One of the most common words in the writings of the Apostle John is “world.” In fact, the New Testament uses the term at least 150 times. Understanding the different ways the term can be used is essential for understanding his writings. Often, it describes the world in which we live: the planet earth to which Christ came. A second way it is used is to refer to the Satanic world system ruled by demons that is opposed to Christ. It is the present evil age that is hostile to God. A third way John uses the term is to describe the world as the present time we live in now in contrast to the world to come and can overlap with the second meaning. A final way John uses the term is to describe all people groups in the world: every tribe, language, people, and nation.
A verse which illustrates this last usage is John 4:42 which says, “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” Here, Jesus is called the savior of the world. Christ is the savior of the Samaritan people, but not every single Samaritan. He is the savior of the world, but not every single individual in the world. He is the savior of all without distinction (all people groups regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, or economic status) but not the savior of all without exception (universalism). Salvation is not just for Jewish people, but for Gentiles as well. John 12:32 teaches the same truth: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” No people group is excluded from God’s saving work.
This usage of world is not a quantitative term meaning every single person who has ever lived, lives, or will live, but a qualitative one meaning every people group in the world. The emphasis is ethnological. Christ takes away the sins of every people group because representatives from every nation will be among the redeemed (Rev 5:9). This is in contrast to the particularism of the Old Testament when God was primarily focused on the people of Israel. Now, the scope of salvation is for all people groups, both Jews and Gentiles.