In verse 36 the testimony of John the Baptist reaches its final climax. A kind of climax was also noted in 1:29 and again in 1:34. By combining the three we get the following:
“Look, the Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world.”
“And I have seen and I have testified that this one is the Son of God.”
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Whereas all things are in the hand of the Son (verse 35), everlasting life too is in his hand. Accordingly, we read, He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
This passage leads us back to the very similar words of Jesus himself in 3:16–18. Christ’s climax is also John’s. Everlasting life is given to those who have an abiding faith in the Son. It is not for thrill-seekers (who “believe” in him as a worker of miracles; cf. 2:23) but for trusters.
Over against the destiny of believers Jesus had placed that of unbelievers (cf. 3:16 with 3:18). The Baptist does the same when he closes his remarks by stating that he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, the wrath of God remaining on him. Note that over against abiding faith stands disobedience; i.e., refusal to accept Christ by a true and abiding faith. Such base rejection of the Son of God who confronts sinners with the invitation and the demand to “trust and obey,” results in the punishment described in the final clause: they shall not see life; i.e., they shall not experience its joys and delights. The wrath of God, moreover, abides on them. The Baptist had spoken about this wrath of God in another connection (Matt. 3:7; cf. Luke 3:7). Luke refers to God’s wrath in his Gospel (21:23). Paul speaks of it again and again (Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4, 5; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9). The concept is also found in Hebrews (3:11; 4:3), and in the book of Revelation (19:15; cf. 6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19). Upon one occasion this attitude is ascribed to Christ (Mark 3:5), who in his parabolic teaching does not hesitate to ascribe it to the King, Lord, or Householder in heaven (Matt. 18:34; 22:7; Luke 14:21).
Though in the light of Rom. 1:18 and Eph. 2:3 it is surely erroneous to limit this divine disposition too narrowly by defining it as God’s displeasure with those who reject the Gospel (it also rests on those who have never heard the Gospel!), it is, nevertheless, true that man’s impenitent heart, his obduracy and sinister unwillingness to embrace Christ by a living faith, often furnishes the setting for these wrath-of-God passages. That is true also with respect to the passage which we are now studying (3:36). It is the only instance of the use of this word wrath (ὀργή) in the Fourth Gospel. It ind It indicates settled indignation (sometimes in contrast with anger, θυμός, which is then defined as turbulent commotion, suddenly blazing up and quickly extinguished, like fire in straw, but especially when applied to God it is probably wrong to press the distinction between the two words).
The mention of man’s disobedience, his base refusal to accept the Gospel, causes the mind to travel back to the story of the fall in Paradise. As a result of this fall Adam and Eve had been refused access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), and the wrath of God had been visited upon mankind. John 3:36 now teaches us that this wrath remains on those who disobey the Son.
This conclusion of the Baptist’s testimony is beautiful because of its clear implication: Embrace the Son of God by a living and abiding faith, and have everlasting life. Cf. 3:21.