Eternal life, therefore, must be understood to be a part of the Creator God’s intentions for the beings that He created in and as His image, as well as the creation over which that being was set in rule. For man, this can be extrapolated from the existence of the tree of life and the point made to bar the way of the fallen image-bearer from accessing the tree. For the creation, this can be extrapolated from the insistence that all of the creation fell from a state of eternality of life when Adam (its steward) fell.
The Apostle Paul would seem to be making an explicit reference to this type of understanding in the eighth chapter of Romans, when he writes that “creation was subjected to futility---not willingly” (8:20a), while also going on to make the point that the creation awaits a time of restoration when it “will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:21). If only Adam had believed the Creator---trusted, relied upon, adhered to the commandment while believing in the associated promise---it could be surmised that neither he nor the creation would have experienced decay and death. If he had believed, he would not have perished.
Having covered so much ground, and having done so much to at least partially construct a more appropriate mindset in which to hear the words of Jesus, it is now possible to connect some of the dots, discovering part of what is being communicated in the Nicodemus/Jesus dialogue, and interpreting John 3:16 in light of the experience of Adam as revealed in the Hebrews Scriptures and as told as part of Israel’s historical self-understanding and as part of their God’s overall purposes for mankind, to which Jesus appeals in order to legitimate His mission as that of the promised and long-awaited Son of Man.
The Creator God indeed loved the world that He is understood to have created and set in order. He loved it so much that He made a being in His own image (as His image)---a son---and placed that being in the world. As part of His creation, He also loved this son. He is understood to have given that son responsibilities and a commandment, asking that son to believe in Him, so as to be able to faithfully and rightly perform His duties in the world, before his Creator. If that son did in fact believe in the God that had created Him and given him his position, then we would have eternal life.
If he did not believe in his Creator, and did not exhibit trust in His word such that he did not live up to the terms of the covenant that had been set for and with him, then the result of that dis-belief and the forsaking of His expressed purpose in and for the world, would be that He would perish. His fate would be shared by the much loved realm over which he had been set. He would be exiled from that place of purpose, forfeiting access to that which granted eternal life, which, in reality, is the unbroken relationship with the Creator as His exact image, and thereby losing eternal life itself. What ultimately perished was trust, and therefore his union with his Maker, which was the source of that life. Quite naturally then, to perish at the hands of death was the only logical result. Such was the history of the Creator God’s initial sending of His son into the world. Coming to grips with this provides a portion of the much-needed framework for an understanding of Jesus’ mission.
With all of this said and hopefully absorbed, one becomes able to more effectively peer into the historical context that surrounded these famous words of Jesus, reflecting on the fact that the Creator God’s love for the world, His sending of His Son, the necessity of belief, and the subsequent reception of eternal life, could and would cause Nicodemus to hearken to the “beginning of the story,” and the story of Adam and his fall.