John 3:17—Did Jesus come to judge the world or not?

Problem: According to this verse, God did not “send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” He added later, “I judge no one” (John 8:15; cf. 12:47). However, in other places Jesus claimed “authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). Indeed, He even claimed, “For judgment I have come into this world” (John 9:39) and the Father “has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

Solution: These verses were spoken in different contexts and with different references. In general, the references to Jesus sitting in judgment on the human race are references to His second coming (see Rev. 19–20), while verses about His not coming to judge but to save have His first coming in mind. Sometimes Jesus is simply speaking about not acting as an earthly judge during His life on earth. A case in point is His answer to the man who wanted him to arbitrate the family inheritance: “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14).

Another distinction that clears up some difficulties is found between the real purpose of Christ’s coming (to save those who believe) and the net effect of it (to judge those who don’t believe). His statement that “for judgment I have come into this world” (John 9:39) seems to fit this latter category (cf. v. 40).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.