Today we finally come to the end of John chapter 8. If you will recall from yesterday we discussed the fact that those who opposed Jesus were the physical descendants of Abraham, but not the spiritual descendants of Abraham; and we also saw that those who opposed Jesus were not children of God. And today, as we finish John chapter 8, we will see that Jesus is greater than Abraham, and we will also see why this is so important to us today.
The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”—8:48-51
The rapid change of speakers in verses 48-59 heightens the tension in the dialogue that has been going on throughout John chapter 8. The Jews now resorted to name-calling. They moved from a defensive posture to a more aggressive tone by calling Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan. Jesus did not address the accusation that he was a Samaritan but denied he was demon-possessed by appealing to his relationship with God. He then accused the crowd of dishonoring God because they didn’t honor God’s chosen representative. The assumption is that the one sent is the same as the sender, and therefore the treatment of the emissary is equal to the treatment of the sender. Obedience to Jesus’ word is evidence that one has eternal life.
At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”—8:52-53
Earlier in the passage, the Jews had defended their identity by noting their relationship with Abraham, and they pointed to this again to attack Jesus’ identity. They accused Jesus of being demon-possessed because he taught that those who obeyed him would live forever. Surely Jesus could not think he was greater than Abraham or the prophets who had died! And it was their question concerning Jesus’ identity that remained one of their major concerns.
Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”—8:54-57
Jesus responded to their question concerning his identity by stating that he does not glorify himself, but his Father (whom they claimed was their God) glorifies him. The difference between Jesus and them is that he is obedient to God’s Word while they are disobedient. Jesus appealed to Abraham to support his claims. The reference to Abraham seeing this day may refer to a specific event in Abraham’s life or to a promise God made to him, either way this statement should have been enough to silence these supposed “religious leaders.”
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.—8:57-59
The hearers were outraged at the apparent absurdities they had heard. The reference to Jesus not yet being 50 years old was not a statement of Jesus’ exact age but was meant to show the absurdity of his statement. Jesus’ self-understanding was clear. His “I am” statement was a claim to preexistence (Exodus 3:5-6). His opponents understood this and sought to stone him.
To really and truly understand what Jesus was saying to the crowd that was listening to him speak on that day and what he is saying to those of us hear his words today, I am going to quote what Dr. Tony Evans wrote in his study bible notes for verse 58, “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
This is one of Jesus’ most profound claims to deity in the Gospels. He didn’t say, “Before Abraham was, I was,” but “I am.” The former wording could be ambiguous and misunderstood, but not the latter. Not only was he claiming to have existed in Abraham’s day, but he was also claiming divine identity.
When Moses asked God his name so that he could tell the Israelites who had sent him to them, God responded, “I AM WHO I AM. This what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). Thus, Jesus identified himself as the God who had spoken to Moses.
When Jesus said that he existed before Abraham was born, he undeniably proclaimed his divinity. Not only did Jesus say that he existed before Abraham; he also applied God’s holy name (I AM—Exodus 3:14) to himself. And this claim demands a response. It cannot be ignored. The Jewish leaders tried to stone Jesus because he claimed equality with God. So how have you responded to Jesus, the Son of God? Which is the ultimate question of John’s Gospel and one that demands an answer, and we will pick from here tomorrow when start John chapter 9.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 7-8, John 14:15-31, Psalm 119:33-48 and Proverbs 15:33
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