31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.“
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So I was clearing off my desk, removing the debris accumulated from being used as a teaching prep area, reading center, and “general Daddy-item collection center”. Behold! A keyboard! A push of the magic “sleepy moon” button and the big black box on my desk starts up with a hum and a whoosh.
I log in here to see what’s been going on since my last visit, and on the side of my dashboard I see a draft of a “Half-Chapter A Day” post I’d started forever ago and not finished. The post was John 8:31-59. As I re-read the section of Scripture as a preface to typing it out (as is my custom with HCAD posts), some things struck me as powerfully as they always have, while others stood out to me in ways I’m not sure if I ever picked up on before.
Let’s proceed, shall we?
Believing Yet Still Confused (vss. 31-33)
The preface to Jesus’ words in verse 31 is one of the things I’m not sure if I’ve ever zeroed in on before. “Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him” is a very important piece of information regarding those He’s about to converse with. What exactly did they believe?
Going back to the previous section (chapter 8 in general, vss. 21-30 in specific), we read of Jesus at the temple coming to the defense of the woman caught in the midst of adultery, His judgement of “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”, His defense against the Pharisees’ accusation of self-witness, and His prediction of His departure and their needing to believe in Him to avoid dying in their sins. Without going into a whole sidebar on it, Scripture says that many began believing in Him after He told them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [He], and I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (vss. 28-29)
I find it compelling, and worthy of further Biblical and commentary study, that it is specifically pointed out as a matter of fact that they did, in fact, believe what He was telling them. I think that’s of key importance, and in a way a picture of either “seed by the wayside” or “seed on stony ground” the Lord spoke of in the parable of the sower. Either way, they believed, even if only for a moment, yet something rose up (either within themselves or from without, i.e. the crowd or “the birds of the air”) and provoked them to get into a bit of verbal jiu-jitsu with the Lord and fight against what the Lord had revealed to them.
Teetering At The Cliff (vss. 34-36)
The Lord goes on to provide a distinction that I think a lot of people gloss right over, contrasting a slave and a son and their permanency within a house. A slave, being a “hired hand”, has roots and place elsewhere, yet his occupational requirement compels him to dwell in the house of the master for the length of his term of service, at which point he is free to go if he so chooses. A son, on the other hand, has no requirement to always dwell in the house of his father, and is free to leave whenever he chooses (such as was the case in the parable of the prodigal son), yet he will always be identified as a member of the family, and thus will always have access to the house of his father.
You can almost feel the encouraging compassion of the Lord, trying to get the Pharisees to see that their place in the house of their enemy was temporary, that there was still hope for change. Or to say it another way, their time of being slaves of “the master of the sin-house” was nearing completion, and they would soon have the option to either walk out of the house as free men or choose to remain in the house forever as a bondslave. I wonder how many of the people we talk to about the Lord are in a similar place of approaching the “point of no return” at which they can no longer say “I did it ignorantly, as a slave” and must choose whether they want to “put their ear to the doorpost” to accept the earring of a bondslave or to simply walk out of the house free.
They have the opportunity to either receive with gladness the great news that their time of being a slave to the things they don’t want to do is almost over OR once-and-for-all choose to be counted like a son in the house that desires only their destruction. As we continue reading, we see that they make the wrong choice; take note of how Jesus here says “if you commit sin, you’re (merely) a slave”, yet after something (we’re not told what) within them changes, Jesus starts to say “now that you’re actively choosing sin, you’ve become a son.”
“Who’s Kid Are You, Anyways?” (vss. 37-40)
So rather than looking forward to their time as a slave coming to an end, something — at this point I’m leaning towards pride as the culprit, but we’re not told — something within them seems to be offended at Jesus’ words. Maybe it’s because the Pharisees were so proud of their external efforts to maintain the appearance of sinLESSness that Jesus calling them “slaves of sin” caused them to rebel against the possibility of such a notion. But whatever the case, they begin down the all-too-familiar road of “if I cannot find a hole in your argument, I’m going to try to put a hole in you instead”.
Jesus uses their desire to kill Him as a bridge of sorts, a way of linking past and future, what they’ve already been known to want and what they can choose whether or not to do. In what strikes me as a word of warning, He follows up “your relationship with sin can be forever changed” with “you may be Abraham’s descendants, but you surely ain’t his kids”. He keeps bringing to the forefront the simplicity of what they’re doing — “you seek to kill me because I tell you the truth” — yet they keep ignoring it and pressing farther and farther into their hatred. In this instance (vs. 40), He comes right out and tells them, “you’re seeking to do this, but Abraham did not do this”, perhaps with the desire that returning the focus to Abraham’s works would snap them out of their own.
It didn’t. Rather, it caused them to go into full-blown personal slander.
“Who’s Your Daddy, Jesus?” (vss. 41-47)
On the heels of “Abraham did not do this; you do the works of your father”, they go right for the sucker punch — “We were not born of fornication; we have one father — God.” Perhaps it’s because they saw they had no more ground to stand on in the ‘Abraham is our father’ discussion, but they go more directly to Abraham’s position as being called by the one true God and try to take this opportunity to discredit Jesus amongst those listening by mentioning His conception outside of wedlock. Old habits die hard, especially when it comes to taking shots at familiar “enemies”.
Jesus ignores the claim of illegitimacy and focuses on their claim — “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” He goes on for 6 verses questioning their ability to comprehend, schooling them on who their father actually is (with a side-lesson regarding his modus operandi), and culminating in the heart of the matter:
“But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? Yet if I tell the truth, why do You not believe Me?
47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore, you do not hear because you are not of God.”
Jesus always makes it very simple for us. In any intro Logic classroom, “Premise, Premise, Conclusion” is pretty much as simple as an argument gets. In this case:
- You say you believe the truth.
- I speak the truth.
C. You should believe me.
- When asked, you offer no contrary evidence of me speaking the truth.
- I continue telling you the truth.
- You continue seeking to kill Me.
C. Thus, you have no intention to believe the truth.
Doesn’t get much clearer than calling a spade a spade, does it?
When All Else Fails, Call Him Crazy (vss. 48-55)
You can likely conjure up several images of people in movies or TV shows going “Pshh, you’re crazy!”, and that’s probably pretty close to how they looked at this point. Though their version was worded a bit more culture-specific (“Do we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”), it was probably just as empty of a statement.
Jews hated Samaritans, called them “half-breeds” (as they were basically people born from one Jewish parent and one Gentile parent), constantly accused them of heresy, and had palpable disdain for everything that had anything to do with them — which, ironically enough, was probably why He chose to cast a Samaritan in the role of “good guy” in the parable of someone with reason not to help who chooses to help anyway, while the “cultural elites” (the Levite and the priest) avoided the hurting man altogether simply because they had other things to do.
Thus their calling Him a Samaritan was on the same plane as their insinuation that he was born of fornication, and as such He ignores it, except to point out “I do not have a demon; I honor My Father, but you dishonor Me”. Their brains must have hurt trying to comprehend how the “illegitimate (i.e. fatherless) man” was doing a better job of honoring His Father than they were.
True to form, they still didn’t get it — “Now we know you have a demon!”, they proclaim. Then Jesus leads them to the question that will divide all humanity throughout the course of history: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?…Who do You make Yourself out to be?”
Abraham’s Joy & Jesus’ Declaration (vss. 56-59)
After once again going through and showing that their claim of God as their Father was empty, Jesus redirects them back to whom their “father” looks to:
“Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
They were incredulous. Here’s this guy in His early thirties talking about how Abraham saw “His day” (whatever that is), even though Abraham had been dead for more than a millenia. In the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” discussion, this is where they’d change their vote from liar to lunatic.
And they walk right into what He hits them with next — He drops the bomb on them (again) regarding His identity:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
And there it is, plain as day. (Even though the most head-in-the-sand agnostics will insist that Jesus never said He was God.)
They of course recognized the gravity of His declaration, as evidenced by their picking up of stones to kill Him. I wonder if they had any thought at all as to how they were just minutes earlier holding those very same stones, waiting on the word from Jesus affirming Mosaic law so they could unleash on the adulteress they had brought before Him.
Was it like “Jesus astounds them with His answer, they drop the stones and let the woman go, then Jesus makes them mad again, so they pick the stones right back up”? I picture that in my mind’s eye, and it’s momentarily comical, until of course it sinks back in that such is the power of sin, veiling the eyes to see the patently obvious.
Of course, Jesus’ “time had not yet come”, so He was able to go unharmed from the rock-chucking would-be executioners. But the last verse only serves to remind me of the first one: “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him…”.
How quickly they appear to have been “un-converted” from their belief in Him, foreshadowing the crowd that went from joyously singing “Hosanna!” one Sunday afternoon to shouting “Crucify Him!” just four short days later.
It is not enough to merely “believe” Jesus; one has to put their faith in Him, in His redemptive work, otherwise just as quickly as they were “talked into it”, they’ll be later talked out of it as well.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should note that there are many great Bible teachers and commentators who’ve taught that this section of Scripture does NOT start with ‘those who believed in Him’ being the ones who then go into arguing with Jesus, but rather others who didn’t believe that were amongst the same group of Pharisees. Included in this group is no less than Warren Wiersbe, a man whom I greatly admire in the faith and have counted myself more than blessed to have been able to “study” under via his many books and commentaries. I certainly do not consider myself in the same Bible-teaching realm as him, and as such I recognize and freely admit that he (and those who agree with him) could be completely right in their assessment. I’m merely offering my impressions as they have come out of my own studying of the passage. Perhaps it’s because of my own personal experiences with extremely proud “pre-Christ” people, but I think that, when viewed in light of both ‘external’ (i.e. other sections of Scripture) and ‘internal’ (i.e. within the passage itself) proofs, the case can be made that the people arguing were, in fact, the same ones who — at least briefly — believed in Him at the end of verse 30. While I wouldn’t be dogmatically resolute about it, after the last several hours of studying it, cross-referencing it, reading trusted commentators’ thoughts about it, and writing about it, I feel “confidently shocked” that those who “answered” the Lord in verse 33 were the very ones whom Jesus was addressing in verses 31 and 32. That is what pressed me forward to write about it. May this example of pride and rebellion never be the case with us. ~JA]