Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

112. The Great Disputation (John 8:21-59)

The Feast of Tabernacles concluded, multitudes of Jews were now leaving Jerusalem. But Jesus continued his big campaign in the temple court. A number of the leaders (v.30,31) were hesitating whether they should commit themselves to a wholehearted belief in him. To these he repeated his earlier warning: "I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sin: whither I go, ye cannot come." The time was not far away when he would be with them no longer, so they must make the most of the present opportunity. "The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it" (Lk.l7:22). Further indecision could lead to disaster: "ye shall die in your sin." He meant one particular sin, and that not their rejection but their non-acceptance of him.

The repetition of the warning so soon after the earlier occasion (7 :34) is a measure of the intense earnestness of this appeal. It was the experience of Ezekiel, the earlier "son of man," over again: "If thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity" (3:19), It was also a reminder of the terrible fate foretold for this faithless people by Moses: "And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them" (Lev.26:39; contrast v.40-42). Men who were making up their minds against Jesus of Nazareth were also storing up a terrible legacy for their nation.

It seems fairly clear that when Jesus added: "Whither I go, ye cannot come," he was alluding to his sacrifice rather than his ascension. Further anticipations of the crucifixion came into his disputation with the Jews, and the same meaning is undeniable on a later occasion: "Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come, so now I say unto you . . . Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards" (Jn.13 :33,36).

The rulers recognised that some specially sombre meaning was intended, for already "Man of sorrows" was written on the countenance of Jesus. 'Surely he doesn't mean to kill himself they sneered, getting nearer to the truth than they realised (10:18).

Jesus reproved their malice: "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world." As a proof-text of trinitarian dogma these words are valueless, for "from above" is no more to be taken literally than is "from beneath." Jesus was speaking of spiritual loyalties rather than origins, as his repetition of "this world" shows. Other examples (Jn.7:4,7; 12 :19,31: 15 :19; 17 :25; 18 :20) show that Jesus was repudiating this punctilious conformity to a soulless Judaistic system.

Nor is his dreadful pronouncement: "ye shall die in your sins," to be read as rigidly determinist or predestinarian: "for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." By and by it will be possible to demonstrate that that mysterious phrase: "I am he" meant: "I am the saviour whom you need" —that is, you must come to rely on my - death, or face the fact that your own is inevitable. The very popular idea that "I am he" was an appropriation by Jesus of the Covenant Name of God, must surely be let go; for, had this been the evident intention, these hostile rulers would have pounced on it as an outrageous blasphemy which would have brought Jesus to the cross months ahead of his time.

"Believe or die"

The alternatives: "Believe, or die in your sins," which Jesus set before them echoed his Father's ultimatum to faithless Israel in the song of Moses: "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand" (Dt.32:39). It was an option which had been presented anew two weeks earlier at their Day of Atonement, as indeed it was on every Day of Atonement.

"Believe that I am he"!-what were they to; make of him? So, doubtless in the hope that he would commit himself to some dangerous indictable statement, they pressed for definition: "Who art thou?" If only they could be sure that that "I am he" really was a blasphemous misuse of the Divine Name!

The reply of Jesus not only left them baffled; it has also perplexed generations of commentators ever since. For a short sentence of six words ( in Greek) the difficulties could hardly be more numerous: "Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning."' Almost every word can be read in more than one way. There are also problems of grammar, punctuation and ellipsis.

So perhaps it is permissible to try a different approach. It has already been emphasized in these studies that all the Tabernacles discourses of Jesus were shot through with allusions to Law and Prophets. It is then, almost to be expected that this part of the Lord's teaching will, on examination, show similar characteristics. This time it would appear to be Isaiah 43 which was laid; under contribution: "Shew us former things (LXX: the things from the beginning) ... Let them bring forth their witnesses. Ye, and my, Servant whom I have chosen, are my: witnesses (this reading of the Hebrew text is valid, and is supported by Is. 42 :1 and Rev 1 :5): that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour... I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen (the Lord's earlier allusion to the smitten Rock and the gift of the Holy Spirit).. .I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins (an allusion to the blood on the mercy-seat, in the Day of Atonement ritual; Lev. 16 :15). Thy first father (Jacob) sinned, and thy teachers (RV: interpreters) have transgressed against me" (ls.43:9-11,19,20,25,27).

Besides these verbal connections these two Scriptures also have several ideas in common. And it will be recalled that the first few verses of Isaiah 44 had been quoted by Jesus in his appeal on the great day of the feast (Jn.7:37-39; Study 111).

If, then, it is established that this Scripture is the background against which the Lord's present encounter with the rulers took place, it would almost require that the debated passage under consideration should read thus: "(I told you) the former things, even that which I am (now) speaking to you" -that is, himself as the Saviour whose "going away" and whose "lifting up" would achieve immeasurably more than all the feasts and sacrifices appointed through Moses.

Sent from the Father

There was much yet to be expounded concerning his redeeming work, and also regarding the serious position of those who rejected him, but he was hindered by their unwillingness to receive it. Nevertheless, their opposition notwithstanding, "He that sent me is true." To the modern reader this last saying is wrapped in vagueness until the idiomatic meaning associated with the word "true" is recognized. In the Old Testament "mercy and truth" is a common phrase for God's Covenants of Promise. Indeed, used separately, these key words often require such a meaning. Thus, "He that sent me is true" may be paraphrased: "In me God is fulfilling His Covenants of Promise; and (therefore) I speak to the world (the Jewish kosmos) the things which I have heard from him." It is certainly correct to read these words as signifying the fuller declaration of Old Testament truth which was now abundantly available to them in his own teaching. But flat keyword: "heard", implies more than this, as parallel passages clearly show: "He that cometh from heaven is above all; and what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth" (Jn.3 :31,32); "All things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you" (15 :15). These declarations indicate that Jesus had the experience of personal revelations from his Father far surpassing even the treasury of truth available to him in the Old Testament. After all, if the Law was revealed to Moses though the medium of personal communication from the angel of God's Presence, what kind of intimate revelation must have been possible to one who was the Father's only begotten Son?

The twentieth century believer, with the full picture of the status and work of Christ before his mind, can take such a concept in his stride; but to these rabbis, who thought of God's revelation to Moses as a phenomenon

altogether unique in human history, the idea of a man like this Jesus having personal communion and fellowship with the Almighty was utterly unthinkable. Consequently, anything which Jesus said to them about this could not possibly be taken at its face value. "They understood not, because he spake to them of the Father." The AV reading here is full of difficulty. They certainly knew that he was speaking of God as his Father. He had already done this in their presence several times (e.g. ch.7:16,17,28; 5:17-27). But now what defeated them was this personal communion with God which Jesus claimed as a normal experience. It was on this basis that he asserted his right to re-interpret the prophets in the way he had with reference to his own mission.

"Lifted up"

In a further attempt to "get through" to them, Jesus added: "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself."

This "lifting up" was undoubtedly his crucifixion. Not only was that the theme of his present discourse (see v.21,24,26), but also the other occurrences of this expression (3 :14; 12 :32) clearly have this meaning. But how would his crucifixion bring conviction of the truth of his claim to be a divine Saviour? In two ways. The exact fulfilment of his own prophecies concerning himself would validate all else that he said ("I tell you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he;" 13:19). Almost certainly the crucified malefactor and Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus came to right convictions about Jesus because everything about his death was according to Old Testament prophecy and according to his own prognostications. Also, the amazing phenomena which accompanied the crucifixion — darkness, earthquake, theophany—were sufficient in themselves as proof that here was the death of no ordinary man.

A prophet like Moses

Then, if not before, would come recognition of the uniqueness of Jesus, and that "as the Father taught him he spake these things." Acknowledgement of this truth necessarily meant assent also to his claim to be "the prophet like unto Moses," for had not God said: "I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I will command him" (Dt.l8:18)?

The Moses allusions in this part of the Lord's discourse are very forceful. "When ye have lifted up the Son of man" looks back (as in Jn.3 :14) to the brazen serpent set up on the pole. Then the stricken people lived only because they acknowledged: "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the lord" (Num.21 :7). And now Jesus reminded their equally faithless progeny that "if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (v.24).

"Then (Jesus continued) ye shall know that 1_AM (hath sent me; v.16), and I do nothing of myself.... He that sent me is with me." This is an echo of God's commission to Moses: "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you .. .Certainly I will be with thee... Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind" (Ex.3 :14,12; Num.16 :28).

God also promised Moses that he would not bear the burden alone, but that the heavy responsibility was to be shared by seventy others (Num.11 -.17,16). "The Father hath not left me alone," Jesus said; and it was very soon after this that seventy Spirit-endowed helpers shared the burden of his final appeal to the nation (Lk.10 :1).

This was the second time that he had spoken of not being "left alone" by his Father. The words carry a hint of the strain of the lonely struggle which Jesus had to endure, every day of his ministry. Even the presence and support of his disciples went only a small way towards providing the fellowship which he yearned for as much as any other human being does.

As his hour drew near this need was to intensify: "Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn.16 :32). Again the words emphasize a degree of real personal fellowship between Father and Son such as ordinary mortals cannot experience. If John had never written words such as these, it would have been necessary to pre-suppose them.

What was it about this discourse of Jesus which made such a marked impact on his hearers? "As he spake these words many believed on him." Yet through the rest of the ministry there is little sign of the existence of a considerable body of believers committed to open discipleship. Nevertheless, the impact had been made. No doubt those multitudes who joined the community of the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and soon afterwards were really the converts of Jesus, resulting from his great appeal which began at Tabernacles.

Secret believers

There were also others among the rulers who believed (see the RV of v.31), but who did not believe into him; that is, they could no longer resist the truth of his claims, but were not prepared to give him the open allegiance he called for. The significant difference in phrasing points to under-cover conviction. A man like Nicodemus, one of the top ten of the academic and religious world in Jewry, needed an extraordinary degree of courage to make open declaration of his faith in this hated prophet of Galilee.

To this group, whom Jesus could identify, man by man, in the crowd around him, although their sympathies were unknown to their fellows, Jesus now addressed a special appeal: "If ye abide in my word, then are ye my disciples." The form of the Greek verb shows that this was not an exhortation to steadfast loyalty (for as yet they were not committed to open discipleship), but that Jesus was asking for a decision to be made there and then. The kind of "Decision for Christ" which the modern evangelist appeals for is mostly a thing of no value at all, because it is based on over-wrought emotions instead of fundamental knowledge and understanding of the Person and Work of Christ. But these men needed no instruction in the Scriptures or in the main principles of God's purposes. All they needed was a complete conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the prophet like unto Moses, and the courage to avow that conviction openly.

Once this step was taken, they would move at a stride into yet fuller knowledge and o better world: "Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free." Again it is necessary to recall that this Truth was no abstraction of the philosophers but the central theme of all God's dealings with Israel-His Covenants of Promise centred in Jesus as Saviour and King. Here, as the context shows, the allusion was specifically to God's Promises to Abraham. 'Believe them as Abraham himself believed them, and this Truth will make you free men from the rigorous bondage of the Judaistic system under which you now spend every moment of your lives.

This implication, that they were men in bondage, provoked an angry retort-not, it may be inferred, from these uncommitted believers to whom the words were directly addressed, but from others with them in the crowd who hated Jesus and resented his claims: "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man."

Factually the first statement was true enough. But with the six hundred years of Gentile domination represented by segments of the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, how could they say the second? Never a day passed without bringing them unpleasant reminders that Tiberius Caesar was lord of the Holy Land. Then did they mean that as a people they had never quietly accepted the role of a subject people? Or is it just that, as one writer has tersely put it: "the power which the human mind possesses of keeping inconvenient facts out of sight is very considerable"? Doubtless these Jews had their thoughts on the stirring promise to Sarah: "Kings of people shall be of her" (Gen.l7:16); and to Abraham: "Thy seed shall ' possess the gate of his enemies" (22:17). But there was no present fulfilment (cp. Rom.9:6-8).

Isaac and Ishmael

Opposing their lie with his own "Verily, verily", Jesus answered them from their own premises: "Whosoever goes on committing sin is the slave of sin. And the slave (of sin) abideth not in the house (of the Father) for ever (Gen.21 :10): the (true) Son, he abideth (in the Father's house) for ever" (Gen.25:6; Heb.3 :5,6). Until the allusion to the expulsion of Ishmael from Abraham's family is recognized, these words hang in mid-air.

When Isaac, the child of promise, was growing up, he had to endure the taunts of Hagar's son. The gist of these can readily be surmised. There had been the unhappy incident of Abimelech, king of Gerar, seeking to appropriate Sarah as his wife. Then, not long after her restoration to Abraham, Isaac was born. Ishmael, encouraged by his mother to consider himself the true heir of Abraham, was able to make the most of these circumstances. Isaac's birth a special act of God? Who could believe such a thing? He had been begotten, of course, in the harem of Gentile Abimelech!

This was the very insinuation which Jesus was having to face from his adversaries. Far from acknowledging his claim to be the Child of Promise, the promised Seed of the Woman, they threw mud at him, sneering at the abnormal circumstances of his birth. Yet in truth they, priding themselves on being Abraham's true seed, were really the spiritual seed of Ishmael. He was no true son, but a slave, begotten of a slave. And as Ishmael, refused an inheritance, was sent away into the wilderness because of his spiteful mockery of the Beloved Son, so also, as penalty for the same sin, these proud Jews would find themselves disinherited and sent away from God's Land and God's House. Filled with chagrin, they would come to witness all the signs of the Father's approval for this man whom they stubbornly rejected with the nastiest insinuations their acute brains could coin.

Abraham's seed they were (v. 33), No one could dispute the point. But they were not Abraham's children (v.39)-and they proved this just as conclusively by their hatred of Jesus and their plotting against him. There was no sign at all that they were prepared to receive his teaching. "I speak that which I have seen with the Father. Therefore (Jesus bade them) do ye also the things which ye heard from the Father (through me)." (See RV margin here.)

But they were not prepared to acknowledge any kind of common origin with Jesus, much less that he came to them from God. "Abraham is our Father," they asserted once again, making thereby the vile sneer: 'but we doubt whether he is yours.'

"Then, shew the family likeness," Jesus retorted. "If ye are Abraham's children, ye were doing the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me ... this did not Abraham." Was there ever such understatement? Indeed, Abraham could have killed Christ, by refusing to believe the Promises concerning him-just as, today, a man may similarly crucify the Son of God afresh by going away from the Truth he has learned concerning him (Heb. 6:6).

But the great work of Abraham, the Friend of God, was the offering of his well-beloved son as a sacrificial act or faith. And to this he had added faith in the promised Seed (Gal.3:26-29). This was "the truth" which Jesus spoke about, the Covenant of Promise which Abraham had heard from the angel and which Jesus had heard from the Father through the eloquence of Holy Scripture.

By contrast, out of disbelief and hatred these men would gladly murder the only-begotten of the Father. So their ancestry was very different. This policy proved it.

Thirty years later Paul was to follow the same line of argument against Jewish pride of birth: "They are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Rom.9 :6-8). ^ It dawned on these Jews that, when Jesus said: "Ye do the works of your father," he was concerned with higher considerations than mere physical descent. So, very cocksurely, they followed him with their self-justification: "We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." It was a clever retort, for it made a nasty insinuation against the birth of Jesus, and their phrase: "One Father" continued the sneer against him, by implying that he had two fathers: Joseph, his putative parent, and the unknown who (they fain would believe) actually begat him. By using a common Old Testament idiom for religious apostasy—fornication —they also claimed to be the heirs of an untarnished religious tradition of faithfulness (very much as the Catholic today blithely asserts that he belongs to what is and always was the true church!). Hence the emphatic phrase: "one Father." Yet was there any known idol before which their fathers had not bowed down? Had not Hosea denounced the nation as "children of whoredoms" (2 :4) in desperate need of re-adoption as "sons of the living God" (1 :10)?

Jesus bluntly exposed the hypocrisy of their claim: "If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I came forth and am come from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me." To claim to be God's children, and yet to hate the one who was so evidently His Son, was too obvious a contradiction. Jesus apparently duplicated his phrases for emphasis. Yet there is a distinction. "I came forth from God" sums up his entire mission. "I am come" spotlights his present appeal in Jerusalem. The second of these phrases is common in the New Testament, (nearly thirty occurrences), and with hardly an exception signifies divine action of some kind.

Oddly enough, this emphasis, which was so necessary to convince his hearers of the divine character of his work, has since been much misused by Trinitarians intent on proving his deity. Their carelessness becomes immediately evident to anyone who will read and think about the words: "neither came I of myself, but he sent me."

The signal of stubbornness of these men regarding himself, his teaching and his miracles seems almost to have bewildered Jesus: "Wherefore do ye not understand the pronouncement about me (the Promise of a redeemer); and wherefore is it that ye are not able to hear (i.e. grasp) the Word (in the Old Testament) about me?"

Seed of the Serpent

And the only explanation of this spiritual obtuseness he could supply was markedly predestinarian: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye wish to do." The devil referred to was the serpent in Eden. Jesus had already hinted at the idea of such a spiritual connection (in verse 41, and perhaps verse 38). Now he declared baldly that these, his enemies, were the seed of the serpent foretold in the great Promise of Redemption made in Eden. The time was to come when he would renew the accusation with great vehemence and plainness: "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Mt.23 :33).

In the present arraignment he spoke less explicitly with double meaning applicable both to the serpent and to the beginning of the serpent's seed, Cain. "He was a manslayer from the beginning (just as Jesus was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," so also the temporary triumph of the serpent was foretold); he abode not in the truth, nor does he abide in the truth (the first and greatest lie came from the serpent), because there is no truth in him (the reference is not only to speaking truth but also The Truth-God's Promise of a great redemptive Purpose)." In every point Cain exemplified this character of the serpent. He was a manslayer. And he lied about it. Also, instead of abiding in the truth, the forgiveness which God held out to him, he "went forth from the presence of the Lord," preferring to vindicate himself and be his own saviour.

The allusions to Eden carry over into the ensuing argument: "sin" (v.46), "God's words (the promise of a Saviour; v.47); "taste of death" (v.52). In every point, also, the seed of the serpent now in altercation with Jesus were to follow the same pattern. Rejecting the redemption God was providing in his Son, out of envy they were even now planning to slay Jesus (v.37,40), preferring to depend for salvation on their own futile works of righteousness.

There is a running commentary on all this in 1 John 3 : "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil (this is Genesis 3 :15). . .In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil (the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent): whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his Brother (Jn.8 :42: 'If God were your Father, ye would love me'). For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous . . .Whosoever hateth his Brother (Judaistic hostility to Jesus) is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him " (v.8,10-12,15). 1 John 2 :22 also is specially apt: "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? . . .Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also."

The precise force of the Lord's next words jot the end of verse 44) depends on translation. The common version has them referring entirely to the serpent. But the alternative makes more pointed allusion to the Lord's present antagonists: "If a man (like yourselves) speaketh a lie (in denying the truth of Christ), he speaketh of his own (i.e. he is talking the language of his own family), for his father (the serpent in Eden) also is a liar."

"But," Jesus went on, "because I tell you the truth(of God's redeeming Purpose in myself), ye believe me not." And whilst they thus did the deeds of their father, Jesus challenged them with the evidence that he did the deeds of his Father: "Which of you convicteth me of sin?" What a contrast with the dramatic incident of yesterday! Then there was not found a single one without sin to cast the first stone. Instead, convicted by their own conscience, they had sneaked away from the presence of the Light of the World. To be sure, the Lord's challenge was not a proud assertion of his own spiritual superiority. As such it would have vitiated his own claim. The point'of it was to ram home to his adversaries that whilst their lie and their enmity proved them to be the seed of the serpent, his own character, "without blemish and without spot," similarly proved him to be the promised Seed of the woman. And since they could say no word in denial of his claim, why did they not believe him? Why indeed!

Strangely enough, it is believers in Jesus who fail to marvel as they should at this astonishing truth. It is normal human experience that the holier a man becomes, the more convinced he is of his own sinfulness. Three passages from Paul illustrate this perfectly: "I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle" (1 Cor.l5:9). A few years later he describes himself as "less than the least of all saints" (Eph.3 :8). Near the end of his days this became: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). A spiritual giant like Paul chronicles such a progression, but from Jesus there is only the unselfconscious truth: "I do always those things that please the Father."

Jesus went on: 'You call, yourselves God's children (v.41). But how can you be? For if you were His children you would believe His words about me. But no! you are seed of the serpent really, and so by nature are wedded to the serpent's lie and the serpent's enmity.'

More sneers

The Jews, with neither fact nor argument for answer, could only fall back on vituperation and slander: "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" It was a useful jibe to throw at him. The Samaritans were a mixed race, an upstart people, who founded a false religion. Thus these rulers labelled Jesus as bastard and false prophet. But it is a commentary on their desperation that they also had to fall back on the smear they had used against him more than a year before-that he was possessed with a devil, and in league with Baalzebub, the chief of all the devils.

Reviled, Jesus reviled not again, but gave them the truth which they knew to be truth. Whilst they threw at him all the mud they could gather, he honoured his Father with all he said and did, and the Father honoured him: "I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh (my glory), and judgeth (them that dishonour me)." Thus he reminded his enemies of their own peril.

Death and "death"

Very solemnly he bade them seek salvation from the judgment they were storing up for themselves: "If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death." What did he mean? Believers in the immortaliy of the soul or in eternal life without judgment make this a favourite proof-text. It is hardly an adequate answer to read it as a reference to the second death. Then is there any reason why the words should not mean what they say? The consistent teaching of Jesus and his apostles is that for the true believer death is not death but a sleep, for he has died already in his baptism into Christ (Rom.6:2-1 1). And from the Lord's point of view, the faith of the disciple keeps him immune from any judgment of condemnation.

Here was teaching to outrage the opinions of the rulers more than ever, for these Sad-ducees (and the Samaritans also!) taught that there was no future life of any kind, except in one's descendants (Study 165). Had not Israel heard the voice of God Himself at Sinai? And they died in the wilderness! Then what could the word of Jesus accomplish? So they jeered at him: 'Never taste of death? Abraham and the prophets are dead and buried. And you say that through you a man will never know death? You are quite mad.'

Jesus answered them:

'It isn't a question of who I think I am, for my own unconfirmed witness to myself is worth nothing.' Thus he cancelled out their move to stone him for blasphemy. However, by and by they were to grasp at another and better excuse (v.58,59).

He went on:

'It is my Father who glorifies me, the One whom you call your God, and yet you don't acknowledge me. Thus you prove that your self-glorifying claim to be .God's children (v.41) is worthless; you don't belong to Him at all. And if I were to depend on my own witness I should be no better than you, children of a lie, seed of the serpent.'

'But I know the Father, and I keep His Word, fulfilling His great Promise about the seed of the woman.'

Abraham's Faith

'And another great Promise as well! For the Promise to Abraham is fulfilled in me. Abraham understood and believed it; but you don't, therefore no matter how vociferous your claim (v.33), you are not true sons of Abraham at all, any more than m unbelieving Ishmael.'

'But Abraham rejoiced in the Promise. Does not the Scripture say that he laughed; for joy, saying, A child shall be born to him that is a hundred years old, and Sarah that is ninety years old shall bear. And did not Abraham, himself new-named, take delight in calling his son Isaac?' (Gen. 17:17; 21:3).

But Jesus was not referring merely to the birth of Isaac, or even to his own birth Abraham rejoiced, thus expressing his faith, in order that through his faith he might see the great day of Christ (Lk.17 :22), yet future, when his Seed will possess the gate of his enemies (Gen.22 :17). On the day of the offering of Isaac Abraham had confidently declared: "God will provide (Hebrew: will see) a Lamb-my son" (22 :8; cp Moriah, the seeing of Jehovah). Thus Abraham "m afar off (Heb. 11 :13), and was glad."

It must have been obvious enough to these highly intelligent Bible scholars just what Jesus was getting at. They knew well enough what he meant, but they could only answer him by a deliberate misunderstanding, giving a slick twist to his words:

'You've seen Abraham? Why, you are not yet fifty. Don't talk rubbish!'

Irenaeus, a rather foolish early 'father! not to be taken too seriously, inferred from this that when crucified Jesus was nearly fifty. But perhaps there is a hint here of how worn out and prematurely aged Jesus was. Or were they referring to priestly retirement age (Num. 4:3, 39) thus satirically insinuating; 'Are you claiming to be Abraham's king-priest, Melchizedek?'

Jesus did not follow them in their foolish prevarication, but brought them back bluntly to the essential truth: "Before Abraham was, I am."

It is a simple fundamental of faith, that the entire purpose of God with this world centres in Christ and was so fore-ordained from the beginning (1 Pet.1 :20; Rev.13 :8). "He is first in relation to me," John the Baptist had declared. "He is first in relation to me" was also Abraham's saving faith.

Stoned for blasphemy?

It by no means follows from the use of "I am" that he was appropriating the Covenant Name of God to himself, but it may surely be inferred from the context that in fad he did so intend, for "they took up stones to cast at him.”

With deep satisfaction these men recalled the drastic action of Israel in the wilderness when face to face with what they deemed to be an exactly parallel case to their Jesus-of-Nazareth problem:

"The son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian . . . strove in the camp and . . . blasphemed the Name" (Lev.24:10, 11). The decision then had been: "Let all the congregation stone him." So of course they must do the same to this Jesus, son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was they knew not who, for had they not just heard him repeatedly blaspheming the Name?

But Jesus, not depending on any self-glorifying claim, knew that his Father would glorify him-and his Father did, for Jesus "was hidden" (Gk.) from them. It does not say how he was hidden. But it is not outrageous to believe that he was shrouded in the Cloud of the Shekinah Glory so that not only was he protected but also the truth of all that he had been saying was vindicated.

Thus he, and the Glory of the Lord . .. "went out of the temple, going through the midst of them" as the Glory had gone through the midst of the sacrifices (symbols of Israel) when God made His Covenant with Abraham (Gen.15 :17).

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty ... He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust . . .He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone . . . Because he hath set his love upon me therefore will I deliver him" (Ps.91 :1,11,12,14).

Notes: Jn.8:21-59

That I am. Evidently this was not taken to be a claim to the Divine Name, but in v.58, yes.
The reading of Is.43 :9 suggested in the text is a valid translation of the Hebrew, and it finds support in LXX and in 42: land Rev 1 :5.
He that sent me is true. In expansion of the comment in the text consider:


lKgs.8:23;Dt.7:9;2Chr.l :8; ls.55:3; 16:5.

2 Sam.2 :6; Ps.31 :5; 40 :10,11; 132 :11; ls.38 :18,19.
Even as he taught me. Gk. aorist perhaps indicates an Old Testament education, especially the Scriptures about Moses.
Is with me. If Is.50 :6 is a prophecy of Jesus, then so also the two preceding verses.
Abide in my word. cp. 15 :7; 1 Jn.2 :6,24,27. The phrase could mean: "in the Word about me."

Make you free. So also Paul: Gal.4 :l-7,22ff.
The alternative to following RVmg (as in the text) is to take AV and read it as a further allusion to Isaac and Ishmael: "I speak the things which I have seen with my Father (the scripture about the offering of Isaac?-' In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen'), and ye do the things which ye have heard(RV) with your father (Ishmael's mockery of Isaac)", that word "heard" playing with the meaning of Ishmael.
Abraham is our father. Pride in natural descent had been declared worthless by John the Baptist; Mt.3 :9.
AllusiontoDt.23:2; contrastEx.4:22;ls.63:16;64:8.
Is it possible that the entire verse is an allusion to Joseph and his brethren?
The Bible's claims concerning the sinlessness of Jesus are copious: Jn.8 :29; 4 :34; 14:30; 15 :10; Heb.3 :15;7 :26; 1 Pet.l :19; 2 :22; 3 :18,.|s.53 :9; Ps.18 20-26; 1 Jn.3 :5; 2 Cor.5 :21. There are many more.
Hast a devil. In LXX this word means a false god. Then were they referring to the gods the ancient Samaritans brought with them? 2 Kgs.17 :29-33.
It is possible that the allusions to Genesis are being continued through these verses, thus: 'You know that I honour the Father, and you despise me for it (as Cain despised Abel for his godliness). I do not seek my own exaltation (any more than Abel did): but God seeks out your evil motives and judges them (as He did Cain's). If a man hold on to the Promises about me he will not see death (for through me there is the conquest of the serpent and its power; 3 :14).'

'Now we know that you are possessed with a devil, you are the seed of the serpent, for you say that if a man rests on your teaching he will not taste of death (as Adam and Eve did by eating of the forbidden fruit). Yet our great father Abraham died, promises or no promises. Are you greater than he?'
Those who would be over-literal with the Greek here, reading it "not taste of death forever," should try it-in Jn.13 :8 where the Greek is the same. Death of the believer asa sleep: Mt.27:52;Jn. 11 :11; Acts 13:36; 1 Cor.15 :20,51; 1 Th.4 :14
There is an effective switch here from "know" meaning 'learn, get to know' to 'know intimately or without effort.'
Saw it. But he only go to glimpse of it (Gk. aorist).
Could read: Before Abraham is to become, I AM

To cast at him. Cp. also Heb.12 :20. Several attempts to stone Jesus culminated in his being thrust through with a dart.
Part of this verse is unwarrantably omitted by some modern versions.

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