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JOHN 8:12-32 The following is a Summary of the passage which is to be before us: — 1. Christ the Light of the world: verse 12. 2. The Pharisees’ denial: verse 13. 3. Christ enforces His claim to absolute Deity: verses 14-18. 4. The Pharisees’ question and Christ’s reply: verses 19, 20. 5. Christ’s solemn warning to the Pharisees: verses 21-24. 6. The Pharisees’ question and Christ’s reply: verses 25-29. 7. The many who “believed” and Christ’s warning to them; verses 30- 32.
The first division of John 8 forms a most striking and suitable introduction to the first verse of our present lesson, which, in turn, supplies the key to what follows in the remainder of the chapter. The Holy Spirit records here one of the precious discourses of “The Wonderful Counsellor,” a discourse broken by the repeated interruptions of His enemies. Christ announces Himself as “the light of the world”, but this is prefaced by an incident which gives wonderful force to that utterance.
As we saw in our last chapter, the first eleven verses of John 8 describe a venomous assault made upon the Savior by the scribes and Pharisees. A determined effort was made to discredit Him before the people. A woman taken in adultery was brought, the penalty of the Mosaic law was defined, and then the question was put to Christ, “But what sayest thou?” We are not left to speculate as to their motive: the passage tells us “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.” Think of it! They imagined that they could substantiate an accusation against the Lawgiver Himself! What perversity: what blindness: what depravity! Yet how effectively this serves as a dark back-ground on which to display the better, “the light”! Nor is that all that this introduction effected.
In our exposition of these verses we intimated that what was there presented to Christ was the problem — altogether too profound for creature wisdom — how to harmonize justice and mercy. The woman was guilty; of that there could be no doubt. The sentence of the law was plainly defined. What reply, then, could Christ make to the open challenge, “What sayest thou?” There is little need for us to repeat what was said in the previous chapter, though the theme is a most captivating one. By symbolic action our Lord showed that it was not the Divine intention for mercy to be exercised at the expense of justice. He intimated that the law would be enforced. But by writing on the ground the second time, He reminded His would-be accusers that a shelter from the exposed law was planned, and that a blood-sprinkled covering would protect the guilty one from its accusing voice. Thus did the Redeemer intimate that God’s righteousness would be magnified in the Divine method of saving sinners, and that His holiness would shine forth with unsullied splendor. And “light” is the emblem of holiness and righteousness! Fitting introduction, then, was this for our Lord’s announcement of Himself as “the light of the world.”
But not only did the malice of the Lord’s enemies supply a dark background to bring into welcome relief the outshining of the Divine Light; not only did their attack supply Christ with an opportunity for Him to manifest Himself as the Vindicator of God’s holiness and righteousness; but we may also discover a further reason for the Holy Spirit describing this incident at the beginning of our chapter. Following His symbolic action of writing on the ground, the Lord uttered one brief sentence, and one only, to His tempters, but that one was quite sufficient to rout them completely. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” was what He said. The effect was startling: “Being convicted by their conscience” they “,,vent out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” It was the holy “light” of God which smote their sin-darkened understandings, and their departure demonstrated the power of that light!
Observe, too, the words of Christ to the adulterous woman: “Go,” He said, not “in peace”; but “GO, and sin no more .” How that evidenced the spotless purity of “the light”! Thus we see, once more, the great importance of studying and weighing the context; for here, as everywhere, it gives meaning to what follows. “Then spake Jesus again unto them” ( John 8:12). “Then ” signifies after the departure of the Pharisees and after the adulterous woman had gone. “Then spake Jesus again unto them .” This takes us back to the second verse of our chapter where we are told that in the early morning Christ entered the temple, and, as all the people came unto Him, He sat down and taught them. Now, after the rude interruption from certain of the scribes and Pharisees, He resumed His teaching of the people, and spake “again unto them.” And herein we may discover, once more, the perfections of the God-man. The disagreeable interruption had in no wise disturbed His composure. Though fully aware of the malignant design of the Pharisees, He possessed His soul in patience. Without exhibiting the slightest perturbation, refusing to be turned aside from the task He was engaged in, He returned at once to the teaching of the people. How differently we act under provocation! To us disturbances are only too frequently perturbances. If only we realized that everything which enters our life is ordered by God, and we acted in accord with this, then should we maintain our composure and conduct ourselves with unruffled serenity. But only one perfect life has been lived on this earth; and our innumerable imperfections only serve to emphasize the uniqueness of that life. “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world” ( John 8:12).
This is the second of the “I am” titles of Christ found in this fourth Gospel.
It calls for most careful consideration. We may observe, in the first place, that this announcement by Christ was in full accord with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Through Isaiah God said concerning the Coming One, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” ( Isaiah 42:6).
And again, “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” ( Isaiah 49:6).
And again, He was denominated “the sun of righteousness” who should arise “with healing in his wings” or “beams” ( Malachi 4:2). “I am the light of the world.” We may notice, in the second place, that “light” is one of the three things which God is said to be. In John 4:24 we are told, “God is spirit.” In 1 John 1:5, “God is light”; and in John 4:8, “God is love.” These expressions relate to the nature of God, what He is in Himself. Hence, when Christ affirmed “I am the light of the world,” He announced His absolute Deity. Believers are said to be “light in the Lord ” ( Ephesians 5:8). But Christ Himself was “the light.”
But what is meant by “I am the light of the world ”? Does this mean that Christ is the Light of the whole human race, of every man and woman? If so, does this prove that Universalism is true? Certainly not. The second part of our verse disproves Universalism: it is only the one who “follows” Christ that has “the light of life.” The one who does not “follow” Christ remains in darkness. The words of Christ in John 12:46 supply further repudiation of Universalism: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” But if “I am the light of the world” does not teach Universalism, what does it mean? We believe that its force will best be ascertained by comparing John 1:4,5,9. As we have given an exposition of these verses in the second chapter of Vol. I, we would ask the reader to turn to it. Suffice it now to say we understand that “light” in these passages is not to be restricted to the spiritual illumination enjoyed by believers, but is to be taken in its widest signification. If John 1:4 be linked with the preceding verse (as it should be), it will be seen that the reference is to the relation sustained by the Creator to “men.” The “light” which lightens every man that cometh into the world is that which constitutes him a responsible being. Every rational creature is morally enlightened. Christ is the Light of the world in the widest possible sense, inasmuch as all creature intelligence and all moral perception proceed from Him.
Perhaps it may be well to ask here, Why is it that “the world” is mentioned so frequently in this fourth Gospel? The “world” occurs only fifteen times in the first three Gospels added together; whereas in John it is found seventy-seven times! Why is this? The answer is not far to seek. In this fourth Gospel we have a presentation of what Christ is essentially in His own person, and not what He was in special relation to the Jews, as in the other Gospels. John treats of the Deity of Christ, and as God He is the Creator of all ( John 1:3). and therefore the life and light of His creatures ( John 1:4). It is true that in a number of instances “the world” has a restricted meaning, but these are not difficult to determine: either the context or parallel passages show us when the term is to be understood in its narrower sense. The principle of interpretation is not an arbitrary one.
When something is predicated of “the world” which is true only of the redeemed, then we know it is only the world of believers which is in view: for instance, Christ giving (not proffering) life — here eternal life as the context shows — unto the world ( John 6:33). But when there is nothing that is predicated of “the world” which is true only of believers, then it is “the world of the ungodly” ( 2 Peter 2:5) which is in view. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” ( John 8:12).
At first glance this clause will seem, perhaps, to conflict with the definition we have given of “light” in the first part of the verse. “I am the light of the world” we understand to signify (in accord with John 1:4,5,9), I am the One who has bestowed intelligence and moral sensibility on all men.
But now Christ says (by necessary implication) that unless a man “follows” Him he will “walk in darkness.” But instead of conflicting with what we have said above, the second part of verse 12 will be found, on careful reflection, to confirm it. “He that followeth me” said our Lord, “shall not walk in darkness [Greek, “the darkness”], but shall,” shall what? “enjoy the light”? no, “shall have the light of life.” These words point a contrast. In the former sentence He spoke of Himself as the moral light of men; in the second He refers to the spiritual light which is possessed by believers only.
This is clear from the expression used: he “shall have” not merely “light” — which all rational creatures possess; but “he shall have the light of life,” that is, of spiritual, Divine light, which is something possessed only by those who “follow” Christ. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” In these words, then, Christ defined the state of the natural man. The unregenerate have “light”: they are capable of weighing moral issues; they have a conscience which either “accuses or excuses them” ( Romans 2:15); and they have the capacity to recognize the innumerable evidences which testify to the existence and natural attributes of the great Creator ( Romans 1:19); so that “they are without excuse” ( Romans 1:20).
But spiritual light they do not have. Consequently, though they are endowed with intelligence and moral discernment, spiritually, they are “in the darkness.” And it was because of this that the Savior said, “He that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
The necessary implication of these words is that the world is in spiritual darkness. It was so two thousand years ago. The Greeks with all their wisdom and the Romans with all their laws were spiritually in the dark.
The great crowds see not the true character of God, the worth of their souls, the reality of the world to come. And Christ is the only hope. He has risen like the sun, to diffuse life and light, salvation and peace, in the midst of a dark world. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” What is it to “follow” Christ? It is to commit ourselves unreservedly to Him as our only Lord and Savior in doctrine and conduct (see John 1:37 and contrast John 10:5). A beautiful illustration (borrowed from Bishop Ryle) of this is to be found in the history of Israel in the wilderness as they followed the “cloud.” Just as the “cloud” led Israel from Egypt to Canaan, so the Lord Jesus leads the believer from this world to heaven.
And to the one who really follows Christ the promise is, he shall not, like those all around him, walk in darkness. “Light,” in Scripture, is sometimes the emblem of true knowledge, true holiness, true happiness; while “darkness” is the figure for ignorance and error, guilt and depravity, privation and misery. Because the believer follows the One who is Light, he does not grope his way in doubt and uncertainty, but he sees where he is going, and not only so, he enjoys the light of God’s countenance. But this is his experience only so far as he really “follows” Christ. Just as if it were possible to follow the sun in its complete circuit, we should always be in broad daylight, so the one who is actually following Christ shall not walk in darkness. “The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true” ( John 8:13).
Christ had just made the fullest claim to Deity when He said “I am the light of the world” the Pharisees could not understand Him to mean anything less. Jehovah-Elohim was the God of light, as numerous passages in the Old Testament plainly taught. When Jesus made this asseveration the Pharisees therefore said, “Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.” The force of their objection seems to be this: That God is the Light of the world we fully allow, but when you avow this of yourself we cannot accredit it; what you say is false. “The Pharisees therefore said unto him.” Evidently these were a different company of Pharisees than those who had brought in the adulteress.
Enraged by the discomfiture of their brethren, their fellows insultingly said to the Lord, Thy record is not true. They shrank from the Light. They could not endure the holy purity of its beams. They desired only to extinguish it. How solemnly this illustrated John l:5 — “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not? “Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go;” ( John 8:14).
Here the Lord tersely replies to the unbelieving denial of the Pharisees, and ratifies what He had said just previously. Though My Divine glory is now veiled, though at present I am not exercising My Divine prerogatives, though I stand before you in servant form, nevertheless, when I affirmed that I am the Light of the world I spoke the truth. My record is true because “I know whence I came and whither I go,” which is a knowledge possessed absolutely by none else. He had come from the Father in heaven, and thither He would return; and therefore, as the Son, He could not give a false witness. But as to His heavenly nature and character they were in complete ignorance, and therefore altogether incompetent to form, and still less to pass, a judgment. “Though I bear record of myself yet my record is true.” Some have experienced a difficulty in harmonizing this with what we read of in verse 31 — “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” But if each of these statements be interpreted in strict accord with the context the difficulty vanishes. In John 5 the Lord was proving that the witness or record He bore was not in independence of the Father, but in perfect accord therewith. The Father himself ( John 5:37) and the Scriptures inspired by the Father ( John 5:39) also testified to the absolute Deity of Christ. But here in John 8 the Lord Jesus is making direct reply to the Pharisees who had said that His witness was false. This He denies, and insists that it was true; and immediately after He appeals again to the confirmatory witness of the Father (see John 8:18). “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man” ( John 8:15).
We believe that there is a double thought here. When Christ said “Ye judge after (according to) the flesh,” He meant, we think, first, You are deciding My claims according to what you see; you are judging according to outward appearances. Because I am in the likeness of sinful flesh you deem it impossible for Me to be “the light of the world.” But appearances are deceptive. I do not form My judgments thus: 1 look on the heart, and see things as they actually are. But again; when Christ said: “Ye judge after the flesh,” this was to affirm that they were incapable of judging Him. They adopted the world’s principles, and judged according to carnal reasoning.
Because of this they were incapable of discerning the Divine nature of His mission and message. “I judge no man” has been variously interpreted. Many understand it to signify that Christ here reminded His critics that He was not then exercising His judicial prerogatives. It is regarded as being parallel with the last clause of John 12:47. But we think it is more natural, and better suited to the context, to supply an ellipsis, and understand Christ here to mean, I do not judge any man after the flesh ; when I judge, it is according to spiritual and Divine principles. The Greek word signifies “to determine, to form an estimate, to arrive at a decision,” and here it has precisely the same force in each clause. When Christ said to these Pharisees, “Ye judge after the flesh,” He did not refer to a judicial verdict, for He was not then replying to some formal pronouncement of the Sanhedrin. Instead, He meant, You have formed your estimate of Me after the flesh, but not so do I form My estimates. “And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me” ( John 8:16).
This confirms what we have just said upon the last clause of the previous verse. “If I judge,” or better “when I judge” My judgment is true. You may determine according to carnal principles; but I do not. I act on spiritual principles. I judge not according to appearances, but according to reality.
My judgment is according to truth, for it is the judgment of God — “I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.” This was a full claim to Deity. It affirmed the absolute oneness of the Son with the Father. This statement of Christ’s is parallel with the one He made later: “I and my Father are one” ( John 10:30). He speaks here in John 8 of the Divine wisdom which is common to the Father and the Son. This being so, how could His judgment be anything but true? “It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me” ( John 8:17,18).
Here Christ repeats in another form what He had just affirmed. HIS testimony was not unsupported. The Mosaic law required two witnesses to establish the truth. The present case was not one where this law was strictly applicable; nevertheless, the circumstances of it were in fullest accord therewith. Christ bore personal witness to His Divine person and mission, and the Father also bore witness thereto. How the Father bore witness to the Son was before us in the fifth chapter of this Gospel. He bore witness to Him in the prophecies of the Old Testament, which were now so gloriously fulfilled in His character, teaching, actions, and even in His very rejection by men. The Father had borne witness to the Son through the testimony of His servant, John the Baptist (see John 1). He had borne witness to Him at the Jordan, on the occasion of His baptism. Thus by the principles of their own law these Pharisees were condemned. Two witnesses established the truth, but here were two Witnesses, the Father and the Son, and yet they rejected the truth! It was not, as several of the commentators have thought, that Christ was here appealing to the law in order to vindicate Himself. His manifest purpose was to condemn them, and that is why He says, “your law” rather than “the law.” “Then said they unto Him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also” ( John 8:19).
How the Light revealed the hidden things of darkness! Christ had appealed to the testimony of the Father, but so obtuse were these Pharisees, they asked, “Where is thy Father?” In our Lord’s answer to them we are shown once more how that none can know the Father save through and by the Son. As He declared on another occasion, “Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” ( Matthew 11:27). “These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come” ( John 8:20). “The treasury ‘was in the forecourt of the women, in which were placed thirteen bronze chests, to receive the taxes and free-will offerings of the people. The mention of the treasury here would be quite in keeping with the genuineness of the history of the woman taken in adultery. To the court of the women only could she have been brought to meet the Lord. Of these chests, nine were for legal payment of the worshippers, and four for free-will offerings” (C.E.S. from Barclay’s Talmud). “And no man laid hands on him: for his hour was not yet come.” This plainly intimates that the Pharisees were greatly incensed at what Christ had said, and had it been possible they would have at once subjected Him to violence. But it was not possible, and never would have been unless God had withdrawn His restraining hand. It is indeed striking to note how this feature is repeated again and again in the fourth Gospel, see John 7:30; 7:44; 8:59; and 10:39, etc. These passages show that men were unable to work out their evil designs until God permitted them to do so. They demonstrate that God is complete master of all; and they prove that the sufferings Christ did undergo were endured voluntarily. “Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins” ( John 8:21).
The word “again” looks back to John 7:33,34, where on a previous occasion Christ had made a similar statement. “I go my way” signifies I shall very shortly leave you. It was a solemn word of warning. “And ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins.” Christ here addressed these Pharisees as the representatives of the nation, and looked forward to the sore trials before it. In but a few years, Israel would suffer an affliction far heavier than any they had experienced before; and when that time came, they would seek the delivering help of their promised Messiah, but it would be in vain. Having refused the Light they would continue in the darkness.
Having despised the Savior, they should “die in their sins.” Having rejected the Son of God, it would be impossible for them to come whither He had gone. “Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins.” It is unspeakably solemn that these words have a present application. How dreadful! that the Savior may be sought, but sought in vain. A man may have religious feelings about Christ, even weep at the thought of His Cross, and yet have no saving acquaintance with Him. Sickness, the fear of death, a serious financial reverse, the drying up of creature — sources of comfort — these frequently draw out much religiousness. Under a little pressure a man will say his prayers, read his Bible, become active in church work, profess to seek Christ, and become quite a different character; but only too often such an one is but reformed, and not transformed. And frequently this is made apparent in this world. Let the pressure be removed, let health return, let there be a change of circumstances, and how often we behold the zealous professor returning to his old ways. Such an one may have “sought” Christ, but because his motive was wrong, because it was not the effect of a deep conviction of being lost and undone, his seeking was in vain. “Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins.” Far more solemn is the application of these words to a class of people today which we greatly fear is by no means a small one. How many there are who, under the superficial and temporary influence of the modern evangelistic meetings, come forward to the front seeking Christ. For the moment, many of them, no doubt, are in earnest; and yet the sequel proves that they sought in vain.
Why is this? Two answers may be returned.
Second , with others, and with by far the greater number, it is because they do not seek in the right place . The seeker in the average meeting is exhorted to “lay his all upon the altar,” or is told that he must “pray through.” But Christ is not to be found by either of these means. “Search the Scriptures ” was the word of the Savior Himself, and the reason given was, “they are they which testify of me.” In the volume of the book it is written of Christ. It is in the written Word that the incarnate Word is to be found. “Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins.” These words will yet have a further application to a coming day, when it will be too late to find Christ.
Then the “door” will be shut. Then sinners will call upon God but He will not answer; they shall seek the Lord, but they shall not find Him ( Proverbs 1:28, etc.). “Whither I go, ye cannot come” ( John 8:21).
Not “ye shall not come,” but “ye cannot come.” Cannot because the holiness of God makes it impossible: that which is corrupt and vile cannot dwell with Him; there can be no communion between light and darkness.
Cannot because the righteousness of God makes it impossible. Sin must be punished; the penalty of the broken law must be enforced; and for the reprobate “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Cannot because they have no character suited to the place whither Christ has gone. In the very nature of the case every man must go to “his own place” ( Acts 1:25), the place for which he is fitted. If, by grace, he has the nature of God, then later on he will go and dwell with Him ( John 13:36); but if he passes out of this world “dead in sins” then, of necessity, he will yet be cast into the Lake of Fire, “which is the second death” ( Revelation 20:14). If a man dies “in his sins” he cannot enter heaven. How completely this shatters the “Larger Hope”! “Then said the jews, Will he kill Himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come?” ( John 8:22).
The Pharisees replied with profane levity, and with an impious sneer. This is frequently the resort of a defeated opponent: when unable to refute solid argument, he will avail himself of ridicule. With what infinite grace did Our Lord forbear with His enemies! “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world” ( John 8:23).
There seems to be a double thought conveyed by these words. First, Christ pointed out the reason or cause why they understood not His words and received not His witness. There was an infinite gulf separating Him from them: they were from beneath, He was from above. Second, Christ explained why it was that whither He was going they could not come. They belonged to two totally different spheres: they were of the world, He was not of the world. The friendship of the world is enmity against God, how then could they who were not only in the world, but of it, enter heaven, which was His home? “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” ( John 8:24).
How terrible is the end of unbelief! The one who persists in his rejection of the Christ of God will die in his sins, unpardoned, unfit for heaven, unprepared to meet God] How unspeakably solemn is this! How little are we impressed by these fearful words, “die in your sins” — true of the vast majority of our fellows as they pass out of this world into an hopeless eternity. And how sadly mistaken are they who say that it is harsh and uncharitable to speak of the future destiny of unbelievers. The example of Christ should teach us better. He did not hesitate to press this awful truth, nor should we. In the light of God’s Word it is criminal to remain silent. In the judgment of the writer this is the one truth which above all others needs to be pressed today. Men will not turn to Christ until they recognize their imminent danger of the wrath to come. “Ye shall die in your sins.” This is one of many verses which exposes a modern error concerning the Atonement. There are some who teach that on the Cross Christ bore all the sins of all men. They insist that the entire question of sin was dealt with and settled at Calvary. They declare that the only thing which will now send any man to hell, is his rejection of Christ.
But such teaching is entirely unscriptural. Christ bore all the sins of believers, but for the sins of unbelievers no atonement was made. And one of the many proofs of this is furnished by John 8:24: “Ye shall die in your sins” could never have been said if the Lord Jesus removed all sins from before God. f9 “Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” ( John 8:25).
We believe that this is given much more accurately in the R.V., especially the marginal rendering: “They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? Jesus said unto them, Altogether that which I also speak unto you.” This was a remarkable utterance. The Pharisees had objected that Christ’s witness of Himself was not true (verse 13). The Lord replied that His witness was true, and He proved it by an appeal to the corroborative witness of the Father. Now they ask, “Who art thou?” And the incarnate Son of God answered, I am essentially and absolutely that which I have declared myself to be. I have spoken of “light”: I am that Light. I have spoken of “truth”: I am that Truth. I am the very incarnation, personification, exemplification of them. Wondrous declaration is this! None but He could really say, I am Myself that of which I am speaking to you. The child of God may speak the truth and walk in the truth, but he is not the Truth itself. A Christian may let his light “shine,” but he is not the Light itself. But Christ was, and therein we perceive His exalted uniqueness. As we read in 1 John 5:20, “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true,” not “him who taught the truth,” but “him that is true.” “I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” ( John 8:26).
As nearly as we can gather, the force of this verse is as follows: ‘Your incredulity is very reprehensible, and your insulting sneers deserve the severest censure, but I forbear.’ If Christ had dealt with these insulting opponents as they thoroughly merited, not only would He have upbraided them, but He would have passed an immediate sentence of condemnation upon them. Instead of doing so, He contented Himself by affirming once more that the witness He bore of Himself was true, because it was in the most perfect accord with what the Father Himself had said. Perfect example for us. Whenever the servant of Christ is criticized and challenged because of the message he brings, let him learn of his Master, who was meek and lowly in heart. Instead of passing sentence of condemnation on your detractors, simply press upon them the eternal veracity of Him in whose name you speak. “They understood not that he spake to them of the Father” ( John 8:27) O the blinding power of prejudice; the darkness of unbelief! How solemnly this reveals the woeful condition that the natural man is in. Unable to understand even when the Son of God was preaching to them! “Except a man be born again he cannot see.” And this is the condition of every man by nature. Spiritually, the unregenerate American is in precisely the same darkness that the heathen are in, for both are in the darkness of death. Men need something more than external light; they need inward illumination.
One may sit all his life under the soundest Gospel ministry, and at the end, understand no more with the heart than those in Africa who have never heard the Gospel. Let these solemn words be duly weighed — “they understood not,” understood not the words which none other than the Son of God was saying to them! Then let every reader who knows that he is saved, praise God fervently because He “hath given US in understanding , that we may know him that is true” ( 1 John 5:20). “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things” ( John 8:28).
His “lifting up” referred to His approaching death and the manner of it, see John 12:32,33. “Then shall ye know that I am he” intimated that the crucifixion would be accompanied and followed by such manifestations of His Divine glory that He would be fully vindicated, and many would be convinced that He was indeed the Messiah, and that He had done and said only what He had been commissioned by the Father to do and say. How strikingly was this word of Christ verified on the day of Pentecost!
Thousands, then, of the very ones who had cried, “Crucify him”, were brought to believe on Him as “both Lord and Christ.” “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” ( John 8:29). “Whatever opinion men might form of His doctrines or conduct, He knew that in all He said, and in all He did, He was the Father’s elect servant upheld and delighted in by Him — His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased” (Dr. John Brown).
Men who were blinded by Satan might regard Him as an impostor, and as a blasphemer, but He knew that the Father approved and would yet vindicate Him fully. How could it be otherwise when He did always those things that pleased Him? — a claim none other could truthfully make. “As he spake these words, many believed on him” ( John 8:30).
This does not mean that they believed to the saving of their souls, the verses which follow evidence they had not. Probably nothing more is here signified than that they were momentarily impressed so that their enmity against Him was, temporarily, allayed. Many were evidently struck by what they observed in the demeanor of Christ-bearing the perverseness of His enemies so patiently, speaking of so ignominious a death with such holy composure, and expressing so positively His sense of the Father’s approbation. Nevertheless, the impression was but a fleeting one, and their believing on Him amounted to no more than asking, “When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” ( John 7:31). “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” ( John 8:31).
Our Lord here describes one of the marks of a genuine disciple of His.
Continuance in His word is not a condition of discipleship, rather is it the manifestation of it. It is this, among other things, which distinguishes a true disciple from one who is merely a professor. These words of Christ supply us with a sure test. It is not how a man begins, but how he continues and ends. It is this which distinguishes the stony ground hearer from the goodground hearer — see Matthew 13:20,23, and contrast Luke 8:15. To His apostles Christ said “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” ( Matthew 10:22). Not, we repeat, that enduring to the end is a condition of salvation, it is an evidence or proof that we have already passed from death unto life. So writes the apostle John of some who had apostatized from the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us,” etc. ( 1 John 2:19). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” The word “indeed” signifies truly, really, genuinely so. By using this word Christ here intimated that those referred to in the previous verse, who are said to have “believed on him,” were not “genuine disciples.” The one who has been truly saved will not fall away and be lost; the one who does fall away and is lost, was never truly saved. To “continue” in Christ’s word is to “keep his word” ( Revelation 3:8). It is to hold fast whatever Christ has said; it is to perseveringly follow out the faith we profess to its practical end. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” ( John 8:32). “To know the truth is something more definite than to know what is true; it is to understand that revelation with regard to the salvation of men, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, which is so often in the New Testament called, by way of eminence, ‘the truth’, — the truth of truths, — the most important of all truths, — the truth of which He is full, — the truth that came by Him, as the law came by Moses, — the truth, the reality in opposition to the shadows, the emblems, of the introductory economy, — what Paul termed, ‘the word of the truth of the Gospel’, Colossians 1:5” (Dr. John Brown). “The truth shall make you free.” Note the striking connection between these three things: (1) “continue in my word,” verse 31; (2) “ye shall know the truth,” verse 32; (3) “the truth shall make you free,” verse 32.
This order cannot be changed. The truth gives spiritual liberty; it frees from the blinding power of Satan ( 2 Corinthians 4:4). It delivers from the darkness of spiritual death ( Ephesians 4:18). It emancipates from the prison-house of sin ( Isaiah 61:1). Further enlargement upon the character and scope Of spiritual freedom will be given when we come to verse 36. Let the student first work on the following questions: — 1. To what extent is the sinner the “servant” (bondslave ) of sin? verse 34. 2. What does verse 36 teach about the will of the natural man? 3. What is the difference between Abraham’s “children” (verse 39), and his “seed” (verse 33)? 4. What is the meaning of verse 43? 5. What is the force of “of God” in verse 47? 6. What is the meaning of verse 51? 7. To what was Christ referring in verse 56?