“The (one) trusting in the Son holds (the) life of the ages, but the (one) being without trust in the Son shall not see life—rather, the anger of God remains upon him.”
Verse 36 is the final verse of our passage (vv. 31-36), and marks the conclusion of the chapter 3 Discourse, as well as the end of chapters 1-3 as a division in the Gospel. As noted previously, vv. 31-36 have a summarizing function and character similar to that of 12:44-50. The verses summarize and recapitulate many of the key themes of chaps. 1-3. In particular, as noted, they reproduce the thematic sequence of the exposition by Jesus (vv. 11-21) in the Nicodemus Discourse. Verses 31-33 reprise the theme of Jesus as the one coming from heaven (vv. 12-13), while vv. 34-35 focus on Jesus as the Son sent by God the Father (vv. 16-17). Verse 36, in turn, emphasizes how trust in Jesus (as the Son) leads to eternal life for the believer, and (correspondingly) judgment for the unbeliever; this is the key theme of vv. 18-21, being already introduced in vv. 15-17.
The believer and unbeliever are each defined, grammatically, through the typical Johannine idiom, using an articular verbal noun (participle) as a substantive descriptor of the person. For the believer, this is o( pisteu/wn, “the (one) trusting” (cf. vv. 16, 18; 1:12, etc), while, for the unbeliever, it is o( a)peiqw=n, which essentially means “the (one) being without trust” (the a)– prefix is privative, indicating being without something). The contrast thus is trust (in Jesus) vs. being without trust, even though the two verbs used are different. pisteu/w does have the fundamental meaning “trust”; however, the second verb, a)peiqe/w, properly means “being without persuasion,” i.e., being unpersuaded (the root verb pei/qw meaning “persuade”). In the theological context of the Johannine Gospel, this means that the unbeliever is a person who is unpersuaded by the witness of who Jesus is, and thus is without trust in him.
The focus of this trust (or lack-of-trust) is Christological in nature—that is, it relates specifically to Jesus’ identity as the Divine/heavenly Son of God. The trust is explicitly “in the Son” —i.e., in Jesus as the Son of God. Grammatically, this is expressed two ways: first, by the prepositional expression ei)$ to\n ui(o/n (lit. “into/unto the Son”), and, second, through the dative case (without preposition), tw=| ui(w=|, “(in) the Son”. In the latter expression, the specific preposition e)n may be implied. Both modes of expression are common among early Christians, and can be found used in the Gospel of John; the expression with the preposition ei)$ is more typical, and is used earlier in vv. 16 and 18 (also in 1:12), but the expression with e)n also occurs (e.g., 20:31).
The virtually the same contrast occurred earlier in verse 18, except that the idea of unbelief is expressed there through the specific negation of trust (using the negative particle mh/):
- “The (one) trusting [pisteu/wn] in him is not judged
- but the (one) not trusting [mh\ pisteu/wn] already has been judged”
The contrasting fates of these persons is expressed in terms of being judged by God (with the end-time/afterlife Judgment principally in mind); while, here in v. 36, the focus is on a person having/experiencing eternal life:
- “is not judged” = “holds eternal life”
- “has already been judged” = “shall not see life”
In the Gospel of John, the word zwh/ (“life”) almost always refers to the Divine (i.e., eternal) Life possessed by God. Jesus (as the Son) holds this same Life, and is able to communicate it to believers, through the Spirit. The fundamental association between eternal life and the Spirit is only alluded to here (through the context of vv. 5-8 and 34f), but elsewhere in the Gospel it is made more explicit, such as in 4:14ff (cp. 7:38-39) and 6:63. Both of these references will be discussed in upcoming notes in this series. From the Johannine standpoint, one “holds” (vb e&xw) eternal life through holding the Spirit within—the signification being essentially the same. I regard this as a fundamental principle of Johannine spiritualism, which will be further established as we continue in our study.