Read John 8:21-59
The title I’ve chosen to give this section of the narrative is meant to be provocative. As Jesus continues to explain who He is, many appear to be moved; many believed in him (John 8:30). Jesus seems to turn to these people and dive deep into a completely new theology. His teaching is true, and belief in Him is the only way to escape from the prison of sin. By the end of the chapter, those who believed in Him are so outraged they pick up stones to kill Him.
In previous writing, I’ve focused on smaller sections of scripture to take a detailed look at the words. However, it seems prudent to read the rest of the narrative to appreciate the scene for this chapter. The NIV Study Bible separates the text into three sections:
- The dispute over who Jesus is (John 8:21-30),
- the dispute over whose children Jesus’ opponents are (John 8:31-47), and
- Jesus’ claims about Himself (John 8:48-59).
Dispute Over Who Jesus Is
The verse before this one leaves us with the idea that Jesus had to make a rather hasty exit. He now reappears to continue the discussion for the crowds to hear.
Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” John 8:21
Once again, Jesus dives deep into a discussion they really can’t get their minds around. I’m not trying to sound too judgmental. I’m pretty sure I would not be able to follow this line of discussion. Looking at the words literally suggests that when He leaves, we won’t find Him and die in our sin. This statement is compounded when Jesus adds the provision that we also need to believe that He is the one:
if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins. John 8:24
While my mind is still trying to get a handle on this idea, Jesus goes on to explain that His authority to say all of this comes from God the Father. It seems His words convict the crowd. John ends this section with an astounding thought:
The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him. John 8:29-30
“…many believed in Him.” This is beyond incredible! Jesus shifts this discussion to focus on the group that seems to get it, at least at this point.
As we jump into this next section, I hope to learn that there are times when we share our faith with others that we might see a shift from belief to contempt. There are moments when it seems like everyone in the room is on the same page, ready for confession and baptism, then all of a sudden, someone flips a switch, and all the lights are off. The quick change of scene might tempt us to back off of our evangelistic opportunity, but I hope the lesson in this text would lead us to continue to tell the story of the Messiah boldly. Watch how quickly the scene turns in these few verses.
Dispute Over Whose Children Jesus’ Opponents Are
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
The first phrase doesn’t seem to raise any issues at first, but Jesus continues to elaborate on His teaching, and the conversation quickly goes south.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. John 8:34
The crowd wants nothing of this “slave” discussion or any discussion about being freed. They have taken great pride in their heritage, not in the good sense of the word pride at all. God chose Israel to be His example to the world, but they turned that privilege into a point of pride and arrogance. Jesus clarifies their misguided hearts.
“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. John 8:39
In essence, Jesus says they are not Abraham’s true children. Read the chapter and feel the tension rise. Yet Jesus does not back off from this hard lesson:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. John 8:43
We are unable to hear because we have closed our minds and hearts.
Jesus’ Claims About Himself
Our response is not unlike that of the Jews that were once believers. We must defend our selfish, silly pride with words that hold no weight. Look at their response:
The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. John 8:48-49
The dividing line between Jesus and the crowd grows wider. Jesus is from the Father, and they are not. Jesus provides the words for life, and they choose death.
Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” John 8:51
At the risk of cherrypicking words from the narrative, here are the beginning and ending phrases of the following two verses:
At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed!… Who do you think you are?” John 8:52,53
By all means, please read the entire chapter yourself, but pay particular attention to how quickly the scene turns from heads nodding in affirmation and understanding to hands that pick up stones to kill the very Son of God.
John ends the scene abruptly:
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. John 8:58-59
Do you see the exclamation point? Jesus is the I am! This is either the ultimate revelation, the great news of the Messiah, or it’s blasphemy, which is punishable by death in their culture. Their hearts are turned toward the latter. My prayer is that our mind, heart, and soul would hear and believe the former.
If you’ve stepped across the line of faith, don’t expect everyone you meet to agree with you suddenly. I hope we don’t have to run from stones being hurled at us for speaking the truth. Or maybe that would be better, something like our brothers and sisters in China have to consider. Maybe then we would not be quite so comfortable in our surroundings.