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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
John 8

 

 

Verses 1-59

HOWEVER, THEY FELT that they had decisively settled the point, and they retired to the comfort of their own homes, whilst Jesus, the Word made flesh, without a home, spent the night on the Mount of Olives. Returning early in the morning to the temple, He was confronted by some of these very opponents with a case which, they hoped, would impale Him on the horns of a dilemma. The crowd might be ignorant of the law and cursed; they knew the law right well and thought themselves blessed by it; they also knew the kindness and grace of Jesus. So they set the sinning woman in the midst and quoted the law of Moses against her. The result was not what they expected. The Lord turned the law like a searchlight upon them, and its convincing power reached even their hardened consciences. These double-dyed, religious hypocrites, who talked glibly enough of the curse coming on the crowd, now saw the curse of the law looming up against themselves, and they disappeared.

The action of Jesus in stooping down and writing on the ground is very significant. Here was, if we may say so, the finger that once wrote the law on two tables of stone—the law that wrote a sentence of doom against Israel. The same finger had written a sentence of doom against a proud Gentile monarchy in the days of Daniel, upon the plaster of the wall. The writing substances are striking. The inflexible law written on inflexible stone; hence the despiser of Moses’ law “died without mercy,” since the law cannot be twisted as rubber is twisted. Plaster is friable and easily broken, like the strongest and proudest human kingdoms. Jesus wrote on the ground. What He wrote there we are not told, but we do know that He was going “into the dust of death” (Psalms 22:15), where He wrote a full declaration of the love of God.

In Revelation 5:1-14, the book of judgment is produced, and a strong angel with a loud voice issues the challenge, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” Jesus issued just that challenge, though in different words. The result of the challenge then will be that “no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth” was able to open or even look upon that book; just as here every accuser slunk away. Then the “Lion” who became the “Lamb” is left to execute the judgments alone. Here “Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst;” yet it was not the hour of judgment but of grace, and so the One who had the right to condemn did not exercise it. He was “full of grace and truth.” He turned the searchlight of truth on the hypocrites, and extended grace to the sinner, with a view to her deliverance from the sin.

Out of this incident sprang a solemn controversy between the Lord and the Jews, and the account of it fills the rest of the chapter. His opening words, in verse John 8:12, refer to the incident and are the key to what follows. In the beginning of the Gospel we saw that the Word was the Originator of life, and was the Light which shone in the darkness. John 3:1-36; John 4:1-54; John 5:1-47; John 6:1-71; John 7:1-53 have presented Him to us as the Source of life eternal. Now He comes before us as the Light, and at the end of John 12:1-50 the result of that presentation is summed up for us. Jesus is the light not of Israel only but of the world, and the one who follows Him will have the light of the life manifested in Him, no matter whence he may have come. The one who did not follow Him remained in darkness, even though he were the most orthodox Jew imaginable.

In John 5:1-47 the Lord had pointed out how ample was the witness borne to Him, so that He was not in the position of coming to them with self-produced credentials. The Pharisees now seized upon the words He then used and attempted to convict Him on the ground of verbal inconsistency. He neither withdrew His words nor explained them. He simply appealed to things of a far higher nature which convicted them of ignorance and error. In mere men their self-knowledge is small. What is behind them and what is before, both are shrouded in a veil of impenetrable mystery. There was no such limitation with Him. His self-knowledge was Divine and eternal. These Pharisees were as ignorant of themselves as they were of Him. They were also in error, since all their judgments were formed by the flesh, in which no good dwells. In their fleshly judgment of His words they were wrong, though clever in pouncing upon what looked like a contradiction.

In the case of the woman the Lord had refused the place of Judge. It will be His in a coming day, but not today; and He disclaims it again to the Pharisees in verse John 8:15. Yet in His disclaimer He again commits Himself to a verbal paradox, since He asserts the truth of His judgments, seeing He is so wholly one with the Father who had sent Him. In the age to come all judgment will be His, yet He will execute it in fullest concert with the

Father. So also in the matter of witness to Himself, the full weight of the Father’s authority lay behind it. This reference to the Father on His part only served to bring to light complete ignorance on their part. The Father can only be known in the Son, whom they would not receive. If only they had known the Son they would have known the Father.

Verse John 8:20 bears witness to the power of these words of our Lord as also to the power of His Person. His words made them wish to apprehend Him, but there was that about Him which hindered them, until the hour came when He gave Himself up to their will. The Lord however continued His witness to them.

He had been going their way and seeking them in grace. A moment was now coming when He would go His own way and they would seek Him fruitlessly and die in their sins. Then they would be cut off from Him and from God for ever. This complete turning of the tables would be not only just, but appropriate. Again in verse John 8:22 we see complete ignorance with the Jews, and that their minds were sordid to the last degree. They were indeed “from beneath” in every sense of the words. This led the Lord to draw the sharp contrast between them and Himself. First as to origin: they from beneath; He from above. Second, as to character: they of this world; He not of this world. Third, as to end: they were about to die in their sins and be excluded from God; He was going to the Father, as He had already inferred. Only faith in Him could avert their doom—the faith that would discover in Him, “I AM.” There is no word representing the “he” in the original, hence it is printed in italics. In Exodus 3:14, God had revealed Himself as the great, “I AM,” hence this statement of Jesus was virtually a claim to Deity.

The Jews had not discerned this for the moment but they evidently saw His claim was a great one, for they at once asked, “Who art Thou?” They received an astonishing answer, “Altogether that which I also say to you” (New Trans.). He was the truth, and His speech was a true and exact presentation of Himself. This could not be said of the best and wisest of men. If we would, we cannot accurately manifest ourselves in words. If we could, we should shrink from doing it, being what we are. His words were the true revelation of Himself; as we might expect when we know that He is the Word who became flesh. Let us ponder this word of Jesus very deeply, for it carries with it the assurance that in the Gospels we have a real and true revelation of Christ. They give us what He did as well as what

He said; but by His words alone we may truly know Him, though we never saw Him in the days of His flesh. What He said, that He is altogether.

Verse John 8:26 shows us that all that He had to say concerning men was equally the truth, because all was spoken of and from the Father. They were wholly ignorant of the Father, and wholly unbelieving as to the Son present amongst them. When they had lifted up the Son of man there should be a demonstration of the fact that He really was “I AM,” and that in every sense the Father was with Him. His lifting up was His death, and, that accomplished, resurrection would supervene, which would declare Him to be, “the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4). Then they would know, in the sense of having perfectly ample demonstration before their eyes. Some few did know, in the sense of being enlightened by the demonstration, but the mass deliberately closed their eyes against the light. Still the demonstration that He was wholly and ever pleasing to the Father was there for every eye to see.

The power of His words was felt and many took the place of believing on Him. The Lord tested them by telling them that one who was not a mere nominal follower but a disciple indeed is characterized by continuing in His word; that is, in the whole truth that He brought. Continuance is ever the test of reality, and where that exists the truth is known in its emancipating power. The devil enslaved by the power of his lie: Christ liberates by the power of God’s truth. He did not flatter them by telling them that as God’s nation they were free. He set before them that true spiritual freedom which is the result of the knowledge of the truth. That they needed, and so do wet

Many failed under the test, for their national and religious pride was wounded. They might be Abraham’s seed after the flesh, but to claim they were never in bondage to any, while in complete subjection to the Romans, only proved their blindness. By His emphatic statement of verse John 8:34, Jesus directed their thoughts to the slavery of sin. Men cannot practise sin without being enslaved thereby—a tremendous thought for every one of us. Now the place of the slave is outside, but in contrast to him is the Son, whose place is inside and that for ever. And the Son not only has that abiding place Himself but He can set free the slave, introducing him into that which is liberty indeed. Thus he who is one of the “disciples indeed” becomes “free indeed.”

In these words of our Lord, recorded in verses John 8:32; John 8:36, we may surely see the germ of that which is more fully expounded in the epistles. Romans 6:1-23 unfolds our death with Christ, leading to our being “made free from sin,” which in its turn leads to “newness of life.” This answers to verse John 8:32 of our chapter; while verse John 8:36 finds its counterpart in Galatians 4:1-7, connected with John 5:1. The redemption from under the law, wrought by the Son, coupled with the sending forth of the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, has brought us into the liberty in which we are to stand fast. The Son has set us free indeed.

In verses John 8:37-44, the Lord very solemnly exposes the hollowness of their claim to be Abraham’s children. There would have been some value in their claim if they had shown themselves to be his children in a spiritual sense by displaying his faith and doing his works. Actually they were marked by hatred and the spirit of murder. Cain had shown that spirit, and he was “of that wicked one, and slew his brother” (1 John 3:12); so, too, they were doing the deeds of their father, and thus manifesting themselves to be of their father the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning and had no truth in him. Hatred and lying are both fathered by the devil, and those characterized by these two things thereby betray their spiritual origin.

Jesus speaks of Himself, in verse John 8:40, as “a Man that hath told you the truth.” Others spoke of Him as a Man, and saw no more in Him than that; but it is striking that in this Gospel, which presents Him as the Word made flesh, He should speak of Himself as a Man. Thus the truth is balanced for us, and both His essential Godhead and His perfect Manhood made abundantly clear. He set forth the truth, and those who had God for their Father would both love the truth and love Him. His opponents had an evil origin, and could not hear His word—the revelation that He brought. Consequently they were wholly unable to understand His speech—the words in which He clothed the revelation. This is what verse John 8:43 tells us.

Notice how the Lord’s words totally destroy the false idea held by so many concerning the “universal Fatherhood of God,” though these Jewish religionists only went so far as to claim a universal fatherhood of Abraham, and therefore of God, for their nation. Jesus said, “If God were your Father...” It was a denial. The devil was their father. The Fatherhood of God is limited to those that believe, as Galatians 3:26 states.

Before these Jews stood One whom not even His bitterest foes could convince of sin, and He told them the truth. That truth honoured the Father and delivered men from death, yet they refused the truth, dishonoured Him, called Him a Samaritan, and said He had a demon. They gloried in Abraham though they admit he was long since dead. The Lord met them as One who knew He had come forth from the Father, was honoured of the Father, and was going to enter upon His own day, to which Abraham had looked forward, and which by faith he saw.

The Jews, as ever, utterly misunderstood His words. He spoke of Abraham seeing His day, and they thought it meant a claim on His part to have seen Abraham. Their mistake served to bring out the great and emphatic pronouncement, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” At a certain moment Abraham “was.” The verb used here is the same as in John 1:14, where we read that the Word “was made” or “became” flesh. The verb for “am” is the one signifying abiding existence, as used in John 1:18; the Son “is” in the bosom of the Father; and it is used in the past tense, as to the Word in the bygone eternity, in John 1:1-2. Jesus therefore said, Before Abraham came into existence, I eternally AM.

This tremendous claim moved the Jews to attempt His death by stoning, and had it been false they would have been quite right. It surely moves our hearts to adore Him, and to adore the grace that brought Him into Manhood and so low for our salvation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 8:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/john-8.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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