For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

There are many reasons why this text is often referred to as the most precious promise in the entire Bible. Many sermons have centered on the wonderful opportunity that this text offers and the wonderful insight into salvation that it provides.

For most Christians, this verse is the first one committed to memory, usually at a very young age. Many explanations have been provided by many learned people on exactly what this unfathomable gift encompasses and what is involved in believing.

The mystery of this gift, the incarnation of our Saviour, will undoubtedly remain just that—a mystery—until we cross the Jordan, and even then, it will remain an object of study throughout eternity.

One aspect of this verse, however, that is opened for us fairly clearly through mining the word of God is what is involved in believing. Unfortunately, many broad road Christians use the simplest definition of believe to claim assured salvation, while failing to understand the true meaning of this word as Christ used it. They fail to recall (or willingly overlook) the text in which James uses the exact same Greek word when he states in James 2:19 that, “The devils also believe, and tremble.” Thus it is clear that the Holy Spirit impressed upon James that simply believing as it is commonly understood is not sufficient for salvation.

However, the aspect of this text that this article will dwell on is the all-inclusive word that occurs in front of believe: whosoever. There is no greater delight that springs up in the human heart than when the realization occurs that “whosoever” includes “me.”

This word that contains such unrestricted hope for the true believer occurs in the New Testament over one hundred times. However, not only does it offer unrestricted hope, but it also carries dire warnings of condemnation. A study of its use and application reveals to the searcher for truth both the mercy and the justice of an all-wise and loving God.

An exhaustive analysis of its several Greek forms is beyond the scope of this article, though it does make for a very rewarding personal study. Here, however, we will concentrate on one single occurrence and the events that led up to that use.

The instance that this article will focus on occurred following a series of interesting events in Jesus’ life, as recorded in Matthew 21, an intriguing record of several days in Christ’s life just prior to His crucifixion.

Inspiration tells us that, “The events which preceded His great sacrifice must be such as to call attention to the sacrifice itself.” The Desire of Ages, 571.

Matthew 21 is a fascinating chapter. It begins with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem—a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9. His entry created such a commotion that the bystanders asked what was going on. Who is this who is causing such an uproar? They were told, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” Verse 11, NKJV.

“The events connected with this triumphal ride would be the talk of every tongue, and would bring Jesus before every mind.” The Desire of Ages, 571.

While the Jewish leaders were engaged in contentious conversation with the Roman authorities, trying to get them to restrain the tumult raised by Jesus’ entry, Jesus went unnoticed into the temple, where all was relatively quiet, as the worshipers had been drawn outside by the activity surrounding His arrival and had become distracted by the contention between the temple authorities and the Roman soldiers. He subsequently withdrew quietly from the temple with His disciples, returning to Bethany.

The following day, as He headed back to the temple, He passed a fig orchard. Finding a tree fully leafed out, He searched it for figs, but found that it contained no fruit, just as He had found the Jewish nation barren of spiritual fruit.

Inspiration tells us that there were four qualities—four fruits—that He had hoped to find among His people when He came to dwell among them—four qualities that His true followers will and indeed must manifest when He returns to gather them to the kingdom: self-sacrifice [“Put off the old man with his deeds …” Colossians 3:9], compassion [“Do unto others …” Luke 6:31], zeal for God [“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” II Timothy 4:2], and a deep yearning of soul for the salvation of their fellow men [“Go ye therefore and teach …” Matthew 28:19]. (See The Desire of Ages, 583.)

The utter lack of those qualities was symbolized by the barren fig tree. Christ’s cursing of the tree “showed what the Jewish people would be when the grace of God was removed from them. Refusing to impart blessing, they would no longer receive it.” Ibid.

Then Jesus moved on to the temple, where the second cleansing occurred, during which Jesus quoted scripture to show the priests that they were fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies in making God’s house, the temple, a den of thieves.

Recognizing that Jesus was a true prophet, as the multitudes had proclaimed as He entered the city, the blind and the lame came to Him seeking healing. As they were healed, they could not contain their gratitude. Scripture says that the children proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Matthew 21:15. Why was it the children who bore the testimony?

In the story of the blind man who was healed on the Sabbath, his parents along with their son were disfellowshiped because they professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, the church had issued a warning that any who professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah would be disfellowshiped. Therefore none of the adults were willing to speak what they knew in their hearts to be the truth. Thus it was that the children sang out.

“As the children sang in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (Mark 11:9), so in these last days children’s voices will be raised to give the last message of warning to a perishing world. When heavenly intelligences see that men are no longer permitted to present the truth, the Spirit of God will come upon the children, and they will do a work in the proclamation of the truth which the older workers cannot do because their way will be hedged up.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 176.

Following this event that was so joyous to those blessed and healed by Christ—but that was such a consternation to the Jewish religious leaders—there occurred a confrontation between the latter group and Jesus, during which was fulfilled Christ’s statement spoken in an earlier confrontation with the same group: “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:37.

After being baffled in their efforts to obtain from Jesus a statement on the source of His authority (Matthew 21:23–27), Jesus spoke the parable of the two sons, one who promised his father that he would go work in the father’s vineyard but did not, and the other who said that he wouldn’t, but ultimately did. When the Pharisees and scribes correctly answered that the latter son was the one who did the will of the father, they realized that they had brought condemnation upon themselves in their answer. Christ drove home the point by telling them, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31.

Christ followed this parable with another that further clarified the condition of the Jewish leaders. In the parable of the householder and the tenants, Christ made crystal clear the fate of those who failed to recognize Him as the Messiah. And once again, they pronounced their own condemnation: “They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” Verse 41.

Then comes one of Christ’s clearest statements on the fate of the Jewish nation.

“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” Verses 42–44.

Here Christ states the fate of those who fail to accept Christ as the only “name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.

We have two choices, and whosoever makes the wise choice shall be broken—broken from the chain of sin and misery that so besets this world (Romans 3); broken from the bondage of captivity from which Christ came to free His children (Isaiah 49:25); broken from the hold that Satan has on those who fail to avail themselves of the grace of Christ (John 8:36).

“Do not entertain the thought that because you have made mistakes, because your life has been darkened by errors, your Heavenly Father does not love you and will not hear you when you pray. He says, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ ‘The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.’ [John 6:37; James 5:11.] His heart of love is touched by our sorrows, and even by our utterance of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear; for He holds up worlds, He rules over the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. None have fallen so low, none are so vile, that they can not find deliverance in Christ. The demoniacs of Gadara, in the place of prayer could utter only the words of Satan; but yet the heart’s unspoken appeal was heard. No cry from a soul in need is unheeded.

“The ear of the Lord is open to the cry of every suppliant. Even before the prayer is offered or the yearning desire of the soul made known, the Spirit of God goes forth to meet it. Never has there been a genuine desire, never a tear shed in contrition of soul, but grace from Christ has gone forth to meet the grace working upon the human heart.” The Signs of the Times, June 18, 1902.

“Whosoever believeth … .” Those who claim this promise—so dear to the seeker of salvation, so all-encompassing, so full of hope—must accept with it a responsibility to sink the shaft deeply into the word of God to ensure a full comprehension of what believing in Jesus Christ truly means, and to understand the commitment required to truly believe.

“Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them … .” Matthew 7:24

“Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men … .” Matthew 10:32

“Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven … .” Matthew 12:50

“Whosoever will save his life … .” Matthew 16:25

“Whosoever will be great among you … .” Matthew 20:26

“Whosoever will be chief among you … .” Matthew 20:27

“Whosoever shall do the will of God … .” Mark 3:35

“Whosoever will come after Me … .” Mark 8:34

“Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17

“Whosoever believeth … .” John 3:16

John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: johnpearson@stepstolife.org.