The word “world” (Greek: Kosmos) appears 185 times in the New Testament: 78 times in John, 8 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, and 3 also in Luke. The vast majority of its occurrences are therefore in John’s writings, as it is also found 24 times in John’s three epistles, and just three times in Peter.
John uses the word “world” in ten different ways in his Gospel.
1. The Entire Universe
John 1: 10 He was in the world (planet earth), and the world (planet earth and by implication all creation) was made through him, yet the world (the people of the world) did not know him.
John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
2. The Physical Earth
John 13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
John 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
3. The World System
John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
John 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me…
John 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
4. All humanity minus believers
John 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
John 15:18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere
John 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
6. The Elect Only
John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
7. The Non-Elect Only
John 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
8. The Realm of Mankind
John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
(this is very probably the best understanding of the word “world” in John 3:16 also)
9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too)
John 4:42 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.”
10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) – not those in small private groups
John 7:3, 4 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
Seeing this list can be very helpful – especially when traditions reign supreme in some people’s minds that “world” always means all people everywhere. Sometimes it does, but most of the time, it does not. It is a tradition that is very strong but one that cannot survive biblical scrutiny.