The next phrase at hand in John 3:16 is “shall not perish.” As part of the conclusion of this verse, it begins the purpose statement about the mission of God’s Son: To save a people that are perishing. So what is the nature of this condition that warranted such a drastic measure by God? The root of the answer lies in the beginning in Genesis at the Fall in the Garden of Eden. For those who ascribe the book of Genesis to being myth, legend, allegory, or merely metaphoric literature, but not actual narrative written as truth and fact, this redemptive verse can not hold any water whatsoever. There must be a real threat to humanity that this verse, along with the Four Gospels, is addressing. Therefore, the whole redemptive plan of God is a rescue mission that begins in Genesis and culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Genesis 3 chronicles the fall of Adam and Eve, the first human couple created by God, into sin from a perfect state of innocense. The sin that was incurred is described in Gen 3:1 – 13. The consequences are pronounced in verses 14 – 19 by God. The entire Bible speaks to those events as real and part of human history. As the progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve became the archetypes for all humans thereafter. In theology this concept is defined under the Headship principle. Under Headship, Adam is our Federal Head who represents the whole human race in a spiritual sense. Whatever is spiritually ascribed to Adam is imputed by God to his progeny–the whole race of man. The Westminster Shorter Catechism A12 teaches that, “When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.” Then the transgression followed: “A13: Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.” As a consequence, the Westminster Larger Confession, A22 states, “The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.” As a result of this fall into sin, God cursed Adam and Eve and expelled them from the Garden of Eden. Expanding on this, the full scope of God’s curses for Adam’s sin involve all of creation, both the heavens and the earth, but in Genesis the focus is on the generations of mankind thereafter and are manifested in the individual as well as in all created things. The implication is the Fall plunged the entire population of humanity into a state of sin that begins from conception for each person. The penalty involves both an immediate spiritual death of the individual and an eventual physical death. One is born into spiritual death or rather without spiritual life and the same is destined to physical death. This includes a struggle with a cursed physical environment in several dimensions. Without God’s intervention, everyone lives their lives opposing God and practising sin through a constant violation of His laws, whether consciously or not. They are cut off from a positive relationship with God and live as enemies against Him. This is true regardless of how well-intentioned or even religious people may try to be. All humans in this state are said to be perishing by the Scriptures. The same are appointed after death to suffer in hell in an unphysical state and eventually are cast into the Lake of Fire in an eternal resurrected body at the end of history to suffer torment for eternity (Rev 21:8). Such is the destiny of all mankind apart from God, according to the Scriptures. To deny this doctrine is to deny the Word of God.
This dire state of mankind is what John 3:16 addresses. The rescue mission is paramount in God’s eternal plan and is of highest priority, with all of history revolving around it, in God’s sovereignty. Thus the atonement achieved by Jesus Christ through His suffering and death on the cross is said to occur at the appointed time of God in a climax of events that He brought together for this purpose. John 3:16 is a short gospel depicting that plan.