A Woman Caught in Adultery
[[7:53 And each one departed to his own house. 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 8:2 Early in the morning he came to the temple courts again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. 8:3 The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them 8:4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. 8:5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?” 8:6 (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.) Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 8:7 When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8:8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground.
8:9 Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 8:10 Jesus stood up straight and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 8:11 She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”]]
[The earliest manuscripts do not contain Jn 7:53-8:11]
Kruse: ‘It is very unlikely that this attractive story was an original part of the Fourth Gospel. It is not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts. Nevertheless, it has what Professor Metzger describes as “all the earmarks of historical veracity”.’
Michaels: ‘Though it is undoubtedly a true incident in Jesus’ life, the story of the adulteress does not belong in the New Testament and specifically does not belong here, where its presence divides one day’s action into two and interrupts the narrator’s development of Jn 7:37–8:20.’ Michaels thinks that Lk 21:37f offers a more appropriate historical setting (and, indeed, a few manuscripts place it there).
In summary: this pericope probably does not belong as part of John’s Gospel, and may not belong in any of the other canonical Gospels either. We cannot therefore confidently regard it as part of inspired Scripture, and should not base any key doctrine upon it. Happily, however, we do not need to, for, ‘Christ’s behaviour…comports well with the core of historical Jesus material, which so consistently paints him as compassionate towards the outcast, while rebuking the religious establishment: of his day.’ (Blomberg)
John 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
“If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” – ‘A Jewish law required an accuser to cast the first stone at a criminal condemned to death, that is, to take full responsibility for the outcome of his accusation. Jesus put the matter rather differently but with great effectiveness. He showed those concerned that they had been too ready to accuse a neighbour even if, as appears to have been the case, the accusation was true.’ (Shields, Pattern for Life, 222)
This ‘cannot mean that Church disciplinary law requires perfection in its administrators. If Christ had meant that, He would have denied His own clear requirements. His very imperfect apostles, who were taught to pray confessing their debts (Mt. 6:12), were also to “bind” and “loose,” “retain” and “forgive” sins (Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn. 20:23), and to treat the unforgiving sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt. 18:17). Christ warned His disciples against trying to remove all who offend (Mt 13:36–43), since if only the sinless could discipline, all discipline would be eliminated.’ (Gerstner, ISBE, art. ‘Law in the NT’)
Douglas Wilson notes: ‘The woman caught in adultery was not stoned, and she was not stoned because of how Jesus caught and trapped the Jewish leaders in their own misapplication of the law. In principle, the same scene could have played out in the same way with a homosexual in the center of the ring, surrounded by Pharisees. And had it been, the Pharisee would have departed, and the homosexual would have been told by Christ to “go and sin no more.”’
Jesus as the Light of the World
Most scholars think that Jn 7:53-8:11 was not part of John’s original Gospel. If so, then Jesus’s words now recorded follow rather directly from his invitation to the crowds to come and drink (Jn 7:37-39, noting that what follows that invitation simply records various reactions to Jesus and his teaching).
According to Harper’s Bible Commentary, the debate between Jesus and his critics ‘manifests the tension between church and synagogue near the end of the first century.’ But this is mere speculation on the commentator’s part.
If the nagging question in Jn 7 is, “Is Jesus the Christ?”, in the present chapter a further question is addressed, “How can we believe that what he says is true?”
8:12 Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This section continues the account given in ch. 7. The teaching is therefore given in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles, which included a nightly candle-lighting ceremony in the Court of the women. But there are also, as Kruse remarks, allusions to OT prophecies such as especially Isa 42:6; 49:6 and 51:4, which speak of the Servant of the Lord as the light of the nations (i.e. of the world). Not only so, but, as Klink reminds us, the motif of ‘light’ has been important in the Gospel from the Prologue (cf. Jn 1:4f), and continues in Jn 9:5. Nevertheless, we think that Klink overstates the matter when he sees no link at all with the Tabernacles ceremony.
Another reason for doubting the link with the Feast of Tabernacles is that the crowd – rather prominent in chapter 7 – is not mentioned at all in chapter 8 (although note v30). To Morris, this suggests that the Feast was over, and that the crowd had dispersed. However, he thinks that the Feast may have been not long over, and that its imagery may still have been in people’s minds.
According to Burge, ‘the Mishnah chapter on Tabernacles (Sukkah) provides lavish descriptions of both the water and light ceremonies and explains that whoever has not seen these things has never seen a wonder in his or her life! Four large stands each held four golden bowls; these were placed in the heavily-used Court of the Women.3 These sixteen golden bowls (reached by ladders) were filled with oil and used the worn undergarments of the priests for wicks (m. Sukkah 5). When they were lit at night (so the rabbis said), all Jerusalem was illumined. In a world that did not have public lighting after dusk, this light shining from Jerusalem’s yellow limestone walls must have been spectacular. Choirs of Levites would sing during the lighting while “men of piety and good works” danced in the streets, carrying torches and singing hymns.’
Jesus’ teaching took place in the treasury (v20) within the Court of Women. ‘Imagine the scene! In the very court where the lighting ceremony takes place, Jesus stands beneath sixteen lit bowls of oil and says that he is not only the true light of Jerusalem, but of the whole world!’ (Burge)
Then…again – confirming the link with the material recorded in ch. 7, and indicating that Jesus is continuing to teach during, or at the end of, the Feast of Tabernacles.
If (as we suppose) Jn 7:53-811 represent an interpolation, and since Jesus has not spoken since Jn 7:37f, we may regard his promise of living water and his claim to be ‘the light of the world’ as consecutive.
The Feast of Tabernacles honoured God’s care of the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. In particular, the morning water-ceremony commemorated Moses’ striking of the rock, and is alluded to in Jesus’ teaching about living water. And now, the evening illuminations recall the pillar of cloud and fire and prompts Jesus to speak of himself as the light of the world. And, noting the allusion in chapter 6 to the giving of manna, we have a series of three powerful reminders of God’s provision to his people in their post-exodus wanderings.
Although NIV translates, ‘Jesus spoke again to the people’, it is lit. ‘to them’. This suggests to Michaels (NICNT) that he is speaking directly to the Pharisees, for it is they who answer. But Jesus’ words themselves suggest a more general audience.
“I am the light of the world” – This claim picks up a theme already noted in John’s prologue (Jn 1:4f, 9). It is the second of the seven “I am” sayings recorded in John’s Gospel (Jn 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5).
According to Bruner, Jesus ‘is literally claiming to be the fulfillment of an Isaian text that explicitly promises light from and on Galilee, Isa 9:1f.’ Coming so soon after the comment from the Jewish leaders, “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (Jn 7:52), ‘Jesus’ allusion to the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:2 in and through his person and ministry is powerfully ironic.’ (Nicholls, The Great Christ Comet, p212)
In fact, as Bruner observes, this chapter forms the very peak of Jesus’ ‘I’-assertions. The emphatic ‘I’ occurs no less than 23 times, including the four even more emphatic ‘I am’ statements:-
- “I Am the Light of the World” (v. 12);
- “Unless you come to believe that I Am, you will die in your sins” (v. 24);
- “When you have hoisted the Son of Man, you will know that I Am” (v. 28);
- “Amen, amen, I want to tell you something very important: Before Abraham was, I Am” (v. 58).
What an outrageously egotistical claim these would be, if it were not true! Contrast this emphasis on “I” with the great apostle’s declaration in 2 Cor 4:5 – ‘We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.’
Michaels reminds us of the connection with the Feast of Tabernacles, and with Jesus’ pronouncement about ‘the water of life’. ‘Each of these pronouncements takes on special meaning against the background of a daily ritual at the Feast of Tabernacles—the pouring of water from the pool of Siloam into a bowl beside the altar in the temple and the lighting of giant lamps in the Court of the Women, respectively (cf. the Mishnah, Sukkah 4.9–5.4). On the last day, when these rituals had ceased, Jesus proclaims himself the true source of water and of light—for Jerusalem and for all the world. In Jn 8:12 he again extends an invitation and a promise, but again the note of hope is submerged in a context of rejection and judgment (Jn 8:12–20).’
According to Lincoln, the lighting of the four lampstands in the Court of Women occurred at the end of the first day of festivities.
Burge summarises the OT emphasis on ‘light’: ‘God’s first creation was light (Gen. 1:3). God even led the Israelites in the desert with light (Ex. 13:21–22; Ps. 78:14), and they were taught to sing, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). God’s wisdom given to the world is thus a light that illumines his people (Prov. 8:22). Hence, Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”’
If, as we suppose, this declaration came very soon (minutes?) after the disparaging references to Galilee (Jn 7:41f, 52), then we might detect in it an echo of Isa 9:1f. (So Bruner)
Burge notes that ‘light’ is used 16 times in John’s Gospel to describe the work of Christ. See also 1 Jn 1:5, 7.
‘That Jesus claims to be “the Light of the world” is a Christoexclusive claim, since he clearly intends to preempt all other lights and to be the sole and singular (“the”) light of the world. That Jesus claims to be “the Light of the world” is a Christoinclusive claim, since he announces his domain as no less extensive than the cosmos (which is the Greek word for “world”).’ (Bruner)
Hendriksen: ‘to the ignorant he proclaims wisdom; to the impure, holiness; to those in sadness, gladness. Moreover, to those who by sovereign grace are drawn (Jn 6:44) to the light and follow its guidance he not only proclaims but actually imparts these blessings.’ Elsewhere, the same commentator says that light, in Scripture, represents ‘learning, love, and laughter’.
Ryle reminds us that ‘these words imply that the world needs light, and is naturally in a dark condition.’ For this sad condition, Jesus is the only remedy. ‘He has risen, like the sun, to diffuse light, and life, and peace, and salvation, in the midst of a dark world. He invites all who want spiritual help and guidance to turn to Him, and take Him for their leader. What the sun is to the whole solar system—the centre of light, and heat, and life, and fertility—that He has come into the world to be to sinners.’
‘Christ in calling himself the light expresses, (1.) What he is in himself—most excellent and glorious. (2.) What he is to the world—the fountain of light, enlightening every man. What a dungeon would the world be without the sun! So would it be without Christ by whom light came into the world, Jn 3:19.’ (MHC)
Morris notes that Jesus also said that his followers were ‘the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14), and Paul too speaks of believers as ‘lights in the world’ (Phil 2:15). But Jesus ‘is the fundamental source of the world’s illumination. They, having kindled their torches at his bright flame, show to the world something of his light.’
“The one who follows me will never walk in darkness” – Morris notes from this that the light does not belong to everyone indiscriminately. The person who follows Jesus is the one who will ‘never walk in darkness’.
‘As Israel followed the pillar of cloud and fire in all their journeyings—moving whenever it moved, stopping whenever it tarried, asking no questions, marching on in faith—so must a man deal with Christ.’ (Ryle)
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105).
To ‘walk in darkness’ is to walk in ignorance, uncertainty, fear, without real aim or purpose.
Note the emphasis on ‘following’ and ‘walking’. ‘It is not enough to look at this light, and to gaze upon it, but we must follow it, believe in it, and walk in it, for it is a light to our feet, not our eyes only.’ (MHC)
Here, says Calvin, ‘the perpetuity of light is stated in express terms. We ought not to fear therefore lest it leave us in the middle of our journey.’
“The light of life” – cf. Jn 1:4, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men’”.
It is ‘that knowledge and enjoyment of God which will be to them the light of spiritual life in this world and of everlasting life in the other world, where there will be no death nor darkness.’ (MHC)
As light contrasts with darkness, so of course life contrasts with death. What does it mean to be without the ‘light of life’? It means the death of hope, of meaning, of integrity. It means the death of dignity in old age and before birth. It means the death promoted by the export of arms. It means ultimate, and final death.
‘In the context of such powerful ritual [that took place during the Feast of Tabernacles], Jesus’ declaration must have come with stunning force. He does not let it hang in the air as an abstract dictum. There is an immediate consequence: Whoever follows me (an appropriate thing to do with light if it is the glorious pillar of cloud setting out the way in the wilderness) will never walk in darkness (cf. Jn 1:5, 9; 3:19–21; 12:35, 46) but will have the light of life—i.e. the light that produces life.’ (Carson)
In the present context, ‘the theme of light is not unrelated to the question of truthfulness and witness in the following verses, for light cannot but attest to its own presence; otherwise put, it bears witness to itself, and its source is entirely supportive of that witness.’
‘In the judgement provoked by the presence of the light there is the negative effect of revealing and condemning what belongs to the darkness and the positive effect, which is in view in this claim, of the illumination producing life, the salvific verdict in the cosmic trial. Through the use of the symbolism of light Jesus is depicted not only as fulfilling a central feature of the Feast of Tabernacles but also as fulfilling all that Wisdom and Torah, which were also associated with light (cf. Ps. 119:105; Wis. 7:26) and life (cf. Deut. 30:15–20; Sir. 17:11; Prov. 8:35), signified. His claim will be taken up again in the following chapter and substantiated through the healing of the blind man (cf. Jn 9:5).’ (Lincoln)
‘To follow the light, Christ, means to trust and obey him. It means to believe in him and out of gratitude to keep his commandments. Man must follow where the light leads: he is not permitted to map out his own course through the desert of this life. In the wilderness the forefathers had followed the pillar of light. The symbolism of the feast of Tabernacles (now in progress or just ended) reminded the audience of this light which the ancestors had enjoyed as a guide. Those who had followed it and had not rebelled against its guidance had reached Canaan. The others had died in the desert. So it is here: the true followers not only will not walk in the darkness of moral and spiritual ignorance, of impurity, and of gloom, but will reach the land of light. Nay more: they will have the light! The Antitype is ever richer than the type. Physical light—for example, that of the pillar of light in the desert or that of the candelabra in the Court of the Women—imparts outward illumination. This light, Jesus Christ as the object of our faith, becomes our inner possession: we have him, and this abidingly; cf. Jn 4:14. He is, moreover, the light of life (τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς).’ (Hendriksen)
‘The spiritual light that Christ gives is independent of time or place,—is not affected by sickness or death,—burns on forever, and cannot be quenched. He that has it shall feel light within his mind, heart, and conscience,—shall see light before him on the grave, death, and the world to come,—shall have light shining round him, guiding him in his journey through life, and shall reflect light by his conduct, ways and conversation.’ (Ryle)
Milne underlines the uncompromising nature of Jesus’ claim. In our own day, such exclusive claims are viewed with deep suspicion. What is needed, it is argued, is for people of all religions (and none) to set aside any such exclusive claims, and to value all claims to truth as equally valid. We must allow not only the light of Jesus, but also that of Mohammed, the Buddha, and others to shine. Now (comments Milne) while we should certainly identify with the goal of worldwide community, and with the elimination of ancient prejudices, there is a point beyond which Christian may not go. ‘Jesus stands alone, because of who he is. In him alone God in person has come to us and made himself known to us. Further, as we shall see later in the gospel, he alone has atoned for our human sin through his unique sacrifice. He alone therefore is the way to God. Whatever insights other religions may have to contribute, they cannot bring us to God.’
But we should not allow such considerations about the potential offence caused by Jesus’ claim to obscure just how wonderful a claim this is. Milne again: ‘All may come to him, for he is the light of the world. To do that we must first admit our darkness for ‘none will ever present themselves to Christ to be enlightened save those who have known both that this world is darkness and that they themselves are altogether blind’. But if we are ready to admit that need, Christ stands ready to give the light of salvation to all who will believe in him as Saviour and Lord.’
Ryle invites us to note a number of practice truths from this great saying of our Lord:-
(a) We should note the great assumed truth which lies underneath the whole verse. That truth is the fall of man. The world is in a state of moral and spiritual darkness. Naturally men know nothing rightly of themselves, God, holiness, or heaven. They need light.
(b) We should note the full and bold manner of our Lord’s declaration. He proclaims Himself to be “the light of the world.” None could truly say this but One, who knew that He was very God. No Prophet or Apostle ever said it.
(c) We should note how our Lord says that He is “the light of the world.” He is not for a few only, but for all mankind. Like the sun He shines for the benefit of all, though all may not value or use His light.
(d) We should note the man to whom the promise is made. It is to him “that followeth Me.” To follow a leader if we are blind, or ignorant, or in the dark, or out of the way, requires trust and confidence. This is just what the Lord Jesus requires of sinners who feel their sins and want to be saved. Let them commit themselves to Christ, and He will lead them safe to heaven. If a man can do nothing for himself, he cannot do better than trust another and follow him.
(e) We should note the thing promised to him who follows Jesus,—viz., deliverance from darkness and possession of light. This is precisely what Christianity brings to a believer. He feels, and sees, and has a sense of possessing something he had not before. God “shines into his heart and gives light.” He is “called out of darkness into marvellous light.” (2 Cor. 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 2:9.)
8:13 So the Pharisees objected, “You testify about yourself; your testimony is not true!” 8:14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you people do not know where I came from or where I am going.
Michaels (NICNT) notes the connection wit the question of Nicodemus. At last Jesus is allowed to speak for himself! Repeatedly, however, they will either ignore what he says or show evidently of gross misunderstanding.
As Wright points out, it seems that Jesus in on trial here. Nicodemus has objected that it would be unlawful to convict a man without hearing what he has to say for himself, and so the Pharisees question if Jesus is allowed to give evidence in his own defence. But, when we consider Jesus’ responses, we begin to wonder who is on trial here. See esp. vv23-26.
Lincoln puts it like this: ‘At the beginning his accusers are also his judges, but, as in Jn 5:17–47, Jesus starts as a witness in his own defence and then the roles become reversed, as he becomes prosecutor and judge of the opponents, levelling counter-accusations and charges against them.’
The Pharisees objected – paying no attention at all to the substance of Jesus’ teaching, but pinning their attention solely on a legal technicality.
“You testify about yourself; your testimony is not true!” – I.e. not valid. ‘Sadly, the Pharisees have understood his words in a purely juridical sense, as if he were interested in nothing more than establishing the legal criteria for acceptable testimony.’ (Carson)
Do they have a point? Had not our Lord already conceded this point in Jn 5:31? Self-testimony is notoriously weak, and the OT law limited its use. So Jesus is willingly to answer their objection.
Yes, as Michaels (NICNT) notes, ‘the flaw in the Pharisees’ argument is that at least two witnesses were required for the conviction of an offender, not for his acquittal. Because it has long been established that they are seeking Jesus’ life, and that he is a wanted man (see Jn 5:18; 7:1, 25, 32), they are putting the burden of proof precisely where it does not belong.’
Jesus, however, accepts the two-witness principle: he is about to become the accuser.
Bruner quotes Bultmann: ‘this objection [against Jesus’ self-claim], brings out clearly the nature of the Word of Revelation; it can only be self-witness; for it would no longer be God’s Word if it demanded other authorities recognized by men to confirm its authenticity.’
Long before, M. Henry had made a similar comment, remarking that it would be unreasonable to demand a second witness in the case of someone who introduces a divine revelation: ‘Did not Moses and all the prophets bear witness of themselves when they avouched themselves to be God’s messengers?’. At the same time, the Pharisees ‘overlooked the testimony of all the other witnesses, which corroborated the testimony he bore of himself.’
And Bruner also cites Dodd, to the effect that, of all created things, it is light alone which is self-evidencing. It is only by light that we see light.
But M. Henry had also beaten Dodd to the draw, by noting, ‘it is the property of light to be self-evidencing. First principles prove themselves.’
So also Morris: ‘Light establishes its claim. It does so, not by arguments, but by shining. Light must always be accepted for itself, and that notwithstanding the objections of the blind.’
“Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true” – Either, (a) because he speaks only what the Father has given him to say; or (b) because his origin and destiny are such that his testimony is self-authenticating.
Inclining more to (b), Lincoln writes that, ‘his origin and destiny are key elements in the narrative’s depiction of Jesus’ distinctive identity. He has come from and is going to God, the Father, heaven, above, glory—these terms are all functional equivalents in underlining his divine origin and destiny. So the claim is that he is so at one with God that his witness is self-authenticating, for by definition God needs no one to validate God’s testimony.’
‘Verses 14, 16, and 18 are three progressively clearer ways of saying that there are actually two witnesses, Jesus and the Father, speaking through Jesus’ lips. That is why his testimony is self-authenticating.’ (Michaels)
Michaels (NICNT) offers a helpful clarification: although Jesus is testifying about himself, he is not testifying by himself.
“I know where I came from and where I am going” – ‘ The theme of Jesus’ origin and destiny is prominent in John’s Gospel – Jn 3:11–13; 7:27–28, 34–35; 9:29–30; 13:1, 36–38; 14:4ff.; 16:5, 28; 19:9. He has come from the Father (Jn 5:36–37; 16:28) and is returning to the Father.
‘Jesus’ origin and his destination are the same, whether viewed as a Place or as a Person. He has come “from above” (Jn 3:31) or “from heaven” (Jn 3:13, 31; 6:33, 38, 51, 58), and he will return there (Jn 3:13, 6:62), or, to put it another way, God the Father is both “the One who sent him” (see Jn 4:34; 5:24, 30, 37; 6:38, 39–40, 57; 7:16, 28–29), and the One to whom he will return (Jn 7:33).’ (Michaels, NICNT)
Ryle cites several commentators, who observe that ‘our Lord’s argument is like that of an ambassador from a king, who says,—“I know my commission and Who sent Me, and therefore I claim attention to my message.’
M. Henry draws attention to our Lord’s certainty: he ‘knew whose errand he went upon, and what his success would be’. We can share in that certainty, both with respect to Jesus’ mission and destiny, and our own.
Morris quotes Westcott: ‘In the past lie the manifold elements out of which the present grew; in the future lies the revelation of what the present implicitly contains. He can bear witness to himself who has such knowledge of his own being.’
“You people do not know where I came from or where I am going” – ‘They took upon them to judge of that which they did not understand, which lay quite out of the road of their acquaintance.’
As Milne points out, Jesus’ gives a fourfold defence, appealing to:-
- his mission, v14 – he knows where he comes from and where he is going;
- his unity with his Father, v16 (cf. v29) – a unity that means that his message and judgement are identical with those of his Father;
- his divine origin, v23 – his teaching does not come from below, from this present fallen world, but from above, from heaven, the dwelling place of God;
- his future vindication, v28 – his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross and from the cross will demonstrate the truth of his teaching
By contrast, the Pharisees represent another kind of teaching altogether:-
- they are ignorant of Jesus’ mission, v14 – they do not know where he comes from or where he is going;
- they judge by merely human standards, v15 – because they know neither the Father nor the One the Father has sent, they judge according to the criteria of this fallen world;
- they are ignorant of the Son, and therefore of the Father too, v19 – if they knew Jesus, they would know the Father;
- they cannot go where Jesus is going, v21 – heaven, the dwelling place of God, is barred to them;
- they are of this world, whereas as Jesus is not of this world, v23 – and thus their horizons are limited to the horizons of this world, its assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs.
8:15 You people judge by outward appearances; I do not judge anyone. 8:16 But if I judge, my evaluation is accurate, because I am not alone when I judge, but I and the Father who sent me do so together. 8:17 It is written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 8:18 I testify about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me.”
“You people judge by outward appearances” – lit. ‘according to the flesh’. ‘This is probably even worse than judging ‘by mere appearances’ (Jn 7:24); here they are resorting to the criteria of flesh, of fallen mankind in a fallen world, without the compelling control of the Spirit (cf. Jn 3:3–7). They see his ‘flesh’, as it were, but never contemplate the possibility that he could be the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). To regard Christ by so limited a set of criteria is to weigh him ‘from a worldly point of view’ (2 Cor 5:16; kata sarka).’ (Carson)
Instances of their superficial, worldly judgment abound. In Jn 7:35, they interpret his ‘going’ as going to the Greeks. In Jn 8:19 they misunderstand his reference to his ‘Father’. In Jn 8:22 they think that he might be contemplating suicide.
Previous generations of commentators (according to Ryle) tended to think that our Lord was referring here to his humble human appearance, but there is nothing in the context to suggest this.
“I do not judge anyone” – This statement requires careful interpretation, standing, apparently, in contrast to v26 and also Jn 5:30 and Jn 9:39.
Some commentators think that Jesus is referring to condemnation (as in Jn 3:17). So Kruse: ‘Jesus did not come to judge or condemn the world, but to save it, so he reserved judgment. However, he insisted that if he were to judge, his decisions would be correct, because, unlike the Pharisees, he stood with the Father, and his judgments would be in accordance with his Father’s will.’
Others, with greater acknowledgement of the immediate context, think that he is referring that process of assessment whereby one could reach the truth about who a person really is. In this case, Jesus is asserting that he does not judge as his critics do – according to the flesh. So Lincoln, and also Carson (who, however, also allows for an eschatological sense).
Morris: ‘The contradiction with [Jn 9:39] is no more than apparent. There judgment is the natural consequence of the coming of Jesus. Being what he is he must divide men. Some accept him, some reject him. His coming is itself a judgment. But here it is quite another truth that comes before us. Jesus is pointing out in the firmest manner that he does not practise the kind of judgment that the Pharisees practised. He came for salvation, not for judgment (Jn 3:17; 12:47).’
Another possibility, proposed by Ryle, is that our Lord is referring here (as in so many places in this Gospel) to his unity with his Father. In this case, we may read as follows: “I do not judge anyone [on my own]. But if I judge, my evaluation is accurate, precisely because I am not alone when I judge, but I and the Father who sent me do so together.” This, in substance, is also the view of Michaels (NICNT).
‘The light that God intends to bring illumination to the whole world [cf. Jn 1:4] is the same light that shines relentlessly into the world’s dark corners. And when it does so it brings judgment. Throughout the gospel it’s clear that Jesus had not basically come to judge the world, or Israel, or individuals; but it’s also clear that the fact of his coming to bring rescue, salvation, life and hope would inevitably have the effect of condemning those who didn’t want any of those things, those who were so steeped in evil that the coming of light was bad news for them, not good news.’ (Wright)
“I am not alone when I judge, but I and the Father who sent me do so together” – So Jesus does not judge as others judge. He now turns to the sense in which he does judge.
‘For Jesus, the Judge is none other than the Son “in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18), who bears an authority rooted in the Trinitarian identity of God.’ (Klink)
‘The statement “I am not alone” (μόνος οὐκ εἰμί) expresses in one statement the entire philosophy of Jesus’s ministry. The activity of the Son is defined by his relation to the Father, just as the activity of the Father is made known by his relation to the Son (Jn 1:18). And it is out of this mysterious and glorious relation that the love of God is bestowed upon the world (Jn 3:16).’ (Klink)
‘As he was with the Father before the world in forming the counsels, so the Father was with him in the world in prosecuting and executing those counsels.’ (MHC)
‘If Christ had a commission from the Father, and the Father’s presence with him in all his administrations, no doubt his judgment was true and valid; no exception lay against it, no appeal lay from it.’ (MHC)
“Your law” – ‘When Jesus referred to your law he was not distancing himself from his Jewish opponents in relation to the law. Rather he was appealing to a principle which his critics would accept.’ (NBC)
‘By calling it “your law” and yet showing its facilitation of his word, Jesus further establishes his teaching while rebuking their misunderstanding of the law. These laws were conceived out of Jesus’s true and just nature, and through them he serves to instruct, and in this case to convict, his people.’ (Klink)
Ryle: ‘where our Lord says “in YOUR law,” He did not mean that He was above the law and did not recognize its authority. He only intended, by laying stress on the word “your,” to remind the Jews that it was their own honoured law of Moses, to which they were continually professing to refer.’
Carson, however, thinks that some distancing from the law is implied here: ‘Not a few commentators think it historically implausible that Jesus could ever have so distanced himself from the law of Moses as to refer to it as your law. In their view the terminology betrays the growing hostility between the church and the synagogue. But as in Jn 7:19 (cf. notes there), your law seems appropriate precisely because the Pharisees are appealing to that law to question Jesus’ practice, while Jesus is claiming to be the new locus of revelation from the Father such that the law finds fulfillment in him. Unless one is arbitrarily prepared to argue that Jesus had no consciousness of his unique role in the sweep of redemptive history, in his role as the agent of creation (Jn 1:3), in his pre-existence (Jn 8:58), it would be astonishing if he had not distanced himself from the law at certain points.’
Michaels (NICNT) agrees that Jesus is referring to the law as something which his critics would claim to accept. In addition (according the Michaels), Jesus is speaking as an OT prophet might speak: referring to the law as corrupted by those who should have upheld it (cf. Isa 1:13f, with its references to ‘your incense…your evil assemblies…your New Moon festivals’).
“The testimony of two men is true” – i.e. valid.
“I testify about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me” – Here, then, are the two witnesses which the law, which they imagined they valued so highly, demanded.
‘Unfortunately his opponents have forgotten that in the earlier Jerusalem debate, Jesus showed that there were ample witnesses verifying his claim: John the Baptist (Jn 5:33), his miraculous works (Jn 5:36), the Father (Jn 5:37), and even the Scriptures (Jn 5:39).’ (Burge)
‘Unless Jesus is being deliberately ironic and therefore misleading, he is using an argument from the lesser to the greater: if the testimony of “two men” is valid in a court of law, how much more the testimony of one man, plus God his Father in heaven—particularly if God the Father has sent him to act on God’s behalf?’ (Michaels, NICNT)
Under what circumstances can be trust a person’s self-testimony? (a) When they have demonstrated their truthfulness in areas that we can corroborate (e.g. when Jesus claims to have power from on high, and is able to demonstrate this); (b) When they speak with the ‘ring of truth’ that comes from absolute integrity; (c) When what they say is later proven to be true (as in Jesus’ resurrection demonstrating the truth of his claim to be going to his Father).
The late Princess Diana famously once said, in an interview, “There are three of us in this marriage”. In a very different way, Jesus can say, “There are two of us in this testimony.”
As Lincoln explains: ‘The force of Jesus’ mention of the law appears to be that if the law demands two human witnesses, then he will supply two divine witnesses—himself and the Father. In the end, however, Jesus’ witness to himself and his and the Father’s joint witness amount to the same thing because of the unity between the Son and the Father who sent him. ‘
Ryle paraphrases: “Admitting that the testimony of two witnesses is trustworthy, I bid you observe that there are two witnesses to My divine nature and mission. I myself, the Eternal Son, am one of these witnesses: I am ever testifying concerning myself. The Father that sent Me into the world is the other witness: He is ever testifying concerning Me. He has testified by the mouth of the Prophets in the Old Testament. He is testifying now by the miraculous works which He is continually doing by My hands.”
‘Not once has Jesus referred to God as his Father throughout this discourse, using instead circumlocutions such as “the one who sent me,” or where I came from, or where I am going. Now he unveils this mysterious Source and Goal as his Father, and the Pharisees do not understand. Even later, in Jn 8:27, it has still not dawned on them that “the one who sent me” means the Father.’ (Michaels)
‘The law says the testimony of two witnesses is valid, and Jesus insisted that he was not a lone witness: I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me. Readers know that there could be no more valid witnesses than God the Father and his unique and only Son. Jesus had other witnesses as well (John the Baptist, the works Jesus performed, the Scriptures, and Moses; Jn 5:31–47) but they were not of the same order as Jesus himself and the Father.’ (Kruse)
‘Unfortunately his opponents have forgotten that in the earlier Jerusalem debate, Jesus showed that there were ample witnesses verifying his claim: John the Baptist (Jn 5:33), his miraculous works (Jn 5:36), the Father (Jn 5:37), and even the Scriptures (Jn 5:39). Now Jesus must repeat again that his Father is a second witness.’ (Burge)
‘There is a continuing witness which Jesus bears to himself, and which the Father bears to him. In the light of his claims no other witness is possible. If Jesus really stands in the relationship to God in which he says he does, then no mere man is in a position to bear witness. No human witness can authenticate a divine relationship. Jesus therefore appeals to the Father and himself, and there is no other to whom he can appeal.’ (Morris)
8:19 Then they began asking him, “Who is your father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know either me or my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father too.” 8:20 (Jesus spoke these words near the offering box while he was teaching in the temple courts. No one seized him because his time had not yet come.)
Once again, Jesus’ critics sidestep the main thrust of his remark. So, instead of enquiring, “In what way does your Father testify about you?”, they demand to know,
“Who is your father?” – Ignoring, or perhaps forgetting, that they had condemned Jesus for ‘calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ (Jn 5:18), they are evidently thinking now of natural parentage.
NIV and many others translate: “Where is your father?”. Ryle comments: ‘It sounds as if they looked round in contempt, as if scornfully expecting an earthly father to stand forth and testify to Christ.’
Michaels says that they are not questioning the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth, but rather probing his appeal to his Father as a witness in his case. They do not realise that Jesus is not referring to any external witness here, but rather to one who speaks through him. ‘To hear Jesus is to hear the second witness as well. To know him is to know his Father.’
“You do not know either me or my Father” – ‘Their failure to understand the significance of Jesus and to enter into an appreciation of his mission and message meant that they were quite unable to perceive the witness of the Father to him. They prided themselves on their knowledge of their God. Jesus tells them that they have no knowledge of him at all.’ (Morris)
“If you knew me you would know my Father too” – ‘They did not realize that those who see Jesus see the Father also, something Jesus would explain to his disciples during the Last Supper (Jn 14:8–10).’ (Kruse)
To know Christ is to know God. To be ignorant of Christ is to be ignorant of God. Or, to put the matter positively: ‘If we knew Christ better, we should know the Father better.’ (MHC)
As Bruner remarks, it is the burden of the Prologue of John’s Gospel that Jesus mediates God (i.e. the Father). And now we learn that God (i.e. the Father) accredits Jesus.
Jesus spoke these words near the offering box while he was teaching in the temple courts – This was ‘a public place, probably in the Court of Women (see Mark 12:41–44), the place where the great candelabra were lit at night during the Feast of Tabernacles—an appropriate place for Jesus’ proclamation that he was ‘the light of the world’.’ (Kruse)
Yet even though Jesus was teaching in such a public place (which was, incidentally, near to the place where the Sanhedrin met) , and on ‘enemy territory’ (as it were):-
No one seized him because his time had not yet come – ‘This is the third of nine references to Jesus’ ‘hour/time’ (Jn 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27 [2×]; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1), a significant theme in this Gospel. The first three references all say that Jesus’ hour had not yet come, the last six indicate that it had come. The hour towards which everything moves is the hour of Jesus’ glorification, which took place through his death, resurrection and exaltation. This ‘hour’ was determined by God, not Jesus’ opponents. Once again, therefore, the evangelist says ‘no-one seized him, because his time had not yet come’.’ Kruse)
Where Jesus Came From and Where He is Going
8:21 Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will look for me but will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” 8:22 So the Jewish leaders began to say, “Perhaps he is going to kill himself, because he says, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ ” 8:23 Jesus replied, “You people are from below; I am from above. You people are from this world; I am not from this world. 8:24 Thus I told you that you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.”
As Michaels says, this section expands upon Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees in v19 – “You do not know me or my Father.”
‘The themes developed in vv. 12–20 are enlarged upon throughout the rest of this chapter. They include: 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). Further (as Barrett, p. 340, rightly observes), the opposite of each of these themes is applied to the Jews. Jesus is from above, they are from below; they are from this world, he is not from this world (v. 23); where he goes, they cannot come (v. 21); God is his Father, theirs is the devil (vv. 26–27, 41–44, 54–55).’ (Carson)
Then Jesus said to them again – Whether immediately afterwards, or after a delay, we cannot tell. But, as Morris observes, the previous verse does suggest a break in the proceedings. So perhaps the connection is logical, rather than chronological.
‘He continued to teach, in kindness to those few who received his doctrine, though there were many that resisted it, which is an example to ministers to go on with their work, notwithstanding opposition, because a remnant shall be saved.’ (MHC)
‘Here Christ changes his voice; he had piped to them in the offers of his grace, and they had not danced; now he mourns to them in the denunciations of his wrath, to try if they would lament.’ (MHC)
“I am going away” – Also Jn 7:33; 8:14, 21.
‘They said to him, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; and he takes them at their word; but woe to those from whom Christ departs. Ichabod, the glory is gone, our defence is departed, when Christ goes. Christ frequently warned them of his departure before he left them: he bade often farewell, as one loth to depart, and willing to be invited, and that would have them stir up themselves to take hold on him.’ (MHC)
“You will look for me” – This might be understood in a number of ways:-
(a) It might mean that they will continue to relentlessly pursue him, but will not be able to follow him after he has ‘gone away”
(b) It might mean that they will look (not for Jesus personally, but) for the Messiah, but fail to find him, since they have already rejected the only Messiah there is. This is the view of Carson.
(c) It might mean that after they have crucified him, they will realise their great folly, but will find it too late for repentance. As Ryle remarks, ‘true repentance, doubtless, is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true.’ See Prov 1:24–32; Mt 25:11–12; Lk 13:24; Heb 6:4–8; 10:26–31. Oh, let us not, at the last day, be found bewailing our lost opportunities!
Bruner links this with the ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ referred to a number of times in the Synoptic Gospels. (Although whether this represents remorse, as Bruner thinks, or fury, is another question).
“You will die in your sin” – The singular is used, suggesting that Jesus is referring to the specific sin of unbelief, of rejecting the Christ. So most commentators. ‘Because of this they would not benefit from his redeeming work.’ (NBC)
Oddly, this is the one pronouncement of Jesus that they do not seem to take exception to!
See how the accused has become the Judge!
Of course, we do not know with what tone of voice or non-verbal expression these words were uttered. However, we may be sure that they were not uttered with a gleeful expression, with a self-satisfied rubbing of the hands, but rather with sadness and even pleading. More of a warning, then, than a threat. Michaels agrees that this not as an absolute pronouncement of doom, but a solemn warning.
Jesus does not say, “God will send you to hell”. They are not pawns in some cosmic game of chess. They will reap what they have sown. They will choose their own destiny.
‘They said to him, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; and he takes them at their word; but woe to those from whom Christ departs. Ichabod, the glory is gone, our defence is departed, when Christ goes. Christ frequently warned them of his departure before he left them: he bade often farewell, as one loth to depart, and willing to be invited, and that would have them stir up themselves to take hold on him.’ (MHC)
Ryle quotes Burkitt: ‘Better a thousand times to die in a ditch than to die in our sins! They that die in their sins shall rise in their sins, and stand before Christ in their sins. Such as lie down in sin in the grave shall have sin lie down with them in hell to all eternity. The sins of believers go to the grave before them; sin dieth while they live. The sins of unbelievers go to the grave with them.’
Dick Lucas (in his oral ministry) points out that we see many gravestones upon which hopeful words are written (‘He died in faith’, and so on), but none bearing the words ‘He died in his sins’.
“Where I am going you cannot come” – ‘His opponents would not be looking for Jesus himself—glad perhaps that he had departed the scene—but they would be looking for the Messiah, and they would not find him, because Jesus was their Messiah. They would die in their sin while looking for another.’ (Kruse)
‘When Christ left the world, he went to a state of perfect happiness; he went to paradise. Thither he took the penitent thief with him, that did not die in his sins; but the impenitent not only shall not come to him, but they cannot; it is morally impossible, for heaven would not be heaven to those that die unsanctified and unmeet for it.’ (MHC)
The Jewish leaders – lit. ‘the Jews’. Clearly, the Pharisees are meant.
“Perhaps he is going to kill himself” – Morris says that the sense is: ‘Surely he he will not kill himself?’ Suicide was regarded as a most serious crime in Judaism.
‘Their suggestion serves to slander Jesus, since suicide in Judaism was abhorred and considered to be the act of an insane person. The question was never intended to be realistic but to make a rhetorical statement regarding the sanity of Jesus. Again the irony of the cross is at play (see Jn 10:18).’ (Klink)
They imagined that he might be planning to kill himself, whereas it was they who were plotting to kill him!
Interesting that no response is recorded to Jesus’ solemn warning, ‘You will die in your sins.’ They are all too willing probe his motives and intentions, but quite unwilling to examine their own.
Jesus uses the gross misunderstanding as a springboard for exploring where their notions come from, in contrast to his point of origin:-
“You people are from below…you people are from this world” – ‘From below’ indicates, not hell, or the underworld, but this world (so Carson).
Carson adds: ‘The contrast is not between a spiritual world and a material world (John is not a neoplatonist), but between the realm of God himself and the realm of his fallen and rebellious creation, the ‘world’ which hates Jesus because he testifies that “what it does is evil” (Jn 7:7).’
‘In a sense this can be said of all men. But there is a sense in which the attitude is all-important. These jews were not only members of the human race. They were of the earth, earthy. Their attention was concentrated on this world instead of on doing the Father’s will (contrast Col 3:1f).’ (Morris)
“I am from above…I am not of this world” – On Christ being ‘from above’ (i.e. from heaven), see also Jn 3:13, 31; 6:38–51.
As Bruner finely puts it: ‘He wants so much for people to know that he comes from the Great God and not from just the other side of the mountain; that his Sender is no one less than God and that Jesus is not some eerie human mystic; that his rootage is not at all in the usual human sod. They are talking with Ultimacy, not with the ordinary, when they are in conversation with Jesus.’
Ryle notes that, in a subsidiary sense, these words are true of Christ’s followers: ‘Compared to the thoughtless multitude around them, they are “from above,” and “not of this world,” like their Master. The thoughts of the ungodly are about things beneath; the true Christian’s affections are set on things above. The ungodly man is full of this world; its cares, and pleasures, and profits, absorb his whole attention. The true Christian, though in the world, is not of it; his citizenship is in heaven, and his best things are yet to come.’
Ryle adds, ‘Let it be noted that what our Lord says of Himself here is the very same thing that is said of His true disciples elsewhere. If a man has grace he is “not of this world.” (See John 15:19; 17:16; and 1 John 4:5.) Christ’s living members always have more or less of their Master’s likeness in this respect. They are always more or less separated from and distinct from this world. He that is thoroughly worldly has the plainest mark of not being a member of Christ and a true Christian.’
“Unless you believe that I am he” – lit. ‘that I am’. Carson notes that this expression (lacking as it does an appropriate completion) is highly unusual in Greek writing. He thinks that a possible background is to be found in Ex 3:13f, and, more probably, in Isa 40–55 (Isa 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12).
Michaels (NICNT) says that the idea of a link with Isa 40-55 is a relatively modern idea, dating back to C.H. Dodd (or perhaps further). He himself thinks that the proposed link is too subtle, and would have been lost on Jesus’ hearers. He finds the expression ambiguous.
What is clear is that a glimmer of hope is being added to the warning “You will die in your sins.” The form of the saying is akin to Jn 3:3 (“unless someone is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God”), and Jn 6:53 (“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves”).
‘For others to apply this title to themselves was blasphemous, an invitation to face the wrath of God (Is. 47:8; Zp. 2:15). For Jesus to apply such words to himself is tantamount to a claim to deity.’ (Carson)
Carson notes that the ‘tension between unqualified statements affirming the full deity of the Word or of the Son, and those which distinguish the Word or the Son from the Father, are typical of the Fourth Gospel and are present from the very first verse.’
Michaels agrees that although it is possible that predicate is implied in this statement, the fact of its absence is probably the whole point.
As Klink observes, what is implicit here is made explicit in Jn 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me.” See also Acts 4:12.
Morris remarks that there is a certain intellectual content, as well as a relational aspect, to such belief.
“You will die in your sins” – ‘The plural sins contrasts with the singular in v. 21, and refers to the diverse and ugly forms of corruption that mushroom from the one sin of unbelief.’ (Carson)
The corollary is, ‘If you believe in me, you will receive life’ (cf. v51). As Lincoln remarks, ‘In this Gospel’s discourse what is needed if humans who are caught up in this world are to change their perspective is a transference of spheres through the belief in Jesus that enables them to be born of God (Jn 1:12) or born from above (Jn 3:3, 7).’
‘Nothing will suffice to remove such blindness but being ‘taught by God’ (Jn 6:45), being born again (Jn 3:3, 5), finding the one who is himself the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).’ (Carson)
Wright thinks it ‘highly likely’ that there is an allusion here to overthrow by the Romans and destruction of the Holy City. (This, he supposes, is in addition to the ‘spiritual death that takes place inside the heart and soul, and the spiritual death that takes place at, or after, physical death for those who have resolutely turned their back on God.’
It is of concern that Wright quite often attempts to soften his more outlandish ideas by giving [half-hearted?] acknowledgement of the more orthodox point of view).
Interestingly, Ryle (writing in the mid-19th century) shows awareness of the theory proposed by Wright: ‘the theory of some, that it refers exclusively to the time of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, seems to me…untenable.’
Ryle would have us observe who it is who ‘speaks of men dying “in their sins,” unpardoned, unforgiven, unfit to meet God,—of men going into another world with all their sins upon them? He that says this is no other than the Saviour of mankind, who laid down His life for his sheep,—the loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate Friend of sinners. It is Christ Himself!’
Ryle warns: ‘Théy are greatly mistaken who suppose that it is harsh and unkind to speak of hell and future punishment. How can such persons get over such language as that which is before us? How can they account for many a like expression which our Lord used, and specially for such passages as those in which He speaks of the “worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched”? (Mark 10:46.) They cannot answer these questions. Misled by a false charity and a morbid amiability, they are condemning the plain teaching of the Scripture, and are wise above that which is written.’
‘My belief is that from the time that our Lord left the world down to this day, the expression has been peculiarly true of the Jewish nation. They have been perpetually, in a sense, “seeking” and hungering after a Messiah, and yet unable to find Him, because they have not sought aright.—In saying this we must carefully remember that our Lord did not mean to say that any of His hearers were too sinful and bad to be forgiven. On the contrary, not a few of them that crucified Him found mercy on the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached. (Acts 2:22–40.) But our Lord did mean to say prophetically that the Jewish nation, as a nation, would be specially hardened and unbelieving, and that many of them, though an elect remnant might be saved, would “die in their sins.” In proof of this peculiar blindness and unbelief of the Jewish nation we should study Acts 28:25–27; Romans 11:7, and 1 Thess. 2:15, 16.’ (Ryle)
‘Nothing but the doctrine of Christ’s grace will be an argument powerful enough, and none but the Spirit of Christ’s grace will be an agent powerful enough, to turn us from sin to God’ (MHC)
8:25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus replied, “What I have told you from the beginning. 8:26 I have many things to say and to judge about you, but the Father who sent me is truthful, and the things I have heard from him I speak to the world.” 8:27 (They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.)
“Who are you?” – Bruner calls this ‘the most sought-after question in the Gospel.
Morris says that stress is placed on the pronoun by placing it first: “You, who are you to be saying such things?”
“What I have told you from the beginning” – Michaels (NICNT) notes that such a seemingly straightforward question was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to give a straightforward answer (“I am the Word” (see Jn 1:1, 14), or “I am the Son of God” (see Jn 1:24, 49; 5:25), or “I am God” (see Jn 1:1, 18). But he does not.
But what does Jesus mean by this response? Various interpretations have been proposed:-
NIV has ‘Just what I have been claiming all along’.
Morris, following Hoskyns, thinks that, given John’s fondness for double meanings, there may be a reference here to both the beginning of creation and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Carson, however, favours: ‘Just what I told you at the beginning.’ See his discussion.
Lincoln, admitting that this is a difficult sentence to interpret, thinks that the sense is, “Why am I speaking to you at all?” But Morris has already anticipated this interpretation, and responded to it by observing that it does not fit the context very well, since in v26 Jesus states that he has much to say to them.
Bruner understands it to mean: ‘Haven’t you been listening?’
Michaels (NICNT): “What can I even begin to say to you?”
Klink, however, thinks that ‘the term speaks not merely of the “beginning” of Jesus’s ministry but also—and simultaneously—about Jesus the Creator, the one who was with God “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1–3)…This is no mere creative use of double meaning by the evangelist but a depiction of the coalescence of the historical and cosmological strands of the Gospel’s plot in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus was at the creation of the world what he had publicly claimed to be since the beginning of his ministry; it was who he was at that very moment, standing before the Jews.’
“I have many things to say and to judge about you” – Cp. v15. Although Jesus’ primary mission was to offer eternal life, it was inevitable that that very message would also expose the need for eternal life; i.e. that it would expose sin.
Michaels (NICNT) thinks that the sense is: “What can I even begin to say to you? There are many things I could say if I were speaking on my own behalf. But I speak only what the Father has given me to say” (my paraphrase).
“But the Father who sent me is truthful” – ‘Jesus was sent into the world to declare what he had heard from the Father—to expose sin, yes, but to offer salvation and eternal life also. The Father who sent him is reliable and it was his message that Jesus proclaimed.’ (Kruse)
“The things I have heard from him” – ‘Having already stated clearly that “ ‘I’ judge no one” (v. 15, my italics), he now wants it just as clearly understood that in saying “unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins” (v. 24), he is not speaking on his own authority but is issuing a warning from the Father.’ (Michaels, NICNT)
As Ryle remarks, ‘When our Lord speaks of Himself as “hearing” things from the Father, we must remember that His language is accommodated to our understanding. The relation between the Father and the Son in the Trinity is something too mysterious for us fully to comprehend. The Son does not really and literally need the Father to “speak” to Him, and does not himself need to “hear” Him. The first and second Persons in the Trinity are ineffably united, though two distinct Persons.’
“I speak to the world” – Note, once again, the universal scope of Jesus’ mission and message. He is the light of the world (v12).
(They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father) – ‘The comment here confirms the earlier charge against them that “You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father” (v. 19b). They seem to have forgotten that the reason they were seeking his life in the first place was not simply that he broke the Sabbath (see 7:21–23), but that he was “claiming God as his own Father, making himself equal to God” (5:18), and that his relationship to “the Father” was the major theme of a lengthy earlier discourse (see 5:19–47).’ (Michaels, NICNT)
8:28 Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me. 8:29 And the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do those things that please him.” 8:30 While he was saying these things, many people believed in him.
“When you lift up the Son of Man…” – Cf. Jn 3:14. ‘The apparent implication that the Jewish authorities themselves crucified Jesus is surprising in light of Jn 18:31 (which seems to focus on crucifixion as a Roman method of execution), but the present passage anticipates, instead, Jn 19:16: “Finally Pilate handed him over to them [the Jewish priests] to be crucified.” The assumption is that in some sense the Jewish authorities (though not the Jewish people) did crucify Jesus.’ (Michaels)
‘Given the conventional wisdom that crucifixion was a Roman, not a Jewish, method of execution, and given the fact that when Jesus’ life is threatened by Jews it is always by stoning, not crucifixion (see v. 59; also Jn 10:31), it is all the more startling that those who will “lift him up” in this way are those specifically identified as “the Jews” (see v. 22).’ (Michaels, NICNT)
Michaels (NICNT) observes: ‘Each time the “lifting up” of Jesus on the cross is mentioned in this Gospel, something good comes of it, whether the prospect “that everyone who believes might have eternal life in him” (see 3:14–15) or that, as Jesus says, “I will draw them all to myself” (12:32). Here it is the knowledge of who Jesus is, and what his relationship is to the Father.’
‘He speaks of those he is now talking with as the instruments of his death: when you have lifted up the Son of man; not that they were to be the priests to offer him up (no, that was his own act, he offered up himself), but they would be his betrayers and murderers; see Acts 2:23.’ (MHC)
“…then you will know that I am he” – lit. ‘that I am’.
‘In all probability Jesus had in mind the revelation of the Father which would come through the cross, which in this gospel is seen as a process of glorification (cf. Jn 12:23). As a result, those who had eyes to see would recognize that the mission of Jesus was stamped with the Father’s authority. Knowledge of the person of Jesus comes as a result of the resurrection, which although not mentioned here, must be understood.’ (NBC)
The thought here reflects closely that of Isa 53:1.
‘While the world intends the cross to be the world’s final word against Jesus, in reality it will be God’s final word about Jesus, the coronation of Jesus as the divine authority and Judge. Yet further, this coronation will also declare him Savior of the world (Jn 4:42).’ (Klink)
‘The supreme moment of revelation is when Jesus is “lifted up” (Jn 8:28), which is not merely the cross, but the series of events that lead to his glorification: betrayal, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Through these events, the world will see not that Jesus is simply telling the truth (NIV), but that he is the bearer of God’s divine name (“I am”).’ (Burge)
‘One of the functions of the cross is to reveal who Jesus is. That is when the Jews will know the truth. By this John is not saying that all of Jesus’ opponents will be converted in the wake of the cross. But if they do come to know who Jesus is, they will know it most surely because of the cross. And even those who do not believe stand at the last day condemned by him whom they ‘lifted up’ on the cross, blinded to the glory that shone around them, yet one day forced to kneel and confess that Jesus is Lord (cf. Phil. 2:10–11).’ (Carson)
It is difficult to determine whether our Lord means that they will believe savingly, or that they will acknowledge him too late. Alford (according to Ryle) thought that both were intended – some would know and believe, while others would know and yet remain in unbelief.
Bruner cites Chrysostom, Westcott, Lagrange, Temple, and Hoskyns as supporting a ‘converting’ knowing, and Bultmann, Barrett, and Ridderbos as supporting a ‘convicting’ knowing.
MHC regards this as a ‘converting’ knowledge. They would know then (and at least some of them would believe), because (a) ‘careless and unthinking people are often taught the worth of mercies by the want of them’; (b) their consciences would then be awakened, and they would realise the enormity of their crime, Acts 2:36; (c) such signs and wonders would attend his death, as would provide supporting evidences of his person and work; (d) it was by his death that the Holy Spirit, the one who convicts of sin, was given.
So also Morris: ‘Here Jesus is saying that the Jews will not understand who he really is before they have crucified him. There is a revelatory aspect to the cross, and after the crucifixion those who reflect on it will be in a position to appreciate that Jesus is indeed more than man.’
Michaels detects in this expression a ‘surprising note of hope.’ But he agrees that this is not the main emphasis, which is the vindication of Jesus before the whole world when he is ‘lifted up’.
“And I do nothing on my own initiative” – Carson thinks that we should read a full stop immediately prior to this.
“The one who sent me is with me” – The Father’s presence, comments M. Henry, ‘includes both a divine power going along with him to enable him for his work, and a divine favour manifested to him to encourage him in it…The King of kings accompanied his own ambassador, to attest his mission and assist his management, and never left him alone, either solitary or weak.’
“He has not left me alone” – ‘The present statement may be contrasted with the cry of abandonment (Mt. 27:46; Mk 15:34). It does not conflict, for here the emphasis is on an abiding relationship, but there on a temporary experience.’ (NBC)
‘The key moment of the divine verdict in the trial, the vindication of Jesus’ claim, is to be the same moment at which the opposition appear to have had their way, namely, their crucifixion of Jesus. So far from such a death being Jesus’ humiliation, it is to be seen as his exaltation. So far from it involving his abandonment by the Father, it is to be seen as confirmation that the Father has not left me alone.’ (Lincoln)
‘This verse contains once more that deep and oft-repeated truth, the entire unity between God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the consequent entire and complete harmony between the mind of the Father and the mind of the Son. It contains moreover that entire and complete performance of the Father’s will by the Son, and that perfect righteousness, obedience, and holiness, wherewith the Father is well-pleased.’ (Ryle)
Let us not lament too much the small number of true believers in the present day. Our numbers may seem few, but we too are not alone.
“I always do those things that please him” – Here is ‘a description of that spotless perfection with which the Son during His incarnation constantly pleased the eternal Father.’ (Ryle)
‘No mere man since the fall could say such a word as this (for in many things we offend all) but our Lord Jesus never offended his Father in any thing, but, as became him, he fulfilled all righteousness. This was necessary to the validity and value of the sacrifice he was to offer up; for if he had in any thing displeased the Father himself, and so had had any sin of his own to answer for, the Father could not have been pleased with him as a propitiation for our sins; but such a priest and such a sacrifice became us as was perfectly pure and spotless.’ (MHC)
Many people believed in him – But, in the light of what follows, we must doubt how deep or long-lasting their belief was.
Abraham’s Children and the Devil’s Children
8:31 Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
‘There is only one authority under which the mind is free, and that is the authority of truth. The mind is not free if it is believing lies. On the contrary, it is in bondage to fantasy and falsehood. It is free only when it is believing the truth, and this is so whether the truth in question is one of science or of Scripture.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 60)
8:33 “We are descendants of Abraham,” they replied, “and have never been anyone’s slaves! How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” 8:34 Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. 8:35 The slave does not remain in the family forever, but the son remains forever. 8:36 So if the son sets you free, you will be really free.
‘Sin drives men mad. Against their reason, against their best interests, they follow after that which they know will destroy them. They are slaves, though they wear no fetters or iron; captives, though no walls enclose them. The magic arts of evil have taken them in a net and wrapped them about with invisible bonds, from which they cannot escape.’ (Spurgeon)
As Blocher (Original Sin, p22f) points out, Augustinians affirm, but Pelagians and semi-Pelagians deny, human inability to turn to God. In this regard, the Sadducees of Jesus’ day were like the Pelagians, the Pharisees like the semi-Pelagians, and the Essenes rather like the Augustinians. Jesus’ metaphor of sin as slavery is taken up by Paul in Rom 6:19f. See also Jer 13:23; Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14. Jesus affirms in Jn 6:44 that none can come to him unless the Father draws him.
“If the son sets you free, you will be really free” – Carson: ‘Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (Jn 3:35), to liberate slaves. Those whom Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontōs) free (cf. Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:1). True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.’
Ryle reminds us that we value freedom in our everyday lives almost above everything else: freedom from oppression, free expression, a free press, free trade, and so on. But how many know and value the highest freedom of all – the freedom that only the Son of God can bestow? The same writer stresses that this freedom is a spiritual freedom, a freedom from the curse, power, and consequences of sin. ‘Here, as elsewhere, our Lord carefully avoids saying anything to bring on Himself the charge of rebelling against constituted authorities, and of heading a popular rise for liberty.’
8:37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. But you want to kill me, because my teaching makes no progress among you. 8:38 I am telling you the things I have seen while with the Father; as for you, practice the things you have heard from the Father!”
8:39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father!” Jesus replied, “If you are Abraham’s children, you would be doing the deeds of Abraham. 8:40 But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this! 8:41 You people are doing the deeds of your father.”
Then they said to Jesus, “We were not born as a result of immorality! We have only one Father, God himself.” 8:42 Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me.
“We are not illegitimate children” – They are possibly implying that Jesus was illegitimate. In fact, this question runs through the entire episode:-
Jn 8:18 – “Where is your father?”
Jn 8:24 – “Who are you?” (i.e. “What is your name?”)
Jn 8:33 – “We are descendants of Abraham.” (i.e. “We are good Jews.”)
Jn 8:41 – “We are not illegitimate children [unlike you!].”
Like Mark, then, (Mk 6:3), John records serious doubts that people had about the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth, doubts that Matthew and Luke tackle head-on with their accounts of the virginal conception. According to Instone-Brewer (see The Jesus Scandals, pp1-5), these rumours continued in Jewish literature for hundreds of years: Jesus was called ‘son of Pandera’, with the guess that Pandera was a Roman soldier.
“The only Father we have is God himself” – As for themselves, they possibly feel accused of spiritual illigitimacy, in a sense akin to that of Hos 2:4.
8:43 Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching. 8:44 You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. 8:45 But because I am telling you the truth, you do not believe me. 8:46 Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? 8:47 The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God.”
‘Our Lord was not suggesting biological descent from Satan but simply stating that by doing the kind of things the devil did, by taknig their cue from him rather from God, they had made themselves his children.’ (Shields, Pattern for Life, 234f)
‘Surely this was the height of anti-Semitism? Actually, Jesus was calling only one specific group of Jews sons of the devil. Jesus was a Jew, as were all His first followers. The OT prophetic books contain many equally sharp rebukes (e.g., Jer 9:7–9), and they are certainly not anti-Semitic.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)
‘It is significant that the great accuser and slanderer of God and his people is SATAN himself. (cf. Gen 3:4-5 Job 1:9-11 2:4-5 Zec 3:1) The LXX used Gk to render Heb (“Satan,” “accuser,” “adversary”), and the NT frequently uses in the sense of “devil” (see RSV Mt 4:1-11 par 13:39; 25:41; Lk 8:12; Jn 6:70; 13:2; Acts 10:38; 13:10; etc.; cf. 1 Tim 3:6-7 mg “slanderer”). Satan’s role as liar and slanderer is emphasized especially in the Johannine literature. The devil “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44) It is he who instigates the ultimate slander, for “who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (1Jo 2:22) Rev. 12 describes a war in heaven in which Michael and his angels defeat “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (v 9). Salvation is complete when “the accuser of our brethen has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (v 10).’ (ISBE)
‘The assertion “You are from your father, the devil” (Jn 8:44) has been repeatedly employed to malign the Jewish people. However, it is doubtful that John intended it so. The statement is severe, but it is set in the midst of bitter controversy: Jesus’ opponents deny the legitimacy of his birth, (Jn 8:41) claim he is not a real Jew and judge him demon-possessed. (Jn 8:48) In the framework of Johannine dualism and according to the rhetorical conventions of the day, such harsh accusations call forth a harsh response. But there is little to indicate that John condemns all Jews as diabolical. The belief of some Jews is noted earlier in the episode, (Jn 8:30) and these are challenged to ongoing discipleship. (Jn 8:31) Indeed, John may intend the controversy which follows as a struggle between Jesus and his opponents for the loyalty of these believers. In that struggle both sides employ pointed language characteristic of such controversies in the ancient world, but the Christians’ condemnation of their opponents is based on their response to Jesus, not their ethnicity as such.’ (DJG)
‘Is such an intellect – clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and alway self-possessed – liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning his own character and mission? Preposterous imagination!’ (Philip Schaff, The Person of Christ, 97f)
8:48 The Judeans replied, “Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed by a demon?” 8:49 Jesus answered, “I am not possessed by a demon, but I honor my Father—and yet you dishonor me. 8:50 I am not trying to get praise for myself. There is one who demands it, and he also judges. 8:51 I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.”
“You are a Samaritan…?” – John the Baptist had been active in Samaritan territory, Jn 3:23, and Jesus himself had spend two productive days in the same area, Jn 4:4-43.
“I am not seeking glory for myself” – It is one thing to advance the glory of God: this we do whether we realise it or no; but it is another thing to seek it, to aim for it.
8:52 Then the Judeans responded, “Now we know you’re possessed by a demon! Both Abraham and the prophets died, and yet you say, ‘If anyone obeys my teaching, he will never experience death.’ 8:53 You aren’t greater than our father Abraham who died, are you? And the prophets died too! Who do you claim to be?”
8:54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God.’ 8:55 Yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and I obey his teaching. 8:56 Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”
8:57 Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” 8:58 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” 8:59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area.
“Before Abraham was born, I am!” – This apparently ungrammatical statement (lit. “Before Abraham was, I am!”) is probably the most direct claim to deity to come from our Saviour’s lips. It may well refer back to God’s self-revelation in Ex 3:14. Blomberg (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 210) thinks, however, that within the strict monotheism of Judaism the statement is not without its ambiguities. The fact that the Jews immediately picked up stones in order to kill Jesus does not prove that they thought he was ascribing deity to himself. His claim that Abraham had ‘seen his day’ (Jn 8:56) was already tantamount to blasphemy. Moreover, the Jews had already tried to kill him for much lesser ‘crimes’, such as healing on the Sabbath, Mk 3:6, and speaking of God’s love for the Gentiles, Lk 4:29. Mk 14:62, with its reference to the exalted Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, possibly reflects ‘at least as lofty a claim’. Blomberg’s more general point is that the differences between the ‘high’ Christology of John’s Gospel and the ‘lower’ Christology of the Synoptics have often been exaggerated by scholars.
‘Not one recognised religious leader, not Moses, Paul, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, etc. have ever claimed to be God; that is, with the exception of Jesus Christ. Christ is the only religious leader who has ever claimed to be deity and the only individual ever who has convinced a great portion of the world that he is God.’ (Thomas Schutz, The Doctrine of the Person of Christ)