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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
John 8

 

 

Verses 1-59

A WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY

(vs.1-11)

While others went to their homes, the Lord spent the night in the mount of Olives, away from all the words and thoughts of men, in the calm of His Father's presence. Nor does He leave Jerusalem after the feast, but comes early in the morning to teach the people. Scribes and Pharisees have been divinely thwarted in their efforts to kill Him, and again they resort to subterfuge.

Bringing a woman whom they say has been caught in the act of adultery, they want Him to pronounce either His agreement or disagreement with the law of Moses (vs.3-5). In either case they were prepared to accuse Him. But since they were the rulers, why did they not judge the case themselves without reference to Him? Moreover the law had said that not only the woman, but the man also was to be put to death for such sin (Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man? In such cases men considered that the woman's guilt was greater than the man's and the Pharisees were willing to forget him!

All of this the Lord does not mention, but stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground (v.6). Of all present, only He would humble Himself at the thought of sin in another. Yet it is the same finger that wrote the ten commandments, and it seems clear that the Lord's finger confirmed the pure justice of the law. Christ had not come to destroy the law. Yet neither had he come to condemn sinners, but to save sinners. In ignorance they continue to press Him for an answer. When He, standing erect, speaks for the first time, it is with words for which they were totally unprepared, and which cut like a knife into their hardened hearts: "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (v.7). Of course He was not speaking as a judge, for He had not come as a judge, nor was the place a court of law. He spoke in grace and truth, He who deals with the needs of souls in matchless grace, yet in no degree sacrificing righteousness.

For the second time He stooped down and wrote on the ground (v.8). Does this not teach us that, if the sentence of law was against her, it was also against them, for the law did not condemn only exposed cases of adultery, but sin of every kind. Where then did they stand? Yet, even in writing the sentence against them the blessed Lord of glory humbled Himself!

They had no standing whatever. Convicted in their consciences, they silently leave, beginning with the eldest. How revealing and how shaming to every one of them, but specially those older, who ought to have had more sense. Only One could stand there with a perfect right to condemn the woman, He who was without sin. He asks her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" (v.10). Her answer is, "No one, sir" (JND Trans.). There is no indication at all of her heart having been reached: the Lord assures her only that He does not condemn her, and tells her to sin no more. She was evidently not prepared for anything more than this. There was no awakened sense of need in her heart, as with the woman at the well (ch.4), who did not need to be told to sin no more, for she was born again. Who knows however whether the Lord's manner and His few words might have been the beginning of exercising her conscience and heart, and whether eventually her sinfulness might have driven her to the Lord?

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

(vs.12-20)

How appropriate at this time it was for the Lord Jesus to announce Himself as the Light of the world! (v.12). He had certainly exposed the darkness of the hearts of scribes and Pharisees. But the light is only valued by those who will receive it: only those who would follow Him would have the light of life: others were in darkness still. This title applied to Him as long as He was in the world (cf.ch.9:5). The Pharisees brazenly deny the Lord's witness as to Himself, in spite of His having proved the truth of it in exposing them. He had before stated that if He bore witness of Himself His witness was not true, that is, in the sense of valid (ch.5:31), yet now He insists that in doing this, His witness is true. The answer is not difficult. If He were merely a witness independent of the Father, this witness would have no weight. But in point of fact, His witness was not merely "of Himself," that is, an independent witness, but in total unity with the Father, from whom He had come and to whom He was going (v.14). In conscious knowledge of the Father's having sent Him, and of His returning to the Father, having completed the work for which He was sent, He bears witness of absolute truth.

They could not have told that He had come from the Father, nor that He was returning to the Father: in fact, no other witness was available to them. They would judge matters only by their natural senses, which could never discern the things of God. He Himself, however, though the Light of the world, judged no man: He had come to save, not to judge. In the future of course He will judge. If and when He judges, His judgment is absolutely in truth, for He judges in perfect co-ordination with the Father, not independently. He appeals to the law given to Israel, which regarded the testimony of two men as true. In this case, He Himself and the Father were the only competent witnesses upon whose testimony Israel could depend. The very works of the Lord were manifestly the Father's works, not merely human works. Also the Father had audibly borne witness to Him for all to hear at His baptism by John (v.18).

But in irritated unbelief they ask, "Where is Your Father?" His answer is not for their intellects, but for their consciences, to the effect that their ignorance of the Father was because of their ignorance as to Himself. It was not for want of evidence that they disbelieved, but they willingly ignored the clear evidence as to the unparalleled dignity of His person: they had hardened their own hearts.

He has been speaking in the very center of Judaism, the treasury in the temple (v.20), and it is evident that again the Jews would have arrested Him if they could, but His hour had not come: they could do nothing. We can imagine the fierce frustration of these men that eventually led them to use the treachery of Judas, so as to apprehend the Lord Jesus in the absence of the crowd, of whom they were afraid. But at that later time His hour had come.

HE PREDICTS THEIR DEATH AND HIS DEATH

(vs.21-29)

As to that future hour He speaks in verse 21: He would go His way to a place that they could not come, of course the Father's house. They would seek Him, but to no avail: they would die in their sins. For again, it would be seeking the Messiah only in view of material advantage.

The Jews question among themselves whether He might kill Himself (v.22). The fact was that they were seeking to kill Him, and this would take place in God's time. But He solemnly tells them that in very nature they are far removed from Himself, they being from beneath, He from above; they being of the world, and He not so. Nor were they interested in what He had brought from above, not concerned about the forgiveness of sins by faith in Him personally: therefore they would die in their sins. Note that He uses His great Godhead name, "I Am:" "If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins" (v.24). Their unbelief as to His being the eternal, self-existent Son of the Father left them to the tragic doom of death, with their sins yet upon them.

Though the great name, "I Am" ought to have bowed their hearts in utter submission, yet the Jews, unsubdued, petulantly ask, "Who are You?" Certainly this was the vital question, but He had plainly told them He was the One sent from the Father, the "I Am." When John the Baptist was asked the same question, he answered, "I am not the Christ" (John 1:20). How different the answer of the Lord Jesus, "Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning" (v.25).

On their part, they were willing to judge Him without accepting the evidence that was plain and decisive: now He tells them He has many things to say and to judge of them: this was putting matters in proper focus. But it was not this that He was primarily engaged with: He had rather a positive message to the world from Him who had sent Him, Him who is true. It is this that should have penetrated their darkened hearts with the sweetness of eternal light. But they did not understand.

He goes further then to speak of His death at their own hands, they lifting Him up in crucifixion (v.28). When this took place, they would know that He is the sent One of the Father, not acting merely on His own, but speaking as the true representative of the Father. So indeed it was true that His death on Calvary had startling effect on every witness, the truth as to His person being clearly witnessed, so that their consciences could not escape it; though sadly their hardened minds fought their consciences, and many refused to bow to what they knew. Likely many others were truly brought to God at the time.

The Father was with Him: the proof of this was in His every word and action, and in the very character He displayed. He was not alone in His coming into the world, for every detail of His life was of pleasure to the Father, and certainly the Father's own presence backed up His every word and action. Who else could ever say that he had done always those things that please God? (v.29).

FREEDOM ONLY BY THE TRUTH

(vs.30-35)

Such was the truth and power of His words that we are told, "many believed on Him." Yet as regards them, He shows nothing of the deep joy that filled His heart at the conversion of the woman at the well (ch.4:32). Repentance in this case is evidently lacking, for He does not own them as His disciples: the proof of their discipleship would be continuing in His word. In that word they would find the knowledge of the truth, and by the truth they would be made free (vs.31-32). So it is clear that these people were not as yet free.

Verse 33 shows that they knew nothing of repentance. Claiming to be Abraham's seed (a boast merely in natural relationship), they protest that they have never been in bondage to any man. How vain a statement, when at the very time they were under the rule of the Roman empire!

But far more solemn than this was the fact that the Lord now emphasizes with another double "verily:" that is, that they were under the dominating bondage of sin (v.34). Which of them would deny that he practiced sin? And this very practice showed that they were the servants of sin. They had not faced this honestly in self-judgment In that present state of servitude they could not abide permanently in the house, the Father's house. But this was the proper home of the Son, who is indeed free. Nothing is said here of the great work of redemption on His part to effect this liberation, for the vital emphasis is in this case on the person of the Son.

ABRAHAM'S SEED AND SATAN'S SEED

(vs.36-47)

But these same Jews, who were Abraham's seed naturally, had been seeking to kill the Lord: He knew this attitude had not changed, in spite of their outward professed belief. Many today are the same, claiming to believe in Christ, yet actually His enemies: His word really has no place in them.

In very nature the Lord Jesus and these professed sons of Abraham were in total contrast: He faithfully spoke what He had witnessed with His Father; but this was foreign to them, for they had willingly accustomed themselves to the service of Satan, whom the Lord calls their father (v.38). By their own pride Satan had deceived and enslaved them. Such pride is evident in their haughty reply, "Abraham is our father" (v.39).

Similarly today, Jews and Mohammedans boast in their natural relationship to Abraham, while in moral and spiritual reality they show themselves utterly contrary to Abraham in their concerted enmity against the Lord Jesus. It is this point that He presses on the Jews: if they were really Abraham's children, they would act as Abraham did. The principle of God as to this is clearly stated in Galatians 3:7, "They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham."

But their murderous intentions against Christ, because of His telling them the truth, proved them to be devoid of faith and their professed belief an empty pretense. Abraham did no such thing as they: their deeds therefore were from another father. They hotly protest, and claim God as their Father But the Lord's answer is positive and solemn: if God were their Father, they would love the Lord Jesus; for, first, He proceeded forth and came from God; and secondly, God sent Him (v.42). The first intimates His own divine and voluntary coming, the second, His perfect interdependency with the Father, as being sent by Him. Both are true: He came in voluntary, divine grace, yet not independently of the Father, but sent by Him. Being therefore the perfect representation of the Father, He certainly attracts the love of every person who loves the Father. But to all this their minds were blinded, and He questions why they did not understand. He Himself gives the answer: "Because you are not able to listen to My word" (v.43). Basic, callous unbelief rendered them impervious to the plain, pointed declarations of His lips. They had given themselves up to the blinding power of the devil; and He pronounces upon them the awful truth that they are of their father, the devil, willfully determined to engage in the lusts that have ensnared their father (v.44). We cannot at all say that every unsaved person is a child of the devil, though all are children of Adam and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). A child of the devil is rather one who has, by hardening himself against what he knows to be true, given himself up to the service of Satan. Not that he would admit this, but his own pride and deceit are prominent. Two things are here said of the devil. First, he was a murderer from the beginning; not from the time of his creation, but from the time of his attempt to "be like the most High" (Isaiah 14:14). His murderous spirit is seen in his temptation of Eve: he was determined to accomplish her destruction. Secondly, he abode not in the truth, for the truth is not in him; he is a liar, and the father of it. Terrible designation! Of course it was by falsehood that he deceived Eve. Only Satan and antichrist are in scripture directly called liars, as well as these to whom the Lord speaks (v.55); though the term is used to describe the general character of the inhabitants of Crete (Titus 1:12-13). One must be soberly careful in his use of this term.

Observe too the force of verse 45: it is not, "in spite of my telling you the truth" but "because I tell the truth, you will not believe Me." They had become so accustomed to falsehood that, when truth is presented, it is the very thing they will not believe! A lie would be much easier for them to accept.

His challenge to them then is most appropriate. Could any of them convict Him of sin? This would be the easiest thing in regard to any other person. But they can point no finger at any occasion of sin in Him. Then it follows that everything He says is truth. Why do they not believe Him? One who was "of God." that is, having any true relationship to God, as subject to Him, would certainly hear His words. Therefore they were not of God: this was proven in their refusing God's words, spoken by His Son.

HE IS BEFORE ABRAHAM

(vs.48-59)

In bitter hatred the Jews denounce the Lord Jesus as a Samaritan, which of course was totally false: He was neither born in Samaria nor had resided there. But because of their bigoted pride they despised Samaritans, therefore wanted to class Him with them. But more wickedly still, they accuse Him of having a demon (v.48). This was not because of any sin they could find in Him, but because His divine discernment of them was so evidently supernatural that they resorted to this lying accusation in order to defend themselves.

With calm, firm insistence, however, He will speak in such a way as to not allow them to have the last word. He who spoke only truth answers, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me." No one else could speak in such a way as this, nor say, "I do not seek My own glory." But the believer adores Him for the truth of such words. There is One (the Father) who seeks, that is, searches out in perfect discernment and judges every motive of the heart.

Now again He uses a double "verily," or "most assuredly," as pressing the urgent reality of the truth He declares, "If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death" (v.51). Any honest, serious person would have realized that the Lord's words had a deeper meaning than appeared on the surface, and would be concerned to inquire about this. But the Jews, in stubborn pride, declare more emphatically that He has a demon, and adduce as proof the fact of the death of Abraham and the prophets. They did not consider the truth of what the Lord had told the Pharisees, that God is the God of Abraham, and He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:31-32).

Was He greater than Abraham? Tragic indeed is the fact that they did not know that He is infinitely greater than Abraham and all others. For, though He had humbled Himself, rather than honoring Himself, yet the Father honored Him in bearing witness to who He was; and they claimed that He was their God! He refuses their claim. They had not known God. He Himself knew Him; He was speaking the truth. He would not be a liar like they were, for He both knew the Father and kept His word (v.55). Was He greater than Abraham? His answer is that Abraham rejoiced in contemplation of His day. For Abraham was told, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 22:18).

Devoid of faith, and bound by mere human feelings, they dismiss this, saying that He was not old enough to have seen Abraham. Little are they prepared for His final, ringing declaration, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (v.58). This is the very meaning of the name Jehovah: "I am I who Am" (Exodus 3:14 -Numerical Bible). He is the eternally self-existent One, with no beginning and no end. His word is final: they have no answer. Though claiming to be Jehovah's witnesses, they are filled with bitter anger against the truth of who He is, and take up stones to stone Him. Defeated, they resort to violence, proving the truth of His words. But His time had not come: He hid Himself and passed by.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 8:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-8.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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