begotten" (monogenees) is applied to the Son of God five times in the New Testament, occurring only in the writings of John (John 1:14, 18; John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). In most of these passages, the special association of this term with the manifestation of God's love determines its significance. The Only-begotten Son of God is the One peculiarly competent to be the Revealer of the eternal love of God; accordingly, He is presented as such in the Holy Spirit's record of this revelation.
Thus, when the Lord, after His instruction of Nicodemus in the earthly things of the kingdom of God, passed to heavenly themes, He introduced Himself as the Only-begotten Son of God (John 3:16, 18). As the "Son of man Who is in heaven," He, the Omnipresent One, then spoke of love for the world of which He had been eternally conscious in the dwelling-place of God. What could be more peculiarly appropriate as a heavenly theme than the love of God? What heavenly gift to the world could be more transcendent than the Only-begotten Son? And these — the gift and its motive — He unfolded and enfolded in the precious combination — "Son" and "love."
Our Lord announced this love of God in words happily familiar: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." There are many marvels in this profound utterance. It is marvellous in our eyes that God should love, and it is marvellous, too, that He should love the world, fallen into sin and ruled by Satan, as it is. And these marvels are among the "heavenly things" presented to our faith in this sentence.
Moreover, the intensity of this love is also declared: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." The measure of God's love of the world is to be seen in His giving One Who was peculiarly and exclusively the object of His affection — His Only-begotten Son. The stupendous wonder to our faith is that One was along with God in this unique relationship of Son, and God gave that One. This is surely the teaching of the text, not that God's gift was One Who became His Only-begotten Son in manhood, that is, in the process and at the time of giving. If Sonship began in incarnation, why do we not read that God gave the Son of man? But, no, the Only-begotten Son of God was given.
Let us remember Who is speaking: "He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man Who is in heaven." He speaks as a competent witness of a heavenly relationship — of Himself, God's Only-begotten Son. "He that cometh from above is above all. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifies" (John 3:31, 32). The Son was witnessing on earth of what was true in heaven, and therefore, Sonship in the Godhead was true before incarnation and before He came down from heaven as the Given Son. This is the Son's own witness concerning Himself.
Whom then did God spare (Rom. 8:32), and deliver up for us all? The Holy Spirit answers, "His own Son." God did not withhold this unspeakable gift, but yielded up His own Son in the spontaneity of His love. To think otherwise of Him than as the Eternal Son is to detract from the personal glory of God's incomparable gift. When the Son of man ascended into heaven He entered where He had been before, as He asked His incredulous disciples, "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?" (John 6:62). He claimed the omnipresence of Jehovah, Who is "God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (Deut. 4:39), being as the Son, both in heaven and on earth simultaneously (John 3:13).
His Sonship before He became God's gift to the world
God gave His Son, not a servant. The force and point of this great text are only to be perceived by noting that God gave to the world the One Who was His Only-begotten Son. Consider it to mean that God gave the One Who would in manhood enter into the entirely new relationship of the Only-begotten Son, and the sublime utterance of the Lord is made comparable to God's employment of various servants in His governmental dealings with Israel and the world.
We read, for instance, that God gave the people of Israel judges (Acts 13:20), that is, certain men who became leaders and rulers of the people. But there was nothing in Gideon, Samson, or any of them to magnify the love of God. These servants in themselves possessed little moral worth. They did not magnify their office by reason of their personal excellence; it was rather that their office magnified them. God gave these servants to carry out definite tasks; they were not only subordinate to Him in office, but inferior to Him in nature.
But the gift of John 3:16 is of a different order entirely. Nothing is said here about the work committed to the Son. The value of the gift is measured by the unique personality of the One given — God's Only-begotten Son. Let us for illustration consider an Old Testament instance. What was it that so enhanced the value of Abraham's surrender to God? The patriarch gave up his only-begotten son (Heb. 11:17). Isaac was the son before they ascended Mount Moriah together, and before he was laid upon the altar. In the eyes of Jehovah, the ethical value of Abraham's act of faith was measured by the one whom he gave at His bidding — not Ishmael, but his son, his "only son," Isaac, whom he loved, in whom Jehovah's promises to him were centred. Abraham surrendered the darling of his heart, and God appraised his obedience of faith in terms of his affection for Isaac (Gen. 22:12, 16).
In like manner, God's gift is measured by the Person given. The degree of God's love — the "so" — is commensurate only with the worth of His Only-begotten Son. He was the Only-begotten Son before He was given; and before He was sent into the world. Sonship is inseparable from His Person, and does not describe an official or mediatorial relationship assumed by Him or bestowed upon Him for service. God gave His Son, not a servant, yet, blessed be His holy name, though He was the Son, He became the Servant to serve both God and man.
Believing on His Name
In verse 16, we read of believing "on Him," and in verse 18 of believing "on His name." "He that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the Only-begotten Son of God." It is noteworthy that "name" is the word used here, not "title."
A name denotes the identity of a person, being the term distinguishing that person from others. A title is the term indicating office or service, and the same title may apply to a number of different persons. King is a title, denoting regal dignity, and belonged to David, Solomon, Josiah, Nebuchadnezzar, and to all holding that office. David, however, was the name of the anointed son of Jesse. There were many entitled kings in Israel, but only one named David.
The name then is personal to him who bears it, and when it was divinely given it exactly suited him: thus, the Lord said to one of the apostles, "Thou art Peter." The name expresses what a person is; the title describes what a person does. "Saviour" is a title of the Lord: "unto you is born . . . a Saviour" (Luke 2:11). But His personal name is "Jesus," meaning Jehovah the Saviour (Matt. 1:21). The idea of salvation underlies both the name and the title, but the title, "Saviour," describes the work of Him Who came that the world through Him might be saved, while "Jesus" expresses Who that incarnate Person is — Jehovah the Saviour. So, in celebrating the salvation of Israel, Moses sang, "Jehovah is a man of war; Jehovah, His name" (Ex. 15:3).
Now in scriptural usage it appears that the term, "Son of God," is recorded as a name, and not as a title. The "Son" expresses Who that Blessed Person is essentially, the One on Whom the Father's love was outpoured before the world was. If it only designated a mediatorial office assumed at some particular time in the economy of the ages, then the "Son of God" would be a title. But scripture does not support such a thought, though it tells us frequently and emphatically that the One Who undertook the high mediatorial functions between God and man is the Son of God, e.g., it shows that the One Who is now made High Priest in heaven is the Son of God (Heb. 5:5).
Turning again to John 3:18, and remembering that the "name of the Only-begotten Son of God" denotes all that He is as the Declarer of God's love, being the Son of His love, we see more clearly what terrible guilt is involved in man's refusal to believe. The refusal of the Son decides the unbeliever's position. "He that believeth not is judged already." He has rejected "God in Christ." "He has not believed on the name of the Only-begotten Son of God."
The decisive criterion of man's destiny revealed in this passage was a new feature in the ways of God, and arose from the presence of the Incarnate Son on earth as the gift of God's love for the world. This the Holy Spirit now testifies (John 16:9). Never before had the Son appeared among men for such a purpose, and men accordingly incurred a responsibility never before imposed. A prophet was to be received because he spoke in the name of Jehovah Who sent him (Deut. 18:18, 19), but now men were required to believe in the name of the Speaker Himself — the Only-begotten Son. Israel had to believe the message of the prophet, but not on his name. But now the people were called to believe on the Son, for Jehovah's "name is in Him" (Ex. 23:21). God had now sent His Son to the unbelieving nation, not a servant as He had formerly done (Matt. 21:33-39).
The Manifestation of the Love of God
While the love of God has been manifested generally to the world, it has been manifested particularly to the family of God. The apostle John wrote, "Herein as to us [or, in our case), has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9).
Thus, the language of inspired scripture in the Gospel and the Epistle is precise that the Only-begotten Son of God was both given and sent into the world. The eternal Sonship of the Sent One imparted unparalleled glory to His mission, while it aggravated the guilt of those in the world who disbelieved on His name. To the family of faith who live through Him, the Only-begotten Son is the abiding manifestation of the love of God in respect of themselves. The adoring contemplation of the infinite love of God displayed in the Only-begotten Son will be the everlasting occupation of the children of God in the Father's Home on high.