Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ, the Light of the World (Concluded)
The passage for our present consideration continues and completes the portion studied in our last chapter. It brings before us Christ as the Light revealing the hidden things of darkness, exposing the pretensions of religious professors, and making manifest the awful depths of human depravity. We shall miss that in it which is of most importance and value if we localize it, and see in these verses nothing more than the record of a conversation between the Lord and men long since past and gone. We need to remind ourselves constantly that the Word of God is a living Word, depicting things as they now are, describing the opposition and activities of the carnal mind as they obtain today, and giving counsel which is strictly pertinent to ourselves. It is from this viewpoint we shall discuss this closing section of John 8. Below we give a Summary of our passage:—
1. Bondage and liberty: verses 33-36.
2. Abraham’s seed and Abraham’s children: verses 37-40.
3. Children of the Devil and children of God: verses 41-47.
4. Christ dishonored by men, the Father honored by Christ: verses 48-50.
5. Life and death: verses 51-55.
6. Abraham and Christ: verses 56-58.
7. The Savior leaves the Temple: verse 59.
"They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" (John 8:33). This was the reply made by the Jews to the words of the Lord recorded in the previous verses. There we find Him describing the fundamental characteristic of a genuine disciple of His: he is one who continues in Christ’s word (verse 31, re-read our comments thereon). The one who continues in the Word shall know the truth, and the truth shall make him free (verse 32). But to be told about being made free is something the natural man does not like to hear. The plain implication is that before he knows the truth he is in bondage. And such indeed is the case, little as men realize or recognize the fact. There are four things about themselves which are particularly hateful, because so humbling, to the unregenerate. First, that they are destitute of righteousness (Isa. 64:6) and goodness (Rom. 7:18), and therefore "unclean" (Isa. 64:6) and "vile" (Job 40:4). Second, that they are destitute of wisdom from John 3:11 and therefore full of "vanity" (Ps. 39:5) and "foolishness" (Prov. 22:15). Third, that they are destitute of "strength" from verse 6 and "power" (Isa. 40:29), and therefore unable to do anything good of or from themselves (John 15:5). Fourth, that they are destitute of freedom (Isa. 61:1), and therefore in a state of bondage (2 Pet. 2:19).
The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he "cannot cease from sin" (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.
Ye shall be made free (John 8:33). As already stated, this signifies that the natural man is in bondage. But this is a truth that the natural man cannot tolerate. The very announcement of it stirs up the enmity within him. Tell the sinner that there is no good thing in him, and he will not believe you; but tell him that he is completely the slave of sin and the captive of Satan, that he cannot think a godly thought of himself (2 Cor. 3:5), that he cannot receive God’s truth (1 Cor. 2:14), that he cannot believe (John 12:39), that he cannot please God (Rom. 8:8), that he cannot come to Christ (John 6:44), and he will indignantly deny your assertions. So it was here in the passage before us. When Christ said "the truth shall make you free", the Jews replied "We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man."
The proud boast of these Jews was utterly unfounded; nothing could have been further from the truth. The very first view which Scripture gives us of Abraham’s seed after they became a nation, is in bitter and cruel bondage (Ex. 2). Seven times over in the book of Judges we read of God delivering or selling Israel into the hands of the Canaanites. The seventy-years captivity in Babylon also gave the lie to the words of these Jews, and even at the time they spoke, the Romans were their masters. It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hot]y deny that his will is enslaved by sin. "How sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?": equally ignorant are thousands in the religious world today. Deliverance from the Law, emancipation from bad habits they have heard about, but real spiritual freedom they understand not, and cannot while they remain in ignorance about the universal bondage of sin.
"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant [bond-slave] of sin" (John 8:34). In saying "whosoever... is the bondslave" Christ was intimating to these Jews that they were no exception to the general rule, even though they belonged to the favored seed of Abraham. Christ was not speaking of a particular class of men more lawless than their fellows, but was affirming that which is true of every man in his natural condition. "Whosoever committeth sin," refers to the regular practice, the habitual course of a man’s life. Here is one thing which distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian. The Christian sins, and sins daily; but the non-Christian does nothing but sin. The Christian sins, but he also repents; moreover, he does good works, and brings forth the fruit of the Spirit. But the life of the unregenerate man is one unbroken course of sin. Sin, we say, not crime. Water cannot rise above its own level. Being a sinner by nature, man is a sinner by practice, and cannot be anything else. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. A poisoned fountain cannot send forth sweet waters. Because the sinner has no spiritual nature within him, because he is totally depraved and in complete bondage to sin, because he does nothing for God’s glory, every action is polluted, every deed unacceptable to the Holy One.
"Whosoever committeth sin is the bond-slave of sin." How different are God’s thoughts from ours! The man of the world imagines that to become a Christian means to forego his freedom. He supposes that he would be fettered with a lot of restrictions which nullified his liberty. But these very suppositions only evidence the fact that the god of this world (Satan) has blinded his mind (2 Cor. 4:4). The very opposite from what he supposes is really the case. It is the one out of Christ, not the one in Christ, who is in bondage—in "the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:23). He is impelled by the downward trend of his nature, and the very freedom which the sinner supposes he is exercising in the indulgence of his evil propensities is only additional proof that he is the "bond-slave of sin." The love of self, the love of the world, the love of money, the love of pleasure—these are the tyrants which rule over all who are out of Christ. Happy the one who is conscious of such bondage, for this is the first step toward liberty.
"And the bond-slave abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth ever" (John 8:35). The commentators are far from being in agreement in their interpretation of this verse, though we think there is little room for differences of opinion upon it. The "bond-slave" is the same character referred to in the previous verse—the one who makes a constant practice of sinning. Such an one abideth not in the house forever—the "house" signifies family, as in the House of Jacob, the House of Israel, the House of God (Heb. 3:5, 6). We take it that our Lord was simply enunciating a general principle or stating a well-known fact, namely, that a slave has only a temporary place in a family. The application of this principle to those He was addressing is obvious. The Jews insisted that they were Abraham’s seed (verse 32), that they belonged to the favored family, whose were the covenants and promises. But, says our Lord, the mere fact that you are the natural descendants of Abraham, gives you no title to the blessings which belong to his spiritual children. This was impossible while they remained the bond-slaves of sin. Unless they were "made free" they would soon be cut off even from the temporary place of external privilege.
"But the Son abideth ever." These words point a contrast. The slave’s place was uncertain, and at best temporary, but the Son’s place in the family is permanent—no doubt the word "abideth" here (as everywhere) suggests the additional thought of fellowship. The history of Abraham’s family well illustrated this fact, and probably Christ has the case of Ishmael and Isaac in mind when He uttered these words. "The Son abideth ever." Though this statement enunciated a general principle—some-thing that is true of every member of God’s family—yet the direct reference was clearly to Christ Himself, as the next verse makes plain, for "the Son" of verse 36 is clearly restricted to the Lord Jesus.
"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The "therefore" here settles the application of the previous verse. "The Son" is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is able to make free the bond-slaves of sin because He is the Son. The Son is no bond-slave in the Father’s family, but He is one in purpose and power with the Father; He is in perfect fellowship with Him, and therefore He is fully competent to liberate those under the tyranny of sin and the dominion of Satan. To make His people "free" was the central object in view in the Divine incarnation. The first ministerial utterance of Christ was to the effect that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed Him to preach "deliverance to the captives... to set at liberty them that are bruised" or "bound" (Luke 4:18). And so thoroughly are men under the thraldom of sin, so truly do they love darkness rather than light, they have to be made free. (cf. "maketh me to lie down" Psalm 23.)
"Ye shall be free indeed." Free from what? This brings before us the truth of Christian freedom: a most important subject, but one too wide to discuss here at any length. To sum up in the fewest possible words, we would say that Christian liberty, spiritual liberty, consists of this: First, deliverance from the condemnation of sin, the penalty of the law, the wrath of God—Isaiah 42:7; 60:1; Romans 8:1. Second, deliverance from the power of Satan—Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:14, 15. Third, from the bondage of sin—Romans 6:14, 18. Fourth, from the authority of man—Galatians 4:8, 9; 5:1; Colossians 2:20-22. So much for the negative side; now a word on the positive.
Christians are delivered from the things just mentioned that they may be free to serve God. The believer is "the Lord’s freeman" (1 Cor. 7:22), not Christ’s freeman, observe, but "the Lord’s," a Divine title which ever emphasizes our submission to His authority. When a sinner is saved he is not free to follow the bent of his old nature, for that would be lawlessness. Spiritual freedom is not license to do as I please, but emancipation from the bondage of sin and Satan that I may do as I ought: "that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74, 75). Romans 6:16-18 and 22 contains a Divine summary of the positive side of this subject: let the reader give it careful and prayerful study.
"I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you" (John 8:37). Our Lord’s object in these words is evident. He was further emphasizing the fact that though these Jews were the seed of Abraham, they certainly were not the children of God. Proof of this was furnished by the awful enmity then at work in their hearts. They sought (earnestly desired) to kill Him who was the Son. Certainly then, they were not God’s children. Moreover, His word had no place in them—the Greek word translated "no place" signifies no entrance. They received it not (contrast 1 Thessalonians 2:13). They were merely wayside hearers. It is this which distinguishes, essentially, a saved man from a lost one. The former is one who receives with meekness the engrafted Word (James 1:21). He hides that Word in his heart (Ps. 119:11). The believer gives that Word the place of trust, of honor, of rule, of love. The man of the world gives the Word no place because it is too spiritual, too holy, too searching. He is filled with his own concerns, and is too busy and crowded to give the Word of God a real place of attention. Unspeakably solemn are those awful words of Christ to all such: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
"I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father" (John 8:38). Christ further emphasizes the infinite gulf which separated these Jews from Himself. In the previous verse He had furnished proof that these men who were the seed of Abraham certainly were not the children of God. Here He leads up to their real parentage. In the first part of this verse our Lord insists that the doctrine He taught was what He had received from the Father, and its very nature and tendency clearly showed who His Father was. Its spirituality evidenced that it proceeded from the thrice Holy One: its unworldliness testified to the fact that it came from Him who is Spirit: its benignity showed it was from Him who is Love. Such was His Father.
"Ye do that which ye have seen with your father.’ . . . Your actions tell who your father is, as My doctrine tells who My Father is.’ In both cases ‘father’ here seems to mean spiritual model—the being after whom the character is fashioned—the being, under whose influences the moral and spiritual frame is formed. The thought that lies at the bottom of this representation is, ‘Men’s sentiments and conduct are things that are formed, and indicate the character of him who forms them. Your actions, which are characterized by falsehood and malignity, distinctly enough prove, that, in a moral and spiritual point of view, neither Abraham, nor the God of Abraham, is your father. The former of your spiritual character is not in heaven, wherever else he may be foundí" (Dr. J. Brown).
"They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father" (John 8:39). These Jews surely had a suspicion of whither our Lord’s remarks in the previous verse were pointing; but they pretended not to observe, and sought to represent Him as a calumniator of Abraham. When they said, "Abraham is our father," it was but the self-righteousness of the natural man exhibiting itself. They were contrasting themselves from the heathen. ‘The heathen are in bondage we allow; but You are now talking to those who belong to the covenant people: we belong to the Jewish Church,’ this was the force of their remarks. It is not difficult to perceive how well this describes what is a matter of common observation today. Let the servant of God preach in the churches of this land on the ruined and lost condition of the natural man; let him faithfully apply his message to those present; and the result will be the same as here. The great mass of religious professors, who have a form of godliness but know nothing and manifest nothing of its power, will hotly resent being classed with those on the outside. They will tell you, We belong to the true Church, we are Christians, not infidels.
"Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). Very simple, yet very searching was this. The "seed" of Abraham Christ acknowledged them to be (verse 37), but the "children" of Abraham they certainly were not. Natural descent from their illustrious progenitor did not bring them into the family of God. Abraham is "the father" only of "them that believe" (Rom. 4:11). This distinction is specifically drawn in Romans 9:7: "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children." "Children" of Abraham refers to a spiritual relationship; "seed" of Abraham is only a fleshly tie, and "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63).
"If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham." Here was and still is the decisive test. Natural descent counts for nothing, it is a spiritual relationship with God which is the great desideratum. The profession of our lips amounts to nothing at all if it be not confirmed by the character of our lives. Talk is cheap; it is our works, what we do, which evidences what we really are. A tree is known by its fruits. The "works of Abraham" were works of faith and obedience—faith in God and submission to His Word. But His Word had "no place in them." Idle then was their boast. Equally so is that of multitudes today, who say Lord, Lord, but do not the things which He has commanded.
"But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham" (John 8:40). "Abraham acted not thus. If ye were Abraham’s children in a spiritual sense—if you were conformed to his character—you would imitate his conduct. But your conduct is the very reverse of his. You are desiring and plotting the murder of a man who never injured you, whose only crime is that He has made known to you important and salutary, but unpalatable truth. Abraham never did anything like this. He readily received every communication made from heaven. He never inflicted injury on any man, far less on a Divine messenger, who was merely doing his duty. No, no! If children are like their parents, Abraham is not your father. He whose deeds you do, he is your father" (Dr. J. Brown).
"Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41). When the Jews replied, "We be not born of fornication,’’ we take it that they meant, ‘We are not bastard Jews, whose blood has been contaminated with idolatrous alliances, as is the case with the Samaritans.’ It seems likely that this word was provoked by what our Lord had said in verse 35—"the bond-slave abideth not in the house," which was an oblique reference to Ishmael. If so, their words signified, ‘We are genuine descendants of Abraham; we are children not of the concubine, but of the wife.’
"We have one Father, even God." How this same claim is being made on every side today! Those in far-distant lands may be heathen; but America is a Christian country. Such is the view which is held by the great majority of church members. The universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man are the favorite dogmas of Christendom: "We have one Father, even God" is the belief and boast of the great religious masses. How this justifies our opening remark, that the passage before us is not to be limited to a conversation which took place nineteen hundred years ago, but also contains a representation of human nature as it exists today, manifesting the same spirit of self-righteousness, appealing to the same false ground of confidence, and displaying the same enmity against the Christ of God.
"Jesus said unto them, If God were your father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me" (John 8:42). This was an indirect but plain denial that God was their Father. If they were the children of God they would love Him, and if they loved Him they would most certainly love His only begotten Son, for "he that loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten of him" (1 John 5:1). But they did not love Christ. Though He was the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, they despised and rejected Him. They were the bond-slaves of sin (verse 34); Christ’s Word had no place in them (verse 37); they sought to kill Him (verse 40). Their boast therefore was an empty one; their claim utterly unfounded.
"Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43). Christ was here addressing Himself to their consciences. His question—no doubt there was a pause before He answered it—ought to have exercised their hearts. Why do you not understand My speech? You claim to be the children of the Father, why then are My words so obscure and mysterious to you? My language is that of the Father, surely then there is something wrong somewhere! The same question comes with equal pertinency to every one who hears the Word of God today. If that Word comes to me as that of an unknown tongue, then this shows I am a stranger to God. If 1 understand not His speech, I cannot be one of His children. That does not mean, of course, that I shall be able to fathom the infinite depths of His wonderful Word. But, speaking characteristically, if I understand not His speech—which is addressed not to the intellect but to the heart—then there is every reason why I should gravely inquire as to the cause of this.
"Even because ye cannot hear my word." The word "hear" (an Hebrew idiom) signifies to receive and believe—compare John 9:27; 10:3; 12:47; Acts 3:22, 23, etc. And why was it that these Jews "could not hear" His Word? It was because they were children in whom was no faith (Deut. 32:20). It was because they had no ear for God, no heart for His Word, no desire to learn His will. Proof positive was this that they were dead in trespasses and sins, and therefore not children of God. Unspeakably solemn is this. Hearing God’s Word is an attitude of heart. We speak now not of the Divine side, for true it is that the Lord Himself must prepare the heart (Prov. 16:1) and give the hearing ear (Prov. 20:12). But from the human side, man is fully responsible to hear. But he cannot hear the still small voice of God while his ears are filled with the siren songs of the world. That he has no desire to hear does not excuse him, rather does it the more condemn him. The Lord grant that the daily attitude of writer and reader may be that of little Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth."
"Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44). This was the prime point our Lord had been leading up to. First, He had repudiated their claim of being the children of Abraham. Second, He had demonstrated that God was not their Father. Now He tells them in plain language who their father really was, even the Devil. Their characters had been formed not under Divine influence, but under a diabolical influence. The moral likeness of that great Enemy of God was plainly stamped upon them. "Your inveterate opposition to the truth, shows your kinship to him who is the father of the Lie, and your desire to kill Me evidences that you are controlled by that one who was a murderer from the beginning."
"Ye are of your father the Devil" is true of every unregenerate soul. Renouncing their dependency on God, denying His proprietorship, loving darkness rather than light, they fall an easy prey to the Prince of darkness. He blinds their minds; he directs their walk, and works in them both to will and to do of his evil pleasure (Eph. 2:2). Nor can sinners turn round and cast the blame for this upon God. For as Christ here declares, the lusts of their father they will do, or they desire to do, which is the correct meaning of the word. They were cheerful servants; voluntary slaves.
"And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not" (John 8:45). The human race is now reaping what was sown at the beginning. Our first parents rejected God’s truth and believed the Devil’s lie, and ever since then man has been completely under the power of falsehood and error. He will give credence to the most grotesque absurdities, but will regard with skepticism what comes to him with a thousand fully authenticated credentials. Some will believe that there are no such things as sin and death. Some will believe that instead of being the descendants of fallen Adam, they are the offspring of evolving apes. Some believe that they have no souls and that death ends all. Others imagine that they can purchase heaven with their own works. O the blindness and madness of unbelief! But let the truth be presented; let men hear that God says they are lost, dead in trespasses and sins; that eternal life is a gift, and eternal torment is the portion of all who refuse that gift; and men believe them not. They believe not God’s truth because their hearts love that which is false—"They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3); they "delight in lies" (Ps. 62:4); they make lies their "refuge" (Isa. 28:15), therefore it is that they "turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Tim. 4:4); and though they are ever learning, yet are they "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). And therefore Christ is still saying to men, "because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not."
"Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?" (John 8:46). We take it Christ was here anticipating an objection. The charge He had just made against them was a very severe and piercing one, yet He openly challenges them to refute it. If you deny what I have said and charge Me with falsehood, how will you prove your charge? Which of you can fairly convince Me of that or of any other sin? But, on the other hand, if it be evident that I have told you the truth, then why do ye not believe Me? Such, in brief, we take to be our Lord’s meaning here.
"He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (John 8:47). The force of this we understand as follows: Every member of God’s family is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and in virtue of this receives with affection, reverence, and obedient regard the words of his heavenly Father, by whomsoever they are brought; hence, the reason why you do not receive My words is because you are not His children. "He that is of God" carries a double thought. First, it signifies, he that belongs to God by eternal election. A parallel to this is found in John 10:26, "Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep." It is this which, in time, distinguished the elect from the non-elect. The former, in due time, hear or receive God’s words; the latter do not. Second, "He that is of God" signifies, he that has been born of God, he that is in the family of God. A parallel to this is found in John 18:37: "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
"Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?" (John 8:48). This was a plain admission that they were unable to answer the Lord. Completely vanquished in argument, they resort to vulgar and blasphemous declamation. But why should these Jews have called Christ these particular names at this time? We believe the answer is found in what Christ had just said to them. He had declared that they were not the true children of Abraham (verse 39); and He had affirmed that the Devil was their father (verse 44). In reply, they retorted, "Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon." The general meaning of these epithets is clear: by "a Samaritan" they meant one who was an enemy to their national faith; by "thou hast a demon" they intimated one obsessed by a proud and lying spirit. What frightful insults did the Lord of glory submit to!
"Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and ye do dishonor me" (John 8:49). To the first of their reproaches He made no reply. He passed it by as unworthy of notice, the irritated outburst of wanton malice. To the second He returns a blank denial, and then adds, "but I honor my Father." One who is controlled by the Devil is a liar, but Christ had told them the truth. One who is prompted by the Devil flatters men, but Christ had depicted fallen human nature in the most humbling terms. One who is moved by the Devil is inflated with pride, seeks honor and fame; but Christ sought only the honor of Another, even the Father. Divinely calm, Divinely dignified. Divinely majestic was such an answer. How the longsufferance of Christ, His patient bearing with these villifiers, His unruffled spirit and calm bearing, evidenced Him to be none other than the Son of God.
"And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth" (John 8:50). "‘If I did, I should not have told you the truth. Had My own aggrandizement been My object, I should have followed another course; and My not obtaining "glory"—a good opinion—from you, no way disheartens Me. There is One who seeketh, that is, who seeketh My glory. There is One who will look after My reputation. There is One who is pledged in holy covenant to make Me His firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. And He who seeketh My glory, judgeth. He will sit in judgment on your judgment.’ These words seem plainly intended to intimate, in a very impressive way, the fearful responsibility they had incurred. He was doing His Father’s will: they were treating Him with contumely. The Father was seeking the honor of His faithful Servant, His beloved Son; and dreadful would be the manifestation of His displeasure against those who, so far as lay in their power, had put to shame the God-man, whom He delighted to honor" (Dr. J. Brown).
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." (John 8:51). Christ had just pointed out the fearful consequence of rejecting Him and His Word—there was One who would judge them. Locally this pointed to the awful visitation from God upon their nation in A.D. 70; but the ultimate reference is to eternal judgment, which is "the second death." Now in sharp and blessed contrast from the doom awaiting those in whom the Word had "no place," Christ now says, "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death"! Blessed promise was this for His own. But mark how human responsibility is here pressed—the promise is only to the one who keeps Christ’s Word. To "keep" the Word is to hide it in the heart (Ps. 119:11). It is to retain it in the memory (1 Cor. 15:3). It is to be governed by it in our daily lives (Rev. 3:8). "He shall never see (know, experience) death" refers to penal death, the wages of sin, eternal separation from God in the torments of Hell. For the believer physical dissolution is not death (separation), but to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
"Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?" (John 8:52, 53). What a striking exemplification was this of what our Lord had said in verse 43: they understood not His speech and heard not His words. Devoid of discernment, they had no capacity to perceive the spiritual import of what He said. Such is the awful condition of the natural man: the things of God are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). What is revealed to babes in Christ is completely hidden from those who are wise and prudent in their own estimation and in the judgment of the world (Matthew 11:25). No matter how simply and plainly the truths of Scripture may be expounded, the unregenerate are unable to understand them. Unable because their interests are elsewhere. Unable because they will not humble themselves and cry unto God for light. Unable because their hearts are estranged from Him. Christian reader, what abundant reason have you to thank God for giving you an understanding (1 John 5:20)!
"Jesus answered, if I honor myself, my honor is nothing; it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God" (John 8:54). "It is my Father that honoureth me": precious words are these and worthy of prolonged study and meditation. To "honor" is to do or speak that of a person which shall not only manifest our own esteem for him, but shall lead others to esteem him too. The Father’s esteem for the Son is evidenced by His love and admiration for Him, as well as His desire to make Him the loved and admired of others. God honored Him at His birth, by sending the angels to herald Him as Christ the Lord. He honored Him during the days of His infancy, by directing the wise men from the east to come and worship the young King. He honored Him at His baptism, by proclaiming Him His beloved Son. He honored Him in death, by not suffering His body to see corruption. He honored Him at His ascension, when He exalted Him to His own right hand. He will honor Him in the final judgment, when every knee shall be made to bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord. And throughout eternity He shall be honored by a redeemed people who shall esteem Him the Fairest among ten thousand to their souls. Infinitely worthy is the Lamb to receive honor and glory. Let then the writer and reader see to it that our daily lives honor Him who has so highly honored us as to call us "brethren."
"Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying" (John 8:55). The One who honored Him they knew not, despite their profession to be His children. But on the other hand, if He were to deny the knowledge He had of the Father, then He would be as false as they were in pretending to know Him. But He would not deny Him; nay more, He would continue to give evidence of His knowledge of the Father by keeping His Word. For Him that Word meant to finish the work which had been given Him to do, to become obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. A searching word is this for us. If we really know the Father it will be evidenced by our subjection to His Word!
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). More literally the Greek reads, "Abraham, your father, was transported with an exultant desire that he should see My day, and he saw it and rejoiced." The Greek is much more expressive and emphatic than our English translation. It intimates that Abraham looked forward with joy to meet the Object of his desires, and exulted in a sight of it. But to what did our Lord refer when He said, Abraham saw "my day"? In the Greek the "day" is emphasized by putting it before the pronoun—"day, my." We believe that "day" is here to be understood in its dispensational sense, as signifying the entire Dispensation of Christ, which embraces the two advents. Probably what Abraham saw and rejoiced in was, first, the humiliation of Christ, terminating in His death, which would occasion the patriarch great joy as he knew that death would blot out all his sins: second, the vindication and glorification of Christ.
But how did Abraham "see" Christ’s "day"? We believe that a threefold answer may be returned: First, Abraham saw the day of Christ by faith in the promises of God (Heb. 11:13). Hebrews 11:10 and 16 intimate plainly that the Spirit of God made discoveries to Abraham which are not recorded on the pages of the Old Testament. Second, Abraham saw the day of Christ in type. In offering Isaac on the altar and in receiving him back in figure from the dead, he received a marvelous foreshadowing of the Savior’s death and resurrection. Third, by special revelation. The "secret of the Lord" is with them that fear Him, and there is no doubt in our mind but that God was pleased to show the Old Testament saints much more of His covenant than is commonly supposed among us (see Psalm 25:14).
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." The relevancy of this remark of Christ and its relation to what had gone before are easily perceived. More immediately, it was part of His answer to their last question in verse 53—"Whom makest thou thyself?" More remotely, it furnished the final proof that they were not the children of Abraham, for they did not his work (verse 39). If these Jews rejoiced not at the appearing of Christ before them, then in no sense were they like Abraham.
"Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" (John 8:57). How blind they were! How thoroughly incompetent to understand His speech. Christ had not spoken of seeing Abraham, but of Abraham seeing His "day." There was a vast difference between these two things, but they were incapable of perceiving it.
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). Here was the full disclosure of His glory; the affirmation that He was none other than the Eternal One. That they so understood Him is evident from what follows.
"Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59). "It is Immanuel: but there is no knee bent to Him, no loving homage tendered. They took up stones to stone Him, and He hiding Himself for the moment from their sacrilegious violence, passes out of the temple" (F. W. Grant).
"Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." Fearfully solemn is this in its present-day application. The chief design of the whole chapter is to present Christ as the "light" and to show us what that Light revealed. Not by observation can we discover the full ruin which sin has wrought. It is only as the Light shines that man is fully exposed. And that which is particularly discovered here is the utter vanity of the religious pretensions of the natural man.
Apart from spiritual discernment, the religious professor presents before us a fair appearance. His evident sincerity, his punctiliousness, his unquestionable zeal, his warm devotion, his fidelity to the cause he has espoused, are frequently a mask which no human eye can penetrate. It is not until such professors are exposed to the searching light of God that their real characters are laid bare. It is only as the Word is faithfully applied to them that their awful depravity is revealed. It was not profligate outcasts, but orthodox Jews who are here seen taking up stones to cast at the Son of God, and they did this not on the public highway, but in the temple; Nor have things changed for the better. Were Christ here today in Servant-form, and were He to enter our churches and tell the great mass of religious professors that they were the bondslaves of sin, and that they were of their father the Devil and that his lusts they delighted in doing, they would conduct themselves exactly as their fellows did eighteen centuries ago. Terribly significant then is the final word of our chapter: the Savior "hid himself" from them, and went out of the temple. It is so still. From the self-righteous and self-sufficient but blinded religious formalists, Christ still hides Himself; those who deny that they need to be made free from the slavery of sin He still leaves to themselves. But thank God it is written, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isa. 57:15).
The following questions are to help the interested student on the next chapter, John 9:1-7:—
1. What is the great doctrinal teaching of this passage?
2. What typical picture does it contain?
3. Why does it open with the word "And"? verse 1.
4. To what was Christ referring in verse 4?
5. Why did Christ again say "I am the Light of the world" verse 5.
6. What was the symbolical meaning of verses 6 and 7?
7. What force has "therefore" in verse 7?
 See the author's booklet, "Christian Liberty."