A Bible Lesson on John 8:31-59

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

John 8:31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,

Jesus says, “If you abide in my word …”  This is not a condition of discipleship to be checked off a list, it is a description of in what discipleship consists, and it is a continuing matter.

Tasker said, “True discipleship … means abiding in His word, i.e. welcoming it, being at home with it, and living with it so continuously that it becomes part of the believer’s life, a permanent stimulus and influence in every fresh advance in goodness and holiness.  Christ’s word is indistinguishable from Christ Himself.  He is the Word.  To abide in His word is therefore to abide in Him, to always be within earshot of His voice …”

Bruce said, “… discipleship is something continuous; it is a way of life … The teacher’s instruction becomes the disciple’s rule for faith and practice.”

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This must be one of the most often quoted and misused verse in all of the Bible.  Politicians try to appropriate this, philosophers try to appropriate this.  But it is not a political, educational or philosophical statement. It is a statement about faith in, reliance upon, trust in the person of Jesus.  It’s Jesus who is the Truth.  Look down at verse 36.  It’s the Son who sets free.  And it’s not political freedom or freedom to exercise one’s unbridled will that is promised.  It’s not even firstly freedom from ignorance, but rather freedom from sin, death, and hell.

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’?”

These fellows don’t even see that they are in bondage.  Sure they are under the thumb of Rome, sure their forefathers had been slaves in Egypt and Babylon, but the Jew was proud of being free in conscience, never bowed in his insistence upon his Jewish religion and national identity.   But that wasn’t what Jesus was talking about, and their pride only blinded them to the real situation as regards their souls.

J.C. Ryle said, “The power of self-deception in unconverted man is infinite.  These Jews were not more unreasonable than many now-a-days, who say, ‘We are not dead in sin; we have grace, we have faith, we are regenerate, we have the Spirit,’ while their lives plainly show that they are totally mistaken.”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

Whether we realize it or not, when we continue in sin, we are slaves to it.

Tasker wrote, “Whoever habitually asserts his own will, priding himself on his own independence, following his own inclinations, and primarily concerned with pleasing himself–whoever, in a word, is living a self-centered life– is a slave.  Such a person is confined within the limits of his own self-interest.”

35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.

We have no power to liberate ourselves.  A slave cannot emancipate himself.  A slave cannot have the status of a son nor live as a son.  Help must come from outside.

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

An adult son in a free household has authority.  Jesus, Son of God, at one with the Father, from the Father, has authority.  He has authority to set us free from bondage to sin, and we will be free indeed.  True liberty is liberty not to do whatever we please, but to do what we ought.

Ryle said, “Wherein does the liberty of true Christians consist?  Of what is their freedom made up?-They are freed from the guilt and consequences of sin by the blood of Christ. Justified, pardoned, forgiven, they can look forward boldly to the day of judgment, and cry “Who shall lay anything to our charge?  Who is he that condemneth?”-They are freed from the power of sin by the grace of Christ’s Spirit.  Sin has no longer dominion over them.  Renewed, converted, sanctified, they mortify and tread down sin, and are no longer led captive by it.  Liberty, like this, is the portion of all true Christians in the day that they flee to Christ by faith, and commit their souls to Him.  That day they become free men.  Liberty, like this, is their portion for evermore.  Death cannot stop it.  The grave cannot even hold their bodies for more than a little season.  Those whom Christ makes free are free to all eternity.”

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.

38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

“speak” and “do” are both in continuous tenses.  Jesus is talking about persistent practice.  He says, “I continually speak, you continually do.”  Jesus speaks of “what I have seen.”  Jesus has unclouded vision.  They are blind and see nothing.  Their hearing is from their father, and verse 47 says plainly that they do not hear God.

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did,

40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.

The basic principle here about sonship is that a son does things in accord with the nature of his father.  A son behaves like his father.  And the kinship that matters is not physical kinship, but rather, moral kinship.  Want to be a son of Abraham?  Then act like he would act.  Physical descent alone is nothing.

41 You are doing what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

Jesus says, “You are doing what your father did.”  There is a family resemblance.  They say, “We were not born of sexual immorality.”  This may be meant as an insult to Jesus, a slur about his parentage.  Or it may simply be a denial that they have strayed from God’s revelation.  In the Old Testament, apostasy was often described as fornication and thus linked with illegitimate offspring.

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.

Ryle wrote, “… If words mean anything, no man is really a child of God who does not love Jesus Christ. … the reality of sonship to God, and all its blessings, no one possesses who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”

Calvin said, “Christ’s argument is this: whoever is a child of God will acknowledge His first-born Son; but you hate me, and therefore you have no reason to boast that you are God’s children.”

F.F. Bruce said, “Jesus insists on using terms like ‘father’ and ‘children’ in an ethical sense: the children are those who reproduce the father’s qualities.”  The point is again that family affection would bind real sons of God to the one Son, but they hate Him.

Jesus repeats what He has said again and again.  He is no independent agent but rather was sent from and is one with the Father, the I AM.

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

Jesus says, “you cannot bear to hear”  “cannot” is a moral inability.  You are so hard that you are incapable of hearing the message.  You are purposely deaf.  This is not a failure of intellect, but of will and spirit.

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 has nothing to do with 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.

It’s not “despite the fact I tell the truth,” but rather “because I tell the truth.”  These folks are again “sons” of the devil in an ethical or moral sense.  They have chosen the side of lies and murder, and in light of their ethical lineage, it is only to be expected that they would not believe Him.

46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Godet said, “The perfect holiness of Christ is proved in this passage … by the assurance with which Jesus lays this questions before them.”  His conscience is absolutely perfect and absolutely clear as He speaks.  Morris wrote, “We are often so interested in the fact that they found no charge to lay that we overlook the fact that the really striking thing is the making of the challenge … It betokens a clear and serene conscience.  Only one who was in the closest and most intimate communion with the Father could have spoken such words.  It is impossible to envisage any other figure in history making such a claim.”

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.”

He and the Father deal in the truth and are completely righteous.  These folks and Satan deal in lies and murder as reflections of who they are.  Jesus would give us eternal life.  The devil would kill every son and daughter of Adam eternally.

Jesus’s very nature is truth.  To reject or oppose truth is to reveal a nature consistent with the devil’s, and an allegiance with falsehood.  He who belongs to God hears God.  The antagonists don’t hear, therefore they don’t belong.

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

The Pharisees fill the air with blue smoke.  They are wrought up, losing the “argument,” and resort to name-calling.  Jesus replies in a calm, measured way.

49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.

50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.

The reply is that 1) the fact that Jesus honors the Father shows the charge to be incorrect, and 2) this whole thing is ultimately not a matter of opinions, that of Jesus against that of the Pharisees.  Rather it is God who judges; it is His judgment that matters.

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

To “never see death” is to never face real and eternal death.  As is constant in John, these hearers will attempt to interpret the statement of Jesus on a different level than was intended.

52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’

53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’

“Who do you make yourself out to be?”  Are you greater than the patriarchs?  The implicit assertions are that, of course, Jesus’s promise cannot be true and that, of course, the patriarchs would side with them in this dispute.  They are wrong on both counts.  It doesn’t even seem to occur to them that just possibly Jesus understood exactly what He was saying.  Jesus doesn’t duel with them over who has the approval of the patriarchs.  Instead, He says again that it is the approval and testimony of HIS Father, who sent the patriarchs that matters.  They claim this God as their Father too, but that can’t be.

55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.

He is not really their God at all.  Jesus says, “… you have not known him. I know him.”  Jesus could say this not only because He was with the Father from before time, but because He was perfectly obedient to the Father, perfectly in line with the will of the Father.  Knowing God is always tied up with loving obedience to Him.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

Abraham and the patriarchs were with the Father on the issue of the coming Messiah.  Calling them as witnesses wasn’t going to work for the Pharisees.

57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

This is, obviously, the climax of this whole narrative.  In terms that are completely unmistakable to these folks, Jesus appropriates God’s personal name, the I AM, for Himself.  They immediately see what He’s said for what it is, judge it to be blasphemy, and try to summarily execute Him.

“Jesus hid Himself” is really better rendered “Jesus was hidden.”  It is not that He cleverly escaped trouble, but that the Father hid Him from them.

Ryle commented, “It is a wise remark of Pascal, that our Lord’s enemies, by their incessant cavilling and interruption, both here and elsewhere, have supplied us unintentionally with a strong proof of the truth of His teaching.  If our Lord’s doctrines had only been delivered privately to a prejudiced audience of kind and loving disciples, they would not come down to us with the same weight that they do now.  But they were often proclaimed in the midst of bitter enemies, learned Scribes and Pharisees, who were ready to detect any flaw or defect in His reasoning.  That the enemies of Christ could never answer or silence Him, is a strong evidence that His doctrine was God’s own truth.  It was from heaven, and not from men.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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