How a Single Word Changes John 3:16
I grew up attending Grace Church in Eden Prairie, a non-denomination church with Baptist roots. Like most children attending Grace, I went to Awana, which is a child discipleship program. John 3:16 is the first verse I learned, and I was not the only kid who memorized John 3:16 but was one of the hundreds of kids who memorized it. When the table teachers would teach us what it meant, they would say, "Jesus loves you a lot, and he wants to be with you forever in heaven when you die. Do you want to be in heaven with Jesus?" Every kid would yell "Yes!" and would proceed to follow along with the teacher as they led us in the magic wand prayer so that we could be with Jesus in heaven once we died.
And for a long time, I believed that this verse only talked about how Jesus loved us, and because of that, he died for us so that we could be with him in heaven one day. To many other people and me, that was all the verse needed to portray, but that shallow explanation does not do justice to the scale of hope and joy the verse portrays. If the significant part of John 3:16 is that we get to be with Jesus in heaven when we die, what is the point of living in the now? If the goal of the Christian life is to be with Jesus when we die, then what is the point to be suffering here in an imperfect world?
That is where learning about the entire picture is vastly important, and we have missed this because our English Bibles do not help with seeing the full painting. To see the painting, we need to look into what the Bible means by "Eternal Life." Most understand this verse as a perspective of future life. But that is the fraction of the painting that I mentioned earlier. The full picture can be seen when you understand that "life" means Zoe in Greek. Here are some definitions of what Zoe means.
Definitions of Zoe:
Definition One: "The state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate; every living soul."
Definition Two: "Of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through Him both to the hypostatic "logos" and to Christ in whom the "logos" put on human nature."
After learning that "life" means zoe, you hopefully can start to see that the verse changes from the perspective of a future life with God in heaven to a life that starts now with Him and lasts forever. Zoe has changed the way that I view salvation and how I live as a Christian. Now I know that I have eternal life that started when I trusted and believed in Jesus as my savior. Life takes on a new meaning when you view salvation and eternal life as a process that begins in this life and extends into the next. I am filled with joy that I have not felt before, and it excites me to share the hope and joy of Jesus that starts and lasts forever. John 3:16 is not a verse that only promises life in the future but life in our current lives. We can experience the absolute fullness of life here on earth, and it will extend into the next. John 3:16 is a declaration of hope for people and their lives today, and in the future.
This is just a snippet of how a single word changed my perspective on a verse I thought I knew. If you want some other verses that use the word Zoe, then feel free to look up these verses and do your own word study.
John 3:36; Romans 5:17; Ephesians 4:18; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 5:11-13; Galatians 6:8