My brother, who is preaching through the Gospel of John, wrote about his thoughts on the famous John 3:16 verse. His thoughts, which you can read here, are very helpful in understanding this verse. He offers a proper interpretation:
“Whoever” does not mean “anyone”; in this verse it means “every one.” In fact it is literally “every believing one.” “God loved the world in such a way that he gave his only Son, that every [single] one who believes in him, will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3.16 is a promise, not an invitation.
That’s exactly right. It’s a promise, not an invitation. John 3:16 has been made popular by people like Rollen Stewart (aka. Rock ‘n’ Rollen and Rainbow Man) who wore shirts with the verse at sporting events, Stone Cold Steve Austin who referred to himself as “Austin 3:16”, and Tim Tebow who placed the verse on his face. Adding to its circulation were businesses like In-N-Out Burger who places the verse on the bottom of their cups and Forever 21 who places the verse on the bottom of their shopping bags. It’s basically a form of branding, for better or for worse.
If people want to consider it a summary of the gospel, so be it, but I hope they get the meaning right. It is important that people understand that John 3:16 is not an invitation, a brief set of instructions, quick advice or a one line rule. It is a promise and a proclamation. We live under it rather than follow it. This is consistent with my belief that the gospel is essentially news rather than advice. Most, if not all religion, is advice. Christianity is news that claims to be truth. In other words, just as God calls himself, I am, Christianity just is (Ex. 3:14).
John 3:16 is a great verse for us. I pray it is read with much reverence.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.