The root of the issue, when it comes to condemnation (exile, perishing), or the opposite of condemnation (exodus, eternal life), is belief in the God of creation. That belief is inseparable from the Creator’s purposes for His divine image-bearers and the world that He had created, in accordance with His covenant promises, which fundamentally point to undoing and reversing the damage done by Adam.
Later on in the third chapter of Gospel of John, John the Baptist can be heard speaking about Jesus. Some of John’s disciples were concerned that people that had previously come out to follow John were now going to Jesus. John’s initial response to this was “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven” (3:27a). John, who has been previously recognized by Jesus (in the text) as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), and who seems to well understand the role to which he believed himself to have been appointed, sees the crowds gathering to Jesus as right and proper.
It would seem that John recognizes that the time has come for Jesus to enter into His ministry, and that this ministry has been ordained by Israel’s God to supersede and supplant his own, as he had sown the seeds of the new exodus movement (into the new promised land in which the God of Israel would rule all through His Messiah) that would be taken up by Jesus. So to this concern of his disciples, John responds by saying “He must become more important while I become less important” (3:30).
Going further, John echoes the words that were previously spoken to Nicodemus by Jesus, as he says “The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under His authority” (3:35). By this, John demonstrates his apparent understanding of the pronounced son of God tradition within Israel, as this love, along with all that goes with it, is the very thing that had been true of Adam, of Israel, and of Solomon. Adam had been given complete authority over the whole of creation, Israel had been given authority over the promised land, and Solomon had been given authority over the Creator God’s people. Perhaps more importantly, Solomon had been, at least according to Israel’s history, granted authority to build the Temple of God. All of these things had been an outworking of the love of the Creator God, which had been directed towards these particular sons of God.
Jesus’ cousin goes on to speak in a very similar fashion to Jesus Himself, doing so in the context of the long history of sonship and saying “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him” (3:36). Once again, the text draws a contrast between eternal life versus condemnation. Believing in the Son, or believing “in the name of the one and only Son of God” (3:18b), which is another way of saying “believing in the faithful, covenant God because of the Son,” is what allows one to participate in the kingdom of God, which is participating in the rule of the Creator God on earth (the outworking of eternal life).
So if all of this is properly understood both contextually and historically, what is implied for those that seek to comprehend the message of this Gospel? Well, it should definitely change the way one approaches John 3:16, never allowing for the possibility of looking at it the same way again. In particular, it should crystallize one’s thinking concerning what it is that the Creator God has purposed for those that confess an allegiance to Jesus, calling Him the Son of God, and appropriately vesting that title with divine attributes in conjunction with understanding Jesus as the Messiah for Israel. One is best able to do so by thinking in terms of the Temple of God, especially if the Temple of God is rightly thought of as that place where the Creator God dwells (rests).