If one was to accept that Jesus (at the time that He is speaking) intends Nicodemus to understand His words according to the historical-redemptive plans of the Creator God for His people and His creation, rather than as Jesus somehow obviously referring to Himself as the second person of the trinity (which would be contrary to the author’s intent at that point), then it is also possible to discover how Nicodemus is supposed to make sense of the words that followed.
With his mental registration of the well-understood, oft-repeated, all-important, and self-defining story of Israel in mind, owing to Jesus’ use of the son of God terminology, Nicodemus can rightly grasp that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:17). Quite unfortunately, as has been seen, Nicodemus would be well aware that condemnation for the world, with further and further condemnation for the world, had been the result of the best efforts of those sons (Adam, Israel, Solomon) that had been sent.
“Saved,” of course, is not to be restricted to a sense of gaining assurances concerning the ethereal, after-death location of one’s immortal soul , nor is it to be restricted to the realm of humanity alone. The use of “saved” is, above and beyond most every other usage, exodus language. As exodus language, rooted in the narrative history of Israel that stretches back to the story of Adam, it implies an entrance, along with a maintenance following that entrance, into the Creator God’s purposes for both human beings and the whole of the physical, created world. Each of the sons of God that have been reviewed heretofore had a particular purpose, with that purpose being to fulfill a set of covenant obligations and to cause the whole of the world (people and the creation itself) to be deluged with the blessings (saved, eternal life) of the covenant God, but the desired result never materialized.
Rather, as has been noted, condemnation is what had materialized, with that condemnation (perishing) seemingly always rooted in an idolatry which represented a fundamental dis-belief in the promises of the Creator God. The desired belief, of course, was to start with the being made in and as the Creator God’s image, with the blessings associated with that belief flowing to the remainder of the groaning creation (to quote Paul’s words from Romans, which itself is also a reference to the groaning of the son of God Israel in their Egyptian subjugation). However, just as Adam had dragged the creation down with Him into death, so too did the failing sons continue to dam up what were supposed to be the readily available blessings of the Creator God, which had the effect of keeping themselves, humanity, and the whole of creation in bondage.
Following from the words recorded in the seventeenth verse concerning condemnation, Jesus goes on to say “The one who believes in Him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the one and only Son of God” (3:18). Not believing in the Name of the one and only Son of God is, in essence, the same as saying that one did not believe in the Creator God, as the idea of one person coming in the name of another person, as a representative of their power (here, one can consider the delegation of royal emissaries that speak for and represent a ruler), would have been, and still is, well understood.