Gospel of John 8:31-59
31 Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” NET
First, the name Judeans. The Greek is Ioudaios which properly refers to the residents of the old Southern Kingdom centered on Jerusalem. But most English translations render it Jews. What is the difference?
Judea was the tribe that took the land around what became Jerusalem, and the people of the tribe were called Judeans. The later OT writings began to use the term, men of Judea (properly Yehuda). Second Kings 16:6 reads, 6 At that time, Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram by driving out the people of Judah. Edomites then moved into Elath and have lived there to this day. NIV But Dr. Orit Avnery of the Shalom Hartman Institute renders the underlined portion as, and drove the Jews from Eilat. This was the first Biblical use of what we would call a nickname. Over the centuries, the names, Judean and Jew, came to be interchangeable.
Just for the record, The Jewish Study Bible uses Judites, John Goldingay’s translation has Yehudahites, and Robert Alter’s translation reads, Judahites. I’m not sure what to make of all this.
The phrase, the truth will set you free, is widely quoted outside the Biblical setting, as well as in churches. But what is the Truth? The answer is, If you continue to follow my teaching. When the truth statement is used outside the church, it is nearly always misused. It has nothing to do with the Constitution, politics, economics, social norms, or anything else outside of Christianity.
The truth, that is, Truth, can only come from Jesus/God. To walk in the Truth is to watch Jesus’ every step and place our feet in his imprints. To trust my skills, talents, and knowledge is to play the fool. Of course, I use my skills, talents, and knowledge, but only after checking on what Jesus did with his. (I wish I did it every time.)
33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” ESV
Notice how the listeners skipped right to the free statement. They are claiming they are free because Abraham is their father. We Hebrews are free, so why do we need to follow you?
We know the Jews were under Roman rule and had returned from bondage in Babylon a few centuries before, to say nothing of the centuries spent in Egypt. But they were not actual slaves in the first century. They had to pay taxes to Rome, but they did not work for Rome. Leviticus 25:39-42 clarifies that no Jew could place another Jew into slavery. With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, tens of thousands of Jews did become Roman slaves, and most died without leaving descendants.
34 Jesus returned, “Believe me when I tell you that every man who commits sin is a slave. 35 For a slave is no permanent part of a household, but a son is. 36 If the Son, then, sets you free, you are really free! 37 I know that you are descended from Abraham, but some of you are looking for a way to kill me because you can’t bear my words. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the presence of my Father, and you are doing what you have seen in the presence of your father.” Phillips
Jesus turns his answer into a parable by explaining that everyone is a slave to sin, but the owner of the slaves can give them freedom. God is the owner of all who have sinned in that context, and God can release them from that bondage. The Greek philosophers had been teaching the dangers of sin for centuries. Socrates said, “How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him?”
The first century manual that every church followed, called the Didache, left no room for sin. Here is part of chapter three. My child, flee from every king of evil and from everything that looks evil. 1. Do not get angry because anger leads to murder. 2. Do not be jealous, argumentative, or hot-tempered because all these things breed murders. 3. Do not be lustful because that leads to being sexually promiscuous. 4. Do not be foul-mouthed and do not let your eyes wander because these breed adultery. There are twelve commands for this list.
Often when Americans are accused of doing something wrong, or even illegal, they will say, ‘I am free to do what I want. You can’t force me to fill-in-the-blank.’ That argument has been common in the Covid-19 struggles. The users do not seem to realize that they are saying, ‘I am free to infect you if I want to.’
We all understand that alcoholics and drug addicts have difficulty giving up the addiction, but we are often unaware of our habits. Everyone knows murder is both illegal and not nice. But making comments about someone that tears that person down—a fellow worker or the US President—is equal to murder (Matthew 5:21-26). Flirting with a non-spouse can become a habit that can end in divorce. Wishing for new clothing, a bigger house, a new car, anything, can lead to envy and even theft. And so it goes. Did I mention gossip?
Jesus says again that his listeners hated his words because they accused them of violating God’s Word.
Verse 37 could be called rude, but Jesus needed to build both his message and a case against him; otherwise, he would not be sent to die, the most important reason for him to come to earth.
Jesus let his opponents know that he was on to them. Most who heard the statement would have wondered if he was crazy, imagining people were out to get him. Many people today find the words of Jesus too hard to accept, but at least they hear or read the words, unlike those who ignore Jesus.
I am telling you what I have seen in the presence of my Father. ‘In case you think I am crazy, God tells me and shows me what He wants you all to know about Him. I have come from Heaven to relay that message to you. On the other hand, you have learned the wrong way from your earthly fathers. You need to understand your True Father and the way He expects you to live.’ The only way we can do that is to listen to preachers and teachers, read the Bible, and study good Christians in action.
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” NIV
Some in the crowd, possibly those who plotted against Jesus, tried to force him to accept Abraham as the substitute for God.
Jesus refuses to bite. ‘If.’ Jesus makes clear he is saying they are not following Abraham; if they were, they would not be trying to kill him. Abraham knew God and would never kill the Son of God. ‘If you knew God, you would not be doing this.’
One of the problems we humans have is that we are sheep; we follow people who are called influencers. They are people in positions of power—political, economic, social, even entertainment. Today in America, many influencers post blogs telling us things we would like to think is true. We believe what they say without checking the facts or squaring it with what others say. Most importantly, we fail to check it against the Word of God.
Rev. Jim Jones, at one point, had a congregation of over 3,000 in San Francisco. He convinced about a thousand of them to follow him to Guyana, where, in 1978, he convinced more than 900 of them to drink Flavor Aid laced with cyanide.
From Influencer MarketingHub. Over the last decade, we have seen social media grow rapidly in importance. According to the January 2019 We Are Social report, 3.484 billion people actively use social media – that’s 45% of the world’s population. Inevitably these people look up to influencers in social media to guide them with their decision making. Influencers in social media are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views.
Sports and entertainment stars top many lists of influencers. They rarely lead us to God. And what do they know about politics, the economy, etc.?
You can find lists of the top influencers in each category online.
Jesus should be our only influencer.
41 “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” NIV
This is just another claim to be children of Abraham, therefore, to be children of God. They assume that they are of Abraham; therefore, they need nothing else. By implication, they are suggesting that Jesus is not of Abraham.
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. ESV
The bottom line: it is not possible to be a child of God without loving the Son of Man. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to earth as a human, as the Son of Man.
God the Father and God the Son sat in the shade of a tree (I imagine) and planed the universe where we could live. The whole purpose was to create a universe with a world for us. It took over 900 billion years to get to the creation of our solar system. Another billion years or so, and earth became safe enough for primitive life to survive. Three billion years later, God the Father and Son created humans in their image.
In that enormous and human-mind-boggling plan, God said to his Son, ‘Herod, to be called the Great, is the time I want you to be born a human so you can show people what we intended for them. You will lead them out of the darkness of sin and into the light of life with Us. Most will stay in the darkness, but you will bring enough into the light to begin the slow revolution of Faith.’
Amazingly, God’s patience with us goes beyond human understanding.
Jesus was frustrated to be talking to children of Abraham, chosen by God to bring the Light to the world, yet they rejected the Word of God. They decided to wander off, following their ideas and rejecting what they had learned of the Father. They believed the animal sacrifices removed their sins, so they did live ‘perfect’ lives. Too many ‘Christians’ make the same mistake by assuming church attendance or ten dollars in the plate is all that is needed to save them.
Jesus was not trying to win friends and influence people. He had a message from our Father in Heaven. He was here to give us God’s Truth, which is sometimes painful for us to hear.
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” ESV
In this section, Jesus lays it all out. It is not possible to believe a little of this and a little of that. Either we believe Jesus, or we believe the devil.
Jesus is not name-calling here. He knows the Father of Lies is at work in these people. I may think that someone is evil, but generally, I have no evidence to support the notion. I do not even know if he kicks his dog; I just do not like him. Jesus is different; he knows everything about the person.
Once I start believing lies, I slide away from God and into evil. The devil is sneaky, he leads us to believe a small, innocuous lie and then leads us to bigger and bigger ones until we can no longer tell the difference.
But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. What a terrible thing for Jesus to have to say to a crowd of Jews. ‘You believe the evil one, but you do not believe God. Prove that I am wrong.’
48 “How right we are,” retorted the Jews, “in calling you a Samaritan, and mad at that!” 49 “No,” replied Jesus, “I am not mad. I am honouring my Father and you are trying to dishonour me. 50 But I am not concerned with my own glory: there is one whose concern it is, and he is the true judge. 51 Believe me when I tell you that if anybody accepts my words, he will never see death at all.” Phillips
Jesus could have put a stop to this give and take at any time, but he needed to draw out the reality of the hatred toward him. He wanted people to understand why they believed what they did, just as he wants us to recognize our sins and repent of them. Making a confession of faith and being baptized is only the beginning; we must be on guard all day, every day, and be willing to admit when we are wrong in the eyes of God.
The example of Jesus is to refuse to be glorified by anyone but God the Father. We should expect not to seek any glory in our work for God. It is not that we must hide what we do, only that we downplay our role and glorify God for His work.
Many people deserve our help, but too often, we are more concerned that someone will take advantage of our generosity than we are about helping the needy. When a person ‘works the system,’ we are free to move on. Forget about helping those who do not need it. Assume they need it and give it freely. Let God sort it out.
52 “Now we know that you’re mad,” replied the Jews. “Why, Abraham died and the prophets, too, and yet you say, ‘If a man accepts my words, he will never experience death!’ 53 Are you greater than our father, Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets—who are you making yourself out to be?” 54 “If I were trying to glorify myself,” returned Jesus, “such glory would be worthless. But it is my Father who glorifies me, the very one whom you say is your God—55 though you have never known him. But I know him, and if I said I did not know him, I should be as much a liar as you are! But I do know him and I am faithful to what he says. 56 As for your father, Abraham, his great joy was that he would see my coming. Now he has seen it and he is overjoyed.” 57 “Look,” said the Jews to him, “you are not fifty yet, and has Abraham seen you?” 58 “I tell you in solemn truth,” returned Jesus, “before there was an Abraham, I AM!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to hurl at him, but Jesus disappeared and made his way out of the Temple. Phillips
Most of this is a rehash of earlier points.
We see Abraham rejoicing in Heaven that the Messiah has come to earth.
The response is that Abraham has been dead thousands of years; how could he see you?
Jesus pulls out the conversation stopper. I AM.
Be Righteous and do Good