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John 8:1. “Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.
Ver. 2. And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them.” Tὸ? ὄ?ρος τῶ?ν Ἐ?λαιῶ?ν is found in Matthew, who wrote for the Jewish Christians; and in Mark, who depends upon him: τὸ? ὄ?ρος τὸ? καλούμενον Ἐ?λαιῶ?ν , in Luke, when he first mentions it, ch. Luke 19:29; again, after a considerable interval, in ch. Luke 21:37; and in Acts 1:12, with a closer specification of its position. In John the mountain is nowhere else alluded to; and, according to all analogies, he would not have spoken so simply and unconditionally of “the Mount of Olives.” Ὄ?ρθρος , ὄ?ρθριος , ὀ?ρθρίζειν , is found only in Luke; John uses instead, πρωϊ , πρωϊνας , πρωϊνός , Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16. The words Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς—πρὸ?ς αὐ τόν were doubtless put together on the basis of Luke 21:37-38: ἦ?ν δὲ? τὰ?ς ἡ?μέρας ἐ?ν τῷ? ἱ?ερῷ? διδάσκων· τὰ?ς δὲ? νύκτας ἐ?ξερχόμενος ηὐ λίζετο εἰ?ς τὸ? ὄ?ρος τὸ? καλούμενον Ἐ?λαιῶ?ν . Καὶ? πᾶ?ς ὁ? λαὸ?ς ὤ?ρθριζεν πρὸ?ς αὐ τὸ?ν ἐ?ν τῷ? ἱ?ερῷ? ἀ?κούειν αὐ τοῦ? .
To the καὶ? καθίσας ἐ?δίδασκεν αὐ τούς there are parallels only in the first three Gospels: comp. Matthew 26:55; Mark 12:41; Luke 5:3. The passage in Luke agrees best; and it is all the more obvious to assume that the interpolator had this before his eyes, because the rest is taken from Luke.
Vers. 3, 4. “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.”
The “scribes” are never elsewhere mentioned by John, which manifestly could not have been accidental. Nor does he ever refer to the νομικοί?. He always contents himself with the general designation of Pharisees. To his first readers Judaism was already seen in the distance; hence it was natural that he should enter as little as possible into the details of matters which were alien to them. The combination οἱ? γραμματεῖ?ς καὶ? οἱ? Φαρισαῖ οι was probably introduced here from Luke 6:7 or John 11:53, where they occur in the same connection.
In what distinctive character do the scribes and Pharisees come? Not merely as complainants, ver. 10, and as witnesses, whose business it was to make a commencement with the stoning. Acts 7:59 (comp. our ver. 7), but also in part as judges, who, before they pronounce their decision, would have the opinion of Jesus. This is plain from the fact, that at the head of them came the scribes, who were called jurists; from the mention of the elders in ver. 9; and from the question of Jesus, “Hath no man condemned thee?” in ver. 10.
According to the Mosaic law, the adulterer and the adulteress were to die the death. Leviticus 20:10. That the adulterer in the present case had escaped, is a very shallow supposition. The narrative takes no account of what had become of him; it has to do only with the adulteress, because she gave the author the type of heathenism, which forsook the Creator and served the creature, Romans 1:25, and committed adultery with stone and wood, Jeremiah 3:9.
The forensic term ἐ?παυτοφώρῳ? (Grotius: vox est Graeca forensis) does not seem to harmonize with the higher style of John.
Ver. 5. “But Moses commanded in the law that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
Concerning the punishment of adultery, Moses speaks in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22. It is not without significance that in both passages not stoning, but death generally, is decreed; the latter passage, too, being in a context which introduces, before and after, stoning as the punishment of other offences: comp. vers. 21, 24. It appears that Moses, in regard to adultery, left the more exact specification of the mode of punishment to historical development, and the practice of the Jews was not in favour of stoning. In the Talmud, Sanhedrim, ch. vii. 4, we do not find adultery among the offences enumerated as punishable with stoning; and, according to x. 4, the adulterers were to be impaled. It has, indeed, been supposed that stoning was the common capital punishment in the law; and that as in certain cases it is expressly mentioned, Deuteronomy 22; and that the woman would not be lighther dealt with than the betrothed virgin, ver. 24. But this is unsound reasoning. Against the last instance Grotius remarks: Adulterium in sponsa gravius censebatur, cum in custodia mariti non esset. At any rate, it is certain that stoning was not expressly commanded in the law, as might be gathered from the language of those who here cite Moses. And thus there does appear on the face of the narrative such a contradiction to Moses as could not have proceeded from the scribes and Pharisees.
Ver. 6. “This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.”
Wherein consisted the temptation? In the estimation of the author, the scribes and the Pharisees doubtless thought that they would entangle Jesus in a contradiction to Moses, as in Matthew 19:3 seq. It was supposed that Jesus, “the friend of publicans and sinners,” would pronounce a milder Judgment on the adulteress than Moses had pronounced; that He would make Himself worthy of stoning, by absolving one whom Moses condemned to be stoned. That this was their aim is shown by the result, which did not correspond to the expectations of the scribes, only so far as and because their conscience was appealed to. Were the matter in question here the execution of criminal justice, it is not probable that the Pharisees would have laid such a snare for Christ. They could hardly think that He would place Himself in such direct and manifest antagonism to Moses, that He would oppose him in his own domain, and thus assault, so to speak, the God who had sent him. The Lord had never given any occasion for such an opinion of Himself as that. But this interpenetration of the spheres of law and gospel pervades the whole narrative, which, on that very account, loses all pretension to historical truth.
Why does Christ write upon the earth? We might, with many of the old expositors, compare Jeremiah 17:13, “Those who depart from Me shall be written upon the earth:” the earth, the place of perishableness; whosoever is only written or inscribed there, has no citizenship in heaven, does not stand in God’s book of life, and must pass away without a trace. Jesus, on that supposition, must have written the names of the complainants. But the fact that what He wrote is not recorded, but only that He wrote, shows that the matter of His writing was not of moment, and therefore that the explanation must not be thus fetched out of the depths of the Old Testament, which, moreover, would be out of harmony with the entire character of the narrative, but must be derived from the custom of the Greeks (the classical passage is Aristoph. Acharn. 31 Schol.), amongst whom he wrote upon the earth who trifled idly, or had nothing more earnest or important to do. Christ gave it thereby to be understood that He had no respect for the questioners with their demonstrative sacred zeal; that He did not think it worth His while even to answer them. This trait, however. which has been dwelt upon much as evidencing the historical character of the narrative, rather betrays, and that in a very plain manner, its want of historical truth. It seems hardly worthy of Christ’s dignity, to exhibit such a pastime of idle weariness. The contempt, the bitter scorn, the anger against the questioners, which this gesture would have expressed, suits better one of the old heathen philosophers in relation to his opponents than the Saviour of the world.
Most incorrectly has it been observed, “Jesus would not give any reply to the crafty question, because civil legislation and the administration of justice were no part of His function while upon earth.” But Jesus does enter into the matter thoroughly in what follows; and that entire distinction belongs only to the expositors who have invented it, and has no support whatever in the narrative itself.
Ver. 7. “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.
Ver. 8. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.”
If the question was a judicial one—as the casting the first stone implies—then the supposed answer of our Lord was at least incautious. Consequences might obviously follow, and inferences be drawn, tending to the subversion of all justice. Judgment is the Lord’s; whoever exercises its functions, as judge or witness, stands in the position of God’s minister: there must be no intrusion of personal and subjective bias, but all must be according to the law and ordinance of God. Luther: “Whether the prince, or burgomaster, or judge, be a knave or a fool or not, I should remember nevertheless that God’s word has been put into his hand. If I hold such an office, and am myself a wicked fool, I should say, although I deserve to have my head taken off, yet I must judge all the same, and do right upon others.” The limitation, unwarranted in itself, of the ἀ?ναμάρτητος to one class of sins, does not remove the difficulty of the case. (The word does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament: the Sept. has it in Deuteronomy 29:19: ἵ?να μὴ? συναπολέσῃ? ὁ? ἁ?μαρτωλὸ?ς τὸ?ν ἀ?ναμάρτητον ; of innocent children in 2Ma_8:4 .) A judge or witness who himself is living in adultery, is not the less on that account warranted and bound to punish adultery, or bear witness against it. But the error was the clothing this matter in judicial forms. The thought which hovered before the writers mind was good and genuinely Christian. Man, conscious of his own sinfulness, should abstain from all uncharitable judgment: comp. Matthew 7:1. And with special reference to the relations which the fiction had assumed or symbolized: the Jews should, in the knowledge of their own sinfulness, cease to condemn the Gentiles, and abstain from denying to them all capacity of salvation: comp. Romans 2:1; Romans 2:22-23; Romans 3:23.
Ver. 9. “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.”
The Pharisees here betray a tenderness of conscience which is not in harmony with their general character, even as it appears in ver. 6; and which differs much from the temper of mind which the Jews before and afterwards manifest in this group. The narrative becomes still less probable, when we observe that amongst those present were both the judges and the witnesses. It would not have entered their minds to omit their official duty, in the feeling of their own sinfulness. The Pharisaic self-righteousness, in combination with this consciousness of their responsibility and rights, would have so influenced them, that they would have repelled the imputation of Jesus with indignation. Εἴ?ς καθεῖ?ς , properly one by one —the preposition κατά becomes an adverb—is found elsewhere only in Mark 14:19: comp. ὁ? δὲ? καθεῖ?ς , Romans 12:5. The “beginning at the eldest “seems suspicious. The elders themselves belonged to the whole to which the ἀ?ρξάμενοι refers. The clumsy construction seems to point to some passage, applied without thorough consideration, in which the ἀ?ρξάμενοι as active are distinguished from the πρεσβύτεροι as the passive: comp. Matthew 20:8. Such a passage we find in Ezekiel 9:6: καὶ? ἤ?ρξαντο ἀ?πὸ? τῶ?ν ἀ?νδρῶ?ν τῶ?ν πρεσβυτέρων , οἳ? ἦ?σαν ἔ?σω ἐ?ν τῷ? οἴ κῳ? . There the elders are the representatives of the people, the civil and religious rulers. And, accordingly, we must understand by the elders in our passage also official persons clothed with authority. Moreover, in the Gospels, πρεσβύτεροι is always a designation of dignity. And this way points also the “hath no man condemned thee?” in ver. 10. To condemn was the business of the rulers and judges. One cannot well see why precisely the eldest, who have been introduced in order to deprive the whole transaction of its awkward judicial character, viewed as a true history, should have necessarily been the first to go out. The reasons which have been adduced on that side are far-fetched. The old were, among the Pharisees, certainly more hardened than the younger. With the judges, on the contrary, the reason lies on the surface. They were the men who had primarily to act, and the main guilt rested on them.
None remained behind but Jesus and the woman. Jesus sat teaching in the midst of the people, when the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman in, ver. 2. What became of the people, was a question which did not trouble the author.
Ver. 10. “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?
Ver. 11. She said. No man. Lord. And Jesus said unto her. Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
The “condemnation” refers to the stoning. As the “eldest” had retired from her, the decision of the question was, as it were, devolved upon Jesus. He assumes the function of supreme judge; and with His “Neither do I condemn thee,” the matter was decided. The woman was dismissed with a formal acquittal. Now, if this narrative recorded an historical fact, it would have been very properly urged against the infliction of civil penalties on adultery. It would have given the authorities a direction ad illud scelus plane connivere, quo nullum gravius in generis humani societatem committitur—to connive at the vilest outrage that can be committed upon society. It would have established a glaring contradiction between the revelation given by Moses and that given by Christ. It is a mere subterfuge to maintain that Christ did not act here as a judge, that He did not trespass upon the domain of municipal justice, and that His decree was spoken only with reference to a question of pure morality. Even were we to allow this unfounded distinction, there would still remain a very questionable point on which a strong objection might be based. The Word of God breathes everywhere the deepest abhorrence of adultery. Christ also, in relation to this sin, is more severe even than the Pharisees: comp. Matthew 5:27. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, adulterers are unconditionally excluded from the kingdom of God. In Hebrews 13:4 we read, πόρνους γὰ?ρ καὶ? μοιχοὺ?ς κρινεῖ? ὁ? Θεός ; and in Revelation 22:15, all whoremongers are “without.” Christ condemns the adulterers not less severely than Moses does; but He points out to them the way of repentance, and gives them the power to enter and walk in it. Nothing is said here about punishment and repentance; it is hinted only in an indirect manner by the μηκέτι ἁ?μάρτανε , which plainly is borrowed from ch. John 5:14, that adultery is sin. But the woman to whom ch. John 5:14 was spoken, had already borne the punishment of her sin. It may indeed be said that “Christ reckons upon the deep impression produced by all that had occupied, and dismisses her with only an additional warning.” But that impression was a secret one, and Christ speaks not for the person alone, but for the Church of all time; and if our Lord had even in appearance dealt so lightly with the matter, He would have given some handle to that moral laxity which has ever been only too ready to show its special preference for this narrative. Consequently, this narration cannot be regarded as historically true. The originator of the fiction had doubtless no evil design. He imagined to himself the sinner as a penitent; but, thinking little about the morality of his fable, he has contented himself with indistinctly and darkly reprobating Jewish prejudice and bigotry. Better we could hardly expect from one who has been bold enough to insert his own production into the sublime work of the Apostle.
Chap. John 7:37-52 belongs to the last day of the Dedication. The transactions between Jesus and the people on that occasion come to their close in John 7:44. Then follow certain transactions relating to Jesus, within the council, and occurring on the same day. Consequently, what we have in ch. John 8:12 seq. must be placed beyond the time of the feast; and with this harmonizes the fact, that beyond ch. John 8:12 there is no simple allusion which may be certainly, or even with probability, referred to the feast. A new note of time we obtain once more in ch. John 10:22. There we have the record of a transaction which passed at the Feast of the Dedication between Jesus and the Jews. The Lord evidently remained in Jerusalem during the interval between the feasts. Without more precise chronological specification, of no importance to the matter itself, John selects a few scenes of this interval, which were significant as explaining the relation of Jesus to the Jews, and in which he uttered words of all-comprehensive importance for the Church. There are three of these scenes which refer to the conflict between Christ and the Jews, on the question whether Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
Ver. 12. “Then spake Jesus again 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.”—Οὖ?ν in St John’s style merely marks the transition. They seem to attribute too much to it, who refer it to the fact, that the sitting of the Sanhedrim had issued in no result, the scheme of imprisoning Jesus having entirely failed. In that case, it must have been mentioned expressly at the end of ver. 7, just as in ch. John 8:20. Αὐ τοῖ?ς , unto them—those with whom in this series of events He commonly had to do, and with whom He deals, in ch. 7 down to John 7:44—the Jews. Jesus declares Himself here to be the light of the world, as in chap. John 7:37 the water of life. “It is,” says Luther, “a very offensive and very proud sermon that He gives them here, standing up before the great ones and learned doctors, and giving out that they were all blind fools in the darkness, while He, on the other hand, says of Himself: I am the light of the world.” Much must have already passed before Christ could speak of Himself as He does here, and generally throughout this whole part of the Gospel. He could not speak so unconditionally of Himself as the source of all salvation, and connect all things so absolutely with His own person, if he had not already, in words and deeds of power and love, let His nature beam forth, and prepared for Himself a name. The light of the world must needs be its Creator. Jesus, when He says, “I am the light of the world,” declares Himself plainly to be He who in the beginning said, “Let there be light.” In this “let there be light,” a pledge is given to the creature that this light shall shine.
“Dedignabitur salvare” says Augustin, “qui dignatus est creare?” It is needless to spend time in forming hypotheses, externally accounting for the saying of our Lord, by the rising of the sun, the kindling of the lamps in the temple, etc. If anything significant of this kind had taken place, the Apostle would not have left us to guess about it. Explanations such as, “The light, that is, the possessor, representative, and bearer of Divine truth, from whom that light goes forth into humanity,” could proceed only from those who are not at home in the Old Testament. Light is in the Old Testament the common term for salvation: comp. on ch. John 1:4, and especially the passage there adduced, Isaiah 49:6, where it is said, in reference to Christ, “I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the ends of the earth.” That the word light is used in the same sense here, is proved by what follows; for the light is said to consist in life: comp., with reference to the idea of life, the remarks on ch. John 1:4. And the same is plainly expressed in the specific original passages of the Old Testament. These are, on the one hand, Isaiah 9:1: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light “(the sun is called, in Genesis 1:16, the “great light;” Malachi foretells, in ch. Malachi 4:2, that with the coming of the “angel of the Lord “the saving “Sun of Righteousness “would rise on those who feared the name of God); “they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined,” where Christ appears as the light of the Jews; and, on the other hand, Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6. Jews and Gentiles are here combined together in the idea of the world. There can be no doubt as to the identity of light and salvation in these fundamental passages. The light in Isaiah 9:1 looks back to the darkness in Isaiah 8:22. This consisted, according to the express declaration of the prophet, in need and misery. “And He shall look upon the earth, and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.” Thus the light can be no other than salvation. The response of the Church to the Lord’s word here, “I am the light of the world,” is this, “Neither is there salvation in any other,” Acts 4:12. And in effect the Lord’s words in Matthew 11:28 seq. correspond also: Come unto Me, all ye who are troubled and heavy laden, and I will refresh you, etc.; the κἀ γὼ? ἀ?ναπαύσω ὑ?μᾶ?ς , and the καὶ? εὑ ρήσετε ἀ?νάπαυσιν ταῖ?ς ψυχαῖ?ς ὑ?μῶ?ν , point back to Jeremiah 31:2, where Jehovah says, “Even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest;” proving also that Jesus assumed divinity to Himself.
The light or salvation refers not merely to the external course. For men, created after the image of God, the foundation of all salvation is the union of the soul with God, the only true God, without possessing whom there can be no rest, or peace, or satisfaction. Where this union exists, the uttermost external tribulation cannot interrupt the enjoyment of salvation: comp. Psalms 4:7: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased;” Psalms 42:9, where that enjoyment is disturbed, the man must be internally unsaved and miserable, though lying in the very bosom of outward prosperity. The sinner, under all circumstances, walks in darkness, 1 John 1:6; 1 John 2:11: yet the word of our Lord must approve its truth even in the external course, which accompanies the internal condition and reflects it. The issue of “I am the light of the world” here, is the “Ye shall die in your sins,” in ver. 21. When Jesus represents Himself as the light of the world, He points to the deep night even of external misery which should come upon the Jews, as the consequence of their contempt and rejection of the light. In special reference to these, the formally general propositions are here spoken.
Christ is the light for the whole world; not merely for the “world of elect,” as the modem reformed exposition imagines. The limitation which that exposition refers to Christ Himself, as if it existed in Him, lies rather in those to whom the light is offered: he that followeth Me: comp., for the results of spiritual following, on ch. John 1:44. The commencement of this following is faith: comp. John 12:36.—“Shall not walk in darkness” rests upon Isaiah 9:1, “The people that walked in darkness.” Lampe: “Thus formerly walked the Egyptians in darkness, when they persecuted Moses and Israel, Exodus 14:20. This judgment impended over all who, having darkened the light of the world, fall into reprobation and hardness, and, at the same time, external darkness. They only could avoid it, who should leave the blind teachers and follow Jesus.” Isaiah paints, in ch. John 8:22, the deep darkness of misery into which apostate Israel should fall in the future, and to which the manifestation of Christ should put an end. For those who scorned the only Saviour, the darkness continued, and even increased more and more. That which is here spoken in the form of a general sentence, Jesus, in ch. John 12:35, utters again with direct application to the Jews: “Yet a little while is the light with you; walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.” The general truth here declared has been confirmed in the destiny of the Jews; and it is ever receiving new confirmation in the destiny of people and of individuals to whom Christ is offered. To those who follow Him, Jesus approves Himself the light of the world in all ages; those who forsake are doomed inevitably to darkness, to internal and external ruin, and exclusion from salvation.
Ver. 13. “Then said the Pharisees unto Him, Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness is not true.”—“The conflict of Christ with the Jews,” says Anton, “becomes more and more vehement. But this very antipathy declared that an illimitable distance must exist between His mind and their mind.” Man has a natural desire for the light. We read in Ecclesiastes 11:7, “Light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to see the sun.” The assumption lying at the foundation of our Lord’s saying, that mankind before Him and without Him lay buried in darkness, stands in harmony with “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die,” in Genesis 2:17; and its truth has been, ever since that great catastrophe, enforced upon every man by his own experience. Notwithstanding, the antipathy of the natural man to Christ is so great, that he would rather be deprived of the light, and draw down upon himself the judgment of darkness, than make up his mind to follow Him. The Pharisees proceeded on the assumption that Christ was mere man, and consequently they thought the ancient saying applicable in His case: “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips,” Proverbs 27:2. A mere man, who speaks great things about himself, places himself absolutely in the position of one whose testimony is certainly not true. The higher he gives himself out to be, λέγων εἶ ναί τινα ἑ?αυτὸ?ν μέγαν , Acts 8:9, the lower he is in reality. True greatness is ever more, and in all things, humble and modest; as Moses, Numbers 12:3, “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth,” and as Paul declared himself to be the chief of sinners. The Pharisees did not reject—that would have been quite inconsistent—every testimony that any man might give concerning himself; they only protested against professions of the kind then before them; and the only error in their protest was, that they, through their own fault, were incapable in their darkness of discerning the true light in Christ.
Jesus first justifies His own testimony, and vindicates its validity, vers. 14-16. He then shows that His testimony stood not alone, but was confirmed by the testimony of the Father in His works. Or, Jesus, 1. answers that the pre-eminence of His person gave value to the testimony which He bore concerning Himself, ver. 12; as also that, on account of the internal relation in which He stood to God, even in His judgment upon others. He was not capable of deceiving or being deceived. 2. He declares that His testimony stood not alone, but that it received corroboration from the testimony of the Father.
Ver. 14. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of Myself, My record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and [otherwise, or] whither I go.”
Jesus grasps and exposes the assumption on which the Pharisees judgment rested. To apply to Him that proposition, which held good in human affairs and with mere man, was as foolish as if they would apply it to God. He came down from heaven, and was going back to heaven: comp. on ch. John 3:13. His present form of servitude, which the Pharisees could not in their wretched superficiality look through, was only a veil and a sphere of transition. He was, as to Himself, beyond the region in which clouds, dimness, illusion, self-pleasing, and pride, disturb the vision and the judgment. “If the sun could speak, and say, I am the sun; and thou shouldst reply. No, thou mayest be the night, because thou bearest witness of thyself,—would that seem reasonable?” In the “Though I bear record of Myself” was intimated, and it was afterwards expanded, that this state of the case was not the true one; but that, concurrently with the testimony of Christ to Himself, there was another, that of the Father. The main point coming into notice here is the being of Christ, absolutely and sublimely elevated above all Imman things; but with the being there was also the simultaneous consciousness; and Christ was led to give prominence to His knowledge, that He might set over against it the ignorance of the Jews, which robbed their denial of His honour of all its force.
Vers. 15, 16. “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent Me.”
Christ opposes His own judging to the judging of the Pharisees; and He does this, because His judgment—the rigorous opposition to the Pharisaic nature and doings which He had from the beginning been constrained to exhibit—had been the occasion of their judgment upon Him: comp. on ver. 26. The judging of the Pharisees was without any significance, for it rested only and always on superficial views: on the other hand, Christ’s judging was of fearful moment, on account of that oneness with the Father which made all His decisions right. Whosoever is condemned by Him, as the Pharisees were, must tremble, since the destroying stroke must necessarily follow His sentence; while, on the other hand, the judgment of the Pharisees upon Him was a mere beating the air, and had no other force than to lay bare its own superficiality and worthlessness. The judging after the flesh here corresponds to the judging according to the appearance in ch. John 7:24. Accordingly, the flesh is not the flesh of the Pharisees, their carnal mind to wit, but the flesh of Christ, His external human appearance, beyond which they, incapable of penetrating to the Spirit in His Divine nature, could not go, saying as they did, “Is not this the carpenters son? is not his mother called Mary?” etc., Matthew 13:55; and, “We know this man whence he is,” ch. John 7:27. To judge after the flesh is equivalent to judging after what the eyes see; and it was said of Christ, in Isaiah 11:3, that He should not judge “after the sight of His eyes.” 1 Samuel 16:7 also sheds light upon it: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for not what man looks upon (do I look upon); for man (natural man, forsaken of God) looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” The “carnal passion” of those who judge here had no connection with the preceding words, in which all deeper knowledge of the nature of Christ is denied to them. It is in perfect harmony with “Ye know not whence I am, or whither I go,” that it is said here that only the lower side of His being was accessible to them. Indeed, that they could only judge after the flesh, was the result of their fleshly mind, comp. 1 Corinthians 2:14, bound always to the visible and palpable. But this fleshly mind does not come expressly into view. Augustin: Secundum carnem judicatis, quia Deum non intelligitis, et hominem videtis, et hominem persequendo Deum latenter offenditis. And Lyser: Cum enim secundum carnem plus in me non cernatis quam ψιλὸ?ν ἄ?νθρωπον : ideo judicatis me non posse mundi lucem esse. To judge concerning Christ after the flesh has ever been, and still is, the melancholy doom of those who have, by their own fault, robbed themselves of the means of forming a deeper judgment, and have thus entered the way of eternal ruin. The words, “I judge no man,” are a concomitant idea, which intimates that judging was not with Christ, as with the Pharisees, the proper sphere of His life: He came not to judge the world, but to save the world, ch. John 12:47. As the light of the world, He came to open the blind eyes and to save sinners, as the pattern of all His faithful servants, with whom judging is not the prominent work, but rather attraction, and the entreaty in Christ’s stead “Be ye reconciled to God.” (Beza: Ego vobis blande annuntio salutiferum nuntium, cum tamen meo jure utens ad inferos praecipitare vos possim.) Jesus does not disclaim a certain kind of judging, as many would supplement κατὰ? σάρκα : He disclaims judgment generally. Nor does He disclaim judging, during a definite period, viz. the present. For, on the one hand, that would have required fuller statement; and, on the other, Christ did actually exercise judgment in the present. “In the very words, ‘I am the light of the world,’” says the Berlenberg Bible, “there is concealed a secret judgment upon the darkness.” At the same time that Jesus says, “I judge no man,” He is judging the Pharisees; and in ver. 26 He says, “I have many things to say and to judge of you.” That the words mean, that judgment was not the proper vocation of His life, the proper element in which He moved, is shown at once by what follows: comp. also ch. John 5:22. There also judgment appears as the second and accessory thing. The first is the quickening, ver. 21. The judgment passes only upon those who blasphemously reject this saving power. It has its proper ground, not in Christ, but in the objects on whom the judgment proceeds; so that they may be said, as it were, to condemn themselves. Because Christ is not alone, but in inseparable union with His heavenly Father, so, like His Father, He tries the hearts and the reins; and the Jews are constrained to tremble before His judgment.
Ver. 17. “It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.
Ver. 18. I am one that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me beareth witness of Me.”
Jesus had, up to this point, vindicated the validity of His own testimony. Here He intimates that this testimony was not alone, but that it was confirmed by the testimony of the Father. When Christ speaks of their law, He does not deny the obligation of that law upon His own followers, as it is taught everywhere in the New Testament, comp. Matthew 5:17 seq.; but He only signifies that they cannot evade or escape from the instances quoted from this law: comp. on ch. John 5:39, and then ch. John 5:45, John 15:25. The passages to which Jesus points are Deuteronomy 17:6, “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death;” and Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness shall not rise up against a man: at the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” Jesus does not quote the words of the legal ordinance, but only gives their substance. Ἄ?νθρωπον is not found in the quoted passages, and therefore must have all the more significance. We have a conclusion a minori ad majus: “If according to the law the testimony of two men, who may be deceived, is sufficient, how much more the testimony of two Divine witnesses, who are highly exalted above all suspicion of error or deception!” Lyser: It might seem that the testimony of Jesus concerning Himself, although true, was without demonstrative power, since any one might say the same of himself. But it ought not to be forgotten that the utterance of Jesus had its support in the whole influence of His person and character, in the majesty and dignity of His manifestation, in the divine energy of His word, by which the officers of the council were so seized, that they said, “Never man spake like this man.” Quesnel observes: “Christ is the only one who would give testimony to Himself. Man, who of his own has nothing but He and sin, must always be more suspicious of himself than any other.” Even Christ did not bear witness to Himself until God had borne witness to Him in the most manifold ways; and until His gentleness, His love, His patience, His unselfishness, His freedom from all pride, etc., had become publicly known. On the “Father beareth witness of Me,” comp. ch. John 10:37-38: “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works.”
Ver. 19. “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.”
It was not for a moment doubtful to the Jews whom Jesus referred to as His Father. It was the old controversy between Him and them, that they would not suffer Him to call God His Father in a particular and pre-eminent sense: comp. ch. John 5:18. They do not ask, “Who is thy father?” but, “Where is thy father? “And their question intimated that His “Father” was something Utopian, and that His conceit of being God’s Son was an idle fantasy, without any reality.
Christ intimates to them that they, by the wicked position which they assumed towards Him, closed against themselves the way to the knowledge of His Father. Whosoever places himself in opposition to Christ, can never know the Christian and only true God, the Father of Jesus Christ; for Christ is the bridge to that God whom not to know is to be without life and without salvation: comp. on ch. John 1:18, John 5:37-38, John 6:46, John 14:6; John 14:9; Matthew 11:27; 1 John 2:23.
In reference to the manner of the Jews coming, Quesnel remarks: “All may desire and seek the knowledge of God and His mysteries in humble and sincere prayer, or with a mind full of evil design and unbelief, as we see here and among the learned of this world.” And Anton: “Holy and penitent ones deal with such questions in humility: it is a crimen laesae majestatis divinae to act as these did.”
Ver. 20. “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.”
The indication of the locality, as also the remark, “and no man,” etc., serves no other purpose than to mark off this scene from that which follows. There is no actual connection between the statement of the locality and the preceding discourse. That the treasury was a place where a great multitude of men were wont to assemble, John could not suppose that his first readers knew without being told. The specific description of the locality shows that if John, in the following scenes, deals more in the general as to place, this was the result of design, and not of ignorance. Only an eye-witness could connect with the memory of the circumstance the exact place: this having in itself no specific relation to what passed there. The διδάσκων ἐ?ν τῷ? ἱ?ερῷ? is the general description. The Temple was the ordinary scene of Christ’s teaching. The treasury we know from Mark 12:41-44 (comp. Luke 21:1 seq.): there Jesus sat before the treasury, and saw how the people placed in it their gifts; here the treasury is named in a broader sense, including the spaces before it. According to many authorities, the treasury “consisted of thirteen brazen chests, destined to the customs and gifts.” But these chests into which the gifts were cast, were only, so to speak, the mouth or opening of the treasury, its communication with the outer world. “The treasury” must mean the locality of the whole temple-treasure, which is mentioned by the Aramaic name ὁ? κορβανᾶ?ς , in Matthew 27:6. This treasury was as ancient as the sanctuary in Israel. Mention is made of it in Deuteronomy 23:19, again in Joshua 6:19; Joshua 6:24, according to which all the gold, etc., devoted in Jericho came into the “treasury of the house of the Lord.” David placed the silver and the gold and the vessels in the treasury of the house of the Lord, 1 Kings 7:51. In 2 Kings 12:19; 2 Kings 16:8, we read of gold which was found in the treasures of the Lord’s house, and of the house of the king. In 2 Maccabees 3 is recorded the attempt of Heliodorus to penetrate into the treasure-house in Jerusalem, τὸ? ἐ?ν Ἱ?εροσλύμοις γαζοφυλάκιον .
In ch. John 8:21-59, we have the second scene of the period between the Feast of Tabernacles and that of the Dedication.
Ver. 21. “Then said Jesus again unto them, I go My way, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.”
Lyser: “He would say: Ye plot and labour diligently day and night to put Me to death. But it needs not all this trouble: for I shall, after having finished the course of My work, of My own free will go away from you; I shall return by physical death to My Father, and at the same time with My Gospel take all My blessings with Me.” Jesus repeated in a more compendious form what He had said in ch. John 7:33-34. The literal coincidence was an intentional one. It pointed them to the firmness of the Divine counsel, and exhorted them to make this great theme the object of their meditation. As is usual in the Scripture, when such words are repeated, there is here a significant change of the expression. Instead of “and ye shall not find Me,” in that passage, we have here, “and ye shall die in your sins.” That “sins” in these is a generic idea, and that we must not refer it to any single predominant sin, is shown by “Ye shall die in your sins” ver. 24. In ch. John 9:41 also, “the sin” signifies the whole guilt of sin, which the Pharisees bore upon them; and in the same generic sense it occurs in 1 John 1:8. The sin of Pharisaic Judaism was concentred in the position which it assumed towards Christ, comp. ch. John 15:22; and so far there is truth underlying the view which understands unbelief by the “sin” here. Faith, according to ver. 24, can free from the penalty of dying in sin. Sin, the entire of guilt, proceeds unto death only when the means of salvation held out by God are rejected, when the “ye would not “enters; and through the peoples guilt their sin remained.—”Ye shall die in your sins “means, according to the current exposition, “that they should die without being released from their sins, bound up in them,” and so forth. But the originals in the Old Testament show rather that “in your sins “is equivalent to “for your sins: “the effect is in the cause. In Numbers 27:3 the daughters of Zelophehad say: “Our father died in the wilderness—he died in his own sin.” There the ב is evidently the ב of the cause: comp. Psalms 90:7. In Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for (in) his own sin,” the ב corresponds to the preceding על . In Ezekiel 18:26, “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them (עליהם ); for his iniquity (בעולו ) that he hath done shall he die,” ב is interchangeable with על , and ב defines evidently the cause. The effect is rooted in the cause, or rests upon it. Sin appears as the cause of death or misery, even in the legal phrase, “bearing his sin or his iniquity,” Leviticus 5:1, and elsewhere. Knobel: “Bearing it, that is, in its power and effect, experiencing its consequences, and bearing its punishment.” Sin wilfully persisted in drags its victim to death. An inevitable doom is not here spoken of. Jesus says in the following words expressly, “if ye believe not.” He would only lay it on their hearts that it was high time for them to believe. Berl. Bibel: “He would thereby awaken their reflection and touch their hearts, that they might perceive their state before the end came.”
Ver. 22. “Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith. Whither I go, ye cannot come.”
The Jews do not bethink themselves of repenting, while they hear the severe exhortations and threatenings of Jesus; they rather assume the position which the Jews assumed in the time of Jeremiah. When the prophet denounced against them the judgments of God, they said, “We will walk in our own imaginations, and every one of us do according to the desires of his heart.” Instead of entering into themselves, they rather sought to convict Jesus of some inconsistency. The Jews did not really think that Jesus might kill Himself, nor must we regard their words as mere mockery. Christ had spoken of His going away as an act of His own free will, which would serve as an infliction of punishment upon His enemies, who would fall through His departure into inevitable destruction. How Christ could thus speak of such a going away, appeared to them incomprehensible. They thought they had Him unconditionally in their power. Only by killing Himself—which He, however, would certainly not do—could He reach a place which would be beyond the reach of their power. The mistake was, that they regarded the voluntary departure of Jesus as the opposite of the death which they designed for Him: it did not enter into their minds, carried away by a fancied independence, that they could be mere instruments in a higher hand: comp. ch. John 10:18, John 18:6, from which we perceive that, in a certain sense, Christ inflicted death upon Himself.
Ver. 23. “And He said unto them. Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. 24. 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.”
Jesus does not reply to the interruption of the Jews, but carries further the thought that had been expressed in ver. 21. The antithesis of above and beneath is that of earth and heaven, as is shown by the explanatory second member, where the “of this world” corresponds to the “from beneath.” This is also the constant usage of Scripture: wherever we find the general contrast of above and below, it always refers to earth and heaven; comp., for example, Exodus 20:4, “which is in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath;” Psalms 50:4, “He shall call to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people;” Acts 2:19, “And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath;” Colossians 3:1-2, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth;” Ephesians 4:9. To the ἐ?κ τῶ?ν κάτω corresponds, in Psalms 10:18, the man of the earth. The lower region, the earth, is from Genesis 3 downwards, the place of sin, and consequently of death. He who belongs merely and absolutely to the earth, cannot escape from sin, and from death, its necessary consequence. Only a relation to heaven can effect the souls freedom. Noah walked with God, and became, as the result, a righteous man among his contemporaries; and, in consequence of his righteousness, he escaped the judgment of death which came upon the whole collective earthly creation, Genesis 6:9. Enoch walked with God, and became accordingly partaker of eternal life, Genesis 5:24. Since in Christ the upper world came down into the lower, freedom from sin and from death can be obtained only through union with Him. To believe on Christ is the only means whereby we can be lifted above the lower regions of the earth, and consequently be delivered from that sin and death in which he is buried past recovery, who despises the saving hand stretched out to him. “Ye are of this world,” which since the Fall has lain in the evil one. Anton: “And thus we are sundered; there is a great gulf fixed between you, such as you now are, and Me.” This gulf could be filled up only in one way—by their believing that He was (ch. John 13:19), that is, that He was the absolute, the central Personality. The original Scriptures of the Old Testament show that this is the right interpretation: first of all, Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God with Me,” Sept. ἴ?δετε ὅ?τι ἐ?γώ εἰ μι ; then Psalms 102:27, “But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end;” Isaiah 41:4, “I am He,” אני הוא ; Isaiah 43:10, “That ye may understand that I am He; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me.” Michaelis: Ens illud unicum summum et verum. All these fundamental passages refer to God. They all of them have at their basis the Divine name Jehovah, by which God is declared to be pure absolute Being; and by referring so directly to these passages, Christ arrogated to Himself no less than the full and perfect Godhead. So His enemies themselves understood it. If the Jews would not fill up the awful gulf in this the only possible way, they must die in their sins. A comparison with the original prophecy shows that these words primarily pointed to a national catastrophe, and were fulfilled in the destruction of the city by the Romans. The Good Shepherd, Christ, receives in Zechariah 11:4 the commission to “feed the flock of the slaughter,” the people abandoned to ruin. The mission of Christ is in that early prophecy, even as here, represented as a final endeavour to save the people, whom their sins, like the wind, bear away to destruction, Isaiah 64:6. In Zechariah 11:9, the Good Shepherd says, after His earnest endeavours had all been scorned, “I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.” Ver. 28 also points to a national catastrophe: comp. Matthew 23:37-38. Quesnel draws from our present passage this conclusion: “We must, by setting their fearful danger before them, constrain sinners to fly to the arms of Jesus Christ, the sinners only help.”
Ver. 25. “Then said they unto Him, Who art thou? And Jesus said unto them. Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.”—“From the beginning, that which I say unto you.” The following comment is altogether wrong: “Such terms as Light of the world, Pourer out of water, The Sent of God, were to the Jews simply indefinite ideas; they wanted to hear of the King of Israel, or the like.” The Jews were not in any uncertainty as to who Christ would make Himself: the ἐ?γώ εἰ μι was to them, expert in the Scriptures as they were, quite sufficient to make that plain. They would, by the question, “Who art thou?” only remind Him that they did not acknowledge Him in His assumed dignity; that there was still a question about this dignity, and consequently that the conclusions which He drew from it were unsound. They would, by their question, challenge Him to consider the whole matter once more, and to save Himself from such boundless and fearful presumption: comp. the τίνα σεαυτὸ?ν ποιεῖ?ς , ver. 53, and the σὺ? ἄ?νθρωπος ὢ?ν ποιεῖ?ς σεαυτὸ?ν Θεόν . Anton: “One could wish to think that there was in their question the beginning of submission and change of mind; as Saul’s conversion began with a question. Lord, who art Thou? But there is no Lord in the question of His enemies here.”
In Christ’s answer we must,) as is now generally acknowledged, read ὅ? τι , since ὅ?τι gives no reasonable sense. Before or after the τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν we must supplement, from the question, εἰ μί , I am. Ἀ?ρχή , in the New Testament, always means beginning (apart, that is, from the signification dominion, of which we take no account here); and it is used specifically of the beginning of created, things, of finite existence, of the world or creation: comp. on ch. John 1:1. The accusative is used as an adverb, “originally” (comp. Buttmann, p. 134); so that, in reality, τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν is equivalent to ἀ?πʼ? ἀ?ρχῆ?ς , or κατʼ? ἀ?ρχᾶ?ς , Hebrews 1:10. The signification “altogether or absolutely” would take us out of the domain of New Testament phraseology, as also out of that of the Alexandrian version. In this latter, τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν stands for “In the beginning,” Genesis 41:21; Genesis 43:20; Daniel 8:1. In classical usage, also, the signification “beginning,” or “originally,” is the first and most frequent. Schweighseuser, in the Lex. Herod., remarks: “Accusativus ἀ?ρχήν adverbialiter positus proprie significat initio, principio, ab initio;” and he gives copious illustrations from Herodotus, such as John 11:28, ὡ?ς ἀ?ρχὴ?ν ἐ?γένετο , as it was originally. In the beginning, in the creation of the world, Christ manifested Himself, or made Himself known, in the attribute which He arrogated, ver. 24 (comp. Hebrews 1:10); and so onwards throughout His whole administration in the history of the Old Testament. Christ is everywhere where Jehovah is, and His Angel. If we take the τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν in this sense,—in special harmony with John’s phraseology, “In the beginning was the Word,” and “the same was in the beginning with God,” ch. John 1:1-2; ὃ? ἦ?ν ἀ?πʼ? ἀ?ρχῆ?ς , 1 John 1:1; ἐ?γνώκατε τὸ?ν ἀ?πʼ? ἀ?ρχῆ?ς , John 2:13-14,—then the “I am He” corresponds, by which Jesus, in ver. 24, identifies Himself with the Jehovah of the Old Testament: so also vers. 39, 40, in which Abraham is placed in relation to Christ; ver. 56, in which Abraham saw His day; ver. 57, in which Christ saw Abraham; ver. 58, in which Christ was before Abraham was, and that not in a latent being, but in such a being as was made known by manifestation. The τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν here corresponds, then, with the ἀ?πʼ? ἀ?ρχῆ?ς in ver. 44 concerning Satan. From the beginning of the world, Christ and Satan have been the two spiritual powers opposed to each other. The τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν , then, finds its commentary in the πάντα διʼ? αὐ τοῦ? ἐ?γένετο , ch. John 1:3; the ἡ? ἀ?ρχὴ? τῆ?ς κτίσεως τοῦ? Θεοῦ? , Revelation 3:14; and the διʼ? οὗ? καὶ? τοὺ?ς αἰ?ῶ?νας ἐ?ποίησε , Hebrews 1:2. It is without reason alleged against this interpretation,—which, to the shame of many ecclesiastical expositors, Fritzsche has had to bring out again, sum a rerum primordiis (cf. John 1:1) ea natura, quara me esse profiteor,—that such a manner of speaking would have been simply unintelligible to the Jews; for this objection is set at nought by all the other testimonies of Christ concerning His pre-human existence in this self-same chapter. The Jews had points of connection enough for it, if their hearts had only been right before the Lord: the entire Old Testament doctrine of the Angel of Jehovah, and the prophetic announcement that this Angel would one day appear as the Messiah, Malachi 3:1; Zechariah 11 : It has been shown in the Christology (vol. iii. Clark’s Translation), that the true understanding of the Old Testament facts here concerned was widely diffused amongst the Jews; and to these we must add the lofty predicates, rising into divinity, which are attributed to the Messiah in Isaiah 9:5, Micah 5:1; Micah 5:3; and the manifestation of the Messiah in the clouds of heaven, as the Lord of nature, as the Almighty Judge, in Daniel 7:13-14. Nor is there force in the objection, that this interpretation is discordant with the preceding question of the Jews, which referred not to the pre-existence but to the personality of Jesus: for the pre-existence was an essential element in the personality of Jesus; and our Lord does not limit Himself to the assumption of pre-existence, but at the same time declares that His being was absolutely congruent with that which He said concerning Himself, the καὶ? referring to this congruence between the being and the words. But the ἀ?ρχήν was the specific sting to the minds of His enemies. He made them feel that all opposition was vain, and that it could end only in their destruction. “Jesus,” says Quesnel, “a une vie, qui n’a jamais commencée et que tous les efforts de ses ennemis nepeuvent faire finir.” Because Christ is the Alpha, He is also the Omega; because He was from the beginning on the scene, the end also must belong to Him.
Let us now throw a glance over the explanations which soften this away. The rendering nearest to ours is, “I am that which I said unto you from the beginning.” But if we thus supply the εἰ μί , before instead of after the τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν , we encounter the following double difficulty. 1. The τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν ought not then to stand in the beginning: the rejoinder, that it was placed first because of emphasis, would be valid only if it came after ὅ? τι ; but this entirely forces the construction. 2. Instead of the Present, λαλῶ? , it ought to have been the Perfect. The λαλῶ? plainly points to the ἐ?γώ εἰ μι , by which Jesus had attributed to Himself divinity. And, further, the originally then receives no clear and sure explanation. It would be obvious to refer it to the beginning of His appearance amongst them; but Jesus did not then publicly proclaim Himself as the true and only Son of God. It was His aim first to approve Himself such in act.
Against the interpretation favoured by Luther, “Principio (id vobis respondeo) me eum esse, qui vobiscum loquar,” Beza has observed, Haec expositio coacta est et frigidam sententiam parit: denique etiam Gr. codicibus repugnat, in quibus legitur ὅ? τι , non ὅ?ς . Ἀ?ρχήν also does not mean firstly, or at first.
Finally, the interpretation, “Generally, wherefore do I speak to you?” adopts all possible artifice only to find an intolerable meaning.
Ver. 26. “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.”
After Jesus had answered their question, He enters into the psychological motive which had brought them forward. The word of Micah, ch. John 2:11, was here approved true: “If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy to thee of wine and strong drink, he shall even be the prophet of this people;” and that other, in ch. John 3:8, where Micah opposes himself to false prophets, and says: “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.” If Christ had made war against the Romans, whom they hated, instead of against the sins which they loved,—if He had directed the lightning-glance of His divinity against foes without,—the Jews would have admitted with joy the utmost that He declared concerning His own person. The fundamental repentance which He demanded was the real offence, and not the “I am He” of itself. They must contend against His divinity, because it was a consuming fire for their sins, in which they desired still to continue. “I have many things to say and to judge of you”—that is the reason why ye will not receive My declarations concerning My own person—“but,” etc. If what Jesus said rested entirely upon God, and if it was therefore absolutely true, all was placed in a new light, and it was reason, not for alienation and hatred, but for true repentance. Unreasonably comparing ch. John 16:12, some have thought that the “I have many things to say of you” refers to such things as Jesus could say, but would not say; whereas the true meaning is rather this: “I must also say and judge many things of you.” Jesus never shows Himself, in relation to the Jews, disposed to keep back or restrain anything. The strongest that could be said, He always tells them to their face. Here, in what immediately precedes, He had exercised this judgment upon them in the most earnest manner; and in what immediately follows He continues the same strain.
Jesus does not say, “I speak unto you,” but, “I speak to the world.” This points to the fact, that what He here first speaks in a narrow circle, is not destined for that narrow circle alone, but has a significance for all ages; and that its being opposed and scorned temporarily was of little significance, since it was destined to run its course, and have its effect in ages to come. If Jesus was truly the light of the world, it was self-understood, that all things which He spake in the obscurest corner of Judea were spoken out into all the world.
Ver. 27. “They understood not that He spake to them of the Father.”
An interpretation of these words which makes the Jews appear senseless and stupid, cannot, in the nature of things, be the right one. From a theoretic inability on their part, Jesus would have delivered them by a more explicit declaration; but, instead of that. He threatens them, in ver. 28, with the punishment of unbelief. The meaning cannot therefore be, that they did not externally understand our Lord’s words. Throughout the whole of this portion of the Gospel, the accusation which the Jews made against Christ was, that He arrogated to Himself divinity. The seizing, and stoning, and putting to death—which is everywhere the Jews watchword—all rest upon this ground. In ch. John 5:18 they would kill Jesus, because He πατέρα ἴ?διον ἔ?λεγεν τὸ?ν Θεὸ?ν ἴ?σον ἑ?αυτὸ?ν ποιῶ?ν τῷ? Θεῷ? ; and in ch. John 10:33 they raise the complaint against Him, σὺ? ἄ?νθρωπος ὢ?ν ποιεῖ?ς σεαυτὸ?ν Θεόν . But this mere external knowledge is not acknowledged by John as true knowledge. True knowledge only exists where there is devout sinking into the mystery full of grace and blessedness. But the father of whom they thought was not the true Father, but only an airy imagination of their own minds. With the Son they had also lost the Father. John—in deep grief at the perversion of human nature, which has no vision of the most comforting of all mysteries—charges them, not with theoretical inability, but with hardness of heart. The not knowing here is the same as that of- which Christ speaks in Matthew 11:25; and, in reality, ch. John 12:37 is in harmony with this: “Although He had done so many miracles among them, yet believed they not on Him.” And this shows how ver. 28 is connected with that which we now consider. There the Jews are threatened with the punishment of the unbelief which is here alleged against them.
Vers. 28, 29. “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 hath taught Me, I speak these things. And He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.”
The lifting up refers to the crucifixion: comp. on ch. John 3:14 (Augustin: Exaltationem dicit passionis, non glorificationis, crucis non coeli: quin et ibi exaltatus est, quando pependit de ligno). It cannot be the glorification of Christ, because it was to be effected by the people. “Then shall ye know that I am He,” derives its more definite meaning from “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins,” in ver. 24. They maintain and approve their unbelief by the lifting up of the Son of man, and therefore the result follows. In this connection, which manifestly speaks only of the relation of guilt and punishment, we must not think of a saving knowledge as intended; and we must reject all such remarks as these: “Whoever was susceptible, must have received from the martyrdom of this most holy servant of God such an impression as that he must acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah!” In their downfall and ruin the hardened Jews discerned that Christ was God. We must also reject the comparison with ch. John 12:32: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Christ is not there speaking, as He is here, to exasperated enemies. Individuals of their number might be converted; but of the whole race (and it is that which Jesus has here in view) it remained true, that they accomplished their blasphemy, and fell under its doom.
The knowing here spoken of is that which is enforced by facts; and it is indifferent whether or not those here meant pushed their self-blinding and self-hardening so far as to deny what was plainly made manifest. The words of our Lord rest upon an Old Testament foundation. We read in Exodus 10:20, “And ye shall know that I am the Lord,”—by the wonders and signs which I will perform on the Egyptians. But still nearer to our text is a series of passages in Ezekiel, in which “And ye shall know that I am the Lord” recurs continually as the burden of threatenings upon Israel. So, in ch. John 7:4, it is said, “And Mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” And in ch. John 11:10: “Ye shall fall by the sword: I will judge you in the border of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” And in ch. John 12:20: “And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the Lord:” comp. ch. John 6:7; John 6:13. By reference to all these sayings, Christ identifies Himself with Jehovah; and they are of importance, further, to our present purpose, inasmuch as they prove that the Lord here has only an enforced knowledge in view, and does not speak of a voluntary and experimental knowledge. We find parallels in the other Gospels,—for example, in Matthew 23:38-39; Matthew 24:2, where Jesus, after the disciples had shown Him all the buildings of the Temple, says, “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you. There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” So Luke 19:40: “And He answered and said unto them, I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out,” where the stones are the stones of Jerusalem to be destroyed,—an allusion to Habakkuk 2:11, the only passage of Scripture, too, in which we have crying stones.
The following “and I do nothing of Myself,” etc., for the present are merely an assertion to the Jews. The connection with “when ye shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know,” points to the fact, that one day the words would approve themselves true, in the terror of those who now made them matter of mockery. To the domain of doing belongs, according to what follows, the speaking also. “The Father hath not left Me alone,” that is, when He sent Me forth. That was the decisive point. If He accompanied Jesus then, it followed that He was with Him continually. The objection that this view does not suit the reason which Christ goes on to give, has no point; since that Christ always did what was pleasing to the Father, was grounded in His nature, and thus must have been foreseen and anticipated by the Father. We must compare with the ὅ?τι ἐ?γὼ? τὰ? ἀ?ρεστὰ? αὐ τῷ? πάντοτε , Isaiah 42:1 and Psalms 40:9. “If we, following His example, are always faithful to God,” says Quesnel, “we shall always have Him with us.” Jesus assuredly spoke what is written in vers. 28, 29, with the gentlest emphasis (Bengel: Haec summâ cum suavitate dixit dominus), so that those who still had any heart to feel must have felt it keenly, as indeed ver. 30 shows they did. The feeling was the same as that of Luke 19:41, where the Lord looked upon Jerusalem and wept over it.
Ver. 30. “As He spake these words, many believed on Him.”
A glance of light; comp. ch. John 7:31; John 7:46. How they gave expression to their faith, is not here expressly stated. Doubtless it was by some confession which they made in the presence of the unbelieving multitude.
Vers. 31, 32. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The Lord’s address to them shows, on the one hand, that they were in earnest; and, on the other, that they were only as yet in the good beginnings. “If ye continue in My word “(comp. ch. John 15:7: ἐ?ὰ?ν μείνητε ἐ?ν ἐ?μοὶ? καὶ? τὰ? ῥ?ήματά μου ἐ?ν ὑ?μῖ?ν μείνῃ? ) points to the perverting influences which would strive to alienate them again from His words. The parable of the sower, Matthew 13:20-22, furnishes a commentary on the dangers which threaten the seed of the word of God—trial and persecution (comp. “no man shall pluck them out of My hand,” ch. John 10:28), the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches. Quesnel: “Continuing therein means not merely to have a transitory taste of the word, not merely the loving certain truths, not merely practising part of them, and that externally: it does not mean a few moments, a few months, or a few years; it signifies the loving all His truths, the practising them steadily through the whole of life, and the making His law a joy and a delight.” On “ye shall know the truth,” the Berlenberg Bible says: “Some knowledge must certainly go before faith. But if we are faithful in that little knowledge, however little, we come through that believing obedience to a true and full knowledge; so that we do in the act of obedience learn what our duty is. Thus knowledge grows with fidelity.” The meaning therefore is, Ye shall know the truth more and more fully. That which in itself is only a gradual difference and increase, is here uttered in the form of absolute antithesis; because, in comparison of the knowledge which they should receive in the May of their future fidelity, their present knowledge vanished to nothing. The truth here is not merely theoretic and in the mind; but it is that which took flesh and blood in Christ, who said, I am the Truth. As they proceeded to know Christ more and more profoundly, they more and more profoundly would know the truth,—that truth for which, as for freedom, every man not entirely degraded experiences a fervent, natural longing; and that living truth would make, them free from the slavery of sin and error, while merely theoretical truth is to this end perfectly powerless. The same effect of emancipation which is here attributed to the truth, is in ver. 36 attributed to Christ.
In the words, “shall make you free,”—primarily from sin, the true bondage, the worst of all bondage, but also from its reflection, the slavery of this world,—the Lord designedly throws an apple of discord amongst the Jews, who must have felt themselves greatly humbled to hear that they, the supposed Lord’s of the world, were to be first delivered from slavery by Jesus. This one word (Bengel: Semper id potissimum locutus est, quod oppugnaret praejudicia hominum) gave occasion to the most violent encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees which the Gospel records; in which Jesus calls them liars and children of the devil, and which reaches such a pitch of fury in the Jews, that they take up stones to stone Him. Lyser makes upon this the reflection, that the Gospel cannot always be preached in a gentle manner, but that sometimes its stiff-necked enemies must be vigorously and decisively contended against in defence of the truth. We have here the counterpart of that love and tenderness in which Jesus, as a pattern to His disciples on this same occasion, does not despise the germ of faith just beginning to be, but accepts it and nourishes it, and seeks by salutary exhortations to further it towards maturity.
Ver. 33. “They answered Him, We be Abrahams seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou. Ye shall be made free?”
Those who answer here are not specifically those Jews who had begun to believe in Jesus, but the Jews generally; the same to whom the αὐ τοῖ?ς in vers. 12, 21, refers, and with whom Jesus has ordinarily to do in this section, the superscription of which might be, Jesus and the Jews, What follows does not exhibit in them the slightest trace of faith. Jesus contends against hardened and exasperated enemies who would kill Him, who declare that He is possessed with an evil spirit, who take up stones to stone Him, and whom He terms liars and children of him who was the murderer of mankind from the beginning; John was far too tenacious of reality to ascribe faith to such a people merely on the ground of a superficial and transitory feeling; Christ, who knew what was in man, would not have expended upon such the address of ver. 31. “It is not to be. supposed,” says the Berl. Bible, “that they could spring back again so suddenly. Commonly such a change comes by degrees, when people are not faithful to their convictions.” The unbelieving Jews regard Christ’s words as if they were addressed to them. And this they do with good reason. In the words, “shall make you free,” they heard a severe attack upon themselves, an annihilation of all their high-minded pretensions, and a reduction of them as a people to the level of the Gentile world. To what end were they the people of God, if they were as much without the noblest of all possessions as the heathen themselves? Jesus had not spoken of external freedom, but of that which even a slave might enjoy. And, on that very account, the Jews could not have had political freedom in view, when they rejoined that they had never been in bondage to any. If their words are made to refer to political bondage, they have no semblance of truth in them whatever. They were at that time in bondage to the Romans; and their Scriptures in various places testify that the people of God had often fallen into external slavery. It was originally foretold to Abraham, that his seed should be strangers and servants in a land not theirs. Genesis 15:13. In Exodus 20:2 we read, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In the book of Judges we have one bondage following another in rapid succession. It is said of Nebuchadnezzar, in 2 Chronicles 36:20, “And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon, where they were servants to him and his sons; “and with reference to the Persian period, we read in Nehemiah 9:36, “Behold, we are servants this day.” Thus the Jews must have had something else m their thoughts when they said, “We were never in bondage unto any man.” To be free and to have dominion is a prerogative of the true people of God, which can never at any time suffer interruption, and which is not interfered with or suspended, even by external bondage. The true seed of Abraham are, according to Exodus 19:6, a “kingdom,” a sovereign people. Under all circumstances, their enemies shall be found liars unto them, or be subjected, and they shall tread upon their high places (Ex. 33:29); so that even to their conquerors the people of God give laws. They always mount very high, and never sink very low. Deuteronomy 28:13; Deuteronomy 28:43, “above only, and not beneath.” The true Church of God has never been enslaved. Even in its external bondage it has preserved its nobility and its superiority. Israel, under all circumstances, is “princess among the provinces,” Lamentations 1:1. We have only to think of Moses before Pharaoh king of Egypt, or Daniel in presence of the Chaldean king: this latter was a servant of that king, and yet in ch. 5 he is that king's lord and judge; the proud Nebuchadnezzar in ch. 2 falls down before him. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty and dominion. The heathen are, in spite of their external dominion, slaves; the members of the true Israel are ever, in spite of their external bondage, lords; comp. Lamentations 5:8, “servants have ruled over us,” and Ecclesiastes 10:7, “I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as Servants upon the earth,”—a perverted world, in which servants ride and masters walk. The book of Ecclesiastes often dwells on the thought that Israel, externally brought under the bondage of heathenism, still retains its absolute superiority over the heathen world, through the undisturbed possession of wisdom from above, through the word and Spirit of God. External power must in due time follow and sue unto wisdom, ch. John 7:11-12; John 7:19-20, John 9:13-18, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war,” etc.
Thus the rejoinder of the Jews has a deep truth lying at its foundation. Freedom must never be measured or estimated by external appearances. True freedom and true pre-eminence can never be wanting to God’s people; were it ever to be so, the kingdom of God would be turned into a fantasy and a lie. But theirs was a twofold error. 1. In opposition to the spirit of the whole Old Testament, they referred that which belonged to the election, to the people as a mass of flesh and blood. The dominion of the world was guaranteed to the seed of Abraham as such; but in order to belong to the true seed of Abraham, quite other conditions are required than merely bodily derivation. 2. They overlooked the fact that, according to the testimony of all the prophets of Israel, the full height of the destiny of the people was to be attained first and only in Christ. “O vanity of the children of Adam,” observes Quesnel, “who boast themselves of their nobility, because they do not know their degradation through sin.” Their external bondage was not so insignificant a thing as the Jews would represent it. It was only the reflection of the loss of internal nobility on the part of the great mass of the people.
Ver. 34. “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto You, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”
The Jews had arrogated freedom to themselves, and grounded their assertion on the fact that they were the seed of Abraham. Jesus now first shows that freedom does not belong to them, and then that they are not the true descendants of Abraham. (Bengel: Jesus exceptioni duplici Judaeorum inverso ordine respondet; et primum orationem de libertate pertexit, deinde de Abrahae liberis disserit.)
With reference to the “verily, verily,” Lyser says: “He would speak concerning a great matter, and one which the Jews would hardly tolerate; therefore He most earnestly strengthens His word.” Underneath the general proposition, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” the specific one lies concealed, “Ye who commit sin are the servants of sin.” Jesus points them back from their empty pretensions to the naked reality. They boasted of their freedom, whilst they found themselves in the vilest slavery—the slavery of sin. It was this which Jesus held out against them, and not their bondage to the Romans: the question was not of external, but of spiritual dignity. Even the election were also subjected to the bondage of the Romans; and that came into consideration only indirectly, and as the reflection of the slavery of which our Lord here speaks.
The slavery of sin had been indirectly referred to in Genesis 4:7; for when Cain was there admonished, “Thou shalt rule over it,” the idea was involved that Cain was in danger of being ruled over by sin. And it is directly treated of in Psalms 19:13, “Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.” These proud sins, in opposition to sins of infirmity, ver. 13, are those presumptuous and designed sins which are here personified as tyrants, and which accordingly strive to bring the servant of God under their unworthy bondage. And this passage of the psalm seems to lie at the foundation of our Lord’s saying, as well as of St Paul’s in Romans 6:14, It is all the more expressly related to our present text, inasmuch as it proves that the bondage of sin is a danger which threatens e.ven amongst the people of God. We may also compare 1 Kings 21:20, “And Ahab said unto Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he said, I have found thee, because thou hast sold thyself to do evil in the sight of the Lord “(Michaelis: Et mancipium es teterrimorum vitiorum). So also ver. 25, “There was none like unto Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord.” Finally, 2 Kings 17:17, where it is said of the ten tribes, “and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger,” with allusion to Deuteronomy 28:68, “And there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen.” That which was there spoken of external slavery, is here transferred to the internal. St Paul has these passages of the Kings in view in the words of Romans 7:14, πεπραμένος ὑ?πὸ? τὴ?ν ἁ?μαρτίαν . Heathen philosophers also speak much about the slavery of sin. But the depth of this debasement they could not understand; and hence they thought that every man might defend himself from it by his own power, and by his own power deliver himself again.
Ver. 35. “And the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the Son abideth ever.”
It has been observed without propriety, “First, there is described, in a general proposition of common civil life, the opposite relation of the slaves and the son to the house in which both are.” The servant is rather the slave in the sense defined, ver. 34,—a servant of this sort. The sentence is a universal one. But servants, in the ordinary sense, remain, according to circumstances, always in the house, so that the general statement does not suit them. The slave was, in the seventh year of his servitude, made free. But if he preferred to remain in subjection, the new relation was to be sealed by a rite prescribed in Deuteronomy 15:17: “And,” it is there said, “he shall be thy servant for ever;” Sept. καὶ? ἔ?σται σοι οἰ κέτης εἰ?ς τὸ?ν αἰ?ῶ?να . But the statement of our passage is the less appropriate to the general relation, inasmuch as the violent ejection of the slave is referred to, and then only very seldom occurred. That which takes place with servants in the ordinary sense—viz. their being cast out when they are useless, as we see in the example of Hagar and her son, who was driven out of the house because of her evil conduct towards the son, while that son remained in it. Genesis 21:10; Galatians 4:30,—a case which probably was in our Lord’s view here—that takes place with slaves of this kind without exception.
If the servant is to be taken in a spiritual sense, then the house must be taken in a spiritual sense, as the designation of the kingdom of God, which in the Old Testament was represented by a house, the Temple, constantly spoken of as the spiritual dwelling-house of the whole covenant people. (On the Temple as a symbol of the kingdom of God, consult my Beiträge, 3:S. 631.) This spiritual house must be thought of here, especially as the second member, ὁ? υἱ?ὸ?ς μένει εἰ?ς τὸ?ν αἰ?ῶ?να , refers to Psalms 23:6, “And I dwell in the house of the Lord for ever;” and Psalms 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,”—where the house of the Lord is the Temple, as the ideal dwelling-place of the people of God, and the symbol of the Church. In 1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:20; Ephesians 2:19, the Church appears under the figure of the house of God. The servant is primarily and formally an ideal person, meaning no other than “whosoever committeth sin.” But the general proposition is uttered with special reference to the relations then existing between Christ and these Jews. The application is, “And so ye cannot abide in the house of God, because ye are such servants of sin.” If the servant is primarily an ideal person, then the son must also be an ideal person; in favour of which is Psalms 23:6, where not David is speaking, but the true Israel, thus a real multitude. Both reasons are against those who, like Lampe, understand here by the son Christ Himself, absolutely and exclusively. The son, in the spiritual sense, is he who stands to the Lord of the spiritual house in the same relation which the spiritual son sustains to the Father—that of the most internal fellowship of love; as, on the ground of this relation, Israel is in the Old Testament termed the son of God, e.g. in Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1: comp. on the idea of Son of God my commentary on Psalms 2:7, where, amongst other things, it is said, “Where God in the Old Testament is represented as Father, where the subject is sonship of God, there is concise reference to His internal love as similar to that of a father towards a son: comp. passages which develop the comparison, such as Psalms 103:13.”
The ideal person of the Son is here primarily represented by the actual person of Christ; but there also by those whom He has freed from the bondage of sin, and introduced into the inward and spiritual communion with God: comp. ch. John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
The general proposition, applied to the case in hand, is this: The ungodly Jews will be cast out of the kingdom of God, and that kingdom abideth to Christ and His true members: comp. Matthew 8:12; Matthew 21:43. Anton: “Because they thought they belonged to the house of God absolutely, on account of Abraham and as his seed, Christ tells them to say nothing more about that. The evening of all days had not yet come. Such people as they were could not abide in the house of God; but the Son abideth ever, and all who have part in Him. This was their loophole: We belong to the kingdom of God nevertheless, we are members of the Church. But Christ says, This will not avail you. Although ye be for a while membra ecclesiae, ye must not allege that. It only adds to your great responsibility; since God received you into His house that ye might become pious children, but ye show what a slavish spirit is yours. Out of My house! for this must not go on always.”
Ver. 36. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
This clause is connected with ver. 34, where beneath the general proposition the special one was concealed: “Ye, because ye commit sin, are servants of sin.” Ver. 35—which contains only a bye-thought, pointing to the ruinous consequences of sin, and the loss which it entails of the noblest of all possessions, participation in the wisdom of God—only comes into consideration so far as it must urge the Jews eagerly to desire the good that was offered to them in Christ. Thus, since ye are the servants of sin, ye are not free of the house, as ye think.
Christ might have said. If I make you free. But He speaks of Himself as the Son, in order to point out that the sonship of which ver. 35 had spoken had its foundation in Himself, so that no man could be a partaker of it who stands not in living connection with Him: comp. ch. John 1:12. Berl. Bible: “Here the words rise to the Son, from whom all the other children of grace derive their birth and prerogatives.” The ὄ?ντως points the contrast to the imagined freedom of the Jews: comp. ver. 33. “My freedom,” says Quesnel, “is that in me which is most slavish and base so long as Thou dost not set it free. The more Thou leavest it to itself, the less free will it be.”
Ver. 37. “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill Me, because My word hath no place in you.”
The Jews, in ver. 33, based their assertion that they were a free people on the fact that they were Abraham’s seed. If the premises had been true, then the conclusion would have been sound. To Abraham it was said, in Genesis 22:17, “Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;” and also, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18, by which the whole of the rest of the world was placed in dependence on the seed of Abraham, and laid at their feet. The seed of Abraham is a kingdom of priests, in Exodus 19:6. Of it Isaiah 61:5-6, speaks: “And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen, and your vine-dressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” They for whom such a dignified position is reserved in the future, must already in the present enjoy incomparable dignity. The error of the Jews lay, not in the high opinion which they had of the seed of Abraham, but in this, that they at once, and without any qualification, identified the lineal bodily descendants of Abraham with his seed. From this unspiritual view they ought to have been delivered by the history of the patriarch himself; for instance, in the example of Ishmael and Esau, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” Genesis 21:12. In order to true sonship of such a man as Abraham, more was required than the mere bodily descent; it was required that there should be a likeness to the father in that which was the centre of his being. Whosoever was unlike him in that, could not belong to his seed; whosoever was like him in that, was adopted into his seed;—even as in the Old Testament itself the way to this adoption was opened, and as the prophets announced that in future times it would be extended in the widest degree. Samuel, whom Eli, in 1 Samuel 3:6, calls his son, was his son in a truer sense than his own degenerate children. “My father, my father!” cried Elisha to Elijah, in 2 Kings 2:12. On the other side, Ezekiel, in ch. John 16:3, makes the Amorites the fathers of the degenerate members of the covenant people. Zechariah, in ch. John 14:21, speaks of the Canaanites in the house of the Lord. Isaiah, in ch. Isaiah 1:10, calls the princes of Israel princes of Sodom, and the people of Israel the people of Gomorrah, and thereby excludes them utterly from the people of the true seed of Abraham: comp. Jeremiah 23:14. The degraded people of the covenant are, in Hosea 12:8, termed Canaan. Jesus here admits to the Jews, that they were in a certain sense the descendants of Abraham; but He draws from the position which they assumed towards Himself, the conclusion that they were not his children in the true sense, and in that which alone came then into consideration; that they rather belonged to an altogether different father, whom He does not at once proceed to mention, in order to excite their suspense and attention. “The seed of Abraham My friend” (my lover), is the term given to the true Church of God in Isaiah 41:8. The love of God—not of God in the abstract, but of Him whose manifestation was in His Angel, who everywhere, from Genesis 16 downwards, meets us in the history of the patriarchs—is here declared to have been the nature and mark of Abraham, which must be reflected in all his seed. Whosoever seeks to kill Christ, the Angel of the Lord manifest in the flesh, cannot be partaker of Abraham’s nature, and cannot belong to Abraham’s seed. That they sought to kill Christ, had its reason in this, that His word did not abide and have its operation in them. This has been explained in various ways: for instance, “Because My word finds no room among you.” The meaning which this gives is appropriate enough. Quesnel: “The word of God requires an empty heart. A heart full of earthly plans, of carnal interests, of ambition; of avarice, of worldly occupations, of love to creaturely enjoyments, and of things that profit not, is not adapted to receive the evangelical seed.” But this exposition cannot be grammatically justified. Χωρεῖ?ν has, in classical usage, a double meaning: 1. that of going; and 2. that of seizing. It occurs in the New Testament with both these significations, and with no other. The second does not yield here an appropriate sense; but the first, on the other hand, appears strictly in harmony, especially if we take going in the sense of going forward, as in Aristophanes the words χωρεῖ? δὴ? τὸ? πρᾶ γμα are explained by the scholiast προκόπτει τὸ? ἔ?ργον . The going here, as also the running of 2 Thessalonians 3:1, ἵ?να ὁ? λόγος τοῦ? κυρίου τρέχῃ? , forms the contrast to standing idle or still. The word of Christ among the Jews had no progress. It encountered mighty hindrances, which altogether baffled its progress.
Ver. 38. “I speak that which I have seen with My Father; and ye do (do ye) that which ye have seen with your father.”—“Who does not shudder,” says Quesnel, “when he contemplates these two, who are so entirely opposite, and have no medium
God or the devil? He who does not bring his life into conformity with the Mill of God is not His child; he gives himself up to be carried forwards to the will of the devil, and chooses him as his father.” The words, “that which ye have seen with your father,” point back to the scenes of the Old Testament, in which Satan is presented to us most vividly in his shameful acts,—the history of the Fall, comp. ver. 44; the Prologue of the book of Job; and the third chapter of Zechariah. The reading, ἠ?κούσατε παρὰ? τοῦ? πατρός , sprang from misapprehending this allusion. “The pronouns μου and ὑ?μων ,” remarks Meyer, with Lachmann and Tischendorf, following good authorities, “must be removed as clumsy distinctives.” But this very distinction is necessary to the clearness and emphasis of the saying. The expression is made more rhetorically keen by the omission; but this of itself must not be regarded as an advantage. The imperative do ye is parallel with the challenging πληρώσατε of Matthew 23:32, and the ποίησον of 42:27. Jesus will not hinder them in their work: if it is right to them, it is right to Him. While they do this, they act in such a manner as to bring God against them in His righteous judgment.
Vers. 39, 40, 41. “They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them. If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 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. Ye do (do ye) the deeds of your father.”
The answer of the Jews had for its design to provoke Jesus into a contradiction, and thus to find out whom He meant by the other father. But Jesus contents Himself, at first and preliminarily, by showing further that Abraham could not be their father. Yet in the end He all the more emphatically points to the fact that they have another father, and thus does not let go the thread out of His hand.
Jesus says, “If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham;” and, “this did not Abraham.” We may refer the contrast to the difference between Abraham’s piety generally, and their impiety. However, as Jesus does not speak of the latter generally, but of their wishing to kill Himself, it seems more proper to look in the history of Abraham for some event which furnishes a direct and specific contrast. And we are pointed at once to Genesis 18, and the heartfelt joy with which Abraham received Jehovah or His angel, bowed himself towards the ground, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.” We are all the rather required to refer to that occurrence, in which, as here, there was a human concealment of God, because Jesus in ver. 25 points to the identity between Himself and the Angel of the Lord. But all doubt is removed by ver. 56, where Jesus most expressly refers to that event. “A man:” Jehovah and the two angels, who entered in unto Abraham in Genesis 18:16 (comp. Romans 5:15; 1 Timothy 2:5), are described as three men, on account of their appearance in human form.
Ver. 41. “Then said they to Him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”
Jesus had once more hinted to them that they had another father than Abraham. He could not mean another human father: He Himself had admitted that they sprang from the stock of Abraham. But if He had a superhuman father in view, He denied to them not only the sonship of Abraham, but the sonship of God also. Hence they maintained this against Him.
If God was not to be their Father, it was obvious to suppose that He meant the false God’s, especially as in the prophets the apostate people are often termed a brood of idolatry. But they thought they might easily repel this objection against them; and with perfect justice, because the external idolatry, which in the times of the prophets had been so great a danger, had long disappeared, and externally all depended now upon the true God. Whoredom is all impure commerce with idols. In the Old Testament it is sometimes exhibited as the genus, of which adultery is one species. In Judges 19:2 we read, “And his concubine played the whore against him;” and spiritual adultery is not seldom termed whoredom,—e.g. Exodus 34:15, “And they go a-whoring after their God’s;” Leviticus 17:7, “Devils after whom they have gone, a-whoring;” and Ezekiel 20:30-31, “Commit ye whoredom after their abominations? Ye pollute yourselves with all your idols.” The individuals who were infected with the national sin of whoredom or idolatry are represented as spiritual children proceeding from this impure connection. And this expression rests upon Old Testament grounds. In Isaiah 57:3 we read, “But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and of the whore.” The sorceress and the whore of that passage are apostate Zion; the adulterer is idolatry, or the idol. The individuals infected with idolatry are represented as the children who have sprung from the impure commerce of Zion with false God’s. The Lord says to Hosea, ch. John 1:2, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms, and children of whoredoms.” The wife, the congregation of Israel, is connected with the whoredom so far as she practised it, and the children so far as they sprang from it: comp. ch. John 2:6-7. In Hosea 5:7 we read, “They have dealt treacherously against the Lord; for they have begotten strange children.” The “one father” is opposed to the many fathers, which they would have if they were idolaters. In Jeremiah 3:1, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers,” we have the opposite to which “we have one Father, even God,” refers: comp. Isaiah 57:8, “where shameless Zion makes wide her bed,” that she may receive many adulterers, and “all thy lovers,” Ezekiel 16:37; and “committed her whoredoms with all,” etc., Ezekiel 23:7.
Jesus designedly led them on so far, that they name God as their Father. This gave Him the right ground for the declaration that the devil was their father. Bengel, on ver. 41: Hujus nomen nondum exprimitur sed idem mox ut Judaei audent Deum appellare patrem suum, expresse appellatur, Diabolus.
Ver. 42. “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.”
God could not be the Father of the Jews. “For if we truly love God, we entertain reverence for all those who speak to us by His commission, and we honour Him in His servants “(Quesnel). It is not in vain that, in the first table of the decalogue, there is appended to the commandments which directly refer to our conduct towards God, one which commands us to honour those who upon earth are invested with the likeness and reflection of His honour. The fulfilling of this commandment is the test of the fulfilling of those which precede it. He who does not honour those superior persons whom he sees, how shall he honour God whom he doth not see? At the head of all those who are the image or reflection of the glory of God, stands Jesus Christ. Whosoever does not love and honour Him with all his heart, shows thereby that his worship of God is a lie, and mere hypocrisy. Locus hic diligenter notandus est, nullam esse pietatem, nullum timorem Dei ubi Christus rejicitur (Calvin). “I came forth from God” points back to Micah 5:1, “And His goings forth were from everlasting, from the days of eternity,” where, in opposition to the human and lower origin of the Messiah, His Divine and higher outgoing is made prominent; the ἥ?κω , I come, which, apart from the Old Testament passage, has in it something strange and superfluous, points back to Malachi 3:1, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in; behold. He cometh, saith the Lord of hosts.” The words which follow in our text, ἐ?κεῖ νός με ἀ?πέστειλε , have their foundation in those words of Malachi concerning the Covenant Angel, the Messenger of God who is sent for the sake of the covenant.
Ver. 43. “Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word.”
Of hearing in the sense of understanding, see on ch. John 6:20. Their hearing was no better than not hearing, because it was only with the outward ear. Although λαλία and λόγος are lexically distinct, yet the one might just as well have been placed here in the stead of the other. It is only the variation of the expression, which caused the insertion in the second clause of λόγος , and of ἀ?κούειν instead of γινώσκειν . But it might have stood on ὅ?τι οὐ? δύνασθε γινώσκειν τὴ?ν λαλίαν τὴ?ν ἐ?μήν . The whole stress lies upon “ye cannot.” It is a token of the deepest degradation when a man can no longer understand the truth: comp. Jeremiah 6:10, Sept. ἰ?δοὺ? ἀ?περίτμητα τὰ? ὦ?τα αὐ τῶ?ν , καὶ? οὐ? δύνανται ἀ?κούειν ; John 12:39, where the not believing is traced to the not being able to believe; Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14. “Heaven,” says Quesnel, “is a strange land for the children of this earth; and the language of the mysteries is not intelligible to those who have only ears of flesh and blood.” To men’s fitness to apprehend the Divine truth, we may apply the saying, obsta principiis. The individual acts of voluntary rejection of the Divine word and suppression of good influences, result gradually in a condition of obduration; the frightful condition—whether the case be an individual, or a whole age, or a nation—of one who has a perverted and disordered mind, and is unsusceptible of faith; the deafness and insensibility of the soul to higher truth. When a people have reached that point, they are on the threshold of judgment, as Isaiah 6 shows, where, in ver. 9, such a condition as this is described; “And He said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” Outwardly they should continue to hear the word of God; but there was a ban upon them that they could not understand it, and could not inwardly appropriate it to themselves. They will see, but they should not perceive.
It is, alas, not to be denied that the condition here described—that of incapacity to apprehend Divine truth—is manifested in many of its symptoms amongst ourselves; that there is no intelligence in many for the clearest and most simple unfolding of sound doctrine; that their minds are so corrupt ( 2 Timothy 3:8) as to leave them unable to distinguish between right and left.
Jesus had shown, in ver. 42, that the Jews could not be children of God. And He now prepares the way for the mention of their true father, as we hear it in ver. 44, by this description of their sunken spiritual state, which forms “the ground for the frightful conclusion that they were of the devil” (Stier).
Ver. 44. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginninsg 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.”
Jesus now names the father to whom the Jews truly belonged, in contradistinction to their pretended sonship to Abraham and to God. What is it to have the devil for a father? Of course, it is self-evident that the physical derivation is out of the question. Jesus had, in ver. 37, admitted that, as to bodily descent, the Jews were the seed of Abraham. The relation is a spiritual one, in which Satan is the originator of an influence which man receives, and by which he is led. That we must not limit it to a mere similarity of disposition (Augustin: non nascendo sed imitando), but that real influences are included, is evident from the antithesis, “being of or from God,” It is also clear from Matthew 15:13, where the ungodly, specifically the Pharisees, are termed plants which the heavenly Father hath not planted, but the devil; Matthew 13:38-39, where the enemy who sowed the tares is Satan, who is represented as being master of the minds of his own, just as Christ is of His, and who is the author of their wickedness; John 13:2, according to which Satan injected wicked designs into the heart of Judas; John 13:27, where Satan enters into the traitor; Revelation 16:13, where it is written, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils which, working miracles, go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world.” Thus influences proceed from Satan equally real with those which proceed from Christ. As with the children of God there is a seed, 1 John 3:9-10, so also there is with the children of the devil: ver. 9 of this passage might have its counterpart thus, “Whosoever is born of the devil committeth sin: for his seed remaineth in him; and he must sin, because he is born of Satan.” Men are placed in the middle between the good spirits which proceed forth from Christ, and the evil spirits, which proceed forth from Satan.
The original passage which is the foundation of “Ye are of your father the devil,” is Genesis 3:15, where the wicked are denominated the seed of the serpent; the same passage to which the Lord referred in Matthew 13:39: ὁ? δὲ? ἐ?χθρὸ?ς ὁ? σπείρας αὐ τά ἐ?στιν ὁ? διάβολος . The fact that Jesus presently afterwards makes express allusion to Genesis 3, removes all doubt upon this point.
The immediate result of the spiritual relation of the child to the father is a fellowship of inclinations with the begetter, the seed of whom remaineth in the begotten. “The lusts of your father ye will do:” this is more fully developed in what follows. “He was a murderer from the beginning;” and they were seeking to kill Christ—to kill Him who brought to the whole human race life. He used lying in the service of his murder; and they were employing all the arts of lying to change the Son into a blasphemer of God, and to change themselves, in reality enemies of God, into men zealous of the Divine honour.—”He was a murderer from the beginning.” There is an element of truth in the notion revived by Lücke, Nitzsch, and others, that when Satan is called a murderer from the beginning, there is allusion to the murderous act of Cain. This is evident from the comparison of 1 John 3:12; 1 John 3:15, and Revelation 12:3 (see my Commentary). And then the words, “Ye seek to kill Me,” in ver. 40, present a more direct parallel to Cain’s murder of his brother, than to the death which Satan brought upon our first parents; although it would be altogether wrong to argue that Satan, in the case of our first parents, only introduced a spiritual death, which does not enter into consideration here. For bodily death entered and passed upon the human race through the seduction of Satan: comp. Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19; Wis_2:24 ; Romans 5:12. But the reference to Cain’s murder must not be made the only one, or even the predominant one; rather than that, it must be altogether abandoned. His murder of his brother comes into view rather as one expression of the malignant principle which had been introduced into human nature through the first temptation; even as in Genesis that murder is considered as the fruit of the poisonous tree planted in ch. 3. It was the same spirit of murder which urged Satan to use the lie, “Ye shall not surely die,” in bringing men under the dominion of death, and which operated in Cain, and led him to destroy the life of his devout brother.
The exclusive reference to Cain’s murder is refuted by many considerations.
1. Satan’s murder of man is placed in the strictest connection with his lie. Now, there is no lie in the case of the first fratricide; whilst, in bringing men first under the power of sin, the means used was the lie which suggested better possessions to be gained, and cast suspicion upon God. The words of Jesus, viewed simply, point to an event in the beginning of mans history which exhibited at once and together the spirit of murder and the spirit of lying.
2. The book of Genesis does not speak expressly of any co-operation of Satan in Cain’s act of murder. We have assurance of that co-operation only when we take that act in its internal connection with the earlier assault of Satan upon our first parents, when he was concealed behind the serpent. When our Lord is dealing with the Jews, He never propounds any secret doctrine. He always appeals to facts which are plain and patent in Scripture.
3. “Ye are of your father the devil,” is a sentence which points back to the seed of the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
4. The “from the beginning “points also to an event which belongs to the first acts of human history, and in which the first parents of the human race were involved. Certainly, it cannot be conceived but that the event here referred to was the first in which the devil declared himself to be a destroyer of man. Everywhere else in the New Testament the words ἀ?πʼ? ἀ?ρχῆ?ς , τὴ?ν ἀ?ρχήν , κατʼ? ἀ?ρχάς , refer back to Genesis 1-3 : comp. John 1:1-2; John 8:25; 1 John 1:1; 1 John 2:13; Matthew 19:4; Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:6; Mark 13:19; Hebrews 1:10. Genesis 4, with its murderous event, may, in the manner we have indicated, be included. But the exclusive reference to that event would be altogether without analogy. 5. Jesus says that Satan stood not in the truth, moved not in lit as his element, because there was no truth in him. This points to a notorious event in which Satan laid bare his truthless nature. But it is only in the history of the fall that we find such an event. 6. Jesus does not only call Satan a liar, but He also designates him the father of liars. But Satan could bear that designation only with allusion to that one scripturally attested lie of his which preceded all other lies upon earth. That was the lie of Genesis 3:4-5. To “and the father of it,” corresponds “in the beginning.”
“And he abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”
The ancient interpretation, which referred the words ἐ?ν τῇ? ἀ?ληθείᾳ? οὐ?κ ἔ?στηκεν to the fall of Satan, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, has been very properly abandoned. For, first of all, Ernesti’s remark is decisive, that ἔ?στηκα means only “I have taken my stand, I stand.” This signification is the only one which the Perfect bears, either in New Testament or in classical usage. And then, secondly, it is evident that the reason assigned in the latter clause does not suit the reference of the former clause to Satan’s fall. For that reason points to the lying conduct of Satan, who had already fallen. He stands not in the truth, maintains not himself in its domain, falls out of it when he opens his mouth, because there is no truth in him; the truthlessness of his nature has the truthlessness of his conduct as its result. If it is said that the ὅ?τι is here not to be understood aetiologically, but syllogistically, we have only to allege in answer the manifestly parallel aetiological ὅ?τι in the following clause The counterpart of “not standing in the truth” is the “speaking a lie;” and, with “there is no truth in him,” corresponds he speaketh of his own.” The general proposition, that Satan stands not in the truth, has its authentication in the special lie of his, which is recorded m the history of the fall; and it was uttered with direct reference to that lie. Anton excellently gives the reason of the characteristics of Satan’s and his children’s lying: “Evil cannot accomplish anything without the semblance of good.” In the words, “for he is liar (not a liar) and the father of the same,” ψεύστης , is the generic idea. The αὐ τοῦ? refers to ψεύστης , not to the more distant ψεῦ δος ; as is shown by its correspondence with the beginning, “Ye are of your father the devil;” as also by “I shall be a liar like unto you, in ver. 55. If we refer αὐ τοῦ? to the ψεῦ δος , the point is at once broken. The Scripture gives a more profound idea of the lie than the natural man, in his superficial psychology, apprehends. It perceives a lie in many things, where the world only perceives honest conviction. Views and opinions which have been formed under the influence of lust and passion, do not cease to belong to the category of the mendacium voluntarium, although the liars themselves have no distinct consciousness that they are lying. But in the case of our text we must hold fast the idea of the voluntary lie. The lie of Satan, which the Lord had in view, was altogether and absolutely voluntary; and the lie of the Jews, who declared Jesus to be a Samaritan a demoniac, or a blasphemer, is everywhere exhibited as based upon views constructed in the interest of their lusts and passions.
Ver 45. “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not.
And in this they plainly declared themselves to be the genuine sons of the father of liars. He does not say, “although,” but “because I speak the truth.” Whosoever on that account denies faith, must be altogether under the sway of the spirit of lying.
Ver. 46. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin? And if I say the truth why do ye not believe Me?”
The Jews might have rejoined, that Jesus did not speak the truth. But in the presence of so many great and glorious demonstrations of the divinity of His mission, they could base such an assertion only on the fact, that they could point out flaws in His character and conversation. If they could do this, then Jesus would urge no further claim upon their faith. For the truth of His great utterance demanded stainless holiness; inasmuch as the utterer of the truth is at the same time its objective centre. With Jesus it was quite otherwise than with the earlier organs of revelation, for these latter always declared themselves to be poor sinners. Moses, in Numbers 12:3, avows that no man could think more lightly of him than himself did. He records, without scruple, his own weaknesses and sins; e.g. that, in mere submission to his wife, he neglected the circumcision of his son, and that he was excluded from the land of promise as a punishment for his weak faith. But Jesus represented Himself as the light of the world, the Son of God, and the Jehovah of the Old Covenant manifest in the flesh. In that case, any the slightest moral stain would have been an impeachment of the truth of His pretension. It might seem to the Jews that they could prove against Him a violation of the Sabbath commandment. But such sins only were in question here as lay beyond the region of the controversial questions pending between Jesus and the Jews. According to the principles of the Jews themselves, and their own presupposition, the violation of the Sabbath ceased when Jesus was acknowledged as the Son of God; for the Son of God has, as such, power over the Sabbath. The absolute sinlessness of Jesus is not directly contained in the sentence we now consider—for there may be sin which cannot be proved against him who does it; but it is so indirectly—for Jesus could not have put such a question if He had not been conscious of absolute freedom from sin. De Wette rightly remarks: “It is a question of undeceiving self-consciousness, which has no contradiction to fear.” Thus the other passages of the New Testament are parallel, which attribute to our Lord that absolute sinlessness which never has been found since the fall within the domain of human nature; and which, as it was the immediate effect of His Divinity, so it was the proof of it: 1 John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:22. In the Old Testament, the absolute righteousness of Christ is represented as the foundation of His redeeming work. We read in Isaiah 53:11: “By His knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.” By the prominence given to צדיק , and by its immediate junction with הצדיק , it was intended to show the strict connection which subsists between the righteousness of the Servant of God—who, although perfectly sinless, ver. 9, nevertheless bore the punishment of sin—and the justification which is communicated through Him.
Ver. 47. “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”
Jesus here answers the question which He Himself had thrown out in ver. 46. The counterpart of “not being of God” is “being of Satan.” Thus the proof is introduced of the statement, “Ye are of your father the devil,” and specially for the allegation that they belonged to Satan, as the father of all liars. Examples of being from God were given by Simeon, Anna, John the Baptist, the Apostles; comp. on ch. John 3:21. Those who were of God must of course be found within the limits of the covenant people, among whom the Lord, by His Spirit, is present.
Ver. 48. “Then answered the Jews, and said to Him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?”
The Samaritans are here regarded as unsound in faith, or heretics. And the heresy of Jesus they found in the fact that He, although a man, made Himself God, ch. John 10:33. “Thou hast a devil,” or evil spirit (comp. ch. John 7:20), refers to the enthusiastic manner in which He proclaimed His delusion. Similar charges had been alleged by the ungodly against the prophets of the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 9:11, the servants of his lord said to Jehu, when a prophet had been with him, “Wherefore came this mad fellow to thee?” “Every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet,” is the style in which a false prophet writes concerning the true.
Vers. 49, 50. “Jesus answered, I have not a devil: but I honour My Father, and ye do dishonour Me. And I seek not Mine own glory: there is One that seeketh and judgeth.”—“How graciously and tenderly,” says Heumann, “does the Lord instruct the Jews who blasphemed Him, if peradventure they might by any means be won!” That which the Jews objected against Christ was unfounded. The seemingly eccentric in His nature was His zeal for the honour of God, which must suffer if the manifestation of the Father was not acknowledged in Jesus. To be indifferent here, to yield now to His enemies, would have been to surrender God’s honour to contempt. But, on the other hand, the Jews are smitten by the righteous judgment that they dishonour the Son of God. That protest they could not evade. The essential point in it is in the second clause, the ζητῶ?ν . It points back to Deuteronomy 18:19: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which He shall speak in My name, I will require it (or seek it) of him,”—the same passage to which Jesus more than once elsewhere refers, comp. on ch. John 5:46. Peter, in Acts 3:22-23, quotes it expressly.
Ver. 51. “Verily, verily, I say unto you. If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death.”
Berl. Bible: “Here one might ask how it was that He uttered such an exclamation as this after such severe words. The answer is, that we see here what His proper work is. Judging and punishing is a strange work. From it He turns away again to that which is not a strange work, preaching His Gospel.” Jesus would attract them by showing what they would gain by giving up their perverse position; and at the same time warns them of what they would lose if they persisted in their unhappy state. The question was one of life and death, and for their own sakes they should earnestly think of it. Jesus declares most impressively that with Him, and only with Him, life was to be found; so that whosoever despised Him, would inevitably sink into death. The keeping of Christ’s words stands in contrast with the thoughtless forgetting of James 1:25; and there is manifest allusion to the standing Old Testament formula of keeping the word, commandments, ordinances, or law of Jehovah, on which all salvation and prosperity were made to depend: Exodus 15:26; Exodus 20:6; Leviticus 19:37; Ecclesiastes 8:2. “Shall not see death” points to Psalms 89:49, “What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” The question of that verse finds its answer in Christ, and only in Him. He has abolished death, and brought to light life and immortality, 2 Timothy 1:10. Death, which is now the gate of life, is no longer to be called death: comp. ch. John 11:25. Augustin: Quid est mors? relictio corporis, depositio sarcinae gravis: sed si alia sarcina non portetur, qua homo in gehennas praecipitetur.
Vers. 52, 53. “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?”
The Jews at once understood Him to mean merely bodily death. Moreover, they rightly took it for granted that Jesus, if He could promise His disciples freedom from death, must avow Himself to be absolutely exalted above dying; and thereby He elevated Himself above Abraham and the prophets, who all were subjected to death.
Vers. 54, 55. “Jesus answered. If I honour Myself, My honour is nothing: it is My Father that honoureth Me; of whom ye say, that He is your God. 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.”
The meaning of the words, “If I honour,” etc., is this: It will one day come to light that Christ is the Son of God; as the Father hath till now borne witness for His Son, so will He also in the time to come. How the Father glorifies His Son, they would one day in their own ruin find out. The God whom they arrogated to themselves, and whom they denied to Christ, would one day utter so loudly His “This is My beloved Son,” and “Depart from Me, ye evil-doers,” that their ears should be amazed. The δοξάζων με may be best referred both to the glorification visible to their eyes, comp. ch. John 5:36, John 10:25, John 11:4, and to the future glorification, ch. John 8:21; John 8:25, John 7:39, John 12:26, John 13:31,—the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Father, as the almighty Ruler over all His enemies. The glorification of Christ by the Father went on unceasingly; but the blind had no eyes to discern it. In this there was a new application of the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 29:3, after he had spoken of the wonders and signs of the Lord in Egypt: “Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.”
Ver. 56. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
Jesus now approaches more closely the question of the Jews, “Art thou greater than our father Abraham?” He points to an early historical fact, in which His own superiority to Abraham was confirmed. “Your father”—thus does the Lord name Abraham, to shame the Jews, who were so perfectly unlike him spiritually whom they could call their bodily father—“Abraham rejoiced that he saw My day.” There can be no doubt that these words indicate the heartfelt and joyful longing of Abraham to see this day; so that Bengel rightly explains it: Gestivit cum desiderio. Ἀ?γαλλιάομαι indeed, means only rejoicing; but the idea of longing is imparted to it by its connection with ἵ?να . These words describe Abraham’s hearty desire and longing for the revelation of the day of Christ; and those which follow describe the gratification of that longing. Bengel: Haec exaltatio praecessit visionem: et visionem comitabatur iterum χαρά .—“And he saw it, and was glad.” We must not here admit such explanations as that of Liicke, borrowed from Lampe: “Abraham in the heavenly life, as a blessed spirit with God, saw the day of the Lord, and rejoiced from heaven to see its fulfilment on earth.” For Jesus was wont to deal with the Jews out of Scripture; and cannot be supposed to refer here to a supposed fact which He could not establish by its authority. And the answer of the Jews in ver. 57 is against it; for that proceeds from the presupposition, admitted by Christ to be right, that the question was of an ancient historical intercourse between Abraham and Christ. Christ, in ver. 58, sets aside the argument of His not being yet fifty years old. Lücke testifies against his own view, when he is obliged, in accommodation to it, to speak of “the foolish question of the opponents.”
In my Christology (vol. i. Clark’s Trans.) these words were referred to the crisis when Abraham—as yet only Abram—received the promise, that “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Behind Jehovah, who gave this promise, Jesus lay hid. The blessing of Jehovah for all the families of the earth was the day of Jehovah and of Christ—the day of His glorification upon earth. Abraham saw that day in spirit, when he received the promise. But the matter becomes still more simple, if we assume that Jesus referred to the manifestation of Jehovah to Abraham in Genesis 18. In ch. John 12:1, there is no manifestation of Jehovah spoken of, there is no seeing and being seen, but only, “And the Lord said unto Abram.” On the other hand, in ch. John 18:1, we read amongst the first words, “And the Lord appeared unto him,” properly “was seen; “and, in ver. 2, “And he lifted up his eyes and looked.” The reference to Genesis 12:3 fails to give any demonstration of the longing desire of Abraham to see the Lord, as well as of his joy after he had obtained that sight. But the reference to ch. 18 gives it abundantly. It is seen in the whole deportment of Abraham, which showed that he had partaken of a blessedness long desired, especially in the words, “My Lord, if now I have found favour in Thine eyes, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.” Genesis 12:3 does not give any simple and clear view of the day of the Lord; but in Genesis 18 the day is that of His appearance, which stamped that day with a characteristic which distinguished it from all other days in the life of Abraham. That “My day” was substantially the same as “Me,” is shown by the sense in which the Jews understood it, and which the Lord did not deny to be the right one; for they regarded Jesus as having declared that Abraham had seen Him, and that He had seen Abraham. The demonstration that in Genesis 18 the Angel of the Lord, the Logos, appeared in company with two lower angels, has been given by me in the Christology (vol. i.). Jesus had already intimated His personal identity with the Angel of the Lord, first in ver. 25, and then again in vers. 39, 40. Ver. 58 would have no meaning if the allusion to Genesis 18 were denied; and Jesus had already referred to it in vers. 39, 40, a passage which is inseparably bound up with the present.
Ver. 57. “Then said the Jews unto Him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?”
The Jews well knew that Jesus was not so old; but they would show themselves unprejudiced in a matter about which a few lustrums more or less were of little importance. But there was also in this something like mockery. Lyser: Ultro annos aliquot addunt, ut sic tanto plus absurditatem dicti ipsius evincant. They name just fifty years, because that was the half of a century. Against the idea that Jesus was prematurely old, Bengel observes: Non est credibile Jesum propter angores prsematuram senectutis speciem contraxisse. Moses was a man sorely tried; and yet Ave read of him, in Deuteronomy 34:7, “His eye was not dim, neither his natural force abated.”
Ver. 58. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
If the Jews had misunderstood the Lord, His answer would not have been appropriate; for that answer ought to explain how it was that Jesus could have seen Abraham, although as the Son of man He was not yet fifty years old. The solemn preface of affirmation here marked that a truth was conceived of the most penetrating importance. Anton: “Peradventure this affirmation might make them ponder earnestly, ne ludant in re tam seria.” It is as clear as can be, that the question is here of a real and personal pre-existence; not of a pre-existence in the purposes of God, which could not by any means be a specific prerogative of Christ. A personal pre-existence is required by the fact, that the Lord here specifically refers to and answers the objection of the Jews; by the whole series of what the book of Genesis records concerning the manifestations of the Angel of the Lord in the primitive time; and by the analogy of ch. John 1:1; John 1:15. It is evident that there is much significance in the use of the two different words which signify being. The existence of Abraham, as of all men, belongs to the region of the becoming, werden; while Christ has being which is supremely exalted above all becoming. Lyser: Quantum discrimen est inter creatorem et creaturara, tantum inter Christum et Abrahamum. There is also a deep meaning in the “I am,” not “I was.” It points to that absolute Being which is not subject to any change, the prerogative of the Godhead alone. Analogous is the language of Psalms 90:2, Sept. πρὸ? τοῦ? ὄ?ρη γενηθῆ ναι σὺ? εἶ? . There is allusion, doubtless, to the name Jehovah, Jahve, He that is what He is. The ἐ?γὼ? εἰ μί points specifically to the אהיה , which the God of Israel in Exodus 3:14 utters.
Ver. 59. “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.”
The Jews understood Christ better than many immature and ill-instructed Christians, who substitute for the real pre-existence of Christ an ideal preexistence in the counsels of God, which was common to Him and all mortals. They applied to the case. Leviticus 24:16, “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.” From the species of cursing they rose, by a perfectly justifiable theological exposition, to the genus of desecrating the name of God. And of this Christ was guilty, in their estimation, because He had ascribed to Himself participation in the Divine nature: comp. ch. John 10:33, “For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” The Jews perceived that they must make their election between worshipping and stoning. Their choosing the latter was more true and sincere than a characterless middle position.
“Jesus hid Himself “is generic; “He went out of the temple “shows how He accomplished it. According to the parallel of ch. John 12:36, Ταῦ τα ἐ?λάλησεν Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς , καὶ? ἀ?πελθὼ?ν ἐ?κρύβη ἀ?πʼ? αὐ τῶ?ν the καὶ? ἐ?ξῆ λθε is equivalent to ἐ?ξελθών . De Dieu rightly compares Job 29:8, “The young men saw me, and hid themselves; and the aged arose, and stood up,” where hiding themselves is equivalent to leaving the room. We may also compare Daniel 10:7, where it is said of Daniels companions, when he received the vision, “and they fled and hid themselves,” בהחבא ; Mich.: Ita ut absconderent se. The hiding was there the fleeing. We must not think of any miracle in this matter. The dignity of our Lord’s demeanour was ethical here. “The retreat of Jesus Christ,” says Quesnel, “was humble, prudent, and instructive. He did not refuse to die for the proof of His divinity; He was soon afterwards a martyr in attestation of it; but He reserved Himself for a more shameful and a more cruel punishment, waiting for the time marked out of the Father, to make His death a sacrifice of obedience.”
The last clause is an addition to the text as originally current; and its origin was well accounted for by Beza. The words ειελθὼ?ν διὰ? μέσον αὐ τῶ?ν are from Luke 4:30. The καὶ? παρῆ γεν οὕ τως was a gloss of the transcriber, who formed it with reference to the καὶ? παράγων of the beginning of the next section.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 8". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany