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John 3:16 "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God." (HCSB).
The One and Only
Reading: John 1:1-
We’re looking at some of the ways in which Jesus Christ is described in the Bible. We’ve been looking at a series of names and titles and this evening we are going to be considering another. It is a title/description that emphasises the absolute uniqueness of our Saviour.
Although this particular description is only found in the writings of the apostle John it is extremely well-
It will be our task this evening to examine just what John meant when he wrote what he did and to try to appreciate something of its momentous significance.
It is the Greek "monogenes" that is rendered "only begotten" in Jn.3:16. The basic meaning of the word is as follows: it means that someone is unique in a certain way, that they are the "only" example of a particular thing. It signifies that the person being described (and it is always used in the NT to describe a person) is somehow "one of a kind" or "the only one of its kind or class". The problem with the AV comes not from the use of the word "only" but with the choice of the English word "begotten", which is the past participle of the verb to beget – a different Greek word altogether and which carries very different connotations!
The word in our text (monogenes) appears a total of nine times in the Greek NT. The apostle John used the word five times in his writings (four times in his gospel and once in his first letter) and on each and every occasion he did so he applied it to the Lord Jesus. We will look at all of these in a few moments.
But before we do that I want you to see just how the word was used elsewhere. In the rest of the NT the word is used only four times and never of Jesus! Luke used it three times and the writer to the Hebrews just the once.
Each time that Luke used the word he used it in the normal way to describe an only child in a family:
The widow of Nain’s son:
Lk.7:12 "As (Jesus) drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her."
Lk.8:42 "(Jairus) had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying."
A Boy with an unclean spirit:
Lk.9:38 "And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child."
But when we look at Hebrews we find something different.
The AV once again translates with "only begotten", though it had dropped the word "begotten" in translating the verses from Luke.
Heb. 11:17 "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,"
Now, I wonder, do you begin to see what the problem is with this translation?
Well, let me put it another way: hadn’t Abraham already fathered another son before Isaac was even born? You know he had, that son’s name was Ishmael and Abraham’s begetting of Ishmael caused many family tensions and problems!
No, Isaac was not Abraham’s "only begotten son" but he was Abraham’s "only special son" his "one-
This is the way that Greek word ought to be translated in all of the references in John’s writings to Jesus as well.
To translate with "begotten" lends itself to misunderstanding. Begotten being part of the word "beget" makes us think of a father begetting a child and it leads us almost inevitably to thoughts of a beginning, and to thoughts of non-
John’s true interests lie elsewhere. He is not at all interested at this juncture to think about origins – he has already identified the Word as being eternally with God and also eternally God.
No, John is concerned to emphasise that Jesus is "one of a kind", a "very special one of a kind", he is "utterly unique". He is "the one and only". You have heard famous people being introduced like that. The host of the TV or stage shows says something like: "Ladies, and gentlemen, let me present to you this evening the one and only ..." and then fills in with whatever the name of the particular celebrity is.
John is introducing to us the most important person we’re ever going to meet:
The Lord Jesus Christ:
the one and only Son of God
the one who has come from God
the one who is intimate with the Father
the one who is one and only God
the one who is the measure of the Father’s love
and the one by whom our eternal futures will be determined
John’s One and Only Life-
In this Prologue John introduces the themes that he intends to develop throughout his gospel narrative. This particular section is a wonderfully rich and well-
Jn.1:14 "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
The Word, which had been with God and which was God now undergoes a remarkable change, a stupendous change, an unforgettable almost unimaginable change. Without ceasing to be God the Word becomes something that it had not hitherto been – the Word became flesh. And not only that the Word which had hitherto dwelt with God in a sublime and harmonious union of intimacy now exchanges that company in order to dwell amongst us!
John is staggered as he reflects on the wonder of it all but he can’t deny it for he has been an eye-
Yes, John had been a witness to some of his glory: he had seen Jesus fulfil the works that his Father had given him to do; he had heard the teachings that the Father had given the Son to teach; he had seen for a few brief moments this man Jesus transfigured as glory shined from his whole that day up on the Mountain when Moses and Elijah had come to speak with him about just how he would exit the world; he had even seen the risen Lord walking on earth in the power of a resurrected life – but he had only seen a small part. For John was one of those Jesus had prayed for when he had prayed that his followers would be finally brought to where Jesus was so that they might (all) see his glory. And John knew that his own transformation would be completed only when he saw Jesus as he truly is at his return in glory!
We may not have seen the Lord with our physical eyes but we can gaze upon him by faith as we reflect upon the mission he came to accomplish and which he so wonderfully did accomplish. He really is God’s unique Son!
(Perhaps at this point it is worth mentioning that there are different words for child and son used in the NT. In John’s writings the special word Son is always reserved for Jesus in his unique relationship with his Father. Disciples, Christians, are made "children of God" through him though John is careful to maintain the distinction: if you like God has One and only One Authentic Son but many adopted family members in Christ!)
The second time John uses the word monogenes is found just a few verses later:
Jn.1:18 "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known."
Some translations instead of referring to "the only God" put instead "the only Son" or "the only begotten Son" but the earliest manuscripts and the best readings refer to "the only God" – and this is the only time in the whole of Scripture that this particular construction is used. But how well it fits in with what John has been writing in the opening verses. He has referred already to the Word and the the fact that everything God was the Word was too and now here he repeats the description as the Prologue is brought to a close. The invisible God has sent his Son on his saving mission and this Son, who is himself God, has come to make the invisible God known .
And what is more this uniquely special, Only One, knows God intimately: the ESV is rather weak with its "who is at the Father’s side" and other translations have "which is in the bosom of the Father," or even "who is close to the Father’s heart,"! This unique One certainly knows what he is talking about being uniquely placed to make the Father known.
That brings us to that most famous of texts:
Jn.3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
This Only Son is the One who has lain close to the Father’s heart from all eternity and now has been given by the Father so that we might not perish but have eternal life through believing in him. This highlights for us the greatness of the Father’s love for a lost and rebellious world.
It is easy to give a little bit, it is harder to give more but to give our very best, most cherished possession away is the hardest of all – and the Father has give the One and Only Jesus Christ, his unique highly valued Son for us! Praise his name.
Later when writing his first letter John made the same point tying the sending of this one-
1Jn.4:9 "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only (monogenes) Son into the world, so that we might live through him."
Back to the passage in John 3 and we find John telling us that this unique One also holds a unique place in God’s plan and purposes for the future of the world. This One is so unique and so special that our destinies depend entirely upon him and the nature of our relationship with him!
Jn.3:18 "Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
People react as though faith in Christ is a small thing, an insignificant thing, a matter of small importance and smaller consequences but how wrong they are. To refuse to believe in Jesus is to refuse to believe in the One and Only Jesus Christ whom his Father regards with the highest possible esteem.
Do you esteem Jesus?
When he is referred to in this way with an emphasis upon his one-
Jn.14:6 "I am the way, the truth and the life no man comes to the Father except through me."
Jn.8:12 "I am the light of the world"
Jn.11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life..."
Truly Jesus, the Saviour of the World, is incomparable. How blessed you are if he is your Saviour too!
To God be the glory.