A Study of John 8
One morning a few years ago I got up, took a shower, pulled on a pair of jeans, and walked through the house for some reason. To my astonishment, I found a woman standing in my living room. I’d never seen her before. She was just there alone. I stood frozen for a moment and then I asked the only logical question one could ask: “Who are you?”
Well, it all turned out to be fine. She was meeting one of my grandchildren, who had welcomed her into the house and then ran off to get something. All was well that ended well, but I’ve never forgotten how startled I was to see her and asking that question: Who are you? There are times in life when that’s the best question we can ask.
One day Jesus Christ showed up in Galilee doing things that no one else had ever done and saying things no one else had ever said, and that’s the question that was on everyone’s lips. And that brings us to our study today in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. Turn with me to John 8, and let’s take a deep dive into this chapter starting with these two verses.
- Look at John 8:25: “Who are You?” they asked.
- Notice how curiosity turned to cynicism in verse 53: “Who do You think You are?”
Who are You? Who do you think You are?
For 2000 years, that question has been at the core of philosophy, religion, and human history. That’s the subject of our passage today. First, I want to give you a word of explanation. We’re coming to a very long passage of Scripture today. So brace your mind to follow along, preferably in your own Bible. And if you’ve read this passage before, imagine you’ve never even heard of it until now.
As I’ll point out to you as we go along, Jesus gives three different sermons in John 8. Each one is short, they grow in intensity, and they provoke a growing hatred toward Him.
Our Lord’s first message is in John 8:12-20:
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged Him, “Here You are, appearing as Your own witness; Your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, My decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for Myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent Me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is Your father?”
“You do not know Me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized Him because His hour had not yet come.
The Lord’s second message is John 8:21-30:
21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for Me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
22 This made the Jews ask, “Will He kill himself? Is that why He says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
23 But He continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am He, you will indeed die in your sins.”
25 “Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But He who sent Me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from Him I tell the world.”
27 They did not understand that He was telling them about His Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on My own but speak just what the Father has taught Me. 29 The one who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” 30 Even as He spoke, many believed in Him.
The Lord’s third message is John 8:31-59:
31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can You say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill Me, because you have no room for My word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God Himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on My own; God sent Me. 43 Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me! 46 Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe Me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
48 The Jews answered Him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor My Father and you dishonor Me. 50 I am not seeking glory for Myself; but there is one who seeks it, and He is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys My word will never see death.”
52 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. 53 Are You greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do You think You are?”
54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify Myself, My glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies Me. 55 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad.”
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and You have seen Abraham!”
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
Well, we’ve just read the bulk of John 8! I can’t deal with this passage verse by verse or section by section, but I want to show you what we learn here about five aspects of Christ that are woven like five bright cords in and out of the fabric of this passage.
Christ’s Divine Nature
First, His eternality, His divinity. The term eternality means Christ is eternal, and the word divine comes from a Latin word meaning God. Jesus claimed to have been eternal, which means He was nothing less than almighty God. He was divine. He is deity.
This is implied by Jesus several times in these three discourses. Look at the way He began and ended these three discourses. In verse 12, He began by saying: “I AM the light of the world.” And He ended in verse 58 saying: “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” I AM was the great Old Testament name for God—in the Hebrew Jehovah, or, more accurately, Yahweh. By using this title, Jesus was claiming to be the eternal, self-existent, uncaused God.
- Look at verse 14. Jesus said: “I know where I came from and where I am going.”
- And verse 23: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
- In verse 38: “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.”
- Verse 42: “I have come here from God.”
We have this kind of language throughout the Gospel of John, starting with the preamble of the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus claimed to have existed before His conception and birth, and He spoke of eternal life. As Moses said in Psalm 90, He is from everlasting to everlasting.
Let’s draw it like this.
It boggles our minds to contemplate, but you would logically expect God to be mind-boggling and full of wonders larger than our brains.
One of the greatest hymns ever written – it’s on my top five list – says:
Of the Father’s love begotten,
‘Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
That evermore will be.
The understanding that Jesus Christ is God Himself pierces church history like a needle and thread and goes all the way back to the pages of the Bible itself.
Christ’s Old Testament Appearances
Second, there’s a fascinating passage here about how Jesus appeared in the Old Testament. Let’s go back to it again. Look at verses 56-58, where Jesus told them: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad. “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!
This is very important. These verses tell us Abraham saw Jesus. I think Abraham saw Jesus a number of times because the language in the book of Genesis implies that God met with Abraham personally in the form of a man and talked with him.
Genesis 12:7 says, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him” (emphasis mine). This implies that God literally appeared to Abraham like a person meeting with another person.
Genesis 17:1 says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Him.” And look at verse 22: “When He (God) had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.”
This is the language of visual presence. God appeared to Abraham, spoke to Him, and then went up from him.
Look at Genesis 18: “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearly….”
As we continue reading Genesis 18, we discover that two of the men were angels, and the third was God in the form or appearance of a man, and they shared a meal with Abraham and talked with him.
Now, no one has ever seen God the Father. He is invisible. So most biblical scholars will tell you these were a pre-Bethlehem appearance of God the Son. There really are a lot of these preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. In those times Jesus was not truly a man—not a human being—but He manifested His presence in the form of a human. That’s why Jesus said, “Abraham saw My day, He saw Me and was glad.” And the skeptics said, “Are you claiming to have seen Abraham? He lived 2000 years ago, and you aren’t even 50 years old.” In response, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.”
Sometimes Jesus would show up in the Old Testament in the appearance of a human being. He was not a human. He had only one nature—He was divine; He was God. But He manifested the temporary appearance of a man—He projected the image of a man—to communicate to people like Abraham.
Christ’s Human Nature
But everything changed at the beginning of the Gospel era. The Holy Spirit came over the virgin Mary and she conceived through a miraculous virginal conception, and the eternal God the Son—Jesus Christ—at the moment of His conception and through the miracle of His birth became fully human.
This is the single most moment of extreme transformation or transmutation to ever occur in history. Before this moment, God the Son sometimes appeared as a human being. But through the miraculous conception and virgin birth, He actually became a human being. He assumed a dual nature—being both God and human
Let’s draw it like this…
Why this great change? Jesus became human so that He could die for the sake of the human race. God cannot die, but a human can die. He was lifted up on the cross, buried in the tomb, and resurrected on the third day.
When we see Him in the book of Revelation, He is ruling and reigning in His resurrected, glorified body, which tells us the two-fold nature of Jesus was not a temporary change. From the moment of His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, an eternal change took place in Jesus, and forever and ever He will be both divine and human, both God and man.
He left His Father’s Throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And died for Adam’s helpless race.
Christ’s Sinless Nature
Now let’s add another important detail. Though Jesus was human as we are, yet there is one vital difference between Him and us. He was sinless, as He points out here in chapter 8.
Look at verse 28: The One who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.
And verse 46: Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe in Me?
His sinlessness made it possible for Him to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. And that brings us to our final point.
Christ’s Mission of Redemption
Our Lord’s ministry, His mission of redemption—why He came to earth and took on this dual nature of being both God and Man.
Five times in this passage, Jesus claimed He had been sent to earth by God the Father.
- Verse 16: I stand with the Father, who sent Me.
- Verse 18: My other witness is the Father, who sent Me.
- Verse 26: He who sent Me is trustworthy.
- Verse 29: The One who sent Me is with Me.
- Verse 42: I have not come on My own; God sent Me.
Jesus was here on a divine mission. As He said in verse 28, He came to be lifted up—lifted up on the cross where He would shed His blood for the sins of all of us.
Let’s finish our study with the two different reactions we see here to Christ. To those who place their faith in Him, there is forgiveness and eternal life.
Verse 12 says: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the right of life.
But verse 24 says: I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am He, you will indeed die in your sins.
How wonderful is the first, and how terrible is the second! And either one or the other is true for you and me.
What will it be for you?
A stranger has popped into your life, and you have a simple question: Who are You?
His answer—I am God. I am eternal and showed up from time to time in the Old Testament in the form of a man. At Bethlehem, I actually became a man fully human and fully God. I am sinless, and I was sent to save you from your sins and give you eternal life so that no one will have to die in their sins.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.