Christ said,"God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned." (John 3:17-18) What is He saying here, and why is He saying it?
First, why is He saying it? He was speaking here to Nicodemus, who reverenced Him as a "teacher who has come from God." (John 3:2). But why does Christ bring up this subject of condemnation? Not because He was questioned about it, but because He knew the question that would naturally come up in the minds of His hearers about the direction of His teaching.
What was He teaching here? He was revealing to humanity for the first time that a Judgment is coming for all on Earth, for all to be judged by the same rules, and that all would be separated after the Judgment eternally into either perfect bliss in Heaven, or into Hell. There is no halfway destination...no middle point. The question would come up in the minds of His hearers: Are the damned being condemned from now on? Could it be that those who lived before Christ escaped all this?
No. Condemnation has already been an intrinsic truth even for those in the past. It is not just something for the present and for the future. And those who are damned will be so in the most primary sense: not just because Christ has personally rejected them, but because, even before Christ's own rejection of them, they have already rejected that same morality, the one taught by Him, which they have seen written on their own hearts. It is this, their own rejection, which has condemned them. Christ, in fact, makes this same point in another place in the same Gospel. This time, the Gospel says that Jesus "cried out" and said, "If any- one hears My words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. Whoever rejects Me and does not accept My words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day". (John 12:44, 46 -48). Why does He repeat this? Because, just as He repeats other warnings about Judgment, He knows that warnings are the part of His teaching which is most likely to be resisted and to be rejected.
Salvation and damnation apply not just to those born after the time of Christ, but to all. Both salvation and damnation, in a sense, come from within. The damned, knowing that they do wrong, still, perversely, reject this moral teaching that they see written in their hearts, and also, beforehand, reject the moral teaching of Christ and His Church.
The world tries to tell us that it takes a tremendous mental effort to be able to figure out that there is something wrong with mugging, with serial murder, chicanery, reviling, sodomy, contraception, burglary, robbery, perjury, and irreligion, and that some or most people are ex- cused out of ignorance, but these things are all clearly wrong even to those who commit them. Those who commit these things do not really think that what they do is good; they tell themselves that what they do is excused. These things are all, ultimately, hideously cruel, each in its own way....and perverted. Those who follow such courses of action have followed intrinsically damnable commitments which have marked the person who walks in them as damned, before the Judgment, before they may have even heard the message of Christ.
"There are some who trouble you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." (Gal.1:7-8)