18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
JOHN 3:18 ESV
18 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ.
JOHN 3:18 SBLGNT
With God’s purpose of love thus clearly stated, the manner of its realization is again emphasized. However, this is altogether personal, and the singular is used in this sentence for each individual. While Jesus speaks objectively in the third person, he aims directly at Nicodemus, who would involuntarily turn this third person into the second and regard it as being addressed to him personally. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Though no connective is used, none is needed; what the previous verse states in general regarding being judged and saved is here made personal, and the decisive factor in this is faith. Hence these striking opposites, “Whoever believes in him”—”whoever does not believe (μή being the regular negative with a participle). Both substantivized participles are durative as in v. 15 and 16; continuous believing marking the one man, continuous non-believing the other. The whole world is divided into these two.
Jesus might have used the positive verb “to be saved” in connection with v. 17 and might have said: The believer “is saved,” the non-believer “is not saved.” Instead, he takes up the negative verb from v. 17 and says: The believer “is not judged,” the non-believer “has already been judged.” This verb has a more assertive tone of warning. Nicodemus must know that escape is accomplished by faith alone; escape now at this very moment, for the tense is present, “is not judged.” He must know that lack of faith is the destructive force, destructive from the start, for the tense is perfect, “has already been judged” and thus now stands as one already so judged. Rather, this explains why God did not need to send his Son to judge the world. The judgment takes care of itself by sending his Son to save the world. The believers need no judgment. Being saved, they belong to God as his own. He will institute no trial for them as if he had to decide their case pro or con either now or at any time, including the last day. Therefore, this also is true concerning the non-believers. Their refusal to believe already judges them; they already have their verdict, which, as the perfect κέκριται shows, stands indefinitely.
That is why Jesus uses the indeterminate verb κρίνεσθαι, “to be judged,” instead of the verb κατακρίνεσθαι, “to be condemned,” which, by the way, is not found in John. Even such an act as judging is not at all needed. However, will not a grand final judgment take place on the last day? Not in the strict sense of the word. Then all men will already have received their judgment even as Jesus tells Nicodemus at this moment. Immediately after they are raised from the dead, they will be placed on the right or the left of the Judge by the angels. That could not be done if they were not already judged. What follows is the public announcement of the verdict long before this is determined by the Judge and with the evidence on which it rests.
Since the believer is not judged, nothing more must be added concerning him. He is not judged—that is all. Nevertheless, since the non-believer has been judged, Jesus states the charge against him, using the actual form of a legal indictment. Unfortunately, this is lost in our English translation because we have only one negative while the Greek has two, one objective regarding the fact presented as such, one subjective, regarding the speaker’s opinion. Jesus uses the latter. If he had used οὑ, he would have stated the fact regarding the unbeliever: quod non credidit, nothing more. By using μή, he states the charge against the man as God would make it: quod non crediderit. So stated, it includes what God or Christ thinks and holds against man. We may call it more than a charge, for this charge becomes the verdict of God on the man, R. 963. That is why this is also stated in a whole and formal way. We need to add only one implied word: Guilty “because he has not believed in the name of the Only-begotten Son of God!” The crime is thus solemnly named. The perfect μὴ πεπίστευκεν matches the preceding perfect κέκριται, for they are concurrent as to time, setting in at the same instant and continuing equally after that.
When stating the charge and the verdict, we again meet τὸ ὄνομα (compare 1:12): he has not believed “on the name” of the Only-begotten Son of God. In all such connections, “the name” denotes the revelation of the Son made to a person. Jesus was now making this revelation to Nicodemus. “The name” is thus the Word (v. 11). It tells us all about this wonderful Savior, his grace, and his work for us. “The name” is thus used in these connections because it contains the trust-producing power. Here all the greatness of this name and revelation is brought out by the genitive: the name “of the Only-begotten Son of God.” Can there be a greater? Could God come to your soul with a more effective trust-producing power? Hence the outrageousness of the crime named in this indictment. It is not hard to imagine the impact of these words of Jesus on the soul of Nicodemus. Those who regard these words as mere objective reflections of John himself miss the personal urge that throbs in them. We also need not wonder that we have no more dialogue, for we can well imagine the significant silence of Nicodemus as he sat there with such words gripping his soul. That is why John placed this discourse into his Gospel: Jesus is making a wonderful revelation of himself; his attestation to his divine nature and work could hardly be more substantial.1
The reality remains that our spiritual journey is bound to our fate of judgement. We are sinners, and our abilities fall short of God. However, as Christians, our sins have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Chirst on the cross. Judgement due has been made “Not judged: by faith, whilst to be judged is the predetermined conclusion for those who seek our reasoning apart from the word of God. There is no middle ground, and the objective sense of our reasoning is embedded in our choice. A choice of judgement or faith is the promise of salvation. Would the contamination of sin serve justice in heaven for all those who have placed their lives in the faith of Christ? Sacrifice and devout commitment in a world of trials build our character and being into a shape of purity that graces the heavens. Where choice is but one; to His glory and majesty, sin has been removed from our midst. A perfect existence that eliminates evil, pain and suffering and our perfected objectivity is only in our Creator.
R. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, by A. T. Robertson, fourth edition.
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 267–270.