Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery, saying to her accusers: Let the one without sin be the first to throw the stone at her. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Knowing the truth will set you free. The Jerusalem establishment’s father is actually the devil. Jesus makes this startling pronouncement: “Before Abraham was, I am.”
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
A Woman Is Caught Committing Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)
7:53 Then they went home, each one.
8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 But at dawn he went back to the temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the teachers of the law and the Pharisees led a woman, seized while committing adultery, and after they stood her in the middle, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was seized in the very act of committing adultery. 5 And Moses commands us in his law that such women must be stoned. So what do you say?” 6 (They were saying this to test him, so that they could to accuse him.) But Jesus bent down and with his finger began to write in the ground. 7 As they were persisting in asking him, he got up and said to them, “Let the one without sin among you be the first to throw the stone at her.” 8 And he bent back down and wrote in the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left, each one, beginning with the older ones. He was left, alone, the woman being in the middle. 10 Jesus got back up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from here on, sin no more.”
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. I keep reposting this word study at the beginning because this is cyber-space and we don’t need to worry about costs per page.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender totally to the Lordship of Jesus. The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
Let’s take this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section as one unity, instead of verse by verse. It is worth noting that Bruce believes this beloved pericope is original to the Gospels, but he does not know where it should be placed (p. 413).
This section, so cherished by so many people, and with good reason, is not found in diverse and numerous important manuscripts. So modern translations place it italics font and brackets. In my always-learning opinion, John 8:1-11 contains some early sayings of Jesus (i.e. “Let the one without sin be the first … ” and “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from here on, sin no more”), though some of the sayings were not recorded, except here. Consider a parallel example: “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35); it is recorded only in Acts, though Jesus is the one who said it. Next, Jesus stooping or bending down and keeping silent before he made his main point may also be a recollection in the early church. It certainly is a masterclass on rhetorical skill.
Here is a passage in Luke 7:36-50 about a “sinful woman” who barged into Simon the Pharisee’s house during a dinner, where she was uninvited and did not belong. Note the similar statements by Jesus at the end:
44 When he turned to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she moistened my feet with tears and dried them with her hair! 45 You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the moment I came in she has not ceased kissing my feet! 46 You did not anoint my head with olive oil, but she anointed my feet with aromatic ointment! 47 Thanks to this, I say to you, ‘her sins which are numerous are forgiven, because she loved much. The one forgiven little loves little.’”
48 He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The ones reclining (at table) began to say among themselves, “Who is this one who forgives sin?” 50 But he said to the woman. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)
No, this pericope about the woman caught in adultery was not “stolen” from Luke 7:36-50, though some scholars place John’s pericope in Luke’s Gospel. Simon the Pharisee lived up in Galilee where the story took place. This scene in John 8:1-11 happened in Jerusalem, in the temple precinct. Rather, people sin in similar ways, no matter where they are. Jesus expressed forgiveness in both cases for the same or similar sexual sins. Whether part of the Gospel or not, there is a universal quality to this story. It boils down to this:
Law or Mercy?
The Law of Moses or the Mercy of Jesus?
Bottom line: based on Luke 7:36-50, this story about the adulterous woman has the ring of authenticity about it, though we can never prove it by the weight of the manuscripts.
Now let’s look into the story itself, as a whole, not verse by verse.
The environment is the temple, the holy place. The accusers, teachers of the law (also called scribes in some translations) and Pharisees, must have felt an extra-sacred duty to seize her and bring her before the teacher. They also reference the law of Moses, which commands them to stone the adulterer to death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24). Lev. 20:10 says to stone both of them.
See my commentary on Lev. 20:
See this link for a short write-up about the teachers of the law (also called scribes) and the Pharisees:
They treated her roughly, by bringing her in the middle of the people who were listening to his teaching. They made her stand in the middle of all of them. Yet, where is the man? It takes two to commit adultery. So these accusers, young and older, may be protecting someone they may have known. Was it a son or nephew of one of the teachers of the law or Pharisees? We will never know. Whatever the case, they have prejudice against womankind. They probably held stones in their hands, ready to throw them at her. He did not say that they should look for stones and then be the first to throw them. He said the sinless one can be the first throw his, as if they all had rocks in their hand.
Jesus’s response was a masterpiece of rhetoric and gesture. He kept silent for a while, but why? Could it be that he was collecting his thoughts, hearing from his Father? Was he waiting for the accusers to wake up and see their own human frailty and sinfulness and hypocrisy? And what was he writing in the ground or dirt (not on a stone)? Was it “hypocrites”? Was he writing out a list of sins which plagues all of humanity? “I desire mercy” (referring to Hos. 6:6)? Once again, we will never know for sure, but Hos. 6:6, which he quotes twice times in his ministry (Matt. 9:13; 12:7), is the strongest possibility. It fits the ending of the story as well.
They did not like his silence, so they persisted or continued with questioning him. It is easy to imagine them gesticulating wildly and even shouting. “Come on! How hard could it be to answer a simple legal question! Stop dawdling!” He straightened up and spoke the famous words of wisdom.
In Greek it literally reads, “the sinless one.” If you are sinless, then be the first to throw the stone at her. This word of wisdom stopped their shouting and insistence. The older ones reflected on their own lives. Then one by one, they slinked away, humbled.
A teacher or lawyer in the law could have replied that the law must have its effect, even though the ones who carry out the law are not sinless. If that were the case, no one breaking the law would be punished. But this clunky interpretation misses the atmosphere of the scene and Jesus’s anointing and rhetorical force. Jewish law said that an adulterer could not execute an adulterer. So does this mean that everyone who left one by one had committed adultery? Probably some did, but not everyone. He could see this was a mob of religious hypocrites who were about to carry out mob justice or rough justice. The penalty was going to be irreversible—death. They could have caught her, shown her mercy, released her, and told her to sin no more, which is what Jesus did. Instead, they used her as an instrument to get at Jesus, so they could bring a charge or accusation against him. “He defied the righteous and holy law of Moses in a clear case! He set himself above it and broke it!” And if he had said to execute her, the Roman authorities could have accused him of breaking their law, which prohibited Jews from executing criminals without the authorities’ permission. Or they could accuse him of hypocrisy. “He says he’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners, but here he is condemning a sinner to death!”
Jesus’s reply walked the line between upholding the literal reading of the law of Moses and the many passages in Scripture that talk about mercy. The old Sinai covenant was going to be made obsolete with the New Covenant, ratified by his death on the cross, but this scene with the accused woman standing there was not the time to dispense with the law—not yet.
However, some see a connection between his writing in the dirt and Exod. 31:18:
18 When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. (Exod. 31:18, NIV)
And then Exod. 32:15 is also relevant. Moses inscribed or wrote the law on stone tablets.
In effect, Jesus was superseding the old law. He went for the heart. Normally, the teachers of the law and Pharisees would not have backed down, but something about Jesus—we now know it was the Spirit’s anointing—and what he wrote in the dirt must have given them reason to pause.
Finally, Jesus straightened back up again and asked her where her accusers went. He was alone. This emphasizes the fact that “only he met his own qualification; only he ‘was the one without sin’ (v. 7)” (Klink, comment on v. 9). Has no one condemned her? In other words, has no one thrown the first stone? She stood in the midst in v. 9 means that more people were there besides the accusers. Jesus looked at her. He addressed her as “woman.” He was not harsh to her any more than he was harsh with his mother (John 2:4 and 19:26). He was not harsh to the Samaritan woman, either, when he called her “woman.” You can see my comments in those two chapters:
He was not harsh to any of the three, but the word does keep a distance from this woman and his mother. Jesus, the sinless one, was not going to throw a stone at her, either. Instead he told her to go, and from now on, to sin no more. No, this was not a command to achieve moral, sinless perfection right then, but it was a command not to commit the specific sin of adultery ever again. After a scare like the one she just experienced, let’s hope she followed his command. He did not excuse the sin, but he did not allow her to die because of it. The New Covenant was on its way, with this act of forgiveness, but as noted, he still had to complete his mission to his fellow Jews under the soon-to-be obsolete Sinai covenant.
Recall that Jesus claimed authority to forgive sins in the Synoptics:
19 When they did not find a way to carry him in, because of the crowd, they went up to the roof and lowered him down through the tiles with the stretcher in the middle of them, in front of Jesus. 20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven for you.” 21 And the teachers of the law and Pharisees were reasoning, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins except God alone?” 22 Jesus knew their reasoning and in reply said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 Which is easier to say? ‘Your sins are forgiven for you’? Or to say, ‘get up and walk’? 24 So that you know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, ‘Get up and pick up your bedding and go to your home. 25 And instantly he arose in front of them and picked up what he was lying on, and left for his home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement grabbed hold of everyone, and they began glorifying God, and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today!” (Luke 5:19-26 // Matt. 9:1-8 // Mark 2:1-12)
This may be one more tiny piece of evidence that this story in John 8:1-11 belongs in the Gospels.
Please read these verses for how forgiving God is:
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-12, NIV)
And these great verses are from Micah:
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Mic. 7:18-19, ESV)
GrowApp for John 7:53-8:11
A.. Have you ever messed up—sinned—really badly? Did you get caught at it? Has God forgiven you on your repentance? Or do you still doubt his forgiveness?
B.. How does it feel to have your sins completely forgiven?
Jesus Is the Light of the World (John 8:12-20)
12 So then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. The one following me in no way walks in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 In reply, Jesus said to them, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is true because I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I have come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I do not judge anyone. 16 But even if I do judge, my judgment is true because I am not alone but I and the Father who sent me. 17 Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am the one testifying about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me. 19 So they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus replied, “You have not known either me or my Father. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” 20 He spoke these things in the treasury, as he was teaching in the temple. And no one seized him because his hour had not yet come.
It may be that the Feast of Tabernacles was over and the crowds returned to their homes, because 7:37 says that he cried out about the Spirit, on the last great day of the feast. But surely the festival of lights burned in their memories just the day before, when Jesus said he was the light of the world. Carson describes the celebration: They lit four huge lamps in the temple court of women. Exuberant celebration took place under the lights. Men of piety and good works danced through the night, holding burning torches and singing praises. The Levitical orchestras played. These celebrations went on every night during the Feast of Tabernacles. The light from the temple shone its light on Jerusalem. In this contest Jesus proclaimed that he was the light of the world (comment on v. 12).
Klink (comment on v. 12), however, says that since the festival had ended, Jesus could not be referring to the lights. I agree with Carson; Jesus’s statement (“I am the light of the world”) does have the background of the lights.
I am reminded of Simeon, the old man, who took baby Jesus in his arms and said:
He received him into his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Now you may release your servant in peace, Master, according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 which you have prepared front and center before all the people,
32 a light of revelation for the Gentiles,
And the glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:28-32)
Jesus is the light for Gentiles or nations, and he is the glory of God, for light and glory are related.
This is the second of seven “I am” statements: I am the light. In Exod. 3:14, in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent, a third to second century BC translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek), the Greek reads: “the LORD says, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’” (egō eimi, pronounced eh-goh-ay-mee) is used in the phrasing (along with ho ōn). This is high Christology.
JESUS’ SEVEN “I AM” SAYINGS IN JOHN
|1||I Am the Bread of Life (6:35, 48) and Living Bread (6:51)|
|2||I Am the Light of the World (8:12; 9:5)|
|3||I Am the Gate (10:7, 9)|
|4||I Am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14)|
|5||I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)|
|6||I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)|
|7||I am the True Vine (15:1, 5)|
|BTSB, p. 2163, slightly edited|
See v. 24 for many verses from Isaiah that say “I am he.” Jesus may be indirectly alluding to them.
Now let’s set up our two-level diagram, read from the bottom up.
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Now let’s fill it in:
2.. Jesus’s divine nature and truth
Now what is light, and how does Jesus signify it? First, God is light (1 John 1:5). It reflects his divine nature, and it speaks of truth. It illuminates the soul and spirit of humanity, after they repent and surrender to Jesus. Yet, light can shine on the path that leads to their repentance and surrender (BDAG). Light speaks of truth over error; knowledge over ignorance; wisdom over foolishness.
Jesus is the light coming into the world, and darkness does not extinguish it:
4 In him was life, and this life was the light of people. 5 And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not put it out. … 9 The true light, which shines on every person, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world through him was made and the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who received him, to the ones who believe in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God … (John 1:4-5, 9-12).
People who are perceptive enough to see the light can become children of God. But generally speaking his own people did not receive him.
Jesus said in 9:4-5:
4 We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; the night comes when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)
He also said in 11:9-10:
9 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If someone walks around in the daytime, he does not trip because he sees the light to this world. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he trips because the light is not in him.”
35 So Jesus told them, “For still a brief time the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. And the one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” (John 12:35-36)
The light-darkness metaphor is found elsewhere in the NT. The one following Jesus will be a bright light and experience the life which he shines on them. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
14 You are the light of the world the light of the world. A town sitting above on a mountain cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do they light a lamp and place it under a container, but on a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. 16 In this way, let your light shine before people, so that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Jesus is the source of our light, after we enter the kingdom. Then our (his) light shines in our good works.
12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:12, NIV)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:8-14, NIV)
… and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14, NIV)
In the Thessalonian correspondence:
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thess. 5:4-8, NIV)
Old Testament background (NIV):
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light. (Ps. 36:8-9)
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. (Ps. 119:105)
19 The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. (Is. 60:19)
Just go to biblegateway.com and search for light. Amazing hits.
The Essenes, living in Qumran, saw a conflict between light and darkness (Mounce, referencing 1 QS 3:20-21).
Throughout the Mediterranean world the word light meant “truth” and “the right way,” “ethical living.” Bruce reminds us that the expression “sons of light” means the “ethical qualities of the person or persons thus described” (comment on 12:35-36a).
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
“world”: The Greek noun is kosmos (pronounced coss-moss). It could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).
Jesus enables his disciples to walk or live in the light, even in a dark world. As we just read, we are supposed to be lights in this dark world. But will they listen? Many will not.
19 This is the judgment: light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light, for their works are evil. 20 Every person practicing bad things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be exposed. 21 The one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be manifest, namely, that they are done in God. (John 3:19-21)
“testify … testimony”: “The theme of witness … pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position” (Klink, comment on 1:7).
The Pharisees tell Jesus that he testifies alone about himself, so his testimony is not valid nor can be accepted in court. However, he is about to reply that his Father—the one who sent him—testifies about him, so he has two witnesses, and the second witness created justice for the entire moral universe!
Now Jesus is deliberately enigmatic, which he loved to do. He knows where he came from (heaven) and where he is going (back to heaven). Of course his dialog partners, the Pharisees, think in terms of earth. Thus in John 7:35-36 we read:
35 So the Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? He does not intend to go to the dispersed Greeks and teach the Greeks, does he? 36 What is this statement which he said, ‘You will look for me and you will not find me, and where I am, you cannot come’?” (John 7:35-26)
It is probable that these Pharisees here thought the same as the Jews, the religious establishment in Jerusalem.
So the whole point of v. 14 is to build up to his origins, which is heavenly, and his source, who is the Father. Jesus knew his origins and his destiny. If your origins are not the highest quality, leave your past behind and look toward your ultimate destiny.
Does this verse contradict 5:31, which says if Jesus were his own self-witness then his testimony is insufficient and invald? In 5:31 Jesus was talking about his testimony or witness apart from his Father, so it would have been invalid and insufficient. However, here in 8:14, he is describing his interdependence with his Father in a close and intimate relationship with him. Commentator Klink explains further:
The Son is so dependent on the Father that he is unable to provide a witness for himself; his witness of Jesus must be rooted in the Father (and empowered by the Spirit). But that does not mean that Jesus’s self-witness, when rooted in the Trinitarian identity of God, is not therefore “valid” and “true.” Thus, at one and the same time, Jesus’s self-witness is valid in its Trinitarian identity and insufficient alone. Said another way, it is the interdependence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that qualifies Jesus to have an independent ground for truth. (comment on v. 14)
So Jesus is not saying that he never judges anyone, since he said to the religious establishment that they should judge by a righteous standard (John 7:24). Literally the Greek says “by the flesh.” It is to be contrasted with ‘from above’ in John 3:13 (Klink, comment on v. 15).
Jesus also said:
17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn it, but that the world may be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned; but the one who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the unique Son of God. (John 3:17-18)
The point is that he does not have to “judge,” which can also translate the Greek verb krinō (pronounced kree-noh), both in 3:17-18 and here in vv. 15-16. It’s the same verb. To judge by “human standards” in Greek is “according to the flesh” or one’s own mental abilities or the outward appearance.
These verses appear in the context of final judgment:
26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to pass judgment because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:26-27)
So the Son’s active judgment will happen at the end of time; for right now, however, people judge themselves by either walking (living) in the light or walking (living) in darkness.
In any case, the Son and the Father—the One who sent the Son—stand together, and the Father supplies the second witness in the Son’s defense and shores up his Son’s ministry and truth claims, his proclamation of truth.
What is the point of this discourse on judgment? Perhaps the answer lies in the Greek word krinein itself, which can mean both “judge” and “condemn.” The purpose of the coming of Jesus was not to condemn but to save (3:17; cf. 8:15). Yet the very coming of Jesus set persons into decisive categories based on their acceptance or rejection of him. Accordingly, by his coming, the Father who sent him placed Jesus in the position of evaluation (5:22–24; 9:39) so that Jesus’ role actually was and is part of the Father’s judgment or evaluation (8:16). The purpose in the coming of Jesus had thus not changed. He came to be the Savior of the world (4:42), but human decision did mean that Jesus evaluated people (cf. 8:44; 9:39–41). (comment on vv. 13-16)
In saying, “I am not alone,” Jesus is declaring in this one statement his entire ministry. It is defined by relation to his Father. “It is out of this mysterious and glorious relation that the love of God is bestowed upon the world (3:16)” (Klink, comment on v. 16).
In v. 16, Jesus says “your law,” thus distancing himself from the old law of Moses, as he moves towards the cross, where he will ratify the New Covenant, which he began with the Last Supper.
At first, Jesus seems to contradict what he said in 5:31, in which he said that if he testifies about himself, his testimony is invalid. However, the two different contexts must be considered. Deut. 19:15 says that an accusation must be established by two or three witnesses, so in the eyes of Jesus’s accusers his self-testimony would not stand, so Jesus appeals to his Father and the works he does (Mounce’s comment on 5:31). Here vv. 17-18, in contrast, Jesus declares that his self-testimony is valid. However, the two settings are different. And in 8:16, his other witness is the Father, and that is good enough for the context there, because the Father makes up the second witness.
People have to dig for spiritual truths. Jesus’s goal was to draw out of them hunger and desperation, for them to push through the dull mental barriers.
The Pharisees do not know what they are talking about because they do not know Jesus fully, that is, his heavenly origins and the One who sent him. And they do not know his Father. If they knew him, they would know the Father. But they do know the Father; therefore, they do not the Son. So Jesus has them trapped both ways. They know neither the Son, so they do not know the Father, and nor do they know the Father; therefore they do not know him. To know the Son is to know the Father, and to know the Father is to know the Son. That’s how united they are.
No one has ever seen God; the only and unique God, who is in the bosom of the Father—that one has made him known. (John 1:18)
John (the narrator) repeats what he had written here: “So they were seeking to seize him, yet no one put their hands on them because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30; see also 2:4; 7:6, 8; 13:1; 17:1). As I noted under 7:30, it was not the right time for him to be arrested or put their hands on him and then to crucify him. It was more than just his trial and crucifixion, but also his departure from the world and return to the Father (John 13:1). God will not allow people to take you down too soon. Jesus was following the Father perfectly. The timing belongs to God. This timing also shows the authority of Jesus (Klink, comment on v. 20)..
Bruce writes of the temple treasury: “The ‘treasury’ was that part of the Court of Women where thirteen-trumpet shaped containers were placed for the reception of various dues, six of them being for voluntary offerings” (comment on v. 20). Jesus sat here during Passion Week and observed a widow tossing in two copper pennies (Mark 12:41-44).
GrowApp for John 8:12-20
A.. Jesus is the light of the world. When did he light up your own soul and save you?
B.. To walk in the light is to walk in the truth. What is the best source of truth? How do you walk in it?
Who Is Jesus? (John 8:21-30)
21 So then he again said to them, “I go and you will look for me, yet you will die in your sins. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “He will not kill himself, will he? Because he said ‘Where I go you cannot come.’” 23 Then he said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are from this world; I am not from this world. 24 Therefore, I said to you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I have been telling you at the beginning. 26 I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but the one who sent me is true, and I speak to the world what I hear from him.” 27 (They did not understand that he was telling them about the Father.) 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own, but just as the Father has been teaching me, I say those things. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone because I always do the things which please him.” 30 While he was saying these things, many believed in him.
In this passage, Jesus will expand on the themes laid out in vv. 12-20.
Where Jesus comes from (vv. 23, 26, 29)
Where he is going (vv. 21-22, 28)
Who the Father is (vv. 26-27, 38, 54-55)
Who Jesus is (vv. 23-26, 38, 54-55)
The opposite of each of these truths applies to the Jews. (Carson)
Once again, Jesus repeats what he had said in v. 14. He is going away by his death, and they cannot come where he is going (heaven) because they will die in their sins. They will look for him—that is, the Messiah, but they will not find him, because they missed their true Messiah, Jesus. They are pursuing a wish and a dream. They will not find him because they will have rejected their true Messiah and so die in their sins (Carson, comment on v. 21).
Why will they die in their sins? Because they do not believe he is the One (the Messiah), in v. 24. It is faith in Jesus the Messiah that brings eternal life.
“sins”: it comes from the noun hamartia (pronounced hah-mar-tee-ah). A deep study reveals that it means a “departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” (BDAG, p. 50). It can also mean a “destructive evil power” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, sin has a life of its own. Be careful! In the older Greek of the classical world, it originally meant to “miss the mark” or target. Sin destroys, and that’s why God hates it, and so should we. The good news: God promises us forgiveness when we repent.
Ezek. 3:16-21 speaks of God giving authority to his agent for the judgment of his people in Ezek. 3:16-21. Jesus is now God’s lawful agent to carry out judgment. (HT: Klink, comment on v. 21)
Once again, the Jews—the religious establishment, probably overseeing the temple, unless they are the same Pharisees in the previous pericope—fail to understand. Jewish law forbad suicide, so they are really off target, but they speculated about this because some Jewish thinkers said the one who committed suicide went to the deepest place in Hades, where the religious establishment would not go! They are obtuse about truly spiritual matters.
And as I noted in v. 19, Jesus likes to challenge their spiritual acuity; he found out they had none. Irony means that you think you know things, but in reality you do not. Job and his friends gave long speeches—very beautiful poetry—all about God and suffering and life. They did know a few things, the basics, but God showed up and informed them in a long and beautiful speech that they did not know as much as they thought. That’s irony. Jews ironically believe that he may commit suicide, but they are the ones who are about to kill him, but after he voluntarily lays down his life in obedience to the Father. This is not suicide, but obedience to the Father (Carson, comment on v. 22).
These Jews may have understood their interpretation of the law well enough, but not the things that matter: Jesus himself and his relationship with his Father, his support system.
Wow. Jesus cannot speak more clearly in this verse. He explains one more reason why they will die in their sins. They are from below and from the world. Recall that in v. 12 the world is a dark place which God has to invade through his Son, who is the light of the world (v. 11). Will these obtuse Jewish leaders receive the light he offers, so that they will no longer walk in darkness? It does not look like it, though many who were listening in did believe in him (v. 30).
Now Jesus is perfectly clear. They must believe that “I am.” That is what the Greek literally says. I could add the pronoun “he,” which, taken together, reads: “I am he,” that is, the Messiah, the sent one. However, he may be playing off Exod. 3:14: which in Greek reads: “the LORD says, ‘I AM THE BEING ONE.’ Or “I AM WHO EXISTS.” Or he may be referring to the verses in Is. 40-55 where God says, “I am he!” All translations are from the NIV, and emphasis added.
Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord—with the first of them
and with the last—I am he.” (Is. 41:4)
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?” (Is. 43:10-13; see v. 25)
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Is. 46:4)
“Listen to me, Jacob,
Israel, whom I have called:
I am he;
I am the first and I am the last.
13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
they all stand up together. (Is. 48:12-13)
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction? (Is. 51:12-13)
This is high Christology.
Remember, faith or believing is more than just intellectual assent. It has to be directed towards someone, in this case, Jesus.
If they do not have this deep level of faith, Jesus promises them, once again, they will die in their sins. (For a quick word study on the noun “sins,” see v. 21.)
There is some dispute about a Greek word, but it need not concern us. One could also translate it as a question: “What have I been telling you at the beginning?” Or “What have I been telling you from the beginning?” Bruce and Novakovic both say the church fathers, whose native language was Greek, interprets the clause as “Why should I speak to you at all?” (comments on v. 25). However, he will keep telling them who he is, so the phrasing does not fit the context.
In short, he has been telling them who he is (the one sent by the Father), but he has done so indirectly, until the previous verse. They must believe that “I am (he).”
The most important question in the whole Gospel is posed right here. “Who are you?” It is what he said at the beginning. John’s readers remember the statement about God and the beginning, when the Word was with God (John 1:1-3).
Also recall the debate in John 7:40-44:
40 Then some of the crowd, when they heard these words, were saying, “This man is truly the prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This man is the Christ.” But others were saying, “No. Does the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Doesn’t the Scripture say that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So then there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44 Still some of them wanted to seize him, but no one laid hands on him. (John 7:40-44)
People of the world today ask this question. Is he just a moral teacher? A good man? A Jewish carpenter? A prophet? Some sort of Messiah (whatever that is to modern ears)? Jesus is telling them—and the entirety of John’s Gospel confirms—that he is the “I am,” the Logos come in the flesh.
Please see these posts for a systematic theological overview of Jesus’s life before, during, and after the incarnation.
There are many more parts in that series. Part 7 is an easy-to-read summary.
So Jesus has many things to speak to the Jewish establishment, but he must obey his Father, and he must speak to the world. Apparently he means people beyond the establishment, to the whole world. Yes, the establishment is from the world, but they are a small subset of the world.
I love this verse in Greek, for it literally reads: “he was speaking the Father to them.” But they did not understand. He already told them who he was who sent him (5:16-30), but they did not catch on. Please review the idea of irony in v. 22.
When they lift up the Son of Man on the cross, then they will know that “I am (he).” The Greek literally reads, “I am.” So we have a reference to Exod. 3:14 or to the verses in Isaiah, quoted under v. 24, above. Either way, this is high Christology.
This idea reminds me of the words of Jesus to Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the highest court and council in Judaism in Mark 15:62-64, when Jesus also said “I am” (egō eimi, pronounced eh-goh ai-mee). Incidentally, this exact wording is found in Exod. 3:14: “I am,” speaking of the LORD. But in Mark 15:62, Jesus is emphasizing his Messiahship and his coming to God to be seated at his right hand, vindicated and victorious over the Jerusalem and temple establishment, according to Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13.
Jesus proclaims before Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin that from now on they will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. The first half of the confession refers to the Messiah being glorified:
The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Ps. 110:1, ESV, emphasis added).
The Jewish establishment here in John 8:28 will be the very ones who will put him on trial. But it is also bigger than that. The Son of Man here in v. 28 probably refers to the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13-14, when he comes in the clouds of heaven:
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV, emphasis added)
The Ancient of Days is God. Jesus was about to ascend and be enthroned on high, sitting next to God. So his coming here in v. 23 refers to his ascension and enthronement. Jesus was granted authority over heaven and earth (16:19), and the fact that the gospel was spreading all over their known world indicates that the ascended Jesus has authority and dominion over Caiaphas and the council. This makes the most sense of v. 64, in light of Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13-14.
Bottom line: Jesus will rise in authority in three short days, and the high priest and Sanhedrin will feel its effects by the power of the church in Acts. Peter stood before them, preaching powerfully. Here is just one sample in Acts 5:17-32:
17 At this time, the chief priests and those with him, who were of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with envy 18 and nabbed the apostles and put them in public prison. 19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and led them out and said, 20 “Go and steadfastly speak to the people in the temple all the words of this salvation and life!” 21 They obeyed and went to the temple at daybreak. The high priest and those with him arrived and summoned the Council [Sanhedrin] and all elders of the descendants of Israel and sent to the prison to escort them out. 22 But the assistants did not find them in the prison, so they turned back and announced, 23 “We found the jail locked up very securely and the guards standing at the doors, but, opening them, we found no one inside.” 24 As the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard this account, they were perplexed about all of this—what might happen.
25 Someone came in and announced to them, “Amazing! The men whom you put in prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain left with the assistants and led them away without violence, for they feared the people stoning them. 27 Leading them onwards, they stood them right in front of the Council [Sanhedrin]. The high priest examined them, 28 “We ordered you strictly not to teach in this name! And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter answered and the apostles replied, “We have to obey God rather than man! 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had done away with by hanging him on wood. 31 It is this man whom God exalted the Overall Ruler and Savior at his right hand, to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of this storyline and of the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to all who obey him!” (Acts 5:17-32, my tentative translation)
Now Jesus is the one with authority from on high, and then his church was gradually overtaking the nation of Israel and going way beyond that tiny nation.
After Stephen said the temple is of no real importance because God does not live in an object made with hands (Acts 7:44-50), much like Jesus’s false accusers emphasized the temple made with hands, Stephen says he saw the exalted son of Man:
Being full of the Holy Spirit and fixing his gaze on heaven, he [Stephen] saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opening wide and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
Then these Jewish leaders will find out that Jesus is the “I am.”
It is so interesting that Jesus said the Father has been teaching him. This shows, once again, that that the lines of communication were clear between the Father and his Son. Wonderful.
Jesus had complete confidence in the one who sent him, his Father. His Father is with him and has not left him alone. Why not? Because he does what is pleasing to the Father. That is, he does not disobey his Father by going off on his own and doing his own thing. So there is a great lesson for discipleship here. Do we go off on our own, ahead of the Father, and do our own thing? I have observed that many church leaders do not pray enough, but they surely love to use their own heads to lead his Son’s church—not their church, by the way. “Good ideas” are not always “God ideas.” All of us must increase our prayer life so we can maintain open lines of communication and follow the Father’s lead.
It seems that the ordinary people believed in him, though it is not clear that some in the Jerusalem establishment did. Maybe.
Recall the true acronym in v. 24.
John may be splitting the believers into two groups. The average Jerusalemites and the “Jews” (v. 31). The latter group is probably the religious establishment. Recall that in Acts, after Pentecost, thousands of Jerusalemites converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7 [large number of priests]; 21:20). The average believer here may have held on to their faith after Pentecost when they heard Peter bring more clarity on what it meant to follow Jesus, in his sermon / speeches in Acts 2-5.
In any case, we are about to find out how shallow their belief was. It is a theme in John’s Gospel that the numerous disciples who believe at first do not last. These disciples are about to quarrel with him. Pity.
GrowApp for John 8:21-30
A.. How do you avoid dying in your sins?
B.. The establishment Jews ask Jesus, “Who are you?” How would you answer that question about him? Who is he?
C.. Jesus proclaimed the hard truth that the establishment were from below. Read Eph. 2:5-6. In contrast, where are you seated right now, in Christ?
D.. Do you do things that please the Father? How? If not, how do you get back on track?
Knowing the Truth Will Free You (John 8:31-36)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will free you.” 33 They answered him: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say that ‘we will become free’?” 34 Jesus replied to them, “I tell you the firm truth: everyone committing sin is a slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the household forever; the Son remains in the household forever. 36 If therefore the Son frees you, you will be really free.
“The Jews” who believed in him are probably the religious establishment of Jerusalem, distinct from other ordinary Jerusalemites who believed in him. We are about to find out that the establishment soon fell away and quarreled with him.
So discipleship is conditional. The disciple has to remain in his word. It is the Greek noun logos (pronounced log-oss), and it has a variety of meanings. I usually go for “message” in a context like this.
As I do in this entire commentary series, let’s explore this noun more deeply. It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. It is very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
It should be pointed out that Jesus often uses another noun for word: rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah). In John’s Gospel, synonyms are used often, so let’s not make a big thing of the nuanced differences. In any case, I wanted to point out for today’s Bible teacher in my corner of the church world that we must have better teaching or doctrine whether it is the logos or the rhēma.
We must allow his message or logos to penetrate our souls so we can be built up and remain in him. If we don’t we may fall away.
But I like what Klink and Mounce say here. “Remain” is used forty times in the Gospel of John, and it speaks of existence in the Son. Klink: “The term communicates the sense of ‘presence,’ a permanent residing in a specific location. Just as the Father ‘remains’ in the Son (14:10), so also the Spirit ‘remains’ upon Jesus (1:32-33), so also must believers ‘remain’ in the Son and he in them (6:56; 15:4). The term is depicting a coparticipatory existence, where the ‘being’ of the believer is determined or regulated by Jesus. It is the depiction of an intimate relationship … To ‘remain’ in ‘my word’ is ultimately to remain in ‘the Word’ (comment on v. 31).
The theology of remaining will become more pronounced in John 15.
Biblical truth is not only an abstract truth floating out there but makes no impact on us. Instead, it is the truth that we know. We can know this proposition theoretically: “God exists.” (Or, better, we can believe it.) But in Christ, we can know God personally. “I know God.” So knowledge of God, the highest and greatest being in the universe, is personal, according to the Bible.
“truth”: Let’s focus on the Greek noun. It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine (John’s) literature: 45 times.
BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the lexicon defines the noun in these ways:
(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”
(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”
(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”
So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable or upright. Everything else flows from him.
For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger Greek world. The noun alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.
“It would be beside the point, then, for Jesus, who is truth, to provide a secondary witness in support of his claim to be who he says he is. Truth stands alone. Those who have by faith established a personal relationship with Jesus are not at all in the dark as to who he is—the recognize him as the truth, and this revelatory experience sets them free from the bondage of sin” (Mounce, comment on v. 32).
“know”: The verb for “know” is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). It is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. BDAG has numerous definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or something, know, know about, make acquaintance of”; (2) “to acquire information through some means, learn (of), ascertain, find out”; (3) “grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend”; (4) “to be aware of something, perceive, notice, realize”; (5) to have sexual intercourse with, sex / marital relations with”; (6) “to have come to the knowledge of, have come to know, know.” (7) “to indicate that one does know, acknowledge, recognize.” So we can know a person, a thing, a fact, an abstract thing like math. We can even know God personally or know about him from a distance, like a theological truth. It is best to know him personally. We can know all these things deeply or shallowly.
In this context, it seems the third or sixth definition works best.
Judaism taught that study of the law makes a man free (e.g. Pirke Aboth 3:5); the Fourth Gospel insists that the law points to Jesus (5:39, 46), himself the truth (14:6) and the one who is full of grace and truth (1:14), if true freedom is to be enjoyed. (Carson, comment on v. 32)
The Jews in this passage have set their confidence in the ethnic heritage. They have an illustrious ancestor: Abraham. They are his descendants, so they have not been enslaved to anyone—never mind that they were slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. God liberated them. And never mind that the Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, Syria conquered them. Most of all, never mind that the Romans ruled over Israel and Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. However, their point is that they were not enslaved in the same sense that the pagan world, the Gentiles, were enslaved, without a holy law to keep them in check, behaviorally and outwardly. Nor is their point historical or political. They were instead slaves to monotheism, never inwardly bowing to oppression. They were free sons and daughters of Abraham. They also had the most illustrious beginning from God himself as revealed in their Torah! How can Jesus say that they would become free when they had never been enslaved in the first place, in this ethnic and moral and spiritual sense?
All of this is parallel to the religious leaders who thought they did not need a physician: “Then Jesus, hearing this, said to them, “The healthy have no need of healing, but those having sickness do. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Jesus is using irony here, as well. The ones who were the sickest—the leaders—were most in need of a doctor, but they could not see it.
“I tell you the firm truth”: it literally read, “amen, amen, I tell you.” Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus says amen only once (“amen, I tell you”), but in John he very often says the word twice, so I translate the double word as “firm truth.” It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “Truly, truly I tell you” or “I tell you with utmost certainty.” (Bruce has “indeed and truly I tell you”). Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus in the NT.
So now here is Jesus’s solemn pronouncement. They may be descendants of Abraham, but they are slaves because they commit sin. They commit sin continually (the verb is in the present participle).
This reminds me of 1 John 3:4-10:
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:4-10, NIV)
Paul also agrees with this practical theology about behavior and enslavement to sin:
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:15-23, NIV)
Whose slave are you? A slave of God and righteousness or a slave of sin?
So a slave does not live in the household forever, but the Son does. He is talking about himself, but can we expand it to include his listeners? A slave does not inherit, but the Son is the true heir. He is the legacy. He is talking about himself, but can we expand it to include his listeners? Do these Jews want to become children of God? If so, then the next verse is relevant.
So if the Son frees them, then they are really free because he has the power to free them from their bondage or enslavement to sin. If they do not remain in him and his word or message, then they will not be free from their sins. “True freedom is not the option of doing whatever you might want to do, but the privilege of opting to do what is right. Jesus is the Son of God who opens the door to real freedom … Note that in v. 32 it was the ‘truth’ that sets a person free; here it is the Son. The Son is that truth which releases the sinner from the bondage of sin. He not only speaks the truth; he is the truth” (Mounce, comment on v. 36).
Klink: “By this statement, Jesus declares to his opponents that there is freedom that does not yet belong to them. It is a freedom that belongs to the Son and that only he can give. It is a freedom that is unknown not only to the world but even to the descendants of Abraham—a freedom from the tyranny of sin. The freedom that Jesus offers is liberation from enslavement to self-interest and the devil; it is a freedom that turns slaves into sons and those of the household of the devil into eternal members of the household of the Father” (comment on v. 36).
“Son of God”: Let’s look into some more systematic theology (as I do throughout this commentary). Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters, though, surprisingly, in John’s Gospel we are not called “sons,” but “children.” Only Jesus is the Son. In any case, on our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Now that we have opened up some systematic theology about the Son in relation to Father God, let’s discuss even a little more systematic theology: The Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
I exegete Phil. 2:6-8 at that link.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son during the incarnation and carrying out the plan of redemption
In their essence or essential natures: Father and Son are equal.
GrowApp for John 8:31-36
A.. How has the Son set you free from your practice of sin, your lifestyle of sin?
Your Father the Devil (John 8:37-47)
37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill me because my word does not make progress among you. 38 What I have seen from my Father, I speak, yet you therefore do what you hear from the father. 39 In reply, they said to him, “Our father is Abraham.” Jesus said to them, “If you are the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now you seek to kill me, a man who has spoken the truth to you, which I have heard from the Father. Abraham did not do this. 41 You do the works of your father. So they said to him, “We were not born in sexual sin; we have one father—God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am here present. For neither have I come on my own, but he has sent me. 43 Why do you not understand my way of speaking? Because you are unable to listen to my word. 44 You are from the father, the devil, and you intend to do his strong desire. He was a murderer from the beginning and did not stand in the truth because the truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks on his own because he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Does anyone of you convict me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 The one who is of God listens to the words of God. For this reason, you do not listen because you are not of God.”
We now begin a debate between fathers: God, Abraham, or the devil.
Jesus knows that biologically, these Jews he is talking with descend from Abraham. However, they are not truly his descendants because they seek to kill him. And why is that? His word or message does not remain in them. (See v. 31 for a deeper look into logos.)
Jesus has a clear and direct line to and from the Father, so Jesus speaks what he hears the Father say. Yet they listen to a different father. Who? He is about to punch them with a hard truth in v. 44.
So they again proclaim the superiority of their ethnic heritage. Abraham is their ancestor. But Jesus drops another truth bomb on them. If they really were his descendants—not just ethnically—they would do the works or deeds of Abraham, which means to put God first. No, it does not mean Abraham behaved perfectly, but at least he surrendered his life and his most precious person (Isaac) to God (Gen. 22). He listened to God and did a good work.
Simple logic: If you are the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. But you do not do the works of Abraham. Therefore you are not the children of Abraham. How do I know? You seek to kill me. Abraham would not do this (v. 40).
Instead of humbling themselves before God, even to the point of sacrificing their lives to follow Jesus, as Abraham did in sacrificing everything, they seek to kill Abraham. Abraham had said that God would provide a lamb (Gen. 22:8), but instead, God provided a ram (Gen. 22:13). So where is the lamb which Abraham had predicted to be the provision? He is standing right there, talking to them. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular) of the world (John 1:29).
They do the works of their father, who will be revealed in v. 44. They shot back about sexual immorality and being born from it. This is a reference to Jesus’s questionable birth (questionable by appearances). They did not know the truth of the supernatural birth stories, which we read in Matt. 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Jesus’s name means the “LORD saves” people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). So once again the opponents live in a state of irony, believing that they know more than they do. (See v. 22 for a deeper look at irony).
They also lay claim to God being their father.
No, sorry, Jesus replies. If God were their father, they would love him. Before we move on let’s look at the verb love. It is the verb agapaō (pronounced ah-gah-pah-oh, and the noun is agapē, pronounced ah-gah-pay), and it goes a lot more deeply than a gooey feeling. It means total commitment or giving oneself over to something or someone.
“The term ‘love’ does not intend to refer to emotional or personal affection but to allegiance, commitment, even obedience” Klink, comment on v. 42).
More simple logic: If God were their father, they would love Jesus. But they do not love him; therefore, God is not their father.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (1 John 5:1)
Another simple piece of logic. Why don’t his opponents understand his way of speaking or his speech or language? Because they do not dig deep and listen to his word or message (see v. 31 for a deeper look at logos).
John’s readers, however, understand that Jesus is the Logos who has tabernacled among them (John 1:1-4, 14). He is the perfect expression of the Father. Yet, these Jews fail to understand who Jesus really and deeply is. He was outside of their small box of oral traditions.
“listen”: it comes from the standard Greek verb akouō (pronounced ah-koo-oh), and it means to “hear” and “listen,” with the nuanced connotation of “heeding” or “obeying.” The fact that they are quarreling with him indicates their noncompliance and disobedience.
Jesus finally reveals who their father is: the devil. Who is he? In this passage he is a murderer and liar. He was a murderer from the beginning because he was lurking around the garden when he tempted Eve. God said they will surely die if they eat the fruit, but the serpent—later taken to be Satan—lied and said they will not die. Adam and Eve partook of the fruit and they lost immortality and were destined to die. Ever after, the pattern was set. After the Fall, sin—or possibly Satan through sin—was crouching at the door and prompted Cain to murder Abel (Gen. 4:8). Now Satan is prompting the religious authorities to kill Jesus (v. 37).
The religious establishment are following the devil’s strong desire. It is the Greek noun epithumia (pronounced eh-pea-thoo-mee-ah), and in some contexts it can mean “lust.” So it is true to say that the devil lusted to kill Jesus. This idea echoes this verse in Paul’s letter: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8, NIV).
The wise of this world, prompted by the devil, were actually foolish. But they still accomplished God’s plan by crucifying the Lord of glory; God vindicated him by raising him from the dead.
Bottom line in this verse:
The devil ≠ the truth
The devil = the lie
The truth is not in him. He may manipulate flawed and shortsighted human ingenuity and make certain things seem truthful, but they are lies from the deeper and fuller perspective.
He is the liar and the father of the lie. In Greek the phrase reads he is the father of “it.” Of what? Of “the lie.” So what is the lie? It bundles up all other lies into one category, “the lie” or “the falsehood.” So many translations say “father of lies”; it would be better if they said “father of the lie.” But I get their point. All lies flow out of his own evil character; taken together, they are all “the lie.”
It would seem that when people listen to the truth, they would be drawn to the speaker, the truth teller, but they often are not. Why not? Because truth is painful. It crushes one’s own lust or strong desires. They were very confident in their ancestry, but Jesus just enlightened them. Their actual father was the devil, and they were enslaved to sin because they commit (present tense participle) sin as a habit. Once anyone is enslaved to sin, they are probably being attacked by the devil. No, the devil does not cause all sin, but he nudges and temps people towards their own sinful desires and to conceive them.
The devil’s “control of the minds and actions of the Jewish leaders is so extensive that it can be truthfully said that he is their father. In contrast, Jesus tells the truth, and it is for this very reason that they do not believe him. They have drink so deeply at the wells of falsehood that they are unable to even recognize the truth. Error has become truth, resulting in a dramatic reversal in which all genuine truth is necessarily judged to be erroneous. When darkness becomes light, all light is darkness” (Mounce, comment on v. 43).
I hope everyone (myself included) can see themselves in that quotation.
I am reminded of this verse: “If therefore ‘the light’ in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:33).
Remain in his word. Remain in Jesus. Only then will you remain in the truth.
No one convicts him of sin, and we learn from the rest of Scripture that he is sinless.
Why don’t they believe him? He is about to answer his own question.
We have simple logic again. If someone comes from God, they will hear (and heed) Jesus’s words. But they do not listen to (or heed) his words; therefore, they do not come from God. But the logic is also circular. They do not listen to his words because they are not from God. It may be circular, but it is not vicious. The source of their beliefs is the devil and their own shortsighted traditions which block them from hearing, listening to and heeding his words.
“A clearer and more damning conclusion is hardly conceivable. And yet the reader cannot forget that these opponents of Jesus, intentionally unnamed in this verbal exchange, are the epitome of those Jesus came to save and the object of God’s love (3:16)” (Klink, comment on v. 47)
See my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology:
GrowApp for John 8:37-47
A.. How has God set you free from the snares and lies of the devil? You may have to mention at least one big lie in your old life, from which you have been freed.
Before Abraham Was, I Am (John 8:48-59)
48 In reply, the Jews said to him, “Did we not say correctly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus replied: “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, yet you dishonor me. 50 I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks and judges. 51 I tell you the firm truth: If anyone keeps my word, he will in no way see death, forever.” 52 So the Jews said to him, “Now we know you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will in no way experience death, forever. 53 You are not greater our father Abraham, who died, are you? Also, the prophets died. Whom do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus replied: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God, 55 yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I say that I do not know him, I will be a liar like you. But I know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are still not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, I tell you the firm truth: Before Abraham existed, I am.” 59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.
For these extra-pure establishment Jews, living as they did in Jerusalem, it was a deep insult to call someone a Samaritan. Samaritans were regarded as heretical because they set up their worship center on Mt. Gerizim, in Samaria. Of course, the Jews, who were right then and there in the Jerusalem temple, considered their temple to be the rightful place to carry out their rituals. Samaritans were also considered pagan-Jewish mix, so call them half-breeds, if you wish.
The Jews believed that Jesus was born up north in Galilee (he was actually born in Bethlehem), and Samaria was between Galilee and Judea, the province where Jerusalem was situated. So this belief about the “degraded” north slipped into the lie of his coming from Samaria.
You may wish to re-read John 4 for Jesus’s interaction with the Samaritan woman.
Some in the crowd had earlier slandered him that he had a demon (7:20). Having a demon is like saying he is crazy or possessed by the gods. He is not sent from God, in their view. But we know the opposite is true. He is sent from God. See 10:20, which says that he was accused of having a demon and was insane. Jesus was accused of being demonized in the Synoptics (Mark 3:22).
Let’s discuss this verbal sparring match between Jesus and these religious leaders.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. He won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. They needed to be loosed from them. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive, accusatory religious leaders.
Recall John 5:24: “I tell you the firm truth: the one hearing my message and believing the one who sent me has eternal life does not come into condemnation but has passed from death to life.” In 5:24 we have the combination of believing a message (the same Greek word “message” is used here in v. 50. It is logos, and see v. 31 for more comments) and in judging. So who seeks and judges? The Father hands judgment to his Son, and the Son does not judge apart from his Father. They are in a tight relationship with each other. To me, it is Jesus who seeks to obey the Father, and it is the Son who judges. Recall also that the Father seeks true worshippers (4:23). So the Father never judges apart from the Son (5:22-27), yet the Son does not judge independent of his Father (8:15-16). So the Father and Son—both—are the seeker and judge. “The charge against the Son is a charge against the Father” (Klink, comment on v. 50, emphasis original).
“glory” means, in many contexts, the light of God, shining to all the world. Here the sign is a foretaste of the glory when he is resurrected, and ultimately when he comes back again.
But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that the glory which Moses experienced, soon faded away.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NIV)
The glory of the New Covenant, initiated by Jesus, will last forever.
And so “glory” means, in many contexts, the light of God, shining to all the world. This brightness is the glory of God.
Moses experienced the glory of God:
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exod. 33:18-22, NIV).
Commentator Bruce also saw this connection between the glory which Moses saw and the surpassing glory of Jesus. Further, he connects the glory of the old tabernacle with God pitching his tabernacle through his Son (comment on 1:14). “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8, NIV). When the tabernacle was completed, we read: “34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-35, NIV).
But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that the glory which Moses experienced, soon faded away.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NIV)
The glory of the New Covenant, initiated by Jesus, will last forever.
In more general terms, Carson says that Jesus’s glory was displayed in his signs (2:11; 11:4, 40); he was supremely glorified in his death and exaltation (7:39: 12:16, 23: 13:31-32), Yes, he also had glory before he began his public ministry, for in fact he enjoyed glory with his Father before his incarnation and returned to his Father to receive the fulness of glory (15:5, 24). While other men seek their own glory, Jesus’s relationship with his Father meant that he did not need to seek his own glory; he was secure in his relationship with his Father. He sought only God’s glory (5:41; 7:18; 8:50). (comment on 1:14).
Keener also brings focus to John’s definition of glory:
Jesus, in contrast to his opponents, accepts this only from the Father (5:41, 33; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 12:41, 43; 16:14; 17:12). The Fourth Gospel applies Jesus’ “glory” to various acts of self-revelation (his signs–2:11; 11:4, 40), but the ultimate expression of glory is the complex including Jesus’ death (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; cf. 21:9), resurrection and exaltation (cf. 7:39; 12:16; 17:1, 5). This glory thus becomes the ultimate revelation of “grace and truth”: where the world’s hatred for God comes to its ultimate expression, so also does God’s love for the world (3:16). If the Johannine [adjective for John] community’s opponents regarded the cross as proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, John regards Jesus’ humiliation as the very revelation of God; his whole enfleshment, and especially his mortality and death, continue the ultimate revelation of God’s grace and truth revealed to Moses (p. 411)
I translate this somewhat verse literally, but most translations say, “He will never experience death.” The Greek literally says, “He will in no way see death, forever.” Now what about “see”? In v. 52, the Jews will use the verb “taste death,” which adds up to the same thing: experience. So it is best to translate “see” and “taste” as “experience,” so my translation is not always completely literal.
“I tell you the firm truth”: see v. 34 for more comments.
The Jews are naturally puzzled. How can Jesus be greater than Abraham, their father and the prophets, both of whom died? So the Jews repeat their accusation that he has a demon or is out of his mind. I like their rhetorical question: Who (or whom) do you make yourself to be? Just who do you think you are? In your life, someone will criticize your advancement in the kingdom. “Who do you think you are? You’re nobody! Yet you think you’re somebody special because you belong to a church? Because you’re now religious? It won’t last! You’ll go back to your old ways! Come on! Let’s party!” Don’t listen to them. Just keep soldiering on for Jesus. He will sustain you as you stay in union with Christ.
In any case, the Jews use the fact of human existence to prove him wrong: death. Abraham and the prophets dies. How does Jesus think he’ll escape a permanent death? And how can he offer this to a disciple who keeps his word? Yet Jesus is about to reply in a way which shocks them (vv. 56-58). He is above death. He came down from heaven and will go back, he will not remain dead, forever.
Recall this verse, Jesus speaking to the religious establishment: “How are you able to believe, when you accept the glory from others and do not seek the glory from the only God?” (John 5:44). Jesus was not accepting glory from others, but it was the Father who was glorifying him (John 12:28; 13:32; 17:1).
Simple logic: If Jesus glorifies himself, his glory is nothing. But his glory is not nothing because his Father glorifies him. Therefore, Jesus does not glorify himself (he does not need to do this because his Father does it for him).
So now we have another example of irony. Recall that the term means that you think you know something, but actually you do not. (See v. 22 for more comments.) Jesus proclaims that these Jews do not know him. If he were to say that he does not know his Father, he would be a liar like them, who claim in an opposite way that that they know the Father and claim him to be their God (v. 54). So their claiming that they know God makes them liars—self-deceived liars. And his claim, were he to make it seriously, that if he did not know, then God would make him to be a liar like them. But he tells them the truth: he does know his Father, and he is an obedient Son who keeps his Father’s message.
If he did not know God, God would make him to be a liar (like them).
But he tells the truth (God has not made him a liar).
Therefore, he knows God.
“Note how closely Jesus links personal knowledge and obedience … The two cannot be separated. Jesus knows the Father not only because he is eternally coexistent with him but also because he obeys him” (Mounce comment on v. 55). Mounce goes on to remind us of the setting, in the temple, in front of crowds. To call these religious leaders liars is to publicly shame them and put his life in peril. (See v. 49 for a discussion of honor and shame.)
Now Jesus makes a startling claim. Abraham yearned to see Jesus’s day or time, and he did see it. How? It is possible that in Gen. 18, the LORD appeared to Abraham. Three men visited him, and he at first understood that they were mere travelers, in a nomadic culture. So he prepared a dinner for them, following the custom of hospitality. When the chapter ends, and in 19:1, the two angels went to Sodom. Where was the third man? It is here that the text in Gen. 18 is clarified. The third “man” was actually the LORD. The LORD was actually the preincarnate Son of God, so Abraham did see Jesus. But he did not see Jesus in his own day—right then during his ministry on earth, but he did see Jesus in Abraham’s own day, and he celebrated it. Two thousand years ago, Abraham may have been given permission to look down from heaven or a paradise of some sort and see Jesus speaking to these Jews, right then and there! But let’s not push things too far. Or Abraham may have prophesied that God would provide a ram, when he was about to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22). God stopped him just before the patriarch plunged the knife in. Then God provided a ram, not a lamb (Gen. 22:13). Jesus became the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Incidentally, Jesus was not Melchizedek, for Heb. 7 says that Melchizedek was like the Son of God, but not the Son of God.
I like what Mounce says, quoting another commentator (Barrett): “It is idle to ask whether by Jesus’ ‘day’ John intended his ministry on the coming glory of the Son of man. He meant that the work of salvation, potentially complete in Abraham, was actually complete in Jesus.” Mounce goes on: “It is on this sense that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day, and seeing it, was glad” (Comment on v. 56).
The clear answer to their question was thus that Abraham acknowledged the superiority/priority of Jesus and not the reverse (8:56). The statement concerning Abraham’s foresight and rejoicing is not unlike some of the rabbinic speculations about the implications of Abraham’s covenant vision (Gen 15:17–21). Some rabbis argued that Abraham was given a panoramic view of his descendants. But Rabbi Akiba held that Abraham was given a vision of both this age/world and the age to come (Gen. Rab. 44:22–28; cf. 4 Ezra 3:14). Abraham’s rejoicing is also linked to Abraham’s laughter at the prospect of having a son (Gen 17:17). Jewish speculators in Jubilees (14:21; 16:17–25) and the Targum Onkelos viewed that laughter of Abraham not as negative doubt but as rejoicing at the prospect of the future. (comment on vv. 53-59)
The Jews ridicule him and use natural facts to refute him. Look at Jesus’s age. He is not yet fifty! By the way, the age fifty is when Levites stopped working according to Num. 4:2-3; 8:24-25. This has nothing to do with his age then and there because Luke 3:23 says he began his ministry at about thirty years old.(HT: Mounce). Yet he claims that Abraham saw him and he saw Abraham? These establishment Jews were looking at things naturalistically; they did not have heaven’s perspective. Once again, irony dominates, and see v. 22 for more comments on irony.
Jesus uses the formula for this solemn pronouncement: “I tell you the firm truth.” (See v. 34 for more comments.) “Before Abraham was, I am.” Or “Before Abraham existed, I am.” Yes, the “I am” is in the present tense, and it definitely reflects Exod. 3:14. (See vv. 12 and 24 for more comments.) Throughout his ministry, Jesus had been proclaiming that the Father sent him, and he came down from heaven. Now he uses theologically heavy words here. He cannot become clearer than this.
Jesus existed eternally. He has no beginning, and he will live forever and offers us eternal life with him. His incarnation—a word that literally means ‘the act or process of (becoming) flesh’—happened at his birth. He is the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us (John 1:1-4, 14). These are the words of Christ.
Once again see vv. 25 and 36, above for the posts for the links to further study on the Incarnation.
Mounce, quoting another commentator (Barrett), “Before Abraham came into being, I eternally was, as now I am, and ever continue to be.” Mounce continues on his own: “What Jesus is claiming is eternal existence. He knows of Abraham’s delight in contemplating the future because there is no period of time in which Jesus did not exist. Not only was he before Abraham, but he now is and will forever be” (comment on v. 58).
Jesus thought better of it and slipped away quietly. He delivered really heavy theology for these strict monotheists—’strict’ meaning God was alone in heaven without his Son or the Spirit. It is all right to speak truths by degrees—to strike and hold back. He had been building up to this big announcement, and it was time to let the establishment stew in their juices. And it is okay to move on from persecution that may lead to death, just as Jesus did here.
One last point of grammar: “he hid himself” could be passive: “he was hidden” because God worked behind the scenes and hid him. This is called the divine passive. In any case, most translations go with “hid himself.”
Lev. 24:16 says that anyone who blasphemes by assuming divine prerogatives must be put to death.
[A]nyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death. (Lev. 24:16, NIV)
The Romans would not allow the Jews to impose the death penalty, but after mob justice and the victim was dead, what could the authorities do? And they may even look the other way.
Carson concludes this section with the observation that Jesus replaces Bethel, Sabbath, manna, the water and light ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, here he leaves the temple, replacing it as well (see John 4:21-24). Then he cites Augustine: “As man [Jesus] flees from the stones, but woe to those from whose heart of stone God flees!” (comment on v. 59).
GrowApp for John 8:48-59
A.. Jesus said he was keeping his Father’s words or message. What about you? Though Jesus never failed, what do you do when you fail to keep the Father’s clear word?
B.. The religious establishment asked Jesus who he thought he was. When someone doubts your Christian walk, how do you handle the skepticism and criticism?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.