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John 3:16… The Most Misunderstood Statement of All Time!

Did Jesus say that if we do not believe in him, we will experience eternal conscious torment in the afterlife? That’s exactly what billions believe Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever does not believe in him will perish!”

Billions understand “perish” to mean eternal conscious torment in the afterlife. How? Well, if eternal life means living forever, then to perish, by contrast, can only mean eternal conscious torment. But this is not what Jesus meant at all!

For one thing, Jesus is not referring to something that will take place in the afterlife. He is talking about what is happening in the here and now. This is made clear by the use of the present indicative active in the verb believe.

Jesus said that whoever believes… (present tense, right here, right now) … shall not perish—right here right now! There is nothing in this verse that indicates he is talking about perishing in the afterlife! Jesus is simply saying that if you do not believe him now, you are perishing now!

So, what does Jesus mean by the word “perish?” And how does one perish here and now? We can answer this question contextually, lexically and syntactically. The syntax of the sentence, that is, the sentence structure, makes it very clear that to perish simply means the exact opposite to eternal life! “Whoever does not believe will perish and not have eternal life.” John has placed the words perish and everlasting life in direct contrast.

If eternal life means a life that goes on endlessly, then to perish, by contrast, would have to mean some kind of deathly experience that goes on endlessly. But eternal life in the Bible does not mean having a life that never ends.

If we can find out what “eternal life” means, then we will automatically know what to “perish” means because they are exactly the opposite. And we are not left in the dark on this issue because Jesus has given us an exact definition of what eternal life means.

And this is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Eternal life is clearly defined as knowing God and knowing Jesus. To know God means having an intimate relationship with Him.

Bingo! Since eternal life means “knowing” God, that is, an intimate relationship with God and Jesus, so to perish simply means the exact opposite. To perish then simply means to not know God … To not have an intimate relationship with God and Jesus! To perish has nothing to do at all with going to hell in the afterlife… It simply means to not have an intimate relationship with God and Jesus here and now.

But why did Jesus say that eternal life is having a relationship with God and him? Why both? You see, to have a relationship with anyone, you have to know what they are like. So, to know God, which is eternal life, we need to know what He is like and that’s exactly why Jesus came to earth!

As soon as Jesus said that eternal life was knowing God and him … Jesus made the following qualifying statement.

6 “Father, I have manifested who you really are, and I have revealed you (John 17:6 TPT)

Wow! Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus because Jesus reveals what God is like!

18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or [b]the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him, and He has made Him known]. (John 1:18 AMPC)

See? Jesus is the only one who can reveal the Father to us. So, we must believe in Jesus in order to know God. Why? We will never be able to have a relationship with God without knowing what He is like, and we can only know what He is like by believing in and knowing Jesus, who revealed Him.

Let’s consider what the Greek word translated “perish” actually means. The Greek word is apolummi. This is the same word translated “lost” in the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost coin and of the prodigal son.

Perish means to be lost! Let’s put this all together now.

  1. Eternal life with God comes by believing in Jesus, who showed us what God is like.
  2. To perish by not believing in Jesus means we can’t ever get to know God because Jesus is the only one who has ever revealed Him.
  3. And the Greek word for perish means to be lost.

If we believe in Jesus, we will know what God is like. If we don’t believe in Jesus, we perish … we are lost here and now because we can never get to know God without Jesus revealing Him to us.

So, here’s my paraphrase of John 3:16:

“Whoever believes in Jesus will not be lost but will know what God is like and enter into a relationship with God, which is life eternal.”