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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
John 8

 

 

Verse 2

‘And early in the morning he came again into the Temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.’

Thus it is that early in morning He is again in the Temple ready to teach the people. So in spite of the constant danger of arrest, next morning He is seen as having gone to the Temple where He ‘sits down’ to teach the people who have gathered to Him. There are many who are still concerned to hear Him and He will not leave them as sheep without a shepherd. Sitting to teach in the Temple was commonplace for Rabbis, and their disciples would gather round to listen to their words, which were also open to any in the crowds who were interested. Anyone could ask questions (compare Luke 2:46).

In view of the previous chapter and the following reference to the light of the world (John 8:12) it may be that ‘early in the morning’ here is to be seen as significant. As a Galilean He has come to bring men from darkness into day in accordance with the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 9:1-2, where ‘Galilee of the nations’ is made glorious in the fact that ‘the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’. Thus it may be being suggested that the early light was not for those who were of the Judean religious establishment, but were for the poor and the meek and the spiritual.

It is interesting to note that this passage in Isaiah does not appear to have occurred to any of the Pharisees in their religious deliberations. They were simply not interested in any promises connected with Galilee.


Verse 3

‘And the scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman taken in adultery, and having set her in the midst they say to him, “Teacher, this woman has been take in adultery in the very act”.’

‘The scribes and Pharisees’ (significantly not a usual Johannine phrase. It is more Lucan) bring to Him a woman who has been caught in adultery, and deliberately stand her in the middle of the crowd in order to draw attention to her. It is being made quite clear that they wanted to trap Jesus and to make sure that the crowd were aware of His failure.

We must certainly immediately ask ourselves, where is the man, for he deserves similar punishment? It may, of course, be that he managed to escape from their clutches when they caught the pair, but it is certainly equally possible that they were not really interested in the man, and that he may even have been one of themselves. But to them he was irrelevant for he would not serve their purpose, which was not to promote righteousness but to show up Jesus.


Verses 3-6

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone women like this, but what do you say about her?” And this they said, testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.’

The purpose in their question was not to learn. All really knew what the correct answer was. The purpose was to test Him so that they could accuse Him. If He agreed that she should be stoned as the Law required then He could be accused before the Romans of encouraging disobedience to the Roman law which did not allow the Jews to inflict the death penalty in such a case. If He said otherwise they could accuse Him of disregarding the law of Moses, which would denigrate Him as a prophet in the eyes of the fiercely patriotic people.

Eye witnesses were in fact necessary before bringing a charge of adultery so it was important that she was ‘caught in the act’. The fact that the woman was seen as worthy of stoning may suggest that she was betrothed. If she had been married she would have been due to be strangled (per the Mishnah - the oral Jewish law which was in existence by at least 2nd century AD, and forms part of the Talmud). The ‘adultery’ would not be with her betrothed, for sexual intercourse was permitted between betrothed persons.

‘To stone women like this’, literally ‘to stone such’ (feminine pronoun). We notice again the exclusion of the man’s guilt for both were liable to the same penalty (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). It was human prejudice at work, not divine law.

John 8:6

‘But Jesus stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground.’

Jesus’ immediate response was to stoops down and writes with His finger on the ground. There is little point in surmising what He wrote as we have no idea, and those who preserved the story did not think it important enough to tell us. But His action was clearly intended to calm things down and to take all eyes off the unfortunate woman. (‘as though He heard them not’ has little support in early manuscripts). The Jewish leaders probably thought that He did it because He was trapped and was playing for time.

However, it may be intended to have had a further significance. In the Old Testament the Covenant itself was written ‘with the finger of God’ (Exodus 31:18), a fact well known to all. It may be then that Jesus was intending to imply that in Him One was here Who could, if He chose, rewrite the Law. Was He by this indicating that He Himself had written the Law in the first place? Let them recognise with whom they were dealing.


Verse 7

‘But when they continued asking him he lifted himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.’

His next action is specific and underlines the words that He speaks. ‘He lifted Himself up’. He straightens up and looks round on them. We can almost see the sad yet compassionate, look in His eye as He passes His verdict, so unexpected to those who are seeking to trap Him and are awaiting their moment of triumph. He agrees that the one among them who has never broken the Law shall be permitted to carry out the sentence. If they are without sin as He is, then they have a right to do as they suggest.

To their credit Pharisees did acknowledge that they had failed to keep God’s Law. They even believed that the sinfulness of Israel and their own sinfulness was why Israel was suffering and they believed, and taught, that if only the Law could be kept fully God would bless Israel. Thus they had to be wary. To pick up a stone would have been to deny their own teaching. They were caught in their own trap.

Furthermore there may be in Jesus’ reply the suggestion, which He expected them to be aware of, that He was aware that some of the Pharisees themselves had dubious reputations. This may help to explain why the eldest left first. If there were one or two in that situation the remainder could hardly claim innocence as a group. They were condemned by the company they were keeping.

Had the questioners been sincere and genuine in their question, they would have received a different response, but Jesus was well aware that it was not their sense of purity but their hatred of Himself that motivated their action. He thus turns the tables on them by His reply, for none of them would dare to suggest to the crowds, or to each other, that they were without sin.


Verse 8

‘And again he stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground.’

The dual mention must be seen as significant. The writer clearly sees it as important, and so therefore must we. Those with an eye to see would remember ‘the finger of God’ writing the covenant. Was He thereby saying, ‘remember all the commandments that God has given you?’


Verse 9

‘And when they heard it they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, even to the last, and Jesus was left alone, and the woman where she was, in the midst.’

The original narrator had noted that the eldest was the first to leave. They above all were aware that they dare not claim to be without sin, and perhaps they were a little ashamed and even the more aware of their own guilt. The younger hotheads took a little longer, but in the end they too realised that they had no choice. They accepted the verdict of their elders and also left, leaving the woman ‘alone’ without any accusers.


Verse 10

‘And Jesus lifted himself up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Does no man condemn you?”

Jesus then ‘lifts Himself up’ again. It is the same verb but with what a different meaning. This time it is not a solemn act of forcefully facing up to angry, yet hypocritical men, but an act of graciousness towards a woman in need. And yet it is also stern.

There is no appeal to the crowd. None is needed. His quiet words to the woman are quite sufficient. The great Law interpreters have been there, and no one has condemned her. They have recognised that they stand with her as Law breakers, and even possibly some of them as men with a dubious reputation. So unless all are to be condemned to death she too can go free, but only after a stern warning.

We must note here that once the witnesses had withdrawn their testimony the case was legally closed. It was the witnesses who had to cast the first stones. If there were no eyewitnesses there could be no stoning.


Verse 11

‘And she said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on sin no more”.’

She replies, ‘no man, Lord’. Here her ‘Lord’ means a respectful and grateful ‘Sir’. But it is probable that the writer intends us to see in Him the Lord of glory.

Now that the Law interpreters have passed their verdict the case is closed. The crowds can only be content that He shows mercy. ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ He alone has the right to condemn her, but He is ready to forgive. His mercy, however, is tinged with a warning, ‘go your way, and from now on sin no more.’ His forgiveness is not to be seen as a licence to sin, or as an amelioration of her crime, it is rather an offer of a new beginning to a repentant woman. None in the crowd can doubt that He has not condoned the sin.

The story has an ageless beauty. Jesus did not step back one iota from the standards of purity set by His Father, yet at the same time He has turned the tables on those who are bristling at the sins of others but ignoring their own sins. Nor does He excuse the woman, even though He has shown remarkable concern for her position. On the other hand He also recognises that she shares the weaknesses of mankind. One mistake can be forgiven. It will be a different matter if she makes a practise of it.

Jesus alone could have carried this situation off in this way, for He was without sin. That is why He can speak to the woman as He does. Not for one moment does He wish to convey the idea that her sin is unimportant, nor is He saying that as we all sin we can be lax with each other and not be too concerned about sin. Rather He is stressing that we are all guilty. ‘Do not sin again’ would apply equally to the Pharisees, and to us. And while the account also tells us that forgiveness for sin is available, it is important to notice that it is not for habitual sin.

The account was probably placed here because it was seen as an example of the light being in the world and shining before and on men. Those who refused to receive the light walked away back into their darkness. But others like the woman were responsive to that light and received it. It also illustrates what Jesus means when He says later, in John 8:15, ‘you judge after the flesh. I judge no man’. For in this incident the judgment of the Pharisees has been shown to be lacking, while, without appearing to judge, His judgment is shown to have been true and recognised by all. He does not need to judge, the light of His life and teaching does the judging for Him. But He will certainly judge in the last day.

Note: When reading this account we have to look at the circumstances and at the motives, and of course Who was there. We must not just treat it as case where a genuine question is asked about a genuine difficulty. It is the very opposite. It was in a charged atmosphere. The Pharisees were concerned only to destroy Jesus. They did not really care what happened to the woman.

There were many known adulteresses around. Why did they pick on her? Probably because it happened at the ‘right’ time and fitted in with their plans. The woman was simply a useful tool. Indeed it is probable that some of the accusers were themselves adulterers. None bay so loudly as those who are covering up for their own failure. Perhaps therefore that lay behind Jesus’ comment about those without sin. Possibly such a fact was well known as applying, especially amongst the eldest.

But the truth is that His enemies were simply trying to take advantage of strong feelings of patriotism and the hatred of the people to their own subjection to the Romans, in order to destroy Jesus. So we are not to see this as a genuine appeal for a decision on a legal matter, nor the reply as the last word on such a matter. When it came to the death penalty, except for in cases of blasphemy, justice was in the hands of the Romans. Today we do not suffer too many pangs of conscience at the fact that local adulterers are not stoned to death. Nor do we campaign for the death sentence on them. For we accept the fact that we live in a country where there are different laws and we have to live by them. So was it then. (If you lived in an extreme Muslim country it would be very different).

Jesus recognised the principle laid down by Paul that God set our rulers over us and we are in general to submit to their laws. And indeed the Pharisees knew that. What the Pharisees were asking was only on a matter of theoretical principle, for none of them intended to stone the woman whatever Jesus said. Had they intended it they should have done it already. But they would not so risk the wrath of the Romans.

So this was not a genuine appeal for a legal decision. In fact they knew quite well what the correct answer would have been. They really did not have to ask Jesus. And Jesus knew it. And everyone around knew it. Nor was anyone in a mood to appreciate (or indeed had any desire to appreciate) arguments about the finer points of the Law. Jesus could have commenced a detailed argument about the validity of human law, about which principle was more important than the other, and so on. But no one who was there wanted that kind of an answer because they were not interested in principles. It was not a serious legal forum. It was all a set up.

Thus He wanted to face the Pharisees up with their own hypocrisy. That was why He spoke as He did. You will notice that the Pharisees did not continue arguing. They went away, eldest first, because He had faced them up with their own guilt.

Notice that He had basically agreed the position. He did not deny the Law of God. And they were free to carry out the sentence it required if they willed. But only if they themselves were blameless. Thus they were instead made to face up to their own sinfulness. Jesus did not say that men could not carry out the death penalty. He did not forbid it to the Pharisees. He did not even lay down a principle that no man could carry out a sentence unless they were totally free from sin. He in fact made no positive declaration except to say that they could carry out God's Law.

But what He rather did was face them up to themselves. He turned the tables on them. He ‘showed them up’ in front of the people for what they really were. He drew attention to their own hypocritical lives. He basically said, ‘in wrath remember mercy’. For even those Pharisees who had not themselves committed adultery were consorting with those who had. They had no intention of carrying out the penalty right from the beginning. That was not really the question. The question was whether they could disgrace Him in front of the people, or even better have the Romans deal with Him. And they finished up themselves disgraced.

It should be noted that once the accusers had gone the case was decided. The witnesses were the ones who had to cast the first stones. Once the witnesses withdrew their testimony there was no case to answer.

It was not the woman and her sin that was on trial at all here. Had the question been genuine, and had it been asked when the Jews were an independent nation living under the genuine basis of Pentateuchal Law, and had the questioners really been concerned about morality, His answer may well have been very different.

What principles then can in fact be drawn from this incident?

1) Firstly that no man is worthy individually to make such a decision about another human being. It must be a joint decision and left to a court of law to decide and arrange for the carrying out of the penalty on the basis of law. It was not to be decided on the basis of a lynch mob.

2). Secondly that God's Law stands firm as a final standard, but that there is also a duty to recognise the principles of law in the society in which we live, and to abide by them.

But finally there is another principle. That the Judge of all the world was there and could determine the sentence as He would given, in the light of all the circumstances. Note that He forgives the woman. He in no way releases her from her sinfulness as though it did not matter. But He delays her judgment until the Last Day in order to give her time to repent. Then she will be judged by whether she took advantage of His forgiveness or not.


Verse 12

‘Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.’

Note that this next section commences with the introductory words, ‘Again Jesus spoke to them’. ‘Spoke to them’ refers to the large crowd in John 7:43. The controversy with the Pharisees continues. Here Jesus declares openly, while speaking to the crowds in the Temple treasury (presumably the place where the large trumpet shaped collecting boxes were in the court of the women - v. 20), ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. This is His second distinctive ‘I am’ saying, His first having been ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35). Here then is the One Who not only feeds the hearts of men but Who also brings the ‘life which is the light of men’ (John 1:4), Who is the One Who shines in the darkness (John 1:5) and is the true light which lightens every man who is open to receive it (John 1:9).

These statements are specifically drawing attention to His uniqueness as God’s revelation and source of life to man, and indicating that He is One Who cannot be ignored. Others would speak of the Scriptures as ‘a light’ (Psalms 119:105) to lead men into faith and truth, but He speaks of Himself asthelight. It compares with the way He could say ‘but I say to you’ in the Matthew 5:22 etc. It was a claim to unique authority.

In the Old Testament God is constantly revealed as the Light (Psalms 27:1; Psalms 36:9; Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 60:1-2; Isaiah 60:19; Micah 7:8-9), a light of glory which was to shine on His people (Isaiah 61:-1-2) and in the same way the Servant of God in Isaiah was to be a light to the nations (the world - Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). Now the world needs to recognise that One has come Who is that Light.

The mention of ‘light’ at this particular feast was especially significant. The feast was seen as a reminder of the journey through the wilderness under Moses, and a great lampstand of fiery flames would be erected in the Temple courtyard and the whole Temple illuminated as a reminder of the pillar of fire that illuminated the way for the people of Israel at the time of their deliverance. The pillar of fire had been Israel’s light on the way to freedom, and it represented God Himself as present with His people. Jesus is now saying, therefore, that He is that light, seeking to lead all men to safety and a new life, and revealing the presence of God with them. Just as Israel of old followed the flame of fire as God led the way, safe and secure because God was with them, so now all who become His people can follow the new manifestation of God, Jesus Christ Himself, the light of the world, the light which springs from His life.

But once the feast was over that lamp would cease to be lighted. The courtyard in the Temple would cease to be brightly illuminated. The people would return to their humdrum lives. That light was temporary. But now Jesus, as the Light of the world, was here and would continue to shine on and within His people, shining ever brighter day by day.

By this He was claiming uniquely to present men with truth and understanding, both about God and about themselves, and to give them a new spiritual life within, by bestowing on them eternal life and shining in their hearts with the truth of God. His own life would act as a light to show men that truth, and along with His teaching would lead them ‘out of darkness into His most marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9). Furthermore men’s sins would be revealed in that light, and some would turn away from their sins and begin to live lives approved by God (John 3:19-21). Thus would they find life through faith in Him.

But His glory would also be revealed though His own life and teaching, so that John could say ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). That is why Paul could say, we see ‘the light of the good news of the glory of Christ who is the image of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). And, as we see this light, it shines in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God Himself in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). No one has ever seen God, but the only Son, Who came from intimate closeness with the Father Himself, makes Him known (John 1:18). So through Him as the light, God is revealed as never before to those whose eyes are opened (compare Isaiah 60:1-2; Isaiah 60:19).

These amazing benefits were and are available to all who follow Him and receive from Him ‘the light of life’ (see Psalms 36:9) by responding to His words and receiving the work of the Spirit in their hearts (John 6:63). This life illuminates them so that they see His glory and come to know Him for what He is, and gain a new awareness of God. They receive a totally new spiritual and moral outlook as His light shines in their hearts, and ‘they see’. Conversely, those who do not respond fail to see. They continue to walk in darkness.

We are reminded again of those words, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death on them has the light shined’ (Isaiah 9:2), words which as we have seen are connected with Galilee (Isaiah 9:1). In the original Greek text John 8:12 came directly after John 7:52. This was thus Jesus response to the denial of the Pharisees that a prophet could arise out of Galilee. Even Scripture had declared that the light would first shine in Galilee. And He was now here as that light, shining in the land of the shadow of death (or ‘in the deep darkness’).


Verses 12-59

Chapter 8 Jesus - The Light of the World and the ‘I am’ (John 8:12-59).

In this chapter Jesus is revealed as ‘the Light of the World’. This is a reminder of the one spoken of in the words of Isaiah, ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwell in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shone’, and significantly Isaiah’s words were spoken concerning Galilee of the nations (Isaiah 9:2). And this light would be One born to be the coming King (Isaiah 9:6-7), who was by the time of Jesus seen in Messianic terms. In this regard we should note that the words ‘walk in darkness’ used by Isaiah are echoed here in John 8:12. The concept thus has Messianic implications, demonstrating that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ (John 20:31). But in John 1:1-9 the light has also been shown to be Word Who was God Himself. Thus as the light of the world Jesus is to be seen as both the Messiah and the Son of God, both looked at the heightened level revealed in John’s Gospel.

This statement concerning Jesus as the Light of the World is then followed by discussions in which Jesus reveals more and more of Himself, leading up to His declaration of Himself as the ‘I AM’, with the result that He came under threat of stoning because of His strong claims.

Jesus Is The Light of the World (John 8:12-20).

In the original text these verses follow immediately on John 7:52. As can be seen the transition is fairly abrupt as the context moves swiftly from the Pharisees discussing Jesus among themselves to them listening to and talking to Jesus. It is, however, also equally abrupt if it follows after John 8:11. The proclamation is now of Jesus as the Light of the world, a concept already revealed in the Prologue, and the abrupt opening brings the significance of His words and prepares for what follows. All men recognised the importance of light. While it was dark the world proceeded at slow speed, for until the sun arose the working and worshipping day could not begin, and when the sun set that working day was over, for although in those days artificial light from torches allowed an extension of the day, it was never fully satisfactory. It was the day that was the time for living. And it was the day that allowed men to see where they were going.

At this point we should perhaps consider the fact that Jesus continually likens Himself to those things which are basically essential to man. He has revealed Himself as the bread of life, as man’s basic food and provision (John 6:35), He has revealed Himself as the divine spring of living water, that resource which was necessary for all forms of life and brought life to the world (John 3:5; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-38), and now He reveals Himself as the light, that which originally drove back the darkness and was the foundation of creation (Genesis 1:2-3), and in the light of which men live their lives and accomplish their major tasks.


Verse 13

‘The Pharisees therefore said to him, “You bear witness of yourself, your witness is not true”.’

The Pharisees were not, however, pleased. They recognised the enormity of His claim, and they replied, ‘You testify about yourself. What you say is not true’. They were no doubt appalled that a man should claim to be the light of the world, and that in the context of the festal light which pointed to the presence of God with His people as revealed by that light. In their eyes it was almost as though He was taking men’s minds away from the glory of God and pointing them to Himself. Their prejudice prevented them from giving fair consideration to His life and teaching and they therefore fell back on claiming that what a man says about himself carries no weight. Indeed their Rabbinic law of evidence stated that a man’s own testimony to himself was invalid.


Verse 14

‘Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do bear witness of myself, my witness is true, for I know from where I came and where I am going”.’

Jesus reply is that in His case the general principle is not true. This is because ‘I know where I have come from and where I am going’. This made Him a special case. As the heavenly Son of Man (John 3:13), who had come from Heaven and would return to Heaven, He had authority to testify about Himself, and indeed it was necessary, for no other man on earth could do so. He alone knew His source and His destiny. As with men’s conceptions of the Messiah, His source was mysterious and unknown (John 7:27).


Verse 14-15

“But you do not know from where I come and where I am going. You judge after the flesh, I judge no man”.’

Thus they should recognise that they were not in a position to judge His testimony for they judged only ‘according to the flesh’ as earthly men. They were unable to enter Heaven and so they could not truly be aware of Who He was, where He had come from and where He was going. They were limited to earthly knowledge. They judged ‘after the flesh’. That is why they saw only a man like themselves, but their very starting point invalidated their judgment. How then could they know He Who ascends into Heaven Who came down from Heaven (John 3:13), the Son of Man? If only they had listened to John the Baptiser. He was one who ha been illuminated by Heaven.

‘I am not (at present) judging anyone’ (v. 15) . The Judge of all the world was here but at present Jesus will not pass judgment, even on the Pharisees. There was still an opportunity for them to open their eyes and see. The heavenly court was in abeyance, waiting to see who would respond to Jesus, and who would turn away. The light was here and men would pass judgment on themselves, depending on how they responded (John 3:17-21).

The adulterous woman was a good example of this. In her case judgment had been deferred and she had received forgiveness. It was now up to her whether she took advantage of it. So it was with all. His time to pass final judgment was still in the future. For now He shone as a light in the world, calling men to the light. And some came to Him as the Light, aware that their sins were judged and through Him forgiven. And they began to walk in the light, while others turned away into darkness. And this continued to be true for them even though they were sinners, for ‘if we walk in the light as He is in the light, --- the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us continually from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).


Verse 16

“Yes, and even if I were to judge my judgment would be true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (v. 16).

However, He also points out to them that actually He was in a position to judge, and that if He were to judge, they should be in no doubt that His judgments would be accurate and just. For His relationship with the Father was so close that any judgment He did make would be in association with the Father, and would be one with the Father’s. Thus it would be totally reliable. For He and His Father judged as One.

So Jesus, while claiming to have the full ability to judge on His own, puts Himself in parallel with His Father and stresses that any judgment that He makes is equally the result of the Father’s judgment. The truth of it could not therefore be doubted, and the fact was evidence of Whom He was. One again He is making clear His co-equality with the Father.


Verse 17-18

“Yes, and in your Law it is written that the witness of two men is true, I am he who bears witness of myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness of me.”

He then goes on to point out that the law of Moses says that the testimony of two men is true (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). Well, let them then consider this, He can give them two witnesses, Himself as the sent One, and His Father as the One Who sent Him, for He Himself bears testimony through His own works and words, and by the Spirit.

‘Your Law.’ That is, the Law (the Torah) which they loved and on which they continually laid such emphasis and which was the very basis of their lives, the Law which they had multiplied by a multiplicity of regulations. There is the specific suggestion in the ‘your’ that they have altered God’s Law and replaced it with a Law of their own, making it far more onerous. It was no longer God’s Law, but their Law. Yet even their own Law acknowledged that the witness of two men was true.


Verse 19

‘You do not know either me or my Father, if you knew me you would know my Father also’.

Jesus’ simple reply was that it was not possible for them to see the Father because they were spiritually blind. That is why they did not know the Father, nor recognise Him. In fact their failure to see what He meant was itself significant. They possibly thought they were being clever but they were really indicating that they did not know either Who He was or Who His Father was. They were demonstrating their spiritual blindness, and proving that they did not know God.

For the truth was that the fact that they did not recognise Him for what He was, demonstrated that they did not really know what God was like. For had they really known the Father and what He was like, they would have recognised His Father in Him and in what He was doing. How then can He tell them of the Father? Of what use would it be? Their minds are equally closed to knowledge of the Father.

This made clear that they were really spiritually blind. In spite of all He was saying and doing, which revealed the glory of God, their minds would not or could not grasp it. If then they could not recognise the truth when it was revealed by the Father through Him on earth, how could they claim to know the Father?

It simply demonstrated that with all their claim to special knowledge they actually did not know God. This was indeed the real reason why they failed to recognise Him. They were still in darkness. For as the light of the world He had come to reveal the Father, and if they would but come to see Him for what He was, by considering His words and His activities, and what He was in Himself, and would respond to Him, then they would really come to know the Father too (compare John 14:7-9). But they did not do so because they were in darkness.


Verse 20

‘These words he spoke in the treasury as he taught in the Temple, and no man arrested him because his hour was not yet come.’

These words were spoken ‘in the treasury’, that is in the Court of the Women, (which was outside the raised court of Israel where only men could go), where there were thirteen trumpet shaped boxes placed there to receive offerings. Once more the author indicates his total familiarity with the Temple.

These thirteen money boxes all had their allotted offering. Into the first two were dropped the half shekels which every Jew had to pay towards the upkeep of the Temple. Into the third and fourth were dropped sums which would purchase the two pigeons which a woman had to offer for her purification after the birth of a child (Leviticus 12:8). Into the fifth were put contributions towards the cost of the wood which was needed to keep the altar fire alight. Into the sixth were dropped contributions towards the cost of the incense which was used at the Temple services. Into the seventh went contributions towards the upkeep of the golden vessels which were used at these services. Sometimes a man or a family would set apart a certain sum to make a guilt-offering or thank-offering, and into the remaining six trumpets people dropped any money which remained after such an offering had been made, or anything extra which they wished to offer.

‘No man arrested him.’ This brings out the constant threat of arrest that Jesus was under. All that He said was in the light of that threat. Yet they seemed powerless to act against Him. This was because God was in control. His hour, the hour of His death, had not yet come. His Oneness with His Father also ensured His safety until that hour.


Verse 21

‘He said therefore again to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me and die in your sin, for where I am going you cannot come”.’

‘He said therefore again --’. We do not know how long after the previous verses He spoke these words. There is a strange pathos to them. Jesus was going away, as He knew, to Heaven via the cross. And they would go on looking for Him in vain. They would go on searching for eternal life and for a Messiah from God (‘for Me’), and they would fail in their efforts and would die in their sin, because unknowingly they had rejected the One Whom they were pretending to seek, the true Messiah Who was the only source of eternal life. And because they would not come to Him their search would be blind and futile, and they could never go where He was going.

The word for ‘sin’ here is in the singular. It sums up their whole sinful attitude of heart. They were rooted in sin.


Verses 21-30

Jesus Is From Above (John 8:21-30).

The emphasis now moves away from the fact that He is the light of the world, to the fact that He is the One Who has come from above. That is why their failure to recognise Him is very much an indication that they are of this world. This is a new incident, although following closely on the last.


Verse 22

‘The Judaisers therefore said, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘where I am going you cannot come’?”

Jesus’ statement ‘where I am going you cannot come’ then made them ask themselves whether it was His intention to kill Himself. This is pointed irony. Even while they were seeking His death they were avoiding the issue even among themselves, and pretending that they had no such aims. They still seemed to think that He was not aware of what their true aims were. When men have reached such depths of folly and blindness there is little hope from them. And yet one among their number would one day become the Apostle to the Gentiles.


Verse 23-24

‘And he said to them “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. That is why I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins”.’

Jesus now faced them with the central issue. He was as totally different from them as Heaven was from earth. They were from below. They had no knowledge or experience of where God dwells. They were tied to the ideas of this world. Their minds were unopened. But in contrast to them He was from above, He was not of this world. That is what they needed to recognise. The phrase ‘from above’ reflects Psalms 18:16; Psalms 144:7. It is the abode of God and His power.

And the reason why He has stated that they were without hope is because they would not recognise Him for what He was, the One from above, the One Who is not of this world. They did not recognise Him as the ‘I am’, something only hinted at here, but made clear in John 8:58. This phrase ‘I am’, used in partly hidden form in John 8:12; John 8:28, and used again specifically and unequivocally in John 8:58, is the Name that God revealed to Moses and it was the root of the divine name YHWH (‘the One Who is’ - ‘I am what I am’ - Exodus 3:14). That is why in Isaiah 43:10 God says, ‘that you may know and believe and understand that I am’. Jesus almost certainly had that verse in mind. He wanted them to know and believe and understand that He was the ‘I am’.

So if they wished to be have eternal life they must accept His otherness, and His power to act, and His eternal being. (See also Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 46:4; Isaiah 48:12). At this stage, however, the phrase ‘I am’ was not unequivocal and it was thus not seen as provocative. It could alternately mean ‘that I am the Messiah’ (Mark 13:6). Some would in fact limit it to meaning ‘that I am He’, that is, ‘I am the coming One’.

‘You will die in your sins.’ Compare Ezekiel 3:18 where these words are used. The Pharisees’ total aim was so to live as to obey all God’s laws and by doing so prove themselves faithful members of the covenant. They strove manfully to do this, seeking to fulfil hundreds of requirements, expanded in detail by themselves, in order to attempt to do so, hoping eventually to rise above their sins and prove themselves true members of the covenant. For they were sure that once the covenant was truly fulfilled God would show His favour. But Jesus warned them that unless they came to know Him they would for ever be unsuccessful. What they were striving for would be in vain.

The word for sins here is plural (contrast John 8:21). A sinful attitude of heart results in many sins in the life, and the Pharisees above all, with their hundreds of regulations, were conscious of numerous failings.


Verse 25

‘Jesus said to them, “Even that which I have told you right from the beginning”.’

(We could in fact translate these words either as ‘even what I have told you from the beginning’ or as ‘why do I talk to you at all?’. Either is possible but the former seems more likely, for there would be some whose interest was genuine).

He had now been with them for some time, and by this stage He considered that they should have been aware of the truth about Him, but He patiently points back to what He had already said. He has been consistent in His claims from the start. If only they had listened they would have known Who He was.

‘From the beginning.’ He was drawing their attention to His past words. He wanted them to know that He had consistently said the same thing and that nothing had changed. But the writer possibly has in mind John 1:1 and sees behind it a deeper inference. It is not only what He has said from the beginning of His ministry that is important, but what He has been saying from the beginning of time.

Jesus was not, however, deceived by them. He knew that many of them were still arguing because they hoped that He would fall into a trap. Up to this point His words, while clear, had not taken Him beyond the pale, but He knew that they were hoping for something that was incontrovertible with which to condemn Him They were like many of us are when we argue. They were not genuinely weighing up His arguments in the light of the facts, but were simply refusing to give Him credence and waiting for Him to trip up. They were simply not prepared to consider that they might need light. They considered that they had the light.


Verse 26

“I have much to say about you and much to pass judgment on. However he who sent me is true, and the things which I heard from him, these I speak to the world”.’

Jesus now no longer saw any hope that they would respond to His teaching, and He therefore wanted them to know that He was not blind to their failings. So He pointed out that, if He wished to do so, there was in fact a great deal that He could say about them which was not to their credit. There was much that He could show up about their attitudes and teaching (as He does in Matthew 23). However, He would not at present do so, although one day He would certainly do so. Meanwhile He wanted them to know that in contrast to what they were, He has brought the truth from the One Who is true, to pass on to those who will receive it.

Notice the way in which He makes clear, not only that He has been ‘sent’ (something which many prophets could say), but that He has previously heard from the Father the things which He is now speaking to the world. There is a continual recognition that He has come from the Father into this world as the One Who was in existence from the beginning.

‘But he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him’. In contrast to them in their hypocrisy and folly there is One Who is true. They might not be willing to listen, but the world was waiting for the truth, and what He would like to say about His antagonists must give place to His message to the world at large, coming from the One Who is true.


Verse 27

‘They did not perceive that he spoke to them of the Father.’

John comments, ‘they did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father’. The problem was that they were so set in their own arguments and opinions that they did not stand back and consider what He was really saying. Having misinterpreted Him they would continue to misinterpret Him, such was the stubbornness of their minds. John deliberately draws attention to their failure to respond with understanding. He hopes his readers will not be the same. For like Jesus no doubt was, he was concerned at their failure to listen to, and understand, what Jesus was saying. But it is one of the characteristics of all ages that men listen, and then hear only what they want to hear, rather than listening with hearts open to learn the truth. ‘Eyes they have and see not, ears and hear not.’


Verse 28

‘So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and that I do nothing of myself but say just what my Father has taught me’.

Jesus now again faces them up to what He knows they are going to do with Him. He knows that His days are numbered. But He also knows that this will be for the good of those who respond to Him.

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man.’ Note His claim again to be the Messianic Son of Man. The phrase ‘lifted up’ occurs a number of times in John’s Gospel. In John 3:14 it refers to His crucifixion, but must contain the seeds of His glorification, for His lifting up will offer eternal life to those who believe in Him. In John 12:32 it is specifically stated to also refer to His crucifixion, but again must include the idea of His glorification, for how else could He draw all men to Him? Thus here it is probably intended again to include both, while considering mainly the latter. Without being aware of it they will contribute both to His lifting up in death and His lifting up in resurrection and exaltation.

The phrase was deliberately vague, and had a deliberate dual meaning. Jesus could not say blatantly ‘when you have killed me’ (for the sake of the listening crowds), and besides that would only have signified one aspect of His death. He wanted to present His death both in its starkness and in its triumph. So ‘lifted up’ stressed both those things. He would be lifted up as a public spectacle, like the golden serpent (John 3:14), and yet also He would be lifted up to God.

The words here are general and not specific. ‘You’ refers to the Jews as a whole, yes, and even to the world. Their main significance is for those who would later believe, and there were many. It is they who will come to know that Jesus is the ‘I am’, and that He reflected His Father’s will. So His death will be a triumph because for many it will result in belief and understanding. But the Pharisees as a whole will know it in a more general sense when they see the impact of His death and resurrection. Then they too will have to face up to the truth about Him, even though they finally reject it.

We may compare this with the idea in Matthew 26:64 (compare Luke 22:69), when He says, again to the Jewish leaders, ‘From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven’, where the point was that while they themselves would not respond to His being made Lord, they would see that there would be many who would. They would be aware of His impact as the Son of Man.

‘That I am.’ The Pharisees would understand this as meaning ‘that I am the Coming One.’ But the writer wants us to see the deeper meaning, ‘that I am the “I am”.’ (John 8:58).


Verse 29

“And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

In spite of His rejection by them He wants them to know that He is conscious that the Father is continually with Him. They may reject Him but His Father will not desert Him or leave Him on His own. Indeed He is with Him continually. For He is pleased with what He is doing. For as Jesus stresses, He always does what pleases Him. His whole life is given up to pleasing the Father.

His words remind us of the words of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1, and the words spoken by God at His baptism, ‘the one in whom I am well pleased’ (although the Greek words for ‘please’ are not the same). Jesus is the faithful Servant. Although He is facing approaching death His Father has not deserted Him, for He is doing His Father’s will. Though He may be ‘lifted up’ on the cross He will not be left alone, for He has been sent to be the One who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter that He may bear the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:6-7; Isaiah 53:10).


Verse 30

‘As he spoke these things many believed on Him’.

There was something in what Jesus said which, while not fully understood, struck a cord in the hearts of some of His listeners, and they responded in full faith. They ‘believed into him’ (eis auton - eis with the accusative), in contrast with the Jews of John 8:31 who ‘had believed in him’ (auto - dative case ), the latter a faith similar to those in John 2:23 which could not be relied on. His words were thus not totally in vain. This is a typical Johannine contrast.

(The question of what is meant by a ‘believer’ is in constant tension in John. Sometimes it means full believers. Those whose response is total. At other times it means those who are ‘won over’ by some aspect of His ministry without being actually totally committed. We can rest assured that there were always some of both kinds, just as there are today, and the one often became the other).


Verse 31-32

‘Jesus therefore said to those Judaisers who had believed in him, “If you dwell in my word then are you my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free”.’

Jesus then spoke a word to some of the Judaisers who had showed some response to Him, ‘If you persevere in and meditate on my teaching, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’. It was a glorious promise of hope. The truth was now open to them, and if they will but know and receive that truth it will make them truly free. But there is only one test of true faith and that is perseverance and continuance. By such perseverance those who receive His teaching (‘word’) will come into a fuller understanding of truth, especially the truth about Him, and will thus find freedom from sin and its power. And then they will find true freedom, not the freedom from the tyranny of Rome which they have previously longed for, but a greater freedom, a freedom from the tyranny of that greatest despot of all, sin.

So even though some of the Judaisers have made some kind of response of faith towards accepting Him as from God, Jesus cannot rest satisfied until that faith is deeply rooted in the truth about Him, a truth that is in fact found in Himself (John 14:6).

There is an important lesson here. The only final basis of assurance of salvation for anyone is continuance in responding to the truth. A ‘saved’ man can backslide, but he can have no assurance while in his backsliding, and, if it is permanent, abundant Scriptures testify to the fact that it indicates that he was not really saved. When the Saviour saves it is effective, even though there may be the occasional blip. He does not fail in His work.


Verses 31-47

The Children of Abraham and the Children of the Devil (John 8:31-47).

Note how the argument is presented in stages as the case builds up against he Scribes and Pharisees. It had begun with the revelation of Himself as the Light of the world, a light which they had failed to see and respond to (John 8:12-20). It had continued with the fact that He was the One Who had come from above, One Whom they had failed to discern and listen to (John 8:21-30). Now the accusation becomes more blatant. The reason that they have failed to see Him and to know Him is because ‘their father is the Devil’, in other words, it is because they are following in the Devil’s ways and behaving like him. In the words of Paul, ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, should shine unto them’ (2 Corinthians 4:4-5)


Verse 33

‘They answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never been slaves to any man. How do you say that we will be made free?” ’

As Jesus knew that they would His hearers bridled at His words. They prided themselves on the fact that because they were the sons of Abraham, and because they had the Law of God, they above all men were free, because their thoughts were free.

The question here is as to who are the ‘they’ mentioned here. The answer is clearly that it was the Pharisaic group as a whole and not just the believing Judaisers, with John 8:31-32 being a parenthesis. The situation here is that with Jesus having addressed a word to the believing Judaisers the remainder come in and attack what He has said. What follows is thus not to be seen as meaning that the believing Judaisers were not genuine in their faith.

If we were to take the ‘they’ of John 8:33 to refer to the group of ‘believing’ Judaisers then clearly the implication would be that the majority of them were not willing to hold to their belief when more deeply challenged. Now in some ways it is true that it was more difficult for them than for the common people to fully respond to the words of Jesus because they were so hidebound by their own teaching and ideas, and because this was something that they had to overcome. But there is good ground for thinking that this ‘they’ in John 8:33 looks to the Judaisers as a whole, and not just to the responsive ones, for the context demands it. John’s distinctions are not always as clearly spelled out as they could be, possibly deliberately as he tries to make his readers think (compare his varied use of the term ‘disciples’).

The suggestion of not being free jars the Pharisees. The boast of the Pharisees, and indeed of all Jews, was that they were free men because they were the children of Abraham. Whatever the tyranny they were under, they proudly believed and claimed that they had a freedom that came from the fact that they had God’s Law and were ruled by it and that they were the people of the covenant with freedom to live by that Law. Besides this fact, outside interference and subjection was of secondary importance.

And indeed, under the Romans they did have specific rights to practise their own religion exclusively, and thus had reason to consider themselves as religiously free. And this had generally been true through the ages (sometimes their kings had had to bow to pressure from outside, but this had not necessarily always affected the ordinary people). And when they were persecuted they had been willing to die for what they believed in, in order to demonstrate that they were free. Thus they could say, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been in bondage to any man’. This could only apply to them religiously as they well knew, but it was something of which they were proud. They saw themselves as religiously free spirits, especially free from idolatry. So comes the question ‘How can you say that we must be made free?’

Sadly in their case their pride in their ancestry was part of what kept them from Christ (although the problem arose from their interpretation of it). In the case of others it may be pride in national privilege or tradition, blind trust in rites and ceremonies, or the overstressing of some moral code. But for all it can often be the acceptance of half truths that can keep them from the full truth.


Verse 34

‘Jesus answered them, “I tell you emphatically that every one who goes on sinning is a slave of sin”.’

Jesus denies that they are free. ‘So they think they are free,’ He asks. ‘Well, let them consider this. To sin is to be a slave. It is to be sin’s slave.’ As with drugs, men may think they have sin under control, but once they try to escape they soon discover that they are helplessly enslaved. As Paul puts it, ‘the good I want to do, I do not do. The evil that I do not want to do, I do’ (Romans 7:19). For the fact is that it is only when we are happy to continue in sin that we think we have control over it. But once we seek to escape from it, it is then that we discover its bondage. We should note here that slaves, while not over common in Judea, were looked on religiously as equivalent to bastards. To be compared with a slave was thus an insult.

The problem for the Pharisees, as for many, was that they did not recognise that their very regulations brought them into slavery, and that they of all men were not free. Instead of making them sin less their regulations actually made them sin more, bringing them into deeper bondage. For the more they strove, the more they were conscious of sin.

‘I tell you emphatically.’ Literally ‘truly, truly’. This was a distinguishing mark of Jesus’ speech, which He used constantly.


Verse 35-36

‘And the slave does not remain in the house for ever, the son remains for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will indeed be free’.

Jesus now contrasts those who are slaves to sin to those who become sons of God’s household through the power and authority of the true Son. Those who are slaves have no permanent benefits. One day they will lose out. They have nothing permanent. (The Pharisees thought that they had a permanent place in God’s household but they were wrong). But those who become sons because of their response to the Son become free from such slavery. They are made free by the Son. And their position in God’s household is therefore permanent.

There are three ways in which we can interpret this sentence in depth. The first is to interpret it in detail. Thus it can be seen as saying that sin makes men slaves to their master Sin, as they serve in his household, while the Son makes men free sons in His household. The slave in ‘the household of sin’, with sin as his master, can only be a loser. Any seeming benefits are temporary. Let those who enjoy sin recognise that it will let them down in the end. The sinner may think that he gets the best bargain but he only receives what is temporary, for as a slave he has no rights and no standing, and will one day be thrown out and will lose everything.

In contrast the one who receives sonship receives a permanent position. So the one who through breaking with sin by faith in Christ receives a place in ‘the household of God’ and has permanent existence in that household. Thus if the Son makes men free, by bringing them into sonship, and removing them from the household of sin into the household of God, then their place in the household of God is eternal, not passing or fading away, and they are free indeed from the control of sin.

Alternately, the intention may have been to indicate the simple contrast of a temporary position in a household with a position of permanence, contrasting Isaac, the primary son, with Ishmael, the son of the slave girl, who was cast out. The idea then is that sin offers only what is temporary, while Jesus offers sonship, which is permanent, and gives total freedom (‘the house’ not having any interpretative significance). Compare for this Paul’s argument in Galatians 4:21-30.

Alternately ‘the son’ might refer to Jesus in both cases, in which case the meaning is that sin only gives you what is temporary while the Son invites you to forsake sin and share His permanence, thus receiving freedom from sin which is true freedom. In the end the overall meaning is the same.


Verse 37

“I know that you are Abraham’s seed. Yet you seek to kill me because my word does not have free course in you.”

Jesus then took up their claim to be Abraham’s children, and from now on, when He said ‘you’, He was certainly referring to the Judaisers as a whole.

‘I know that you are descendants of Abraham.’ He did not deny that in the flesh these men could call themselves ‘children of Abraham’. While in many cases it might not be literally true they did belong to a nation whose roots were in Abraham, and they proudly sought to trace their ancestry back to him (even though often the relationship was only by adoption). But He then pointed out that they were not behaving like children of Abraham. ‘Yet you seek to kill me because my words find no place in you’.

Among Israelites ‘son of --’ could have two levels of significance. On the one it could indicate ‘by ancestry’, on the other it could mean ‘by behaviour’. Thus the ‘sons of Belial’ were those who behaved like Belial (Judges 19:22; 1 Samuel 2:12; 1 Kings 21:10). A true son is revealed by his behaviour. What He was thus saying was that while they might be natural sons of Abraham they did not behave like it and were therefore not true sons of Abraham (compare John the Baptiser’s contemptuous dismissal of their claim in Matthew 3:9).

So while there were some among them who were friendly disposed and had given His words entry, the wider group still sought His death, and it was they whom, identifying themselves as ‘children of Abraham’, Jesus was addressing.. That Abraham would not have behaved like they did is implied, (and stated in John 8:40), thus they were not truly ‘sons of Abraham’.


Verse 38

“I speak the things which I have seen with my Father, and you also do the things that you have heard from your father.”

Jesus now contrasted Himself with them enigmatically. He pointed out that He spoke only of what He had seen with His Father. Thus what He spoke was good and true. His abiding in the Father was constant and affected all that He said. But the Judaisers on the other hand spoke what they had heard from their father. The implication was that their father was less worthy. (Later he would show that this referred to the Devil, for it was he, not Abraham, whose ways they followed).

Note the distinction between ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. Jesus was speaking of what He had actually seen and witnessed (compare John 3:11; John 3:32; John 14:7). They had only ‘heard’.


Verse 39

‘They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham”.’

His listeners were quick to pick up the fact that He was distinguishing His Father from theirs. This immediately set them on their mettle. ‘Abraham is our father’, they declared proudly and firmly. Surely being connected with Abraham could only be good?

Like many they thought that they could be judged by their connections. They were inordinately proud of their connection with Abraham for it was to him that God’s great promises were given. But Jesus would now point out that if they were Abraham’s children it only counted if they behaved like Abraham. And this was something that they should indeed have recognised, for their history and their Scriptures were full of God’s rejection of those who did not obey Him. We can compare Matthew 3:9 where to the same claim to be sons of Abraham, John the Baptiser says wryly that God is able to raise up ‘these stones’ to be sons of Abraham. There is nothing to a name. Evidence of true sonship lies in behaviour.


Verse 39-40

‘Jesus says to them, “If you were Abraham’s children you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I have heard from God. This is not what Abraham did”.’

Jesus now explained that if they were really Abraham’s children they would behave as Abraham behaved. But the very fact that they were plotting His death proved that they were not doing so. He had come as a man who had told them the truth which He had heard from God and yet they were seeking to kill Him. Abraham, in contrast, welcomed the messengers that came from God (Genesis 18:2 etc.). Thus they were not behaving like Abraham.


Verse 41

‘We (Judaisers) were not born of fornication. We have one Father, God’.

This may well have been a sneer at the mystery surrounding the birth of Jesus. They may have been saying, ‘Well your birth may be doubtful but there is no doubt as to our position.’ Alternately it may have been because they saw non-Jews as impure, and not true children of God. Both were possibly in their thoughts. They may well also have been still smarting at having been called ‘slaves’ to sin, for slaves were equated by them with bastards. So they were contrasting that state with their own. They were proud of the fact that God wastheirFather as the Old Testament often implied (Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Hosea 11:1; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10) and overlooked the strictures in Malachi, which they thought (rightly to a certain extent) no longer applied to themselves. They overlooked the fact that there might be other things that could exclude them from God’s Fatherhood.


Verse 42-43

‘Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father you would love me, for I have come forth and am come from God, and I did not come of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear my word.’

Jesus now denied what they claimed. He pointed out that their very attitude was clear proof that they were not true children of God, for if they had been they would have loved Him, the One Who came from God at the express will of God. Indeed the reason that they did not understand this was because they did not want to, and it was simply because His preaching was too uncomfortable. It demanded far reaching changes and an acceptance that the system on which they had built their lives might not be as satisfactory as they thought. So the reason why they did not understand Him was simply because their ears were too heavy to hear. ‘Cannot hear my word’ means ‘cannot because their prejudice prevents them from hearing it’.

Note His emphasis on the fact that He had not come on His own accord. Later many Phariseeswouldback some who came on their own accord (first in the final days of Jerusalem and then in the days of Bar Cochba) and it would mean disaster for the Jewish people.


Verse 44

“You are of your father the Devil, and it is your will to do the longings of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and did not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, for he is a liar and a father of them.”

Now He no longer restrained His words, and explained His enigmatic earlier statement about them being like their father. Far from showing themselves to be children of God and children of Abraham they were showing themselves to be like their father the Devil, for they were behaving just as he did. They were plotting to murder the One Whom God had sent and they were unwilling to face up to the truth. For the Devil too was a murderer, right from the beginning, and he too did not hold to the truth, and that was because there was no truth in him. When he lied he spoke according to his own nature, for he was a liar and ‘the father of lies’. The corollary was that there was no truth in them either, and that they too were deceivers.

‘He was a murderer.’ He brought death into the world for Adam and Eve, and through his interference Cain slew his brother and from then on all men died.

‘Did not stand in the truth’ could be aspirated to mean ‘does not stand in the truth’, meaning ‘has nothing to do with the truth’. He had ever been, and would always be, a deceiver.

‘According to his own nature.’ From his first efforts in the Garden of Eden he had demonstrated that deceit and falsehood were an intrinsic part of him. That is what his nature had become through rebellion against God. Indeed deceit began with him. He was ‘the father of lies’.

They were like ‘their father the Devil’ in that they longed for His death and could not bear the truth. They clung to their beliefs regardless of reality, deliberately refusing to see the weaknesses in them. These were traits of the Devil which were clearly coming out in them. Far from being the children of God, they were showing themselves by this to be as far from God as it was possible to be. Among the Jews it was customary to say that someone was a ‘child of’ whatever influenced them. Thus Jesus was saying to the Judaisers that their behaviour marked them out as ‘children of the Devil’ because they behaved like him.

We can compare here Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:4. ‘The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe lest the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ shine through to them’.


Verse 45

‘But because I tell you the truth you do not believe me’.

Jesus then scathingly points out that they are willing to receive anything but the truth. How could they believe when they were so dishonest that they behaved like the Devil, He is saying. Had He brought them lies they would have believed, (as later they would believe other false Messiahs who pandered to them). What they could not stand was the truth. They were determined to hold on to their prejudices rather than admit that there were things in their teachings and attitudes that needed putting right.

Facing up to the fact that we might be wrong is a problem we all have. We too become so set in our ways and our ideas that we do not step back to look. No one person or church is fully right. We must learn that there is truth that we have yet to find, and that what we consider the truth may only be partially so. There is only One Who is ‘the Truth’.


Verse 46

“Which of you convicts me of sin?”

What an amazing challenge. Jesus blatantly throws Himself open to His enemies. He knew that His recent life had been subjected to constant investigation and examination (that was the duty of the religious leaders), and yet He was unafraid to lay down the gauntlet. This demonstrated His supreme confidence that He was without sin. A belief in such a state is sometimes possible to a hardened sinner unaware of his own failings, but the first thing a man does when he comes to know God is admit his sinfulness. Once he sees himself in God’s eyes he repents deeply. This is the first test of the genuineness of religious experience. When Isaiah saw himself in God’s eyes he declared woe on himself because of his unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5). When Job saw God he hated himself and repented deeply (Job 42:6). Yet Jesus, with all His knowledge of, and fellowship with, God, and having ‘seen’ God, had no such consciousness of sin. This was remarkable evidence of His uniqueness.

Furthermore not one of His enemies could point a finger at anything in His life, apart from His disagreement with them on theological matters, that even hinted at sin. And He knew that that would be so. All good men are deeply aware of their own faults, yet here was One Who not only claimed to be without fault, but also challenged others to disprove His claim. And He did it without a hint of spiritual pride. In this too Jesus was unique.


Verse 46-47

‘If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God, hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is because you are not of God’.

So then He asked them why, if He was speaking the truth, they would not hear Him and believe Him. And His solution was that it was because they were ‘not of God’. For His life substantiated His teaching, and if they could not fault the one they should have accepted the other. But their response to His teaching brought out the truth about their own lives, for what He taught was the truth, and yet they rejected it. Whatever their claims might be, therefore, they were not of God, for any man who studied the teachings of Jesus, and then turned away from them, was demonstrating thereby his own sinfulness. And that was because if his heart had been right he would have had to respond.


Verse 48

‘The Judaisers answered and said to him, “Do we not rightly say that you are a Samaritan and have a devil?” ’

Turning to insults is the refuge of men who have been beaten in arguments, and the Judaisers responded hotly. ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ To call Him a Samaritan was to accuse Him of being heretical. But the term was intended to be even more insulting than that, for they deeply despised the Samaritans. To call him a Samaritan was one of the biggest insults a Jew could direct at another Jew.

Furthermore, the Judaisers considered that to linkthemwith the Devil was a clear sign of demon-possession. (Yet they had previously linked Jesus with the Devil because He cast out demons (Mark 3:22-30). What did that say about them?). The way they linked the Samaritans with the idea of demon-possession also demonstrated their general attitude towards Samaritans. And perhaps they had become aware of what He had done among the Samaritans, and the favour that He had shown towards them.


Verses 48-58

The Challenge Comes To Its Climax By Jesus Revealing That He Is The ‘I Am’ (John 8:48-58).

In this final section Jesus deals with their insults by facing them up with the issues of life and death, and this then leads up to a claim that He is not only pre-existent to Abraham but is also the ‘I AM’, the ever-existing One.


Verse 49-50

‘Jesus answered, ‘I am not demon-possessed, but I honour my Father and you dishonour me. Yet I do not seek my own glory, for there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge’.

Jesus denied their charge. Rather than being demon possessed it was He Who truly honoured the Father. That was patently something that no demon possessed person would do. Furthermore He wanted them to know that He was not fighting for His own honour. There was Another Who would defend His honour. And that One was the Judge of all men. And as such He was seeking to glorify Jesus. By seeking to dishonour Jesus, therefore, the Judaisers were attacking God Himself.


Verse 51

‘In very truth I tell you, if a man keeps my word he will never see death’.

The fact that they should recognise was that His words offered life. Those who fully responded to them would never die. Jesus was of course speaking about eternal death. The way to eternal life, He was telling them, was by studying Jesus’ words, receiving the truth about Him, believing in Him and responding to Him, and then obeying His teaching. The Pharisees taught that eternal life was obtainable by a constant study of the words of Moses, and a determined effort to obey them as they were expounded by the Rabbis, demonstrating their participation in the God’s covenant. Jesus was now replacing Moses and putting Himself in his place.

The Judaisers, probably mainly Pharisees, either could not understand, or probably preferred not to understand. They preferred to take His words literally.


Verse 52-53

‘The Judaisers said to him, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed. Abraham is dead, and so are the prophets. And you say, ‘If a man keep my word he will never taste of death’. Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who are you making yourself out to be?” ’

The Judaisers tried to ridicule His teaching. They must have known what He really meant but they were as aware as He was that others were listening. So they altered ‘see death’ to ‘taste of death’ with the intention of emphasising physical death, as their comments about Abraham and the prophets demonstrated. They were refusing to acknowledge that He was speaking of ‘the second death’, something that they too believed in.

‘Are you greater than our father Abraham?’ In the Greek the question is put in such a way as to assume a negative answer.

‘Who is dead, and the prophets are dead.’ The Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead. Thus on this at least they should have acknowledged what Jesus meant. They too believed that Abraham and the prophets would live again. But caricature is the weapon of deceivers, and that was what they were. So they pretended to believe that He meant physical death. They were playing to the crowds. How could He say that true believers would never taste of death when both Abraham and the prophets were all dead?


Verse 54-55

‘Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known him. But I know him, and if I said that I did not know him I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and keep his word’.

Jesus did not directly answer their jibe. Rather He diffused their argument by disclaiming any desire to glorify Himself. They claimed that His Father was their God. Well, let them consider this. It was the One Whom they claimed as their God Who was the One Who would glorify Jesus, and indeed was already doing so through His wonderful works. Thus by not recognising Him they were proving that they did not actually know the Father. In contrast with them Jesus did know Him and He kept His word faithfully, as their own failure to convict Him of sin earlier established. To suggest any other position would make Him a liar like them. There was obviously now no holding back. Both had made their positions clear.

‘You have not known Him --- but I know Him.’ The first ‘know’ is ginosko, to know by experience, the second is oida, to know by understanding. This may be an intentional contrast, stressing that whilst they had not even truly experienced the Father, Jesus had not only experienced His Father but knew His mind. He knew Him through and through (compare Matthew 11:25-27).

At this point Jesus, in full awareness of what He is doing, now makes His past comments absolutely clear. They had asked Him whether He was greater than Abraham. Well, He would now tell them the truth.


Verse 56

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad’.

Abraham had been told by God that ‘by you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ and that ‘kings would be born of him’ (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:6; compare Genesis 22:18-19), and as he looked forward to kings being born from him he might well have associated the coming time of blessing with the coming of a righteous future king descended from him, one who would rule nations as he ruled his family tribe (compare Genesis 49:10-14). How else could the nations of the world be blessed through him? Abraham thus rejoiced in the great day when God and the world would be at one through his descendants and looked forward to that day of God. This came out especially when at last the chosen son, through whom the promises would begin fulfilment, was born, for laughter was continually associated with that birth, even in the very name Isaac itself (meaning ‘laughter’). Abraham rejoiced at the birth of Isaac for he rejoiced at him as the sign of the fulfilment of the promises in the future.

There was also a Rabbinic tradition that when God made His covenant with Abraham He showed him the day of the Messiah. Genesis Rabbah 44:25ff states that Rabbi Akiba, in a debate with Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, held that Abraham had been shown not this world only but the world to come, which would include the days of the Messiah.

But this statement of Jesus, taken over-literally, produced derision.


Verse 57

The Judaisers therefore said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”.’

Their reply was over literal. They must have known something of what Jesus meant but they were pandering to the crowds. It must be clear that if Abraham had seen Jesus, then Jesus must have seen Abraham. So was this mature, rather than old, man, claiming to have met Abraham? It was ludicrous. And it is true that what they were suggesting to be the truth was indeed ludicrous, but that was not what Jesus had said. It was all part of their deceit. For in their hearts they must have known, had they considered the matter fairly, that Jesus had meant that Abraham looked forward as a prophet.

But now they discover that they finally get what they wanted, for Jesus reply is an unequivocal statement of His divine origin.


Verse 58

‘Jesus said to them, “In very truth I tell you that before Abraham was, I am’.

At this claim they must have been shocked to the core. They had accused Him before on the basis of enigmatic statements, but this final statement could not be misunderstood. Whatever Jesus had meant previously it was now patently clear that He was claiming to have had eternal existence, to have been in continual being long before Abraham. He was indeed saying that He was the ‘I am’, the eternally existing God, the One Who existed even before the world was created (compare John 17:5).

In the Septuagint (LXX - the Greek Old Testament) God claimed in Exodus 3:14 to be the ‘I am’ (ho on -the One Who is) the equivalent of ego eimi (which literally translates the Hebrew ehyeh), the phrase Jesus used here, whilst His Name as YHWH meant ‘the one who is’. Now His claim was unequivocal. He was claiming to have pre-existed Abraham and to have everlasting perpetual existence. He was claiming supreme deity. Thus the chapter ends with His uniquely claiming to be ‘the Son of God’ in the fullest sense of the word.


Verse 59

‘They took up stones therefore to hurl at Him. But Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

Unlike many moderns the Judaisers understood His meaning precisely, and in fury they picked up stones to stone Him, willing to risk the wrath of the Romans, although in fact they did have certain rights to inflict the death penalty in cases of open blasphemy. By this they openly demonstrated their desire for His death. But Jesus was able to slip away and hide, we are not told how. No doubt He was assisted by His willing supporters as His enemies went to find their stones. And after this He left the Temple. (‘Going though the midst of them and so passed by’ is certainly a later interpolation, although it has fair manuscript support and must have been introduced fairly early in the areas where it was introduced). His end was not to occur yet.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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