By Jason Scherzer
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 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. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”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.’ 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 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.
Exegesis / Background
John’s gospel emphasizes the “I AM” proclamations of Jesus, which are an unmistakable claim to Deity. The “I AM” statements employ the same language which God used when He spoke to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus, when He commanded Moses to lead His people Israel out of bondage. “I AM” means that He is the One with no beginning and no end, the eternal One who holds life in His hands.
Our section today begins with Jesus discussion with the religious leaders who oppose Him, and His teaching to His disciples who are listening to His words. In John 8:12, Jesus begins with a bold teaching, “…I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Psalm 19:8 says, “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” All the ways of the Lord are good and right. As Jesus is the Light of the World, He enlightens and opens the eyes of every person who trusts in Him.
Prior to this section, John 8:48-59, Jesus has directly told the Pharisees that they are of their father, the devil and do his works. The Pharisees have consistently refused to believe on the name of the Son of God to have eternal life. Now that Jesus has told them the truth, they are incensed at Him.
Now the Pharisees have arrived at a conclusion that Jesus is a Samaritan and has a demon. Samaritans were quite despised by the Jews, being viewed as ethnically less than Jewish, religiously impure, and essentially the same as Gentile: unclean outsiders. This viewpoint had a long history, which Jesus began to tear down by extending forgiveness of sins to the Samaritan woman and by spending two days with His disciples as guests of the Samaritans.
While Jesus did not ignore the cruel accusations of the Pharisees, He did not allow Himself to be distracted from His purpose to bring the kingdom of God on earth and reveal Himself to be the Son of God. He states that He did not honor Himself, but the One who sent Him: the Father. In doing this, Jesus leaves all judgment to the Father. All of Jesus’ mission is in direct, intentional obedience to the Father, not Jesus’ own personal agenda. He lived and died to bring glory and honor to God the Father.
If anyone keeps His word, Jesus says, he will never see death. While the statement concerning death is true, “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), there is physical death, and there is spiritual death. Jesus does not deny that there is physical death in this world, but He is not talking about that. If anyone keeps His word, he will never see (experience) spiritual death. John 5:24 says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Eternal life is now and forever for those who believe upon the Son of God.
While Jesus acknowledges that the religious leaders of His day were physically descended from Abraham and children of Abraham, He turns their argument upside down because they refused to grasp the true meaning of Jesus’ words. While Abraham did physically die, he did not “see death” spiritually. Abraham had real faith in God and looked forward to seeing God fulfill all of His great promises, even promises that exceed all imagination and human comprehension.
Jesus answers the question of how He could see Abraham, by His claim to deity: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” As the religious leaders did not consider Jesus to be the Son of God, and thought His words blasphemy, they picked up stones to throw at Him. Jesus slipped out of the temple untouched, and it is reasonable to think that His exit from the temple was beyond human speed – because His time for the Cross had not yet come. The Pharisees were left looking around with a bunch of rocks in their hands.
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, it says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Jesus’ words in John 8 demonstrate powerfully the truth that He is the light of the world. He is truly the Son of God and holds all life in His hands.
Consider how Jesus holds all authority in heaven and on earth, yet He constantly sought to bring glory to God the Father. There is a submission to the will of God that permeates every action and word of Jesus. Consider also the opposition that He faced from the religious leaders, yet Jesus kept His mission in perfect order, never losing sight of pleasing His Father.
Give thanks now to Him for the eternal life that He freely gives. Think about how amazing it is that Jesus perfectly fulfilled His mission even when faced with so much opposition. He lived to please His Father in everything.