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In this chapter, the controversy continues. There is the case of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11); Jesus the Light of the world (John 8:12-20.); teaching of his heavenly origin (John 8:21-30); and the passage on the true children of Abraham (John 8:31-59).
THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY
This paragraph (John 7:53-8:11) is omitted from later versions of the New Testament, upon the basis of convincing arguments denying it a place in the sacred canon. Hendriksen, after canvassing all of the scholarly findings on the subject, concluded thus:
Though it cannot now be proved that this story formed an integral part of the Fourth Gospel, neither is it possible to establish the opposite with any degree of finality. We believe moreover, that what is recorded here really took place and contains nothing in conflict with the apostolic spirit.
We shall study the narrative as it has come down to us.
And the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman taken in adultery; and having set her in the midst, they say unto him, Teacher, this woman hath been taken in adultery, in the very act.
Overshadowing the moral lapse of the woman was the brutal, unfeeling, sadistic behavior of the hypocrites who thus broke up a religious discussion by such an intrusion. Their partiality in not bringing her partner makes it possible to suppose that one of them was the guilty man. "Adultery ..." indicates the woman was married.
Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such: what then sayest thou of her? And this they said trying him, that they might have whereof to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote with his finger on the ground.
The Pharisees were misapplying Moses' law here, since "stoning" was commanded for a betrothed girl before her marriage (Deuteronomy 22:23f), and the woman before them was married. They cared nothing for the law and were only interested in cooking up some charge against Jesus. Incidentally, if they had really believed their own earlier indictment of him as a sabbath-breaker, they would not still have been searching at this later date for another basis of accusation.
Trying him ... has the force of "tempting him." What did they hope to gain? (1) If Jesus had concurred in asking a death penalty for the woman, they would have hailed him before the Romans who had made it illegal for the Jews to assess such a penalty. (2) If the Lord had recommended mercy, they would have placed him at variance with Moses and made a lawbreaker out of him!
Stooped ... and wrote ... on the ground ... The Saviour reacted to such a grotesque and embarrassing situation with silence and by stooping and writing on the ground. This is the only instance of Jesus writing; and the fact of his writing being quickly trampled under foot strongly suggests the only other instance of deity's writing, namely, that of God's inscribing the tables of stone. The decalogue too was quickly trampled under foot (spiritually), and Moses smashed the tables of stone (Exodus 32:19). If this passage is really spurious, it is difficult to explain such overtones as this.
But 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.
Jesus, as ever, found the answer in the Scriptures. Deuteronomy 17:7 says, "The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people." Thus Jesus demanded that the witness, nowhere visible in this interview - that the witness should reveal himself and cast the first stone; but the Lord demanded something else - such a witness would himself have to be without sin. Again the Pharisees' trap had closed without taking Jesus. The Lord had neither condoned any kind of sin nor contradicted Moses. He just turned the tables by an appeal to conscience, there being no coward like a guilty conscience.
And again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.
Another period of silence ensued, as the Lord kept writing. The older heads in the Pharisees' company saw instantly that their scheme had failed. Not in a million years were they prepared to produce a witness, much less a sinless witness.
And they, when they heard it, went out one by one, beginning from the eldest, even to the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst.
The Saviour's silence, the total absence (or silence) of any witness against the woman, and the watchfulness of the mighty throng surrounding the little circle of Pharisees with Jesus and the woman at the center - all of that became suddenly a situation of profound embarrassment to the Pharisees. The oldest, being the more perceptive, led the way, and they all left. Once more the Galilean had conquered.
And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? did no man condemn thee?
Where are they ...? Indeed, where are they all who opposed and rejected the Lord? God only waits a little while, and the most powerful and vicious sinners fade away.
And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.
The woman's humble and respectful answer, Jesus' refusal to condemn, despite his divine knowledge of all the truth, and his gentle admonition "sin no more" - this is as beautiful a conclusion of this incident as could be imagined. Jesus' mercy to the woman is possibly the reason some have suspected this passage. Again from Hendriksen:
Augustine definitely stated that certain individuals had removed from their codices the section regarding the adulteress, because they feared women would appeal to this story as an excuse for infidelity ... asceticism played an important role in the sub-apostolic age. Hence the suggestion that the section (John 7:53-8:11) was actually part of John's Gospel but (later) removed from it cannot be entirely dismissed.
Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
JESUS; THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
I am the light of the world ... is the second of the seven great "I am's" of John. See: John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; and 15:5.
Several suggestions of what might have prompted such a metaphor by Jesus are: (1) the great lamps kindled in the temple court during the feast of tabernacles, (2) the glorious sun rising at that very moment over the mount of Olives, and (3) the pillar of fire that lighted the way for Israel in the wilderness; but it seems more reasonable to suppose that if Jesus needed any suggestion of such a metaphor he would have rather found it in the "light" passages of the Old Testament. Note:
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6). But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).
As the sun is the source of all light, power, and energy on earth, Jesus the Sun of righteousness is the source of all spiritual light, power, and energy. Light is the only thing that can come into contact with filth and remain uncontaminated. Christians are the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:14), but theirs is a reflected light. Men of righteous intention seek the light (John 3:19ff). Light either kills or develops vegetation, depending on whether or not it is rooted in soil; and the gospel has that same dual function (2 Corinthians 2:15ff). Light is its own witness. See next verse.
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest witness of thyself: thy witness is not true.
This proves that Jesus was reading their hearts when he answered this same objection before (John 5:31). In this instance, the Lord refused, even for a moment, or for argument's sake, to notice their objection, having checkmated it in advance through his presentation of himself as the light of the world. Light, by its very nature, is a witness of itself.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Even if I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye know not whence I come, or whither I go.
Back at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:31), Christ had waived momentarily his right of bearing witness of himself; but, finally, light cannot do otherwise than bear its own witness. How fortunate are we that Christ did bear witness of himself in the most dogmatic and convincing manner. If he had not done so, it would have cast a cloud over the faith in Christ.
Whence I came ... whither I go ... None except Christ could bear witness to such things as these. He came from God to walk among the shameful dwellings of men; and he would go, when his mission was ended, back to the right hand of the majesty on high. In such areas as these, his foes were totally ignorant. Reynolds commented:
The whole of our Christian verities turns upon the consciousness by Jesus of that which lay before and after that human life of his. He embraced the two eternities in his inward self-consciousness. That "whence" and that "whither," with all their sublimity and solemnity, give adequate evidence and sufficient weight to his personal claim to be the Light of the world.
Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.
Ye judge after the flesh ... means that they were judging the Prince of life from fleshly and carnal premises.
I judge no man ... In the sense of merely condemning people, which is what the Pharisees were doing, Jesus judged nobody. There was no need for the Saviour to come into the world to condemn it; it was condemned already (see under John 3:17). It is possible that there is also in this a hint of Jesus' refusal to condemn the woman (John 8:1-11); for they are right who insist that such an incident fits neatly into the whole framework of this Gospel.
Yea, and if I judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
This proves that John 8:15 was no disclaimer of his right to judge. His oneness with God was proof that any judgment by himself was not merely his, but God's judgment also.
For I am not alone ... This was addressed to the slander that Jesus' witness of himself was to be rejected. His witness, on the other hand, was plural, both his and the Father's witness concurring.
Yea and in your law it is written, that the witness of two men is true. I am he that beareth witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
Your law ... was so called because the Pharisees professed such high regard for it.
It is written ... refers to Deuteronomy 17:6; Numbers 35:30, etc., where Moses' law taught that two concurring witnesses were sufficient for imposing the death penalty. Two concurring witnesses were therefore sufficient for establishing the authenticity of Christ and his message.
They said therefore unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye know neither me, nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also.
From John 7:27, it is clear that the leaders claimed to know "whence" Jesus came; and both Matthew (Matthew 13:55) and Luke (Luke 3:23) mention the supposition that Joseph was Jesus' father. In this light, Jesus' declaration here that they did not know the Father is eloquent testimony of his virgin birth.
If ye knew me, ye would know my Father ... This truth applies with equal force to the Pharisees then, and subsequently to all of every generation. Only God could be the Father of such a one as Christ; and the failure of men to behold the glory and Godhead of Jesus carries with it the corollary that such men are likewise unable to recognize God.
These words spake he in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man took him; because his hour had not yet come.
This area was actually called the court of women; but against the wall in that court were some large boxes to receive the offerings of the people; and thus this came to be called the treasury. The regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin was in earshot of this place, thus expediting their bringing the woman to Jesus (John 8:1-11). The significance of Jesus' teaching here without molestation derives from its being at the very center of Jewish activities.
His hour had not yet come ... God's providential care would continue to guard Jesus until the time appointed for his death.
He said therefore again unto them, And ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sin: whither I go, ye cannot come.
(See under John 7:34 where these same words are found.)
Ye shall die in your sin ... gives the reason why the Pharisees would be unable to go where Jesus was going. Only the pure, the forgiven, and the redeemed will follow the Lord there.
The Jews therefore said, Will he kill himself, that he sayeth, Whither I go, ye cannot come?
This sneering allegation that maybe Jesus might kill himself was an insult to the Christ of glory whose prophecy that they would die in their sin was ignored.
And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
This double contrast of himself with his obdurate hearers was stated as an explanation of why it was impossible to reach them with any kind of spiritual message. One might as well have tried to elicit appreciation of Handel's Messiah from a mule as to explain spiritual matters to the Pharisees. Jesus explained it again; but they were not operating on any wavelength that would have permitted them to receive what the Lord said.
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
This was another of the "hard sayings" (John 6:60) of Jesus, especially so for the Pharisees. Here is a dogmatic affirmation that forgiveness of sins is possible only for them that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Refusal to believe in him is forfeiture of eternal life. Jesus is the unique source of salvation. It was the battle cry of the early church that "There is none other name under heaven given among men" wherein we must be saved. No other system, philosophy, ethics, morals, or anything else can provide the tiniest ray of hope apart from Christ. Everlasting life is "in him"; it is nowhere else.
They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? Jesus said unto them, Even that which I have also spoken unto you from the beginning.
Scholars will be aware of various renditions of this difficult verse; but it is interpreted here with the meaning, "I am the same as I have been telling you from the beginning."
Who art thou ...? could indicate some hesitation in their headlong rush to destruction, as if they had said, "Wait, maybe we are overlooking something; who are you anyway?" Jesus did not condescend to elaborate further. His witness of his Messiahship and his absolute oneness with God had been so overwhelming that the most insensible among them should have known long before this conversation that Jesus was God come in the flesh. If he had plainly said so, it would only have given them a chance to denounce him as a blasphemer; in fact, that opportunity was what they sought by the question. See Jesus' manner of handling an identical situation under John 10:24,25.
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you: howbeit he that sent me is true; and the things which I heard from him, these speak I unto the world.
Concerning you ... They had demanded a more definite statement from Christ of his identity; but he responded with a promise to tell the whole world who they were! This was spoken sadly in view of the deepening of the chasm between himself and the leaders of the chosen people. As Westcott noted:
In them unbelief was embodied. So the sentence follows: "I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you." The uttering of these judgments will widen the chasm between us, but they must be spoken at all cost; (for) he that sent me is true. In his message there is no superfluity and no defect, and the things I heard from him, when I came on earth to do his will, these speak I unto the world.
Some of the judgments Jesus would speak against those men followed at once, as when he identified them as sons of the devil (John 8:44). Other such denunciations were in the three parables of: (1) the two sons, (2) the wicked husbandmen, and (3) the marriage of the king's son. In the latter, he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem.
They perceived not that he spake to them of the Father.
Jesus told them plainly that he came from God, from heaven, from above, that God was his Father, that the Father had sent him, and that he and the Father are one - but all that was lost on them. They simply did not get it. Such is the power of pride, worldliness, conceit, and self-righteousness to blind the eyes of the soul.
Jesus therefore said, 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 the Father taught me, I speak these things.
When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know ... Some of the priests (in fact, many of them) would believe (Acts 6:7), but not until after the crucifixion, resurrection, and world-wide proclamation of the faith.
And he that sent me is with me; he hath not left me alone; for I do always the things that are pleasing to him.
Jesus had advanced this thought earlier, but here it seems to have been spoken in consideration of the loneliness he felt in the wake of his rejection by the leaders, who were the very persons who should have led all others in accepting Christ and advocating his reception by the whole world. In this interview, Jesus confronted the ugly fact that the cruel, apostate leaders would continue to be his stubborn enemies; and it must have been one of the saddest moments of the Lord's life on earth. Only the Father's comforting love was available to him in such a strait; but that was enough.
As he spoke these things, many believed on him.
Holders of the "faith only" theory of salvation force themselves through all kinds of mental gymnastics in their vain efforts to separate these "believers" from that class of adamant enemies of Jesus with whom they are here identified. Calvin got around it by supposing these "believers" not to have had "genuine faith"; Others suppose a transition of subject matter from the Lord's enemies to another class who believed; but as Hendriksen noted:
No transition of any kind from one group of men to another sharply contrasted group is apparent to the ordinary reader of the Greek text or of the English translation. Thus, it is very difficult to see why the men in John 8:31 would have to be a completely different group from them ... in John 8:30.
For us, there is no problem. Something over and beyond faith in ihe Lord Jesus Christ has always been necessary to salvation; and the "believers" in this verse, having faith only, and being at once exposed as enemies of the Lord, were never saved in any sense. This is not the only such case in John. See John 12:42.
Jesus therefore said of those Jews that had believed on him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Those Jews that had believed on him ... refers to the "believers" in John 8:30.
If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples ... Jesus did not say to those believers: "You have believed on me, therefore you are saved"; but he said in effect, "Now that you have believed, if you really want to be my disciples, do what I have commanded." The ultimate salvation of those "believers" depended then, as it does today, upon their obeying the gospel of Christ. If they had been among the three thousand baptized on Pentecost, then they would have been saved.
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ... Their faith had not made them free, nor does faith alone make people free today. Abiding in Jesus' word, knowing the truth and obeying it these also are prerequisites unto eternal life. So plainly are these truths evident in such a passage as this, that it would be humorous, if the results were not so tragic, to wade through the libraries of human comment designed to subvert the obvious meaning.
To all the people of all ages, to the sum total of all who ever "believed on" Jesus Christ, these words are the Saviour's unqualified personal mandate, "Abide in my word if you would truly be my disciples!"
They answered unto him, We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
In view of the whole nation's being in bondage at that time to Rome, one wonders just how to take a boast of this kind. Perhaps it merely meant that they had never willingly consented to any such servitude, which was true.
Ye shall be made free ... Jesus, of course, was talking about their being in the slavery to sin, despite the fact that they had "believed on" him; their actual release from such spiritual bondage would come under the benevolent terms of the new covenant - that is, if they would follow Christ and obey the gospel.
Jesus answered them., Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin.
Political freedom Jesus did not bring; but he brought a far more important spiritual freedom. Thus Jesus tried to relieve their error.
And the bondservant abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth for ever.
This is a reminder to sinners all that the penalty of sin is death. Bondservants of sin that men are, their days in the house of flesh are limited. This introduced another element of the bondage from which the truth makes free, the bondage of our mortality. Hendriksen saw an additional implication:
The old dispensation with its special privileges for Israel has ended. Abraham's true children will remain in his household (the new covenant) and enjoy its privileges permanently; but Abraham's slaves (think of Hagar) will be driven out. Only a son enjoys freedom. If therefore the Son of God will make them free, they will be free indeed.
In view of the teaching of Christ on the true children of Abraham a little later, Hendriksen is probably correct in seeing Ishmael as the bondservant, and Isaac as the "son" of this verse. The distinction between the true sons of Abraham, that is, the "spiritual seed" and the mere fleshly descendants, is of utmost importance in understanding the Scriptures. Christ is the true "seed" of Abraham; and all of the "spiritual seed" of Abraham are "in Christ."
If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
The Pharisees had claimed to be Abraham's seed; but they were merely his fleshly descendants; and the truth Christ was presenting is that to be truly Abraham's "spiritual" seed, they would have to be "in Christ," or "in the Son," and thus reckoned a part of the "seed" singular (Galatians 3:16). Until they accepted Christ, their status would continue to be that of the slave and not that of a son of Abraham.
I know that ye are Abraham's seed; yet ye seek to kill me, because my word hath not free course in you.
Jesus freely acknowledged their physical descent from Abraham, but in the same breath pointed out their murderous intentions against Jesus Christ, "the seed" singular (Galatians 3:16) in whom all of the great promises of Abraham were to be realized. What a contradiction in their conduct! Spiritually, those men were the sons of the devil, as Jesus would shortly say.
I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye also do the things which ye heard from your father.
With this, Jesus directed the conversation toward another sector. Who really was the father of those vicious opponents confronting him? His first mention of their "father" here would not be explained until John 8:44; but the Lord would build the conversation to the climax there.
They answered and said unto him, Our father is Abraham. Jesus said unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
The differentiation between the physical and the spiritual descendants of Abraham is developed fully in Paul's letter to the Romans, Romans 8-9. See my Commentary on Romans on these chapters.
Abraham's children ... In the sense that this relates to God's redemptive promises through the patriarch Abraham; it never did mean persons physically descended from Abraham, but those with a spiritual likeness. The Jewish leaders were totally unaware of this.
If ye were Abraham's children ... is equivalent to saying that the men Jesus addressed were not Abraham's children, they had no spiritual likeness to the great patriarch and were therefore not his children at all in the Biblical sense.
But now ye seek to kill me, a man that told you the truth, which I heard from God: this did not Abraham.
Jesus here pointed out the proof of their spiritual corruption, that proof being that they wanted to kill the Lord. How can this be reconciled with the admitted fact that these spiritual bastards "believed on" the Lord Jesus Christ? (See under John 8:30, and following.) The answer is that theirs was "faith alone"! Today, the world is full of people who "believe on" the Lord Jesus but would rather kill him than to do what he commanded, being in such a state the spiritual descendants of those "believers" on exhibition here.
Ye do the works of your father. They said unto him, We were not born of fornication; we have, one Father, even God.
His hearers at last recognized the spiritual import of Jesus' words, stopped pleading their physical descent from Abraham, and boldly claimed God as their father; but Christ rejected such a plea.
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I came forth and am come from God: for neither have I come of myself, but he sent me.
Ye would love me ... If men are of God, they will love Jesus.
"Faith alone" cannot justify or save men, because there is a higher requirement than faith; and if that higher qualification is lacking, as it was in the case here, "believers on" Jesus may be in fact the sons of the devil. The genuine test is not "Do we believe?" but "Do we love the Lord?" That is why Paul ranked "love" above "faith" (1 Corinthians 13:13); and the answer to "why" the "greatest of these is love" derives from the revelation of Christ that if men love the Lord they will obey him (John 14:15). It is not necessarily true that if men believe they will also obey. These men believed but did not love nor obey Christ.
Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word.
Their inability to hear was not a defect from which they might have been excused. Jesus held them responsible. Hendriksen's paraphrase of the meaning here is: "It is because, through will, you cannot bear to hear the truth or message conveyed by these phrases."
The Lord had patiently explained again and again the truth of God to those evil men, trying to get them to see that the true spiritual children of Abraham would exhibit a spiritual likeness to him, and as a consequence love the Lord Jesus; but their obtuseness and hatred persisted. At last, patience exhausted, the Judge of all people announced his evaluation of them.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father, it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth 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 thereof.
Again, it should be noted by the student that these men, so denominated as sons of the devil, were "believers on" the Lord Jesus; but they did not love him and would not obey him. If people are justified by "faith alone," these sons of the devil were justified.
The devil ... Regarding this evil being, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 4:1. It is of interest that murder and falsehood are identified specifically as works of the devil. Regarding the seven Scriptural classifications of works, see my Commentary on Romans, p. 62.
Satan has many sons on earth today, and hatred of Christ and his teaching is inherent in their nature.
Satan, a being so powerful that angels dare not bring a railing accusation against him, is nevertheless himself a creature, fallen from his first estate, and destined to be destroyed at last. He does not share control of the universe with God; but, due to the fall, finds mortals naturally inclined to yield to the temptation he exerts upon them.
But because I say the truth, ye believe not.
For evil persons, no reason on their part is required for rejecting the truth, except for the fact of its being so. Evil cannot love righteousness.
Which of you convicteth me of sin? If I say truth, why do ye not believe me?
Which of you ... The total sinlessness and perfection of the Saviour's life proved his Godhead; and all who ever knew Christ concurred fully in this judgment of absolute holiness pertaining to him, a fact that his bitterest enemies allowed to stand unchallenged.
Why do ye not believe ... This stage of the interview having been reached, their faith had become no faith. Note also that this does not deny their fundamental position of "believing on" him as the promised Messiah, the Christ who should come into the world, etc. They still recognized him as the head of the theocracy, the rightful and lawful heir of the temple and of the extinct throne of Solomon. IT WAS WHAT HE TAUGHT that they disbelieved (Matthew 21:38); and their hatred of the truth was so great that they deliberately decided to kill Christ and run religion according to their own preferences. This spirit is still in the world.
He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God.
The only proof needed to demonstrate that men are sons of the devil is that of their being unwilling to "hear" in the sense of "obeying" the word of God.
The Jews answered and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?
It seems nearly incredible that they should have resorted to any such vilification as this in pressing their claims. to righteousness. They meant, "We are not children of the devil; you are the one who has a demon."
Samaritan ... was a gross racial epithet reserved for persons utterly hated (see under John 4:7). For a list of ten such slanders against Jesus, see my Commentary on Luke, Luke 9:19.
Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and ye dishonor me.
Jesus refuted their insinuation that his judging them to be sons of the devil was demoniacally inspired, pointing out that their dishonoring of himself was proving them to be just what he had called them. They were dishonoring Jesus: (1) by failure to love and obey him, and (2) by the groundless slanders just perpetrated against him.
But I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
The Lord here refused to be outraged by their insults. In his humiliation, he had made himself of no reputation; and depraved humanity never fell any lower than the vile exhibition of it in this passage. Here, fallen men appeared in the role of reviling the Son of God. The Lord did not fly into a rage but calmly reminded them that God would seek and judge.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my word, he shall never see death.
This is not a promise of escape from mortality but of eternal life, and no more glorious promise ever came to man. How strange that it should have been enunciated so earnestly in the midst of the vulgar and vituperative charges of his enemies. What a flower was this that bloomed in the sewer of their hatred of Jesus!
The Jews said unto him, Now we know that thou hast a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my word, he shall never see death.
One of the noblest sayings ever to bless dying men was here held up to scorn and ridicule by his unspiritual foes. The whole thrust of the entire interview had been spiritual, but they would have none of it, literalizing his words and mocking him in scorn; there was no way to break through the crust of their hatred.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who died? and the prophets died: whom makest thou thyself?
His foes were right on one point: the Lord's claims did place him upon a much higher level than either Abraham or the prophets. In the words of the Christ standing before their very eyes was the blessed promise of breaking the bonds of death for all who ever lived on earth, but those crude fellows only bellowed their rage and unbelief that anyone could be greater than Abraham or one of their prophets. Behold, a greater than Abraham is here!
Jesus answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing: It is my Father that glorifieth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God.
This was spoken in lieu of a direct answer for "Whom makest thou thyself?" If they had believed his promise (John 8:51), they would have recognized at once his being greater than Abraham; but it would have been useless to repeat it. This repeated emphasis on his oneness with the Father, however, gave added weight to the promise.
It is my Father which glorifieth me ... John would return to a specific instance of God's glorifying Jesus (John 12:28); but, in another sense, God was continually glorifying Jesus through the mighty signs he was empowered of God to perform.
Of whom you say, that he is your God ... What an incredible wonder was this, that those evil persons so stoutly claiming to be God's children should have been so vindictive in their hatred of that same God's eternal and only Son!
And ye have not known him: but I know him; and if I should say, I know him not, I would be like unto you, a liar; but I know him and keep his word.
And you have not known him ... Despite all the superficial love of the law of Moses, and all the feasts and sacrifices, neither those persons then face to face with Jesus nor the nation as a whole had really come to know the Lord. In the presence of Christ that ignorance was acute; because the Saviour was one with God in all things.
A liar ... The Lord could not have concealed the truth from those men without violating his own sacred commission; and therefore there was no alternative to declaring God's message, regardless of the disaster it would bring upon the chosen nation.
But I know him and keep his word ... Westcott paraphrased this:
Even in this crisis of separation, when my words will be misunderstood and so widen the breach between us (John 8:26), I proclaim the knowledge which I have and fulfill my mission by keeping his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.
This is one of the most interesting things Jesus ever said. When did this occur? It did not happen in Abraham's lifetime, for "These all died in faith, not having received the promise, but having seen and greeted them from afar" (Hebrews 11:13). Thus, this verse goes beyond what happened in Abraham's life span, suggesting that just as Moses and Elijah had been granted personal conversation with Jesus (Matthew 17:3), something similar may have been granted to Abraham. The whole mystery of this focuses the mind upon the words of the Lord, "He that keepeth my word shall not see death!"
The Jews therefore said unto him, Thou art not fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am.
Hast thou seen Abraham ... Certainly, Jesus had seen Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1ff); and there is more than a possibility that he had similarly seen Abraham during his personal ministry, but Jesus answered by an affirmation even more wonderful than that, declaring that he existed before Abraham was born.
The majestic "I AM" with which Jesus concluded this confrontation suggests God's "I AM THAT I AM" (Exodus 3:14), and there can be no reasonable denial that Jesus here claimed equality with God. See my Commentary on Romans, p. 315. A check of the teachings in this chapter reveals that Jesus presented himself as one with Almighty God no less than a dozen times. Fittingly, it should be concluded with the greatest of John's "I am's," but which, for some incredible reason, is never listed in the "seven"!
They took up stones therefore to cast at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.
Interpreting Jesus' words as blasphemy, they had a notion to stone him. Their error was that of not believing Jesus' words, but it was not, in this case, a misunderstanding of what his words meant. One could wish that all exegetes had as clear a view of what Jesus meant as did those enemies who took up stones to kill him. The statement that Jesus existed before Abraham is an affirmation of his deity.
He hid himself and went out of the temple ... As Reynolds wrote:
There is no need to imagine more than the exercise of his majestic energy before which demoniacs quailed, Pilate trembled, and the guards of the temple fell on their faces. The crisis was approaching. How often would he have gathered them, and given them eternal life, but they would not.
One can only be amazed at the patience, persistence, and determination with which Jesus struggled to break down the chasm of separation between himself and the leaders of the chosen people; and, when all prospect of healing their hearts was past, it is equally amazing to behold the majesty and authority with which he declared his Godhead and proceeded to deliver God's message on earth.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29