On the Gospel of John 8

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The history which is given us of the Lord in this Gospel of John to replace the Jews, and their portion in the Messiah, according to the promises, ends with this chapter 7, which has just occupied us. In the fifth chapter Jesus is Son of God, who quickens; in the sixth, Son of man in incarnation and in death, His return to heaven being in view; then, in the seventh chapter, not being able yet to show Himself to the world, but, being glorified, He gives the Holy Spirit to believers, that which could not take place till after He was glorified; He is rejected, but, as we have seen, His time was not yet come. In the two chapters upon which we are now entering, we find His word rejected in chapter 8, His works rejected in chapter 9. These are the two great personal testimonies which declare His origin. (See chapter 15: 22-25.) In the tenth chapter He declares He will have His sheep for Himself nevertheless, notwithstanding the obstinacy of the leaders of the people. The eleventh and twelfth chapters show us, in a very interesting way, the testimony which the Father bears to Him as being the Son of God, Son of David, Son of man, when man has rejected Him. Then, from the thirteenth chapter onwards, come heavenly things, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, that other Comforter, who should replace Him on earth.
At the beginning of our chapter 8, the law in man's hands, raised against outward immorality, but without uprightness, without life, and without grace, is put in a striking manner, in contrast with the word of God, that searches hearts, that turns the sword of the law against every one, and leaves room for grace, not quickening, or pardoning grace, but the grace which at least does not give its force to the law to condemn; that was not the Savior's mission. The whole world was placed under condemnation by the law, if God were to apply it; God had not come for this; but in showing them to be all condemned, without exception, on this ground, entire humanity disappears under the sentence of the law, at least the humanity which takes the law as a means of righteousness, and the ground is cleared to bring in the light of life, from God. The position of the adulteress is only negative; it is quite a different case from that of the woman that was a sinner, in Luke 7, where the full grace which saves is established. All were guilty, but the Lord was come to reach the conscience of all, not to apply the law to the guilty. He does not condemn-only every mouth is stopped. The conduct of these men was wretched; sinners, like the accused one without mercy, and without pity, they desired to expose this woman, so that the Savior might find her guilty; for, if He condemned her, there was no advance upon the law, He was neither Messiah nor Savior; if He did not condemn her, He put Himself into opposition with the law of Moses. The scribes and Pharisees did not know with whom they had to do. The penetrating voice of God needs only a word to reach the conscience: "Adam, where art thou? " or, " Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone! "-suffice to lay bare the conscience, because the power of God is there, and man is found necessarily revealed to himself in the presence of Him who is light. But the will is not changed, and man avoids that presence; one takes refuge amongst the trees of the garden; others, rather with shame than with a sincere conscience which leads to confession, slink away, each one alone, to preserve his reputation; the eldest first, but fearing, even to the last, that presence which pierces them through, and ashamed of finding themselves in each other's presence. Then, having given the law its full force upon all, Jesus allows the poor woman to go away, according to divine mercy.
After this, we have the doctrine with regard to the Savior, which is connected with the preceding fact: " I am the light of the world " (v. 12), not yet here the Messiah of the Jews, but the presentation, on the part of God, of light in the world, light which manifested everything, but which remained alone, for the whole world was darkness, far from God, and the heart of man himself darkness. This light manifested the effect of even the law, it showed where man was, as placed under it. But it was far more; if man followed it, it was " the light of life " (compare chap. 1: 4), that which made manifest as the revelation of the divine nature, but that which communicated life to those who received this light. It was an entirely new thing come into the world, God Himself, in the power of grace, become Man; rejected, all was morally judged; but, received by grace, it was the new life, the life eternal, for Christ is eternal life come down from heaven; 1 John 1:1, 21That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:1‑2). As light and life, it was for us, for it was communicated to us; the new man is created according to God in righteousness and holiness of truth, and there is also the renewing of knowledge according to the image of Him who created us. But it was the word of life, and it was a question of receiving that word; and here it is the light in conflict with darkness. All depends, as we shall see, on the Person of Him who speaks.
The question is put in verse 13: " Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness is not true." Now, they might have spoken in this way, if it had been a question of a man who bore witness of himself; but if God speaks, that which He says is necessarily the truth, and reveals Him. One question only arises: Do men know Him, and is the soul capable of receiving the truth even? The two things go together, as we shall see. Jesus came from heaven, from the Father; He was going back there, and had the consciousness of it; it is the lowest point of His testimony here; He is forced, by the opposition He meets, to go to the end and to say " I am " (v. 56); but here it is as Man in the world, who nevertheless had the consciousness of whence He came. (Compare chap. 3: 11-13, 33, 34.) His words were the words of God, but by the Spirit, without measure, in a Man, who also could say of Himself: " The Son of man who is in heaven." He spoke with the consciousness of whence He came. They knew nothing about it; for them He was a carpenter of Galilee, who had not even learned letters. But it was the divine nature in the presence of that of man. They judged according to the flesh; He, as He had just shown, judged no one. He had not come for that, but to bear witness. Nevertheless, even if He judged, His judgment would be just, for not only He knew whence He came, but the Father was with Him-He was not only such a Son of man, but He was also Son of God. The law said that the testimony of two men was true; well then, He (the Son) bore witness of Himself, and the Father, who had sent Him bore witness of Him. Then they ask Him: " Where is thy Father? " for there was no divine light in them, not even a conscience sensible to the truth, unless when the eye of the Light penetrated it, in spite of them. No man, however, laid hands on Him; His hour was not yet come (v. 20). We cannot separate this divine testimony from that which is given at the end. He spoke the words of God; but the form is different, He did not speak directly in His divine nature, although that which He said implied it; but as Man upon earth on the part of God, and as Son, by the Holy Ghost.
The Lord begins again by telling them, that all was over, that He was going away (v. 21, et.). They would seek Him, indeed, but they would not find Him: " I go away, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sin: where I go, ye cannot come." The separation, fruit of their unbelief, was complete and final; they, dead in their sins, He in heaven; but He did not say openly where He was going. The Jews only looked upon Him as a man, and remained in their self-righteousness, as heirs of the promises. " Will he kill himself? " and thus deprive Himself of them. The Lord's answer is decisive: " Ye are from beneath; I am from above." There was absolute opposition, moral and actual-with a terrible supplement for all that surrounds us: " Ye are of this world "-of this world, of which Satan is the prince, and those who are of it in heart are of him. Christ was not of it. He was, indeed in the world, but He was not of the world. He was essentially of heaven, the bread which had come down from heaven, personally and morally; but here He is speaking negatively, and this is the chief point for us. He was not of this world: He brought the divine light, God Himself, into this world; but He was not of it. This is why He had said to them, " Ye shall die in your sins "; for they were rejecting the Light which had come into this world, grace, the Son of God. " If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."
But this introduces a principle of all-importance; that is, the identification of His word with Himself. He was God; His words expressed God; it is this that left the Jews without excuse; in rejecting Him, they despised God who was speaking to them. In answer to the words of Jesus, they say " Who art thou? " (v. 25). The answer of Jesus declares this identification: " Absolutely that which also I speak unto you ":perfectly, in principle and in reality, that which I speak unto you. The words of Jesus expressed what He was; and being thus the true expression of God manifested to man, they put man into the place of either receiving or rejecting God, and God as light of men. If God speaks, and expresses Himself, man accepts what He is, or rejects Him. The Savior was in a position to say many things to them, and to judge them; but now He was communicating to them, as a faithful witness, that which He had heard from the Father. This was, indeed, the truth sent by the Father: He was telling the world that which He had received of the Father. This was now His service as the sent One. The Jews did not understand of whom He was speaking. Later on, when it would be too late to receive Him as come to them in grace, but when the thought of God should be accomplished, and their own hands should accomplish His counsels in crucifying the Son of man,1 the consequences which would flow from this for the Jews, would cause them to know (Jesus does not say, to believe) that it was indeed He, that He did nothing of Himself, but that He spoke as the Father taught Him. His word was the demonstration of that which He was, and though He could say many things to them, and judge them, He only told them now that which He received of the Father. Once rejected as Son of man, and put to death, then, when He should no longer be there, they should know that it was He, the Messiah, and that He had spoken to them from the Father. But more, He who had sent Him was then with Him; He had not left Him alone, because all that He did was pleasing to the Father. Under the effect of His testimony, by the weight of His words, the expression of what He was and that all His conduct confirmed, many believed on Him (v. 30).
That which this chapter puts forward most distinctly, is, the divine character of Jesus, demonstrated by His words, and the diabolical character of the Jews manifested in the way in which they had received Him. Already, in verse 23, the Lord announced it, with the terrible testimony, that that which was of this world was from beneath, that is to say, of the devil, whilst He was from above, and not of this world. That which He said expressed His nature, His divine character. He reveals the Father: His words are the words of God; that which He said revealed Him to the world (v. 26, 27; ch. 1: 10; ch. 3: 32, 33). That which follows, on the other hand, throws into relief the character of the Jews.
The Lord declares to those who had been brought to believe in Him, that, if they remained firmly attached to His word (for it is a question of His word), they should be His disciples indeed, they should know the truth, and the truth should set them free (v. 31, 32). The truth supposes the full revelation of that which is divine and heavenly, that which was revealed in His Person, and in His words, and would be fully made evident when He should be glorified, and the Holy Ghost should have come. I do not think that those of whom verse 23 speaks were those who believed in Jesus, but the Jews in general. They trust to their outward position according to the flesh: they had never been in bondage, they say, forgetting, however, all their history, and their position at that very moment. The Lord passes over all that, to present the ground of the truth as to the state of man before God, and the effect of the law; for He identifies these two things-being a slave of sin, and being under the law, as the man of Rom. 7 " Every one that practices sin, is the slave of sin," captive of that terrible law of sin that is in his members; but being a slave, he may be sent away from the house, and sold. The Jews, sinners under the law, would be sent away from the house of God; but the Son belonged to the house, and dwelt there always, and necessarily; if He made them free, they should be free indeed, free from sin, and free from the law. The Son, the revelation of the Father, as object, and power of life in him who shall have received Him, acting by the word, takes the place of the principle of sin in man, and the law which in vain forbade man to commit it.
Outwardly the Jews were indeed the children of Abraham; but the word of Christ had no place nor entry into their hearts, and they sought to kill Him. Here the contrast becomes formal: Jesus spoke (for it is always His word) that which He had seen with His Father, Himself the Son who revealed Him, and announced that which was heavenly and divine; but this brought out of their hearts the Satanic hatred against God which fills the heart of man. Here, then, the two great principles of sin which characterize the adversary, manifested themselves in them-murder, and the absence of the truth (v. 44, 45). This opposition between the revelation from above, and that which is in the world and from below, characterizes the chapter, and forms its basis. Their descent from Abraham is for the Lord but a circumstance of no value. If, in the moral sense, the Jews had been the sons of Abraham, as the believer is, they would have done the works of Abraham; but instead of that, they sought to kill a Man who had told them the truth He had received from God. The Jews take still higher ground: Abraham no longer suffices for them, it is God who is their Father (v. 41). They are conscious that the words of Jesus come more home to them and they retire into the stronghold of their privileges. The Lord follows up the side of moral and essential truth, whilst avoiding, so to speak, to declare everything openly at once; but He is obliged, as it were, to say it, both as to them, and as to Himself.
Until now we have had the revelation of the thing heavenly and divine, in itself, in a positive way, outside and above all that was Jewish; here we are come to the conflict between man's heart and this revelation, and there, where the privileges of a religion which was composed of the elements of the world (separated from Him who, all earthly as was this religion, was its center), only blinded the more the hearts which made their boast in it. The divine word, in the Person of Jesus, the Father's word, which was in His mouth, pierced through all this religious drapery, and manifested man's heart. The Lord, in His answer to the assertion of the Jews that God was their Father, shows that the rejection of His Person gave the lie to such a pretension. The question was raised and decided by His presence and by His word: if they had had God as their Father, they would have loved Jesus, for He came from God; He did not come of His own will; God had sent Him. It was necessary to speak openly, for things were being fulfilled: truth, and hatred against the truth, against. God, are found in presence of one another. The Jews did not understand the words, because they did not understand the things, a very important principle in divine things: in human things, words are explained, in order to learn what the things are; thus we but designate by a word things which come under the senses, or things of the intellect, for these things are within man's grasp; divine things are not so. If I say, " born again," to understand the words, I must know what it is to be born again. Let us remember this.
The Lord allows no uncertainty to remain here any longer: you have the devil for your father, and you will do his works; and " he is a liar, and the father of lies " (v. 44). As we have said before, the double character of Satan and of sin, is to be " a murderer " and " a liar "; man has added to it corruption. Such was the character of these poor Jews. They did not believe Jesus, because Jesus spoke the truth, and they were going to kill Him. They claimed, indeed, to be of God-sad and blinding effect of an official religion; but if they had really been, they would have listened to the words of God. There is a certain perception which belongs to the life of God, which recognizes that which is of Him, and especially His words. It was, for a Jew, a monstrous thing, subversive of all his pretensions, of the whole divine history of the ages, to say to Jesus that He was not of God. Who, then, was He? A Pagan, a Samaritan? This was enough to show whence Jesus was.
Jesus continues to show the effect of His word where it is received into the heart. " If any one keep my word, he shall never see death." This put Jesus above Abraham and all the prophets. Who, then, was Jesus? For, with all their pretensions, the Jews were really in great embarrassment; they felt the force of His words; this can take place where the will is not at all changed; but they sought to justify themselves in their own eyes by interpreting His words according to human reasoning. The Lord does not spare them any longer, for they were enemies of the truth. He spoke in His Father's name, and He knew Him: He would have been a liar, like themselves, if He had denied it. The second character of the enemy was thus realized in them. " Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad " (v. 56); for it is He who was expected, according to the promises. The Jews, who only saw things according to the natural mind, cry out at the folly of it: then, as He had declared of whom they were, the Lord now openly declares who He is Himself: " Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am " (not, I was). The Jews were speaking with God, and they resisted His words: their hatred bursts forth, and they take up stones to stone Him.
Note here, that Jesus gave eternal life by His word; He was the accomplishment of the promises; but, again, He was God in this world; life and truth were on one side; murder and falsehood on the other. It is this that makes this chapter so solemn. That which, grace excepted, was the whole life of Jesus in the midst of this people, in this world-the truth, the life, the sent One of the Father, God manifest in flesh-in the presence of hatred of the truth and of God, are concentrated in this chapter, and are in presence of one another.
It is important also to remark, that it is a question, not of miracles, but entirely of the word of Jesus. The Jews do not ask for a sign, as they often did: it is not the ordinary current of incredulity that we have here before us; but the truth, the light, are in direct conflict with the darkness which does not understand them, but which, at the same time, is troubled by them; for the light shines even when it is not received. It is not in man's heart; and that makes itself felt in the heart: nothing can be imputed to the witness which weakens the testimony; no one could convince the Lord of sin; they did not believe, because He told them the truth. Here it is the pure opposition of man's heart to the truth, because it was the truth. Light may reach the conscience, and if the will is not changed, this only produces hatred, as in the case of Stephen; but here, I repeat, it is the truth itself and the light that are in conflict with the darkness, He who came from above, with whom the Father was, and then men, who alas! were from beneath. What could be more solemn than such a meeting? God, in the presence of men, to be rejected, and that forever and ever!
It may be useful here to notice some details: the Lord begins by announcing Himself, personally and distinctly, as the light of the world. In John, it is always a question of the world; also, it is not a question of the Messiah according to the promises, but of what the Lord is in Himself, of what He is, He only, in the midst of the darkness. In following Him, one would have the light of life; for the life was the light of men. We see how this chapter reproduces that which is said in chapter 1; only here it brings out historically the contrast and the conflict between the light and the darkness, for the world was in it, and Satan was the prince of the world. The Lord having thus announced Himself as light (and light manifests itself, and manifests everything), His testimony is rejected, as being that of a Man who bore witness of Himself (v. 13). They do not see the light, they reject it; that which is divine is hidden, although it is light. He was the light, and His words were the expression of what He was; but He had not come to judge, as the case of the woman showed, however just His judgment would have been, for the Father was with Him. But the law was their law; then Jesus was the revelation of God Himself in that which He was as light: it was Himself and the word of testimony, the Father being with Him. If that were rejected, it was not disobedience to a commandment, but the rejection of divine life and light, so that those who rendered themselves guilty of it should die in their sins.
All chapter 8 is the expression of the divine light by the testimony of the Lord; but the chapter treats of more than one subject, where this testimony is given in more than one aspect. The first part is to be found from verse 12 to 20, which present the position in itself: the Lord is the divine light; He is not come to judge, but the Father is with Him; God and the truth are presented to men; He is rejected by the darkness of man's heart, but His hour is not yet come. Then (v. 21-29) He goes away. In John His death is never what is spoken of, but He goes away, and the Jews would know when He had been lifted up as Son of man, that it was He; it would then be too late to find Him again. After that (v. 30), many having believed in Him, He announces to them what their position should be, if they persevered; the Son would make them free, and they would be free indeed; this in contrast with the Jews. There was a complete change of position. Man committed sin—he was the slave of it: the Jews, no doubt, were in God's house, but by the law as slaves; for to be under the law, and to commit sin, is the same thing. The Jews, therefore, had no sure place in the house; and they would even lose the one which they had: but Christ then would have His place as Son over God's house, and those who believed in Him, who persevered in His word, made free by Him, should possess true divine liberty. As to the promises, they were indeed, according to the flesh, the seed of Abraham; but they were not sons of Abraham according to God. Being come personally. as light, the Lord would have what is true, not merely dispensations; they were, in reality, sons of him who was a murderer and a liar; they were rejecting the truth, they were going to put Christ to death, and did not believe Him, because He spoke the truth. Finally, for He was the life as well as the truth, he who should keep His word, would never taste death (v. 51); He was not only the light, but the light of life. Besides, not only was He the object of the promises which Abraham's faith had realized, but He existed with an eternal existence, God-" I am," before Abraham was. Then the hatred of unbelief burst out. Before, they had maliciously sought to turn away the truth, and to justify themselves before one another in rejecting Him, but as soon as what He was is fully revealed, their murderous hatred shows itself by violence.
1. This title of Son of man, which Jesus always takes, goes a great way further than that of Messiah. It is taken from Psa. 8 and Dan. 7; Jesus always takes it in contrast with that of " Christ," which He only gives Himself once, that is, at Sychar, in chapter 4; but He constantly adds to it His death upon the cross. (See Luke 9:21, 2221And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; 22Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. (Luke 9:21‑22).) It is the second Psalm that regards Jesus as Messiah, and shows Him to us rejected as such, but established in glory and authority later on by God.