John (Part 30): Messiah’s Mission – People from their Father the Devil (ch 8)
Another hint we are given that shows the Jews still did not understand the covenant context of relationship with God is the last sentence of chapter 8, verse 20. No one yet seized Jesus. Despite his claim to unique relationship with Father, the Jews did not understand that in speaking of his Father, Jesus was referring to God. But they would finally understand and would reject his claim, evidenced by picking up stones in verse 59, intending to kill him.
In verse 21, Jesus tells the Jews that he is going away and that they will not be able to find or follow him. As opposed to his going away, he argues that they will die in their sins. This vague reference to death may be enough to explain the puzzlement of the Jews in the next verse as they wonder whether he will kill himself. But I think a little more conjecture would certainly fit with this situation.
Jesus has come preaching a different message from the traditional and established religious thought of the day, challenging the Pharisees, the recognized keepers of scriptural interpretation. Because of this difference, the Jews seem to think Jesus is mixing in some of the Greek philosophy of the day into his message. They pick up on his highlighting of spiritual condition and may have wondered if his ideas, like certain developing gnosis themes, were placing a divide between the material world and the spiritual world with a favored emphasis placed on the spirit. Even the stoics had noted the divide and advocated suicide for certain noble reasons with which the body interfered with spiritual contentment. It would seem here that the Jews wondered about these thoughts being part of Jesus’ message, thinking that he was looking to the spirit world, claiming a greater connection there based on his more glorious notions, and showing disdain for the mundane life by telling them they would die in their sins (without the same kind of spiritual understanding).
But, of course, Jesus message was more direct to the Jews’ covenant condition (which paradigm they could not yet grasp). Jesus argues that he is from above and they from below, not in simple prideful boast, as these Jews seemed to think, but rather to explain the Covenant of Life he enjoyed with God, which they, in their ignorance, did not. He was there to provide rescue, which they thought they did not need. So when Jesus notes this above/below contrast between himself and them, they cry out, “You? Who do you think you are?” (8:25). And Jesus, seemingly in frustration after all his discussion and teaching so far to these hard-headed Jews, answers, “Precisely who I’ve been telling you from the very beginning.”
And he isn’t going to tell them anything differently. Verse 26 indicates that what he has already said is the message he received from his Father to deliver to them. There would be more to Jesus mission, involving both explanation and judgment, but those things would be kept for another time. He speaks only what his Father tells him to speak.
But still the Jews don’t understand. John tells us in verse 27 that they didn’t know Jesus was speaking about God. And so (because of their confusion) Jesus tells them that when they crucify him (“lift up the Son of Man” v.28), they will know. This is not meant to say that they will becoming believing disciples. Rather God will reveal through the crucifixion, his plan and purpose for sending his Messiah Rescuer to the earth to die. And just so, we see that universally recognized (though not universally believed) ever since that time.
This, then, ends the mini-section discussing the Messiah as the one coming from and going to his Father. The purpose for this discussion was to identify the Messiah as the only one who had true covenant relationship with God. He came from God, showing this relationship. And he would return to God, showing that all he did in this life through his ministry was in faithful trust, saying and doing only what his Father told him to say and do. He did not act on his own. And that faithfulness (righteousness) would be seen ultimately in giving up his life by direction of God for the sake of the Zion purpose.
Starting with verse 30, we move into a section discussing the Messiah’s mission. Remember the outline for the section of Jesus as Light (chapters 7 through 10:21):
7:1-52 Messiah – Jesus from his Father God
7:53 – 8:11 Illustration – Revelation of Mission
8:12 – 29 Messiah – Jesus to his Father God
8:30-59 Mission – People from their Father the Devil
9:1-41 Illustration – Revelation of Messiah
10:1-21 Mission – People to their New Father God
This section begins speaking of many Jews believing Jesus – an odd beginning for a section noting that the people are from their father, the Devil. However, this belief is not to be confused with saving faith. Their belief was in an acceptance to listen to Jesus as a rabbi or sage that could offer them insight toward greater knowledge or spiritual enlightenment. We can see that Jesus does not consider it saving faith as he tells them in verses 31-32 that they will truly become disciples and know the truth only after continuing in his word—or, continuing to listen and accept what he has to say.
But immediately the Jews show that they won’t continue. Jesus tells them that the truth he gives can set them free. They argue back that they aren’t now nor every have been enslaved. Their meaning is obviously not one of national temporal control. Of course, they knew their history of slavery in Egypt, slavery in Babylon, control by Persian, control by Greece, and their current condition of control by Rome. But they looked back to Abraham and Moses when God made covenant arrangements with them as a people, distinguishing them from the rest of the nations on the earth. They were the ones who were a nation of priests. They held a covenant bond with God. All the rest of the nations were heathen and enslaved to other gods. They were free! But Jesus counters such a claim. He told them that everyone who sins is a slave of sin (8:34).
Jesus then brings to light an interesting analogy concerning freedom. This discussion, of course, in John’s order of events is perfectly placed at the end of the Festival of Tabernacles—that festival that celebrated the gaining of freedom from Egypt and coming into the blessing of God—the Promised Land. But the freedom Jesus means to impress on them is what the freedom from Egypt was supposed to represent—a spiritual rescue from sin.
Jesus explains that a slave does not remain in the household forever. In other words, although that slave has direct interaction with the family, he or she is not a member of the family—there is no family relationship. Just so, although the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants did engage the Jews, they were still outsiders of the Covenant of Life relationship with God. But the good news was that the Son could set them free to be free indeed (8:36). This freedom was not merely to no longer be a slave to sin, but to be free indeed implies the adopting of these former slaves into the family. They would become children as well.
Jesus continues in verse 37 telling them that he knows they are physical descendants of Abraham, but they do not understand the covenant intent. The Abrahamic Covenant’s emphasis on offspring was to point to and to lead to the Messiah Rescuer (as Paul explains in Galatians 3:16). The Jews, not understanding this intent, demonstrated their lack of understanding by not welcoming Jesus’ words and wanting to kill him.
After another claim by the Jews to be Abraham’s offspring, Jesus turns to the spiritual aspects. Although he did say they were physical offspring, he denies them status as spiritual offspring (8:39-41). And he does so explaining that they have no heritage from God.
Of course, the Jews object. Abraham was covenantally tied to God. They are Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, they reason, God is also their Father. But Jesus says otherwise. Emphasizing God’s truth and love, he argues that the Devil is the exact opposite—a liar and a murderer (8:44). In both the previous chapter and this one, Jesus argues that he says and does what God tells him to say and do. In other words, the son follows his father. Jesus then points out that the Jews were not accepting his words (truth) and trying to kill him—both activities of their father the Devil. It is interesting then, that the next few verses ending the chapter illustrate this point exactly. Verse 48 begins with a lie by the Jews about Jesus. Verse 59 ends with an attempt at murder.
In those last verses, when again the Jews attempt to ridicule Jesus by asking, “Who do You pretend to be?” (8:53), this time the clarity of Jesus’ answer breaks through to their understanding. Back in verse 25 they had asked who he was, and Jesus answered in verse 28, “I am He.” The Greek includes just two words: “I am.” This is the statement God made at the burning bush. His name is “I AM”—the ever existing One, God. Jesus made the statement in verse 28, but the Jews did not comprehend. However, in answer to their ridicule of verse 53, Jesus provides the same answer in verse 58: “I AM.” And now, in recognition of his claim to deity, the unbelieving Jews attempt to kill him. But Jesus is hidden. At that point they cannot perceive him physically just as they cannot perceive him spiritually.
John ends the scene with a sad, tragic statement. The temple was the place where God met with his covenant people. Jesus identified himself as God. But instead of the rejoicing and fellowship and relationship that should have been celebrated together, the Jews rejected him. And Jesus—God—“went out of the temple complex.”