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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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John 8

Pink's Commentary on John and HebrewsPink's Commentary

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Verses 1-11

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ and the adulterous woman

John 8:1-11

We begin with the customary Analysis:

1. Jesus retires to the mount of Olives: verse 1.

2. Jesus teaching in the temple: verse 2.

3. The Pharisees confront Him with an adulterous woman: verses 3-6.

4. Christ turns the light upon them: verses 6-8.

5. The Pharisees overcome by the light: verse 9.

6. The woman left alone with Christ: verse 10.

7. The woman dismissed with a warning: verse 11.

In this series of expositions of John’s Gospel we have sedulously avoided technical matters, preferring to confine ourselves to that which would provide food for the soul. But in the present instance we deem it necessary to make an exception. The passage which is to be before us has long been the subject of controversy. Its authenticity has been questioned even by godly men. John 7:53 to 8:11 inclusive is not found in a number of the most important of the ancient manuscripts. The R.V. places a question mark against this passage. Personally we have not the slightest doubt but that it forms a part of the inspired Word of God, and that for the following reasons:

First, if our passage be a spurious one then we should have to pass straight from John 7:52 to 8:12. Let the reader try this, and note the effect; and then let him go back to John 7:52 and read straight through to John 8:14 . Which seems the more natural and reads the more smoothly?

Second, if we omit the first eleven verses of John 8:0 , and start the chapter with verse 12, several questions will rise unavoidably and prove very difficult to answer satisfactorily. For example: "Then spake Jesus" when? What simple and satisfactory answer can be found in the second part of John 7:0 ? But give John 8:1-11 its proper place, and the answer is, Immediately after the interruption recorded in verse 3. "Then spake Jesus again unto them" (verse 12) unto whom? Go back to the second half of John 7:0 and see if it furnishes any decisive answer. But give John 8:2 a place, and all is simple and plain. Again in verse 13 we read, "The Pharisees therefore said unto him": this was in the temple (verse 20). But how came the Pharisees there? John 7:45 shows them elsewhere. But bring in John 8:1-11 and this difficulty vanishes, for John 8:2 shows that this was the day following.

In the third place, the contents of John 8:1-11 are in full accord with the evident design of this section of the Gospel. The method followed in these chapters is most significant. In each instance we find the Holy Spirit records some striking incident in our Lord’s life, which serves to introduce and illustrate the teaching which follows it. In chapter 5 Christ quickens the impotent man, and makes that miracle the text of the sermon He preached immediately after it. In John 6:0 He feeds the hungry multitude, and right after gives the two discourses concerning Himself as the Bread of life. In John 7:0 Christ’s refusal to go up to the Feast publicly and openly manifest His glory, is made the background for that wondrous word of the future manifestation of the Holy Spirit through believers issuing from them as "rivers of living water." And the same principle may be observed here in John 8:0 . In John 8:12 Christ declares, "I am the light of the world," and the first eleven verses supply us with a most striking illustration and solemn demonstration of the power of that "light." Thus it may be seen that there is an indissoluble link between the incident recorded in John 8:1-11 and the teaching of our Lord immediately following.

Finally, as we shall examine these eleven verses and study their contents, endeavoring to sound their marvelous depths, it will be evident, we trust, to every spiritual intelligence, that no uninspired pen drew the picture therein described. The internal evidence, then, and the spiritual indications (apprehended and appreciated only by those who enter into God’s thoughts) are far more weighty than external considerations. The one who is led and taught by the Spirit of God need not waste valuable time examining ancient manuscripts for the purpose of discovering whether or not this portion of the Bible is really a part of God’s own Word.

Our passage emphasizes once more the abject condition of Israel. Again and again does the Holy Spirit call our attention to the fearful state that Israel was in during the days of Christ’s earthly ministry. In chapter 1 we see the ignorance of the Jews as to the identity of the Lord’s forerunner (John 1:14 ), and blind to the Divine Presence in their midst (John 1:26 ). In chapter 2 we have illustrated the joyless state of the nation, and are shown their desecration of the Father’s House. In chapter 3 we behold a member of the Sanhedrin dead in trespasses and sins, needing to be born again (John 3:7 ), and the Jews quibbling with John’s disciples about purifying (John 3:25 ). In chapter 4 we discover the callous indifference of Israel toward their Gentile neighbors "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9 ). In chapter 5 we have a portrayal of God’s covenant people in the great multitude of impotent folk, "blind, halt and withered." In chapter 6 they are represented as hungry, yet having no appetite for the Bread of life. In chapter 7 the leaders of the nation send officers to arrest Christ. And now in chapter 8 Israel is contemplated as Jehovah’s unfaithful wife "adulterous."

"Jesus went unto the mount of Olives" (John 8:1 ). This points a contrast from the closing verse of the previous chapter. There we read, Every man went unto his own house. Here we are told, "Jesus went unto the mount of Olives." We believe that this contrast conveys a double thought, in harmony with the peculiar character of this fourth Gospel. All through John two things concerning Christ are made prominent: His essential glory and His voluntary humiliation. Here, the Holy Spirit presents Him to us as the eternal Son of God, but also as the Son come down from heaven, made flesh. Thus we are given to behold, on the one hand, His uniqueness, His peerless excellency; and on the other, the depths of shame into which He descended. Frequently these are placed almost side by side. Thus in chapter 4, we read of Him, "wearied with his journey" (verse 6); and then in the verses that follow, His Divine glories shine forth. Other examples will recur to the reader. So here in the passage before us. "Jesus went unto the mount of Olives" (following John 7:53 ) suggests the elevation of Christ. But no doubt it also tells of the humiliation of the Savior. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay His head (Matthew 8:20 ): therefore, when "every man went unto his own house," "Jesus went unto the mount of Olives," for He "owned" no "house" down here. He who was rich for our sakes became poor.

"And early in the morning he came again into the temple" (John 8:2 ). There is nothing superfluous in Scripture. Each one of these scenes has been drawn by the Heavenly Artist, so we may be fully assured that every line, no matter how small, has a meaning and value. If we keep steadily before us the subject of this picture we shall be the better able to appreciate its varied tints. The theme of our chapter is the outshining of the Light of life. How appropriate then is this opening word: the early "morning" is the hour which introduces the daylight!

"And early in the morning he came again into the temple." This word also conveys an important practical lesson for us, inasmuch as Christ here leaves an example that we should follow His steps. In the first sermon of our Lord’s recorded in the New Testament we find that He said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33 ), and He ever practiced what he preached. The lesson which our Redeemer here exemplified is, that we need to begin the day by seeking the face and blessing of God! The Divine promise is, "They that seek me early shall find me" (Proverbs 8:17 ). How different would be our lives if we really began each day with God! Thus only can we obtain that fresh supply of grace which will give the needed strength for the duties and conflicts of the hours that follow.

"And all the people came unto him" (John 8:2 ). This is another instance where the word "all" must be understood in a modified sense. Again and again is it used relatively rather than absolutely. For example, in John 3:26 we read of the disciples of John coming to their master in complaint that Christ was attracting so many to Himself: "all come to him," they said. Again, in John 6:45 the Lord Jesus declared, "They shall be all taught of God." So here, "all the people came unto him." These and many other passages which might be cited should prevent us from falling into the errors of Universalism. For example, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all unto me" (John 12:32 ), does not mean all without exception. It is a very patent fact that everybody is not "drawn" to Christ. The "all" in John 12:32 is all without distinction. So here "all the people came unto him" (John 8:2 ) signifies all that were in the temple, that is, all kinds and conditions of men, men of varied age and social standing, men from the different tribes.

"And he sat down, and taught them" (John 8:2 ). Jesus stood; Jesus walked; Jesus sat. Each of these expressions in John’s Gospel conveys a distinctive moral truth. Jesus "stood" directs attention to the dignity and blessedness of His person, and it is very solemn to note that in no single instance (where this expression occurs) was the glory of His person recognized: cf. John 1:26 ; John 7:37 and what follows; John 20:14 , John 20:19 , John 20:26 ; John 21:4 . Jesus "walked" refers to the public manifestation of Himself: see our notes on John 7:1 . Jesus "sat" points to His condescending lowliness, meekness and grace: see John 4:6 ; John 6:3 ; John 12:15 .

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him" (John 8:3-6 ). Following the miscarriage of their plans on the previous day through the failure of the officers to arrest Christ (John 7:45 ) the enemies of Christ hit upon a new scheme: they sought to impale Him on the horns of a dilemma. The roar of the "lion" had failed; now we are to behold the wiles of the "serpent."

The awful malignity of the Lord’s enemies is evident on the surface. They brought this adulterous woman to Christ not because they were shocked at her conduct, still less because they were grieved that God’s holy law had been broken. Their object was to use this woman to exploit her sin and further their own evil designs. With coldblooded indelicacy they acted, employing the guilt of their captive to accomplish their evil intentions against Christ. Their motive cannot be misinterpreted. They were anxious to discredit our Lord before the people. They did not wait until they could interrogate Him in private, but, interrupting as He was teaching the people, they rudely challenged Him to solve what must have seemed to them an unsolvable enigma.

The problem by which they sought to defy Infinite Wisdom was this: A woman had been taken in the act of adultery, and the law required that she should be stoned. Of this there is no room for doubt, see Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 . [1] "What sayest thou?" they asked. An insidious question, indeed. Had He said, "Let her go," they could then accuse Him as being an enemy against the law of God, and His own word "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew verse 17) had been falsified. But if He answered, "Stone her," they would have ridiculed the fact that He was the "friend of publicans and sinners." No doubt they were satisfied that they had Him completely cornered. On the one hand, if He ignored the charge they brought against this guilty woman, they could accuse Him of compromising with sin; on the other hand, if He passed sentence on her, what became of His own word, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17 )? Here, then, was the dilemma: if Christ palliated the wickedness of this woman, where was His respect for the holiness of God and the righteousness of His law; but if He condemned her, what became of His claim that He had come here to "seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10 )? And yet of what avail was their satanic subtlety in the presence of God manifest in flesh!

Ere passing on it may be well to notice how this incident furnishes an illustration of the fact that wicked men can quote the Scriptures when they imagine that it will further their evil designs: "Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned." But what cared they for the law? They were seeking to turn the point of the Spirit’s "sword" against the One they hated; soon they were to feel its sharp edge of themselves. Let us not be deceived then and conclude that every one who quotes Scripture to us must, necessarily, be a God-fearing man. Those who quote the Scriptures to condemn others are frequently the guiltiest of all. Those who are so solicitous to point to the mote in another’s eye, generally have a beam in their own.

But there is far more here than meets the eye at first glance, or second too. The whole incident supplies a most striking portrayal of what is developed at length in the epistle to the Romans. It is not difficult to discern here (skulking behind the scenes) the hideous features of the great Enemy of God and His people. The hatred of these scribes and Pharisees was fanned by the inveterate enmity of the Serpent against the woman’s "Seed." The subject is profoundly mysterious, but Scripture supplies more than one plain hint that Satan is permitted to challenge the very character of God the book of Job, the third of Zechariah, and Revelation 12:10 are proofs of that. No doubt one reason why the Lord God suffers this is for the instruction of the unfallen angels cf. Ephesians 3:10 .

The problem presented to Christ by His enemies was no mere local one. So far as human reason can perceive it was the profoundest moral problem which ever could or can confront God Himself. That problem was how justice and mercy could be harmonized. The law of righteousness imperatively demands the punishment of its transgressor. To set aside that demand would be to introduce a reign of anarchy. Moreover, God is holy as well as righteous; and holiness burns against evil, and cannot allow that which is defiled to enter His presence. What, then, is to become of the poor sinner? A transgressor of the law he certainly is; and equally manifest is his moral pollution. His only hope lies in mercy; his salvation is possible only by grace. But how can mercy be exercised when the sword of justice bars her way? How can grace flow forth except by slighting holiness? Ah, human wisdom could never have found an answer to such questions. It is evident that these scribes and Pharisees thought of none. And we are fully assured that at the beginning Satan himself could see no solution to this mighty problem. But blessed be His name, God has "found a way" whereby His banished ones may be restored (2 Samuel 14:13 , 2 Samuel 14:14 ). What this is we shall see hinted at in the remainder of our passage.

Let us observe how each of the essential elements in this problem of all problems is presented in the passage before us. We may summarize them thus: First, we have there the person of that blessed One who had come to seek and to save that which was lost. Second, we have a sinner, a guilty sinner, one who could by no means clear herself. Third, the law was against her: the law she had broken, and the declared penalty of it was death. Fourth, the guilty sinner was brought before the Savior Himself, and was indicted by His enemies. Such, then, was the problem now presented to Christ. Would grace stand helpless before law? If not, wherein lay the solution? Let us attend carefully to what follows.

"But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground" (John 8:6 ). This was the first thing that He here did. That there was a symbolical significance to His action goes without saying, and what this is we are not left to guess. Scripture is its own interpreter. This was not the first time that the Lord had written "with his finger." In Exodus 31:18 we read, "And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God." When, then, our Lord wrote on the ground (from the ground must the "tables of stone" have been taken), it was as though He had said, You remind Me of the law! Why, it was My finger which wrote that law! Thus did He show these Pharisees that He had come here, not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. His writing on the ground, then, was (symbolically) a ratification of God’s righteous law. But so blind were His would-be accusers they discerned not the significance of His act.

"So when they continued asking him" (John 8:7 ). It is evident that our Lord’s enemies mistook His silence for embarrassment. They no more grasped the force of His action of writing on the ground, than did Belshazzar understand the writing of that same Hand on the walls of his palace. Emboldened by His silence, and satisfied that they had Him cornered, they continued to press their question upon Him. O the persistency of evil-doers! How often they put to shame our lack of perseverance and importunity.

"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7 ). This, too, has a far deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. God’s Law was a holy and a righteous one, and here we find the Lawgiver Himself turning its white light upon these men who really had so little respect for it. Christ was here intimating that they, His would-be accusers, were no fit subjects to demand the enforcement of the law’s sentence. None but a holy hand should administer the perfect law. In principle, we may see here the great Adversary and Accuser reprimanded. Satan may stand before the angel of the Lord to resist "the high priest" (Zechariah 3:1 ), but, morally, he is the last one who should insist on the maintenance of righteousness. And how strikingly this reprimanding of the Pharisees by Christ adumbrated what we read of in Zechariah 3:2 ("The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan") scarcely needs to be pointed out.

"And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground" (John 8:8 ). Profoundly significant was this, and unspeakably blessed. The symbolic meaning of it is plainly hinted at in the word "again": the Lord wrote on the ground a second time. And of what did that speak? Once more the Old Testament Scriptures supply the answer. The first "tables of stone" were dashed to the ground by Moses, and broken. A second set was therefore written by God. And what became of the second "tables of stone"? They were laid up in the ark (Exodus 40:20 ), and were covered by the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat! Here, then, Christ was giving more than a hint of how He would save those who were, by the law, condemned to death. It was not that the law would be set aside: far from it. As His first stooping down and with His finger writing on the ground intimated, the law would be "established." But as He stooped down and wrote the second time, He signified that the shed blood of an innocent substitute should come between the law and those it condemned!

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last" (John 8:9 ). Thus was "the strong man bound" (Matthew 12:29 ). Christ’s enemies had thought to ensnare Him by the law of Moses; instead, they had its searching light turned upon themselves. Grace had not defied, but had upheld the law! One sentence from the lips of Holiness incarnate and they were all silenced, all convicted, and all departed. At another time, a self-righteous Pharisee might boast of his lastings, his tithes and his prayers; but when God turns the light on a man’s heart, his moral and spiritual depravity become apparent even to himself, and shame shuts his lips. So it was here. Not a word had Christ uttered against the law; in nowise had He condoned the woman’s sin. Unable to find any ground for accusation against Him, completely baffled in their evil designs, convicted by their consciences, they slunk away: "beginning at the eldest," because he had the most sin to hide and the most reputation to preserve. And in the conduct of these men we have a clear intimation of how the wicked will act in the last great Day. Now, they may proclaim their self-righteousness, and talk about the injustice of eternal punishment. But then, when the light of God flashes upon them, and their guilt and ruin are fully exposed, they shall, like these Pharisees, be speechless.

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out." There is a solemn warning here for sinners who may be exercised in mind over their condition. Here were men who were "convicted by their own conscience," yet instead of this causing them to cast themselves at the feet of Christ, it resulted in them leaving Christ! Nothing short of the Holy Spirit’s quickening will ever bring a soul into saving contact with the Lord Jesus.

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst" (John 8:9 ). This is exceedingly striking. These scribes and Pharisees had challenged Christ from the law. He met them on their own ground, and vanquished them by the law. "When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee" (John 8:10 , John 8:11 ). The law required two witnesses before its sentence could be executed (Deuteronomy 19:15 ), yet, those witnesses must assist in the carrying out of the sentence (Deuteronomy 17:7 ). But here not a single witness was left to testify against this woman who had merely been indicted. Thus the law was powerless to touch her. What, then, remained? Why, the way was now clear for Christ to act in "grace and truth."

"Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11 ). No doubt the question occurs to many of our readers, Was this woman saved at the time she left Christ? Personally, we believe that she was. We believe so because she did not leave Christ when she had opportunity to do so; because she addressed Him as "Lord" (contrast "Master" of the Pharisees in verse 4); and because Christ said to her, "Neither do I condemn thee." But, as another has said, "In looking at these incidents of Scripture, we need not ask if the objects of the grace act in the intelligence of the story. It is enough for us that here was a sinner exposed in the presence of Him who came to meet sin and put it away. Whoever takes the place of this woman meets the word that clears of condemnation, just as the publicans and sinners with whom Christ eats in Luke 15:0 , set forth this, that if one takes the place of the sinner and the outcast, he is at once received. So with the lost sheep and the lost piece of silver. There is no intelligence of their condition, yet they set forth that which, if one take, it is representative. To make it clear, one might ask, ‘Are you as sinful as this woman, as badly lost as that sheep or piece of silver?’" (Malachi Taylor)

"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." How striking and how blessed is this sequel to what has been before us! When Christ wrote on the ground the second time (not before), the "accusers" of the guilty departed! And then, after the last accuser had disappeared, the Lord said, "Neither do I condemn thee." How perfect the picture And to complete it, Christ added, "Go, and sin no more," which is still His word to those who have been saved by grace. And the ground, the righteous ground, on which He pronounced this verdict "Neither do I condemn thee," was, that in a short time He was going to be "condemned" in her stead. Finally, note the order of these two words of Christ to this woman who owned Him as "Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3 ). It was not, "Go and sin no more, and I will not condemn thee," for that would have been a death-knell rather than good news in her ears. Instead, the Savior said, "Neither do I condemn thee." And to every one who takes the place this woman was brought into, the word is, "There is therefore now no condemnation" (Romans 8:1 ). "And sin no more" placed her, as we are placed, under the constraint of His love.

This incident then contains far more than that which was of local and ephemeral significance. It, in fact, raises the basic question of, How can mercy and justice be harmonized? How can grace flow forth except by slighting holiness? In the scene here presented to our view we are shown, not by a closely reasoned out statement of doctrine, but in symbolic action, that this problem is not insoluable to Divine wisdom. Here was a concrete case of a guilty sinner leaving the presence of Christ un-condemned. And it was neither because the law had been slighted nor sin palliated. The requirements of the law were strictly complied with, and her sin was openly condemned "sin no more." Yet, she herself, was not condemned. She was dealt with according to "grace and truth." Mercy flowed out to her, yet not at the expense of justice. Such, in brief, is a summary, of this marvelous narrative; a narrative which, verily, no man ever invented and no uninspired pen ever recorded.

This blessed incident not only anticipated the epistle to the Romans, but it also outlines, by vivid symbols, the Gospel of the grace of God. The Gospel not only announces a Savior for sinners, but it also explains how God can save them consistently with the requirements of His character. As Romans 1:17 tells us, in the Gospel is "the righteousness of God revealed." And this is precisely what is set forth here in John 8:0 .

The entire incident is a most striking amplification and exemplification of John 1:17 : "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." The grace of God never conflicts with His law, but, on the contrary, upholds its authority, "As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21 ). But as to how grace might reign "through righteousness" was a problem which God alone could solve, and Christ’s solution of it here marks Him as none other than "God manifest in flesh." With what blessed propriety, then, is this incident placed in the fourth Gospel, the special design of which is to display the Divine glory of the Lord Jesus!

Perhaps a separate word needs to be said on verse 7, in connection with which some have experienced a difficulty; and that is, Do these words of Christ enunciate a principle which we are justified in using? If so, under what circumstances? It is essential to bear in mind that Christ was not here speaking as Judge, but as One in the place of the Servant. The principle involved has been well stated thus, "We have no right to say to an official who in condemning culprits or in prosecuting them is simply discharging a public duty, ‘See that your own hands be clean, and your own heart pure before you condemn another’; but we have a perfect right to silence a private individual who is officiously and not officially exposing another’s guilt, by bidding him remember that he has a beam in his own eye which he must first be rid of" (Dr. Dods).

The "scribes and Pharisees" who brought the guilty adulteress to Christ must be viewed as representatives of their nation (as Nicodemus in John 3:0 and the impotent man in John 5:0 ). What, then, was the spiritual condition of Israel at that time? It was precisely that of this guilty woman: an "evil and adulterous generation" (Matthew 12:37 ) Christ termed them. But they were blinded by self-righteousness: they discerned not their awful condition, and knew not that they, equally with the Gentiles, were under the curse that had descended upon all from our father, Adam. Moreover; they were under a deeper guilt than the Gentiles they stood convicted of the additional crime of having broken their covenant with the Lord. They were, in fact, the unfaithful, the adulterous wife of Jehovah (see Ezekiel 16:0 ; Hosea 2:0 , etc.). What, then, did Jehovah’s law call for in such a case? The answer to this question is furnished in Numbers 5:0 , which sets forth "the law of jealousy," and describes the Divinely-ordered procedure for establishing the guilt of an unfaithful wife.

We cannot here quote the whole of Numbers 5:0 , but would ask the reader to turn to and read verses 11-31 of that chapter. We quote now verses 17, 24, 27: "And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water... And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter... And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people!"

What light these verses cast upon our Lord’s dealings with the Pharisees (representatives of Israel) here in John 8:0 . "Water" is the well-known emblem of the Word (Ephesians 5:26 , etc.). This water is here termed "holy." It was to be in an earthen vessel (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7 ). This water was to be mixed with "the dust which is in the floor of the tabernacle." Thus the water becomes "bitter water," and the woman was made to drink it. The result would be (in case she was guilty) that her guilt would be outwardly evidenced in the swelling of her belly (symbol of pride) and the rotting of her thigh her strength turned to corruption. Now put these separate items together, and is it not precisely what we find here in John 8:0 ? The Son of God is there incarnate, "made flesh," an "earthen vessel." The "holy water" is seen in His holy words "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." In stooping down and writing on the floor of the temple, He mingled "the dust" with it. As He did this it became "bitter" to the proud Pharisees. In the conviction of their consciences we see how "bitter," and in going out, one by one, abashed, we see the withering of their strength! And thus was the guilt of Jehovah’s unfaithful wife made fully manifest!

The following questions bear upon the next chapter:

1. What is meant by "the world" in verse 12? Do not jump to conclusions.

2. What kind of light does "the world" enjoy? verse 12

3. What is "the light of life"? verse 12.

4. To what "witness of the Father" was Christ referring? verse 18.

5. What does "die in your sins" (verse 21) prove concerning the Atonement?

6. What is the meaning of verse 31?

7. What does the truth make free from? verse 32.


[1] Where the form of death was not specified, it was by stoning.

Verses 12-32

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ, the Light of the World

John 8:12-32

The following is a Summary of the passage which is to be before us:

1. Christ the Light of the world: verse 12.

2. The Pharisees’ denial: verse 13.

3. Christ enforces His claim to absolute Deity: verses 14-18.

4. The Pharisees’ question and Christ’s reply: verses 19, 20.

5. Christ’s solemn warning to the Pharisees: verses 21-24.

6. The Pharisees’ question and Christ’s reply: verses 25-29.

7. The many who "believed" and Christ’s warning to them; verses 30-32.

The first division of John 8:0 forms a most striking and suitable introduction to the first verse of our present lesson, which, in turn, supplies the key to what follows in the remainder of the chapter. The Holy Spirit records here one of the precious discourses of "The Wonderful Counsellor," a discourse broken by the repeated interruptions of His enemies. Christ announces Himself as "the light of the world", but this is prefaced by an incident which gives wonderful force to that utterance.

As we saw in our last chapter, the first eleven verses of John 8:0 describe a venomous assault made upon the Savior by the scribes and Pharisees. A determined effort was made to discredit Him before the people. A woman taken in adultery was brought, the penalty of the Mosaic law was defined, and then the question was put to Christ, "But what sayest thou?" We are not left to speculate as to their motive: the passage tells us "This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him." Think of it! They imagined that they could substantiate an accusation against the Lawgiver Himself! What perversity: what blindness: what depravity! Yet how effectively this serves as a dark back-ground on which to display the better, "the light"! Nor is that all that this introduction effected.

In our exposition of these verses we intimated that what was there presented to Christ was the problem altogether too profound for creature wisdom how to harmonize justice and mercy. The woman was guilty; of that there could be no doubt. The sentence of the law was plainly defined. What reply, then, could Christ make to the open challenge, "What sayest thou?" There is little need for us to repeat what was said in the previous chapter, though the theme is a most captivating one. By symbolic action our Lord showed that it was not the Divine intention for mercy to be exercised at the expense of justice. He intimated that the law would be enforced. But by writing on the ground the second time, He reminded His would-be accusers that a shelter from the exposed law was planned, and that a blood-sprinkled covering would protect the guilty one from its accusing voice. Thus did the Redeemer intimate that God’s righteousness would be magnified in the Divine method of saving sinners, and that His holiness would shine forth with unsullied splendor. And "light" is the emblem of holiness and righteousness! Fitting introduction, then, was this for our Lord’s announcement of Himself as "the light of the world."

But not only did the malice of the Lord’s enemies supply a dark background to bring into welcome relief the outshining of the Divine Light; not only did their attack supply Christ with an opportunity for Him to manifest Himself as the Vindicator of God’s holiness and righteousness; but we may also discover a further reason for the Holy Spirit describing this incident at the beginning of our chapter. Following His symbolic action of writing on the ground, the Lord uttered one brief sentence, and one only, to His tempters, but that one was quite sufficient to rout them completely. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" was what He said. The effect was startling: "Being convicted by their conscience" they ",,vent out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." It was the holy "light" of God which smote their sin-darkened understandings, and their departure demonstrated the power of that light! Observe, too, the words of Christ to the adulterous woman: "Go," He said, not "in peace"; but "GO, and sin no more." How that evidenced the spotless purity of "the light"! Thus we see, once more, the great importance of studying and weighing the context; for here, as everywhere, it gives meaning to what follows.

"Then spake Jesus again unto them" (John 8:12 ). "Then" signifies after the departure of the Pharisees and after the adulterous woman had gone. "Then spake Jesus again unto them." This takes us back to the second verse of our chapter where we are told that in the early morning Christ entered the temple, and, as all the people came unto Him, He sat down and taught them. Now, after the rude interruption from certain of the scribes and Pharisees, He resumed His teaching of the people, and spake "again unto them." And herein we may discover, once more, the perfections of the God-man. The disagreeable interruption had in no wise disturbed His composure. Though fully aware of the malignant design of the Pharisees, He possessed His soul in patience. Without exhibiting the slightest perturbation, refusing to be turned aside from the task He was engaged in, He returned at once to the teaching of the people. How differently we act under provocation! To us disturbances are only too frequently perturbances. If only we realized that everything which enters our life is ordered by God, and we acted in accord with this, then should we maintain our composure and conduct ourselves with unruffled serenity. But only one perfect life has been lived on this earth; and our innumerable imperfections only serve to emphasize the uniqueness of that life.

"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world" (John 8:12 ). This is the second of the "I am" titles of Christ found in this fourth Gospel. It calls for most careful consideration. We may observe, in the first place, that this announcement by Christ was in full accord with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Through Isaiah God said concerning the Coming One, "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 42:6 ). And again, "And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6 ). And again, He was denominated "the sun of righteousness" who should arise "with healing in his wings" or "beams" (Malachi 4:2 ).

"I am the light of the world." We may notice, in the second place, that "light" is one of the three things which God is said to be. In John 4:24 we are told, "God is spirit." In 1 John 1:5 , "God is light"; and in 1 John 4:8 , "God is love." These expressions relate to the nature of God, what He is in Himself. Hence, when Christ affirmed "I am the light of the world," He announced His absolute Deity. Believers are said to be "light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8 ). But Christ Himself was "the light."

But what is meant by "I am the light of the world"? Does this mean that Christ is the Light of the whole human race, of every man and woman? If so, does this prove that Universalism is true? Certainly not. The second part of our verse disproves Universalism: it is only the one who "follows" Christ that has "the light of life." The one who does not "follow" Christ remains in darkness. The words of Christ in John 12:46 supply further repudiation of Universalism: "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." But if "I am the light of the world" does not teach Universalism, what does it mean? We believe that its force will best be ascertained by comparing John 1:4 , John 1:5 , John 1:9 . As we have given an exposition of these verses in the second chapter of Vol. I, we would ask the reader to turn to it. Suffice it now to say we understand that "light" in these passages is not to be restricted to the spiritual illumination enjoyed by believers, but is to be taken in its widest signification. If John 1:4 be linked with the preceding verse (as it should be), it will be seen that the reference is to the relation sustained by the Creator to "men." The "light" which lightens every man that cometh into the world is that which constitutes him a responsible being. Every rational creature is morally enlightened. Christ is the Light of the world in the widest possible sense, inasmuch as all creature intelligence and all moral perception proceed from Him.

Perhaps it may be well to ask here, Why is it that "the world" is mentioned so frequently in this fourth Gospel? The "world" occurs only fifteen times in the first three Gospels added together; whereas in John it is found seventy-seven times! Why is this? The answer is not far to seek. In this fourth Gospel we have a presentation of what Christ is essentially in His own person, and not what He was in special relation to the Jews, as in the other Gospels. John treats of the Deity of Christ, and as God He is the Creator of all (John 1:3 ). and therefore the life and light of His creatures (John 1:4 ). It is true that in a number of instances "the world" has a restricted meaning, but these are not difficult to determine: either the context or parallel passages show us when the term is to be understood in its narrower sense. The principle of interpretation is not an arbitrary one. When something is predicated of "the world" which is true only of the redeemed, then we know it is only the world of believers which is in view: for instance, Christ giving (not proffering) life here eternal life as the context shows unto the world (John 6:33 ). But when there is nothing that is predicated of "the world" which is true only of believers, then it is "the world of the ungodly" (2 Peter 2:5 ) which is in view.

"He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12 ). At first glance this clause will seem, perhaps, to conflict with the definition we have given of "light" in the first part of the verse. "I am the light of the world" we understand to signify (in accord with John 1:4 , John 1:5 , John 1:9 ), I am the One who has bestowed intelligence and moral sensibility on all men. But now Christ says (by necessary implication) that unless a man "follows" Him he will "walk in darkness." But instead of conflicting with what we have said above, the second part of verse 12 will be found, on careful reflection, to confirm it. "He that followeth me" said our Lord, "shall not walk in darkness [Greek, "the darkness"], but shall," shall what? "enjoy the light"? no, "shall have the light of life." These words point a contrast. In the former sentence He spoke of Himself as the moral light of men; in the second He refers to the spiritual light which is possessed by believers only. This is clear from the expression used: he "shall have" not merely "light" which all rational creatures possess; but "he shall have the light of life," that is, of spiritual, Divine light, which is something possessed only by those who "follow" Christ.

"He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." In these words, then, Christ defined the state of the natural man. The unregenerate have "light": they are capable of weighing moral issues; they have a conscience which either "accuses or excuses them" (Romans 2:15 ); and they have the capacity to recognize the innumerable evidences which testify to the existence and natural attributes of the great Creator (Romans 1:19 ); so that "they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20 ). But spiritual light they do not have. Consequently, though they are endowed with intelligence and moral discernment, spiritually, they are "in the darkness." And it was because of this that the Savior said, "He that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." The necessary implication of these words is that the world is in spiritual darkness. It was so two thousand years ago. The Greeks with all their wisdom and the Romans with all their laws were spiritually in the dark. And the world is the same today. Notwithstanding all the discoveries of science and all the efforts to educate, Europe and America are in the dark. The great crowds see not the true character of God, the worth of their souls, the reality of the world to come. And Christ is the only hope. He has risen like the sun, to diffuse life and light, salvation and peace, in the midst of a dark world.

"He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." What is it to "follow" Christ? It is to commit ourselves unreservedly to Him as our only Lord and Savior in doctrine and conduct (see John 1:37 and contrast John 10:5 ). A beautiful illustration (borrowed from Bishop Ryle) of this is to be found in the history of Israel in the wilderness as they followed the "cloud." Just as the "cloud" led Israel from Egypt to Canaan, so the Lord Jesus leads the believer from this world to heaven. And to the one who really follows Christ the promise is, he shall not, like those all around him, walk in darkness. "Light," in Scripture, is sometimes the emblem of true knowledge, true holiness, true happiness; while "darkness" is the figure for ignorance and error, guilt and depravity, privation and misery. Because the believer follows the One who is Light, he does not grope his way in doubt and uncertainty, but he sees where he is going, and not only so, he enjoys the light of God’s countenance. But this is his experience only so far as he really "follows" Christ. Just as if it were possible to follow the sun in its complete circuit, we should always be in broad daylight, so the one who is actually following Christ shall not walk in darkness.

"The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true" (John 8:13 ). Christ had just made the fullest claim to Deity when He said "I am the light of the world" the Pharisees could not understand Him to mean anything less. Jehovah-Elohim was the God of light, as numerous passages in the Old Testament plainly taught. When Jesus made this asseveration the Pharisees therefore said, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true." The force of their objection seems to be this: That God is the Light of the world we fully allow, but when you avow this of yourself we cannot accredit it; what you say is false.

"The Pharisees therefore said unto him." Evidently these were a different company of Pharisees than those who had brought in the adulteress. Enraged by the discomfiture of their brethren, their fellows insultingly said to the Lord, Thy record is not true. They shrank from the Light. They could not endure the holy purity of its beams. They desired only to extinguish it. How solemnly this illustrated John l:5 "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not?

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go;" (John 8:14 ). Here the Lord tersely replies to the unbelieving denial of the Pharisees, and ratifies what He had said just previously. Though My Divine glory is now veiled, though at present I am not exercising My Divine prerogatives, though I stand before you in servant form, nevertheless, when I affirmed that I am the Light of the world I spoke the truth. My record is true because "I know whence I came and whither I go," which is a knowledge possessed absolutely by none else. He had come from the Father in heaven, and thither He would return; and therefore, as the Son, He could not give a false witness. But as to His heavenly nature and character they were in complete ignorance, and therefore altogether incompetent to form, and still less to pass, a judgment.

"Though I bear record of myself yet my record is true." Some have experienced a difficulty in harmonizing this with what we read of in verse 31 "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." But if each of these statements be interpreted in strict accord with the context the difficulty vanishes. In John 5:0 the Lord was proving that the witness or record He bore was not in independence of the Father, but in perfect accord therewith. The Father himself (John 5:37 ) and the Scriptures inspired by the Father (John 5:39 ) also testified to the absolute Deity of Christ. But here in John 8:0 the Lord Jesus is making direct reply to the Pharisees who had said that His witness was false. This He denies, and insists that it was true; and immediately after He appeals again to the confirmatory witness of the Father (see John 8:18 ). "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man" (John 8:15 ). We believe that there is a double thought here. When Christ said "Ye judge after (according to) the flesh," He meant, we think, first, You are deciding My claims according to what you see; you are judging according to outward appearances. Because I am in the likeness of sinful flesh you deem it impossible for Me to be "the light of the world." But appearances are deceptive. I do not form My judgments thus: 1 look on the heart, and see things as they actually are. But again; when Christ said: "Ye judge after the flesh," this was to affirm that they were incapable of judging Him. They adopted the world’s principles, and judged according to carnal reasoning. Because of this they were incapable of discerning the Divine nature of His mission and message.

"I judge no man" has been variously interpreted. Many understand it to signify that Christ here reminded His critics that He was not then exercising His judicial prerogatives. It is regarded as being parallel with the last clause of John 12:47 . But we think it is more natural, and better suited to the context, to supply an ellipsis, and understand Christ here to mean, I do not judge any man after the flesh; when I judge, it is according to spiritual and Divine principles. The Greek word signifies "to determine, to form an estimate, to arrive at a decision," and here it has precisely the same force in each clause. When Christ said to these Pharisees, "Ye judge after the flesh," He did not refer to a judicial verdict, for He was not then replying to some formal pronouncement of the Sanhedrin. Instead, He meant, You have formed your estimate of Me after the flesh, but not so do I form My estimates.

"And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me" (John 8:16 ). This confirms what we have just said upon the last clause of the previous verse. "If I judge," or better "when I judge" My judgment is true. You may determine according to carnal principles; but I do not. I act on spiritual principles. I judge not according to appearances, but according to reality. My judgment is according to truth, for it is the judgment of God "I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me." This was a full claim to Deity. It affirmed the absolute oneness of the Son with the Father. This statement of Christ’s is parallel with the one He made later: "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30 ). He speaks here in John 8:0 of the Divine wisdom which is common to the Father and the Son. This being so, how could His judgment be anything but true?

"It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me" (John 8:17 , John 8:18 ). Here Christ repeats in another form what He had just affirmed. HIS testimony was not unsupported. The Mosaic law required two witnesses to establish the truth. The present case was not one where this law was strictly applicable; nevertheless, the circumstances of it were in fullest accord therewith. Christ bore personal witness to His Divine person and mission, and the Father also bore witness thereto. How the Father bore witness to the Son was before us in the fifth chapter of this Gospel. He bore witness to Him in the prophecies of the Old Testament, which were now so gloriously fulfilled in His character, teaching, actions, and even in His very rejection by men. The Father had borne witness to the Son through the testimony of His servant, John the Baptist (see John 1:0 ). He had borne witness to Him at the Jordan, on the occasion of His baptism. Thus by the principles of their own law these Pharisees were condemned. Two witnesses established the truth, but here were two Witnesses, the Father and the Son, and yet they rejected the truth! It was not, as several of the commentators have thought, that Christ was here appealing to the law in order to vindicate Himself. His manifest purpose was to condemn them, and that is why He says, "your law" rather than "the law."

"Then said they unto Him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also" (John 8:19 ). How the Light revealed the hidden things of darkness! Christ had appealed to the testimony of the Father, but so obtuse were these Pharisees, they asked, "Where is thy Father?" In our Lord’s answer to them we are shown once more how that none can know the Father save through and by the Son. As He declared on another occasion, "Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matthew 11:27 ).

"These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come" (John 8:20 ). "The treasury ‘was in the forecourt of the women, in which were placed thirteen bronze chests, to receive the taxes and free-will offerings of the people. The mention of the treasury here would be quite in keeping with the genuineness of the history of the woman taken in adultery. To the court of the women only could she have been brought to meet the Lord. Of these chests, nine were for legal payment of the worshippers, and four for free-will offerings" (C.E.S. from Barclay’s Talmud).

"And no man laid hands on him: for his hour was not yet come." This plainly intimates that the Pharisees were greatly incensed at what Christ had said, and had it been possible they would have at once subjected Him to violence. But it was not possible, and never would have been unless God had withdrawn His restraining hand. It is indeed striking to note how this feature is repeated again and again in the fourth Gospel, see John 7:30 ; John 7:44 ; John 8:59 ; and 10:39, etc. These passages show that men were unable to work out their evil designs until God permitted them to do so. They demonstrate that God is complete master of all; and they prove that the sufferings Christ did undergo were endured voluntarily.

"Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins" (John 8:21 ). The word "again" looks back to John 7:33 , John 7:34 , where on a previous occasion Christ had made a similar statement. "I go my way" signifies I shall very shortly leave you. It was a solemn word of warning. "And ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins." Christ here addressed these Pharisees as the representatives of the nation, and looked forward to the sore trials before it. In but a few years, Israel would suffer an affliction far heavier than any they had experienced before; and when that time came, they would seek the delivering help of their promised Messiah, but it would be in vain. Having refused the Light they would continue in the darkness. Having despised the Savior, they should "die in their sins." Having rejected the Son of God, it would be impossible for them to come whither He had gone.

"Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins." It is unspeakably solemn that these words have a present application. How dreadful! that the Savior may be sought, but sought in vain. A man may have religious feelings about Christ, even weep at the thought of His Cross, and yet have no saving acquaintance with Him. Sickness, the fear of death, a serious financial reverse, the drying up of creature sources of comfort these frequently draw out much religiousness. Under a little pressure a man will say his prayers, read his Bible, become active in church work, profess to seek Christ, and become quite a different character; but only too often such an one is but reformed, and not transformed. And frequently this is made apparent in this world. Let the pressure be removed, let health return, let there be a change of circumstances, and how often we behold the zealous professor returning to his old ways. Such an one may have "sought" Christ, but because his motive was wrong, because it was not the effect of a deep conviction of being lost and undone, his seeking was in vain.

"Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins." Far more solemn is the application of these words to a class of people today which we greatly fear is by no means a small one. How many there are who, under the superficial and temporary influence of the modern evangelistic meetings, come forward to the front seeking Christ. For the moment, many of them, no doubt, are in earnest; and yet the sequel proves that they sought in vain. Why is this? Two answers may be returned. First, with some, it is because they were not in dead earnest. Of old God said, "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13 ). Second, with others, and with by far the greater number, it is because they do not seek in the right place. The seeker in the average meeting is exhorted to "lay his all upon the altar," or is told that he must "pray through." But Christ is not to be found by either of these means. "Search the Scriptures" was the word of the Savior Himself, and the reason given was, "they are they which testify of me." In the volume of the book it is written of Christ. It is in the written Word that the incarnate Word is to be found.

"Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins." These words will yet have a further application to a coming day, when it will be too late to find Christ. Then the "door" will be shut. Then sinners will call upon God but He will not answer; they shall seek the Lord, but they shall not find Him (Proverbs 1:28 , etc.). "Whither I go, ye cannot come" (John 8:21 ). Not "ye shall not come," but "ye cannot come." Cannot because the holiness of God makes it impossible: that which is corrupt and vile cannot dwell with Him; there can be no communion between light and darkness. Cannot because the righteousness of God makes it impossible. Sin must be punished; the penalty of the broken law must be enforced; and for the reprobate "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." Cannot because they have no character suited to the place whither Christ has gone. In the very nature of the case every man must go to "his own place" (Acts 1:25 ), the place for which he is fitted. If, by grace, he has the nature of God, then later on he will go and dwell with Him (John 13:36 ); but if he passes out of this world "dead in sins" then, of necessity, he will yet be cast into the Lake of Fire, "which is the second death" (Revelation 20:14 ). If a man dies "in his sins" he cannot enter heaven. How completely this shatters the "Larger Hope"!

"Then said the jews, Will he kill Himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come?" (John 8:22 ). The Pharisees replied with profane levity, and with an impious sneer. This is frequently the resort of a defeated opponent: when unable to refute solid argument, he will avail himself of ridicule. With what infinite grace did Our Lord forbear with His enemies! "And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23 ). There seems to be a double thought conveyed by these words. First, Christ pointed out the reason or cause why they understood not His words and received not His witness. There was an infinite gulf separating Him from them: they were from beneath, He was from above. Second, Christ explained why it was that whither He was going they could not come. They belonged to two totally different spheres: they were of the world, He was not of the world. The friendship of the world is enmity against God, how then could they who were not only in the world, but of it, enter heaven, which was His home?

"I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24 ). How terrible is the end of unbelief! The one who persists in his rejection of the Christ of God will die in his sins, unpardoned, unfit for heaven, unprepared to meet God] How unspeakably solemn is this! How little are we impressed by these fearful words, "die in your sins" true of the vast majority of our fellows as they pass out of this world into an hopeless eternity. And how sadly mistaken are they who say that it is harsh and uncharitable to speak of the future destiny of unbelievers. The example of Christ should teach us better. He did not hesitate to press this awful truth, nor should we. In the light of God’s Word it is criminal to remain silent. In the judgment of the writer this is the one truth which above all others needs to be pressed today. Men will not turn to Christ until they recognize their imminent danger of the wrath to come.

"Ye shall die in your sins." This is one of many verses which exposes a modern error concerning the Atonement. There are some who teach that on the Cross Christ bore all the sins of all men. They insist that the entire question of sin was dealt with and settled at Calvary. They declare that the only thing which will now send any man to hell, is his rejection of Christ. But such teaching is entirely unscriptural. Christ bore all the sins of believers, but for the sins of unbelievers no atonement was made. And one of the many proofs of this is furnished by John 8:24 : "Ye shall die in your sins" could never have been said if the Lord Jesus removed all sins from before God. [1]

"Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning" (John 8:25 ). We believe that this is given much more accurately in the R.V., especially the marginal rendering: "They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? Jesus said unto them, Altogether that which I also speak unto you." This was a remarkable utterance. The Pharisees had objected that Christ’s witness of Himself was not true (verse 13). The Lord replied that His witness was true, and He proved it by an appeal to the corroborative witness of the Father. Now they ask, "Who art thou?" And the incarnate Son of God answered, I am essentially and absolutely that which I have declared myself to be. I have spoken of "light": I am that Light. I have spoken of "truth": I am that Truth. I am the very incarnation, personification, exemplification of them. Wondrous declaration is this! None but He could really say, I am Myself that of which I am speaking to you. The child of God may speak the truth and walk in the truth, but he is not the Truth itself. A Christian may let his light "shine," but he is not the Light itself. But Christ was, and therein we perceive His exalted uniqueness. As we read in 1 John 5:20 , "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true," not "him who taught the truth," but "him that is true."

"I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him" (John 8:26 ). As nearly as we can gather, the force of this verse is as follows: ‘Your incredulity is very reprehensible, and your insulting sneers deserve the severest censure, but I forbear.’ If Christ had dealt with these insulting opponents as they thoroughly merited, not only would He have upbraided them, but He would have passed an immediate sentence of condemnation upon them. Instead of doing so, He contented Himself by affirming once more that the witness He bore of Himself was true, because it was in the most perfect accord with what the Father Himself had said. Perfect example for us. Whenever the servant of Christ is criticized and challenged because of the message he brings, let him learn of his Master, who was meek and lowly in heart. Instead of passing sentence of condemnation on your detractors, simply press upon them the eternal veracity of Him in whose name you speak.

"They understood not that he spake to them of the Father" (John 8:27 ) O the blinding power of prejudice; the darkness of unbelief! How solemnly this reveals the woeful condition that the natural man is in. Unable to understand even when the Son of God was preaching to them! "Except a man be born again he cannot see." And this is the condition of every man by nature. Spiritually, the unregenerate American is in precisely the same darkness that the heathen are in, for both are in the darkness of death. Men need something more than external light; they need inward illumination. One may sit all his life under the soundest Gospel ministry, and at the end, understand no more with the heart than those in Africa who have never heard the Gospel. Let these solemn words be duly weighed "they understood not," understood not the words which none other than the Son of God was saying to them! Then let every reader who knows that he is saved, praise God fervently because He "hath given US in understanding, that we may know him that is true" (1 John 5:20 ).

"Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things" (John 8:28 ). His "lifting up" referred to His approaching death and the manner of it, see John 12:32 , John 12:33 . "Then shall ye know that I am he" intimated that the crucifixion would be accompanied and followed by such manifestations of His Divine glory that He would be fully vindicated, and many would be convinced that He was indeed the Messiah, and that He had done and said only what He had been commissioned by the Father to do and say. How strikingly was this word of Christ verified on the day of Pentecost! Thousands, then, of the very ones who had cried, "Crucify him", were brought to believe on Him as "both Lord and Christ."

"And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (John 8:29 ). "Whatever opinion men might form of His doctrines or conduct, He knew that in all He said, and in all He did, He was the Father’s elect servant upheld and delighted in by Him His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased" (Dr. John Brown). Men who were blinded by Satan might regard Him as an impostor, and as a blasphemer, but He knew that the Father approved and would yet vindicate Him fully. How could it be otherwise when He did always those things that pleased Him? a claim none other could truthfully make.

"As he spake these words, many believed on him" (John 8:30 ). This does not mean that they believed to the saving of their souls, the verses which follow evidence they had not. Probably nothing more is here signified than that they were momentarily impressed so that their enmity against Him was, temporarily, allayed. Many were evidently struck by what they observed in the demeanor of Christ-bearing the perverseness of His enemies so patiently, speaking of so ignominious a death with such holy composure, and expressing so positively His sense of the Father’s approbation. Nevertheless, the impression was but a fleeting one, and their believing on Him amounted to no more than asking, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" (John 7:31 ).

"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31 ). Our Lord here describes one of the marks of a genuine disciple of His. Continuance in His word is not a condition of discipleship, rather is it the manifestation of it. It is this, among other things, which distinguishes a true disciple from one who is merely a professor. These words of Christ supply us with a sure test. It is not how a man begins, but how he continues and ends. It is this which distinguishes the stony ground hearer from the goodground hearer see Matthew 13:20 , Matthew 13:23 , and contrast Luke 8:15 . To His apostles Christ said "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22 ). Not, we repeat, that enduring to the end is a condition of salvation, it is an evidence or proof that we have already passed from death unto life. So writes the apostle John of some who had apostatized from the faith: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us," etc. (1 John 2:19 ).

"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." The word "indeed" signifies truly, really, genuinely so. By using this word Christ here intimated that those referred to in the previous verse, who are said to have "believed on him," were not "genuine disciples." The one who has been truly saved will not fall away and be lost; the one who does fall away and is lost, was never truly saved. To "continue" in Christ’s word is to "keep his word" (Revelation 3:8 ). It is to hold fast whatever Christ has said; it is to perseveringly follow out the faith we profess to its practical end.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32 ). "To know the truth is something more definite than to know what is true; it is to understand that revelation with regard to the salvation of men, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, which is so often in the New Testament called, by way of eminence, ‘the truth’, the truth of truths, the most important of all truths, the truth of which He is full, the truth that came by Him, as the law came by Moses, the truth, the reality in opposition to the shadows, the emblems, of the introductory economy, what Paul termed, ‘the word of the truth of the Gospel’, Colossians 1:5 " (Dr. John Brown).

"The truth shall make you free." Note the striking connection between these three things: (1) "continue in my word," verse 31; (2) "ye shall know the truth," verse 32; (3) "the truth shall make you free," verse 32. This order cannot be changed. The truth gives spiritual liberty; it frees from the blinding power of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4 ). It delivers from the darkness of spiritual death (Ephesians 4:18 ). It emancipates from the prison-house of sin (Isaiah 61:1 ). Further enlargement upon the character and scope Of spiritual freedom will be given when we come to verse 36. Let the student first work on the following questions:

1. To what extent is the sinner the "servant" (bondslave) of sin? verse 34.

2. What does verse 36 teach about the will of the natural man?

3. What is the difference between Abraham’s "children" (verse 39), and his "seed" (verse 33)?

4. What is the meaning of verse 43?

5. What is the force of "of God" in verse 47?

6. What is the meaning of verse 51?

7. To what was Christ referring in verse 56?


[1] See the author's booklet, " The Atonement," also his "The Sovereignty of God."

Verses 33-59

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ, the Light of the World (Concluded)

John 8:33-59

The passage for our present consideration continues and completes the portion studied in our last chapter. It brings before us Christ as the Light revealing the hidden things of darkness, exposing the pretensions of religious professors, and making manifest the awful depths of human depravity. We shall miss that in it which is of most importance and value if we localize it, and see in these verses nothing more than the record of a conversation between the Lord and men long since past and gone. We need to remind ourselves constantly that the Word of God is a living Word, depicting things as they now are, describing the opposition and activities of the carnal mind as they obtain today, and giving counsel which is strictly pertinent to ourselves. It is from this viewpoint we shall discuss this closing section of John 8:0 . Below we give a Summary of our passage:

1. Bondage and liberty: verses 33-36.

2. Abraham’s seed and Abraham’s children: verses 37-40.

3. Children of the Devil and children of God: verses 41-47.

4. Christ dishonored by men, the Father honored by Christ: verses 48-50.

5. Life and death: verses 51-55.

6. Abraham and Christ: verses 56-58.

7. The Savior leaves the Temple: verse 59.

"They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" (John 8:33 ). This was the reply made by the Jews to the words of the Lord recorded in the previous verses. There we find Him describing the fundamental characteristic of a genuine disciple of His: he is one who continues in Christ’s word (verse 31, re-read our comments thereon). The one who continues in the Word shall know the truth, and the truth shall make him free (verse 32). But to be told about being made free is something the natural man does not like to hear. The plain implication is that before he knows the truth he is in bondage. And such indeed is the case, little as men realize or recognize the fact. There are four things about themselves which are particularly hateful, because so humbling, to the unregenerate. First, that they are destitute of righteousness (Isaiah 64:6 ) and goodness (Romans 7:18 ), and therefore "unclean" (Isaiah 64:6 ) and "vile" (Job 40:4 ). Second, that they are destitute of wisdom from John 3:11 and therefore full of "vanity" (Psalms 39:5 ) and "foolishness" (Proverbs 22:15 ). Third, that they are destitute of "strength" from verse 6 and "power" (Isaiah 40:29 ), and therefore unable to do anything good of or from themselves (John 15:5 ). Fourth, that they are destitute of freedom (Isaiah 61:1 ), and therefore in a state of bondage (2 Peter 2:19 ).

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isaiah 1:6 ). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34 ), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3 ), so that he "cannot cease from sin" (2 Peter 2:14 ). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Timothy 2:26 ). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2 ). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44 ). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Colossians 1:13 ). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

Ye shall be made free (John 8:33 ). As already stated, this signifies that the natural man is in bondage. But this is a truth that the natural man cannot tolerate. The very announcement of it stirs up the enmity within him. Tell the sinner that there is no good thing in him, and he will not believe you; but tell him that he is completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he cannot think a godly thought of himself (2 Corinthians 3:5 ), that he cannot receive God’s truth (1 Corinthians 2:14 ), that he cannot believe (John 12:39 ), that he cannot please God (Romans 8:8 ), that he cannot come to Christ (John 6:44 ), and he will indignantly deny your assertions. So it was here in the passage before us. When Christ said "the truth shall make you free", the Jews replied "We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man."

The proud boast of these Jews was utterly unfounded; nothing could have been further from the truth. The very first view which Scripture gives us of Abraham’s seed after they became a nation, is in bitter and cruel bondage (Exodus 2:0 ). Seven times over in the book of Judges we read of God delivering or selling Israel into the hands of the Canaanites. The seventy-years captivity in Babylon also gave the lie to the words of these Jews, and even at the time they spoke, the Romans were their masters. It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hot]y deny that his will is enslaved by sin. "How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?": equally ignorant are thousands in the religious world today. Deliverance from the Law, emancipation from bad habits they have heard about, but real spiritual freedom they understand not, and cannot while they remain in ignorance about the universal bondage of sin.

"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant [bond-slave] of sin" (John 8:34 ). In saying "whosoever... is the bondslave" Christ was intimating to these Jews that they were no exception to the general rule, even though they belonged to the favored seed of Abraham. Christ was not speaking of a particular class of men more lawless than their fellows, but was affirming that which is true of every man in his natural condition. "Whosoever committeth sin," refers to the regular practice, the habitual course of a man’s life. Here is one thing which distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian. The Christian sins, and sins daily; but the non-Christian does nothing but sin. The Christian sins, but he also repents; moreover, he does good works, and brings forth the fruit of the Spirit. But the life of the unregenerate man is one unbroken course of sin. Sin, we say, not crime. Water cannot rise above its own level. Being a sinner by nature, man is a sinner by practice, and cannot be anything else. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. A poisoned fountain cannot send forth sweet waters. Because the sinner has no spiritual nature within him, because he is totally depraved and in complete bondage to sin, because he does nothing for God’s glory, every action is polluted, every deed unacceptable to the Holy One.

"Whosoever committeth sin is the bond-slave of sin." How different are God’s thoughts from ours! The man of the world imagines that to become a Christian means to forego his freedom. He supposes that he would be fettered with a lot of restrictions which nullified his liberty. But these very suppositions only evidence the fact that the god of this world (Satan) has blinded his mind (2 Corinthians 4:4 ). The very opposite from what he supposes is really the case. It is the one out of Christ, not the one in Christ, who is in bondage in "the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:23 ). He is impelled by the downward trend of his nature, and the very freedom which the sinner supposes he is exercising in the indulgence of his evil propensities is only additional proof that he is the "bond-slave of sin." The love of self, the love of the world, the love of money, the love of pleasure these are the tyrants which rule over all who are out of Christ. Happy the one who is conscious of such bondage, for this is the first step toward liberty.

"And the bond-slave abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth ever" (John 8:35 ). The commentators are far from being in agreement in their interpretation of this verse, though we think there is little room for differences of opinion upon it. The "bond-slave" is the same character referred to in the previous verse the one who makes a constant practice of sinning. Such an one abideth not in the house forever the "house" signifies family, as in the House of Jacob, the House of Israel, the House of God (Hebrews 3:5 , Hebrews 3:6 ). We take it that our Lord was simply enunciating a general principle or stating a well-known fact, namely, that a slave has only a temporary place in a family. The application of this principle to those He was addressing is obvious. The Jews insisted that they were Abraham’s seed (verse 32), that they belonged to the favored family, whose were the covenants and promises. But, says our Lord, the mere fact that you are the natural descendants of Abraham, gives you no title to the blessings which belong to his spiritual children. This was impossible while they remained the bond-slaves of sin. Unless they were "made free" they would soon be cut off even from the temporary place of external privilege.

"But the Son abideth ever." These words point a contrast. The slave’s place was uncertain, and at best temporary, but the Son’s place in the family is permanent no doubt the word "abideth" here (as everywhere) suggests the additional thought of fellowship. The history of Abraham’s family well illustrated this fact, and probably Christ has the case of Ishmael and Isaac in mind when He uttered these words. "The Son abideth ever." Though this statement enunciated a general principle some-thing that is true of every member of God’s family yet the direct reference was clearly to Christ Himself, as the next verse makes plain, for "the Son" of verse 36 is clearly restricted to the Lord Jesus.

"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36 ). The "therefore" here settles the application of the previous verse. "The Son" is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is able to make free the bond-slaves of sin because He is the Son. The Son is no bond-slave in the Father’s family, but He is one in purpose and power with the Father; He is in perfect fellowship with Him, and therefore He is fully competent to liberate those under the tyranny of sin and the dominion of Satan. To make His people "free" was the central object in view in the Divine incarnation. The first ministerial utterance of Christ was to the effect that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed Him to preach "deliverance to the captives... to set at liberty them that are bruised" or "bound" (Luke 4:18 ). And so thoroughly are men under the thraldom of sin, so truly do they love darkness rather than light, they have to be made free. (cf. "maketh me to lie down" Psalms 23:0 .)

"Ye shall be free indeed." Free from what? This brings before us the truth of Christian freedom: a most important subject, but one too wide to discuss here at any length. [1] To sum up in the fewest possible words, we would say that Christian liberty, spiritual liberty, consists of this: First, deliverance from the condemnation of sin, the penalty of the law, the wrath of God Isaiah 42:7 ; Isaiah 60:1 ; Romans 8:1 . Second, deliverance from the power of Satan Acts 26:18 ; Colossians 1:13 ; Hebrews 2:14 , Hebrews 2:15 . Third, from the bondage of sin Romans 6:14 , Romans 6:18 . Fourth, from the authority of man Galatians 4:8 , Galatians 4:9 ; Galatians 5:1 ; Colossians 2:20-22 . So much for the negative side; now a word on the positive.

Christians are delivered from the things just mentioned that they may be free to serve God. The believer is "the Lord’s freeman" (1 Corinthians 7:22 ), not Christ’s freeman, observe, but "the Lord’s," a Divine title which ever emphasizes our submission to His authority. When a sinner is saved he is not free to follow the bent of his old nature, for that would be lawlessness. Spiritual freedom is not license to do as I please, but emancipation from the bondage of sin and Satan that I may do as I ought: "that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74 , Luke 1:75 ). Romans 6:16-18 and 22 contains a Divine summary of the positive side of this subject: let the reader give it careful and prayerful study.

"I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you" (John 8:37 ). Our Lord’s object in these words is evident. He was further emphasizing the fact that though these Jews were the seed of Abraham, they certainly were not the children of God. Proof of this was furnished by the awful enmity then at work in their hearts. They sought (earnestly desired) to kill Him who was the Son. Certainly then, they were not God’s children. Moreover, His word had no place in them the Greek word translated "no place" signifies no entrance. They received it not (contrast 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ). They were merely wayside hearers. It is this which distinguishes, essentially, a saved man from a lost one. The former is one who receives with meekness the engrafted Word (James 1:21 ). He hides that Word in his heart (Psalms 119:11 ). The believer gives that Word the place of trust, of honor, of rule, of love. The man of the world gives the Word no place because it is too spiritual, too holy, too searching. He is filled with his own concerns, and is too busy and crowded to give the Word of God a real place of attention. Unspeakably solemn are those awful words of Christ to all such: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48 ).

"I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father" (John 8:38 ). Christ further emphasizes the infinite gulf which separated these Jews from Himself. In the previous verse He had furnished proof that these men who were the seed of Abraham certainly were not the children of God. Here He leads up to their real parentage. In the first part of this verse our Lord insists that the doctrine He taught was what He had received from the Father, and its very nature and tendency clearly showed who His Father was. Its spirituality evidenced that it proceeded from the thrice Holy One: its unworldliness testified to the fact that it came from Him who is Spirit: its benignity showed it was from Him who is Love. Such was His Father.

"Ye do that which ye have seen with your father.’ . . . Your actions tell who your father is, as My doctrine tells who My Father is.’ In both cases ‘father’ here seems to mean spiritual model the being after whom the character is fashioned the being, under whose influences the moral and spiritual frame is formed. The thought that lies at the bottom of this representation is, ‘Men’s sentiments and conduct are things that are formed, and indicate the character of him who forms them. Your actions, which are characterized by falsehood and malignity, distinctly enough prove, that, in a moral and spiritual point of view, neither Abraham, nor the God of Abraham, is your father. The former of your spiritual character is not in heaven, wherever else he may be foundí" (Dr. J. Brown).

"They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father" (John 8:39 ). These Jews surely had a suspicion of whither our Lord’s remarks in the previous verse were pointing; but they pretended not to observe, and sought to represent Him as a calumniator of Abraham. When they said, "Abraham is our father," it was but the self-righteousness of the natural man exhibiting itself. They were contrasting themselves from the heathen. ‘The heathen are in bondage we allow; but You are now talking to those who belong to the covenant people: we belong to the Jewish Church,’ this was the force of their remarks. It is not difficult to perceive how well this describes what is a matter of common observation today. Let the servant of God preach in the churches of this land on the ruined and lost condition of the natural man; let him faithfully apply his message to those present; and the result will be the same as here. The great mass of religious professors, who have a form of godliness but know nothing and manifest nothing of its power, will hotly resent being classed with those on the outside. They will tell you, We belong to the true Church, we are Christians, not infidels.

"Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39 ). Very simple, yet very searching was this. The "seed" of Abraham Christ acknowledged them to be (verse 37), but the "children" of Abraham they certainly were not. Natural descent from their illustrious progenitor did not bring them into the family of God. Abraham is "the father" only of "them that believe" (Romans 4:11 ). This distinction is specifically drawn in Romans 9:7 : "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children." "Children" of Abraham refers to a spiritual relationship; "seed" of Abraham is only a fleshly tie, and "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63 ).

"If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham." Here was and still is the decisive test. Natural descent counts for nothing, it is a spiritual relationship with God which is the great desideratum. The profession of our lips amounts to nothing at all if it be not confirmed by the character of our lives. Talk is cheap; it is our works, what we do, which evidences what we really are. A tree is known by its fruits. The "works of Abraham" were works of faith and obedience faith in God and submission to His Word. But His Word had "no place in them." Idle then was their boast. Equally so is that of multitudes today, who say Lord, Lord, but do not the things which He has commanded.

"But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham" (John 8:40 ). "Abraham acted not thus. If ye were Abraham’s children in a spiritual sense if you were conformed to his character you would imitate his conduct. But your conduct is the very reverse of his. You are desiring and plotting the murder of a man who never injured you, whose only crime is that He has made known to you important and salutary, but unpalatable truth. Abraham never did anything like this. He readily received every communication made from heaven. He never inflicted injury on any man, far less on a Divine messenger, who was merely doing his duty. No, no! If children are like their parents, Abraham is not your father. He whose deeds you do, he is your father" (Dr. J. Brown).

"Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41 ). When the Jews replied, "We be not born of fornication,’’ we take it that they meant, ‘We are not bastard Jews, whose blood has been contaminated with idolatrous alliances, as is the case with the Samaritans.’ It seems likely that this word was provoked by what our Lord had said in verse 35 "the bond-slave abideth not in the house," which was an oblique reference to Ishmael. If so, their words signified, ‘We are genuine descendants of Abraham; we are children not of the concubine, but of the wife.’

"We have one Father, even God." How this same claim is being made on every side today! Those in far-distant lands may be heathen; but America is a Christian country. Such is the view which is held by the great majority of church members. The universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man are the favorite dogmas of Christendom: "We have one Father, even God" is the belief and boast of the great religious masses. How this justifies our opening remark, that the passage before us is not to be limited to a conversation which took place nineteen hundred years ago, but also contains a representation of human nature as it exists today, manifesting the same spirit of self-righteousness, appealing to the same false ground of confidence, and displaying the same enmity against the Christ of God.

"Jesus said unto them, If God were your father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me" (John 8:42 ). This was an indirect but plain denial that God was their Father. If they were the children of God they would love Him, and if they loved Him they would most certainly love His only begotten Son, for "he that loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten of him" (1 John 5:1 ). But they did not love Christ. Though He was the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, they despised and rejected Him. They were the bond-slaves of sin (verse 34); Christ’s Word had no place in them (verse 37); they sought to kill Him (verse 40). Their boast therefore was an empty one; their claim utterly unfounded.

"Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43 ). Christ was here addressing Himself to their consciences. His question no doubt there was a pause before He answered it ought to have exercised their hearts. Why do you not understand My speech? You claim to be the children of the Father, why then are My words so obscure and mysterious to you? My language is that of the Father, surely then there is something wrong somewhere! The same question comes with equal pertinency to every one who hears the Word of God today. If that Word comes to me as that of an unknown tongue, then this shows I am a stranger to God. If 1 understand not His speech, I cannot be one of His children. That does not mean, of course, that I shall be able to fathom the infinite depths of His wonderful Word. But, speaking characteristically, if I understand not His speech which is addressed not to the intellect but to the heart then there is every reason why I should gravely inquire as to the cause of this.

"Even because ye cannot hear my word." The word "hear" (an Hebrew idiom) signifies to receive and believe compare John 9:27 ; John 10:3 ; John 12:47 ; Acts 3:22 , Acts 3:23 , etc. And why was it that these Jews "could not hear" His Word? It was because they were children in whom was no faith (Deuteronomy 32:20 ). It was because they had no ear for God, no heart for His Word, no desire to learn His will. Proof positive was this that they were dead in trespasses and sins, and therefore not children of God. Unspeakably solemn is this. Hearing God’s Word is an attitude of heart. We speak now not of the Divine side, for true it is that the Lord Himself must prepare the heart (Proverbs 16:1 ) and give the hearing ear (Proverbs 20:12 ). But from the human side, man is fully responsible to hear. But he cannot hear the still small voice of God while his ears are filled with the siren songs of the world. That he has no desire to hear does not excuse him, rather does it the more condemn him. The Lord grant that the daily attitude of writer and reader may be that of little Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth."

"Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44 ). This was the prime point our Lord had been leading up to. First, He had repudiated their claim of being the children of Abraham. Second, He had demonstrated that God was not their Father. Now He tells them in plain language who their father really was, even the Devil. Their characters had been formed not under Divine influence, but under a diabolical influence. The moral likeness of that great Enemy of God was plainly stamped upon them. "Your inveterate opposition to the truth, shows your kinship to him who is the father of the Lie, and your desire to kill Me evidences that you are controlled by that one who was a murderer from the beginning."

"Ye are of your father the Devil" is true of every unregenerate soul. Renouncing their dependency on God, denying His proprietorship, loving darkness rather than light, they fall an easy prey to the Prince of darkness. He blinds their minds; he directs their walk, and works in them both to will and to do of his evil pleasure (Ephesians 2:2 ). Nor can sinners turn round and cast the blame for this upon God. For as Christ here declares, the lusts of their father they will do, or they desire to do, which is the correct meaning of the word. They were cheerful servants; voluntary slaves.

"And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not" (John 8:45 ). The human race is now reaping what was sown at the beginning. Our first parents rejected God’s truth and believed the Devil’s lie, and ever since then man has been completely under the power of falsehood and error. He will give credence to the most grotesque absurdities, but will regard with skepticism what comes to him with a thousand fully authenticated credentials. Some will believe that there are no such things as sin and death. Some will believe that instead of being the descendants of fallen Adam, they are the offspring of evolving apes. Some believe that they have no souls and that death ends all. Others imagine that they can purchase heaven with their own works. O the blindness and madness of unbelief! But let the truth be presented; let men hear that God says they are lost, dead in trespasses and sins; that eternal life is a gift, and eternal torment is the portion of all who refuse that gift; and men believe them not. They believe not God’s truth because their hearts love that which is false "They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Psalms 58:3 ); they "delight in lies" (Psalms 62:4 ); they make lies their "refuge" (Isaiah 28:15 ), therefore it is that they "turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Timothy 4:4 ); and though they are ever learning, yet are they "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7 ). And therefore Christ is still saying to men, "because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not."

"Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?" (John 8:46 ). We take it Christ was here anticipating an objection. The charge He had just made against them was a very severe and piercing one, yet He openly challenges them to refute it. If you deny what I have said and charge Me with falsehood, how will you prove your charge? Which of you can fairly convince Me of that or of any other sin? But, on the other hand, if it be evident that I have told you the truth, then why do ye not believe Me? Such, in brief, we take to be our Lord’s meaning here.

"He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (John 8:47 ). The force of this we understand as follows: Every member of God’s family is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and in virtue of this receives with affection, reverence, and obedient regard the words of his heavenly Father, by whomsoever they are brought; hence, the reason why you do not receive My words is because you are not His children. "He that is of God" carries a double thought. First, it signifies, he that belongs to God by eternal election. A parallel to this is found in John 10:26 , "Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep." It is this which, in time, distinguished the elect from the non-elect. The former, in due time, hear or receive God’s words; the latter do not. Second, "He that is of God" signifies, he that has been born of God, he that is in the family of God. A parallel to this is found in John 18:37 : "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."

"Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?" (John 8:48 ). This was a plain admission that they were unable to answer the Lord. Completely vanquished in argument, they resort to vulgar and blasphemous declamation. But why should these Jews have called Christ these particular names at this time? We believe the answer is found in what Christ had just said to them. He had declared that they were not the true children of Abraham (verse 39); and He had affirmed that the Devil was their father (verse 44). In reply, they retorted, "Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon." The general meaning of these epithets is clear: by "a Samaritan" they meant one who was an enemy to their national faith; by "thou hast a demon" they intimated one obsessed by a proud and lying spirit. What frightful insults did the Lord of glory submit to!

"Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and ye do dishonor me" (John 8:49 ). To the first of their reproaches He made no reply. He passed it by as unworthy of notice, the irritated outburst of wanton malice. To the second He returns a blank denial, and then adds, "but I honor my Father." One who is controlled by the Devil is a liar, but Christ had told them the truth. One who is prompted by the Devil flatters men, but Christ had depicted fallen human nature in the most humbling terms. One who is moved by the Devil is inflated with pride, seeks honor and fame; but Christ sought only the honor of Another, even the Father. Divinely calm, Divinely dignified. Divinely majestic was such an answer. How the longsufferance of Christ, His patient bearing with these villifiers, His unruffled spirit and calm bearing, evidenced Him to be none other than the Son of God.

"And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth" (John 8:50 ). "‘If I did, I should not have told you the truth. Had My own aggrandizement been My object, I should have followed another course; and My not obtaining "glory" a good opinion from you, no way disheartens Me. There is One who seeketh, that is, who seeketh My glory. There is One who will look after My reputation. There is One who is pledged in holy covenant to make Me His firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. And He who seeketh My glory, judgeth. He will sit in judgment on your judgment.’ These words seem plainly intended to intimate, in a very impressive way, the fearful responsibility they had incurred. He was doing His Father’s will: they were treating Him with contumely. The Father was seeking the honor of His faithful Servant, His beloved Son; and dreadful would be the manifestation of His displeasure against those who, so far as lay in their power, had put to shame the God-man, whom He delighted to honor" (Dr. J. Brown).

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." (John 8:51 ). Christ had just pointed out the fearful consequence of rejecting Him and His Word there was One who would judge them. Locally this pointed to the awful visitation from God upon their nation in A.D. 70; but the ultimate reference is to eternal judgment, which is "the second death." Now in sharp and blessed contrast from the doom awaiting those in whom the Word had "no place," Christ now says, "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death"! Blessed promise was this for His own. But mark how human responsibility is here pressed the promise is only to the one who keeps Christ’s Word. To "keep" the Word is to hide it in the heart (Psalms 119:11 ). It is to retain it in the memory (1 Corinthians 15:3 ). It is to be governed by it in our daily lives (Revelation 3:8 ). "He shall never see (know, experience) death" refers to penal death, the wages of sin, eternal separation from God in the torments of Hell. For the believer physical dissolution is not death (separation), but to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8 ).

"Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?" (John 8:52 , John 8:53 ). What a striking exemplification was this of what our Lord had said in verse 43: they understood not His speech and heard not His words. Devoid of discernment, they had no capacity to perceive the spiritual import of what He said. Such is the awful condition of the natural man: the things of God are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2:14 ). What is revealed to babes in Christ is completely hidden from those who are wise and prudent in their own estimation and in the judgment of the world (Matthew 11:25 ). No matter how simply and plainly the truths of Scripture may be expounded, the unregenerate are unable to understand them. Unable because their interests are elsewhere. Unable because they will not humble themselves and cry unto God for light. Unable because their hearts are estranged from Him. Christian reader, what abundant reason have you to thank God for giving you an understanding (1 John 5:20 )!

"Jesus answered, if I honor myself, my honor is nothing; it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God" (John 8:54 ). "It is my Father that honoureth me": precious words are these and worthy of prolonged study and meditation. To "honor" is to do or speak that of a person which shall not only manifest our own esteem for him, but shall lead others to esteem him too. The Father’s esteem for the Son is evidenced by His love and admiration for Him, as well as His desire to make Him the loved and admired of others. God honored Him at His birth, by sending the angels to herald Him as Christ the Lord. He honored Him during the days of His infancy, by directing the wise men from the east to come and worship the young King. He honored Him at His baptism, by proclaiming Him His beloved Son. He honored Him in death, by not suffering His body to see corruption. He honored Him at His ascension, when He exalted Him to His own right hand. He will honor Him in the final judgment, when every knee shall be made to bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord. And throughout eternity He shall be honored by a redeemed people who shall esteem Him the Fairest among ten thousand to their souls. Infinitely worthy is the Lamb to receive honor and glory. Let then the writer and reader see to it that our daily lives honor Him who has so highly honored us as to call us "brethren."

"Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying" (John 8:55 ). The One who honored Him they knew not, despite their profession to be His children. But on the other hand, if He were to deny the knowledge He had of the Father, then He would be as false as they were in pretending to know Him. But He would not deny Him; nay more, He would continue to give evidence of His knowledge of the Father by keeping His Word. For Him that Word meant to finish the work which had been given Him to do, to become obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. A searching word is this for us. If we really know the Father it will be evidenced by our subjection to His Word!

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56 ). More literally the Greek reads, "Abraham, your father, was transported with an exultant desire that he should see My day, and he saw it and rejoiced." The Greek is much more expressive and emphatic than our English translation. It intimates that Abraham looked forward with joy to meet the Object of his desires, and exulted in a sight of it. But to what did our Lord refer when He said, Abraham saw "my day"? In the Greek the "day" is emphasized by putting it before the pronoun "day, my." We believe that "day" is here to be understood in its dispensational sense, as signifying the entire Dispensation of Christ, which embraces the two advents. Probably what Abraham saw and rejoiced in was, first, the humiliation of Christ, terminating in His death, which would occasion the patriarch great joy as he knew that death would blot out all his sins: second, the vindication and glorification of Christ.

But how did Abraham "see" Christ’s "day"? We believe that a threefold answer may be returned: First, Abraham saw the day of Christ by faith in the promises of God (Hebrews 11:13 ). Hebrews 11:10 and 16 intimate plainly that the Spirit of God made discoveries to Abraham which are not recorded on the pages of the Old Testament. Second, Abraham saw the day of Christ in type. In offering Isaac on the altar and in receiving him back in figure from the dead, he received a marvelous foreshadowing of the Savior’s death and resurrection. Third, by special revelation. The "secret of the Lord" is with them that fear Him, and there is no doubt in our mind but that God was pleased to show the Old Testament saints much more of His covenant than is commonly supposed among us (see Psalms 25:14 ).

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." The relevancy of this remark of Christ and its relation to what had gone before are easily perceived. More immediately, it was part of His answer to their last question in verse 53 "Whom makest thou thyself?" More remotely, it furnished the final proof that they were not the children of Abraham, for they did not his work (verse 39). If these Jews rejoiced not at the appearing of Christ before them, then in no sense were they like Abraham.

"Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" (John 8:57 ). How blind they were! How thoroughly incompetent to understand His speech. Christ had not spoken of seeing Abraham, but of Abraham seeing His "day." There was a vast difference between these two things, but they were incapable of perceiving it.

"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58 ). Here was the full disclosure of His glory; the affirmation that He was none other than the Eternal One. That they so understood Him is evident from what follows.

"Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59 ). "It is Immanuel: but there is no knee bent to Him, no loving homage tendered. They took up stones to stone Him, and He hiding Himself for the moment from their sacrilegious violence, passes out of the temple" (F. W. Grant).

"Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." Fearfully solemn is this in its present-day application. The chief design of the whole chapter is to present Christ as the "light" and to show us what that Light revealed. Not by observation can we discover the full ruin which sin has wrought. It is only as the Light shines that man is fully exposed. And that which is particularly discovered here is the utter vanity of the religious pretensions of the natural man.

Apart from spiritual discernment, the religious professor presents before us a fair appearance. His evident sincerity, his punctiliousness, his unquestionable zeal, his warm devotion, his fidelity to the cause he has espoused, are frequently a mask which no human eye can penetrate. It is not until such professors are exposed to the searching light of God that their real characters are laid bare. It is only as the Word is faithfully applied to them that their awful depravity is revealed. It was not profligate outcasts, but orthodox Jews who are here seen taking up stones to cast at the Son of God, and they did this not on the public highway, but in the temple; Nor have things changed for the better. Were Christ here today in Servant-form, and were He to enter our churches and tell the great mass of religious professors that they were the bondslaves of sin, and that they were of their father the Devil and that his lusts they delighted in doing, they would conduct themselves exactly as their fellows did eighteen centuries ago. Terribly significant then is the final word of our chapter: the Savior "hid himself" from them, and went out of the temple. It is so still. From the self-righteous and self-sufficient but blinded religious formalists, Christ still hides Himself; those who deny that they need to be made free from the slavery of sin He still leaves to themselves. But thank God it is written, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isaiah 57:15 ).

The following questions are to help the interested student on the next chapter, John 9:1-7 :

1. What is the great doctrinal teaching of this passage?

2. What typical picture does it contain?

3. Why does it open with the word "And"? verse 1.

4. To what was Christ referring in verse 4?

5. Why did Christ again say "I am the Light of the world" verse 5.

6. What was the symbolical meaning of verses 6 and 7?

7. What force has "therefore" in verse 7?


[1] See the author's booklet, "Christian Liberty."

Bibliographical Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 8". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/awp/john-8.html.
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