We are currently in the eighth chapter of John where Yeshua is teaching in Jerusalem at the Tempe on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. During the Fire Ceremony of the Feast Yeshua claims, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." Yeshua is claiming to be the Light of the glory of God. The Pharisees didn't question the meaning of His statement. They were familiar with the many titles in Scripture which ascribed LIGHT to the Messiah. They knew it was a messianic claim, for they immediately called Him a liar.
The Jews associated light with God's presence and Yeshua intensified this by saying, "I AM the Light"—Yeshua is here identifying Himself with the significant words: "I AM," ego ami, which reminds us of Yahweh's revelation of Himself to Moses 3 times as "I AM" in Exodus 3:13-14. When Yeshua said, "I am the light of the world," He announced His absolute Deity. By using the tetragrammaton, the "I am", and by claiming to be light.
The Pharisees don't ask, "What do you mean by using the tetragrammaton and saying that YOU are the Light of the world? What are you saying? Are you claiming to be God? Are you claiming to be the Messiah?" They don't ask a single question. They simply say, "Your testimony is not true!" No matter what Yeshua did or said the Jewish leaders would not believe in Him. But, there were many in the crowd who were listening to Yeshua and believed in Him:
As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. John 8:30 NASB
To do a theological bias it is hard for many to believe these words of Scripture. The text says, "many came to believe in Him." But many scholars and commentators say they did not believe. So who are you going to believe?
Commenting on this verse D. A. Carson writes, "Some believe in Jesus: whether or not their faith is genuine cannot be determined by the linguistic expression selected by the Evangelist." [Carson, D. A. (1991). (The Gospel according to John (pp. 346-359). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.] If the Bible says they believed; that is exactly what happened. It doesn't say, they pretended to believe, it says, "they believed."
John Piper writes, "Now the question is: Did Jesus treat this belief as genuine? We've seen before that there is a kind of 'belief; in this Gospel that is not real." No, there is not a faith that is not real. These people believed in Him, meaning Christ. To believe in Christ is to be saved.
Steven Cole writes, "The dialogue in our text follows John 8:30-31, where we saw that although many professed faith in Christ, it was not genuine, saving faith. This is first seen in 8:33, where it becomes clear that these 'believers' were trusting their Jewish lineage for right standing with God." No, the text says, "Many came to believe in Him," not in their lineage. If they were trusting anything but Christ they would not be believers!
Earlier in this text Yeshua said:
"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." John 8:24 NASB
Then verse 30 says, "Many came to believe in Him" which would mean that they would NOT die in their sins, because they believed in Yeshua.
John 8:31-59 is the final dialog in the series of dialogs built around the Feast of the Tabernacles found in John 7 and 8. The focal point of this dialog is on who is Yeshua's Father and more specifically who is the Jews' Father.
As this section unfolds the crowd becomes increasingly hostile and defensive. They claim that Abraham is their father in verses 33 and 39. On the other hand they claim God is the their Father in verse 41. They accuse Yeshua of being both demon-possessed and a Samaritan in verse 48. They lash out that Yeshua is less than fifty years old, but still claims to have seen Abraham in verse 57. The final expression of their anger comes in verse 59 as they take stones with the intent of killing Yeshua.
So the last section ends with the statement, "Many came to believe in Him," and now Yeshua addresses those believing Jews:
So Yeshua was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; John 8:31 NASB
Verses 31 and 32 are not addressed to the crowd at large or to the religious leaders,but but specifically to those who have come to faith in Him. He is telling the believers to become disciples. Please listen: I'm asking you to be a Berean and study this out for yourself. Don't believe this because I'm saying it. But it is my understanding that "believer" and "disciple" are two different terms describing two different groups of people in relation to Yeshua.
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the Gospel of Yeshua, who is the Christ. At that moment, they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ."
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life.
The word translated "continue " here is from the Greek meno, which also means: to "remain" or to "dwell." Beasley-Murray declares that the word, "signifies a settled determination to live in the word of Christ and by it, and so entails a perpetual listening to it, reflection on it, holding fast to it, carrying out its bidding." When you abide in His word:
and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:32 NASB
This is referring to spiritual truth. It doesn't mean that you know the truth of whether the earth is flat or a globe. It is referring to spiritual truth. The more time you spend abiding in the Word the more you will be set free from legalism and liberalism.
Judaism believed that the truth, the Law, set free. Judaism taught that study of the Law makes a man free (e.g. Pirke Aboth 3:5). But Yeshua says it is His Word that sets free, not the Law.
At this point, our Lord's enemies come unglued because of what they hear Him say to the believing Jews. So they respond:
They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" John 8:33 NASB
Who is the "they"—many assume the antecedent to be those who believed. But I think it refers to the disbelieving crowd (25, 27) and not the believers. There are both believers and unbelievers in this crowd. Yeshua speaks the words of verses 31 and 32 to those who are believers, but the unbelievers in the crowd interrup tHim and seek to debate Him on the subject of freedom.
Craig S. Keener writes, "The vehemence that Jesus' promise of 8:32 provokes in 8:33 suggests ancient cultural assumptions unfamiliar to most modern readers; Jesus' hearers find implicit in His promise a statement of their spiritual inadequacy." (The Gospel of John, volume 1, page 748)
When Yeshua said that those who abide in His Word will be set free, they took this to imply that He was saying that they were not presently free. So they respond,
"We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone"—they were saying, "We're the elect covenant people. We have the Law, the prophets, the covenants. It's all ours. We belong to God because we belong to Abraham." They banked on their physical descent from Abraham as their protection. One rabbi pu it this way. "Abraham himself sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to enter." The early church father Justin Martyr, was arguing with a Jewish man in what is called the Dialogue of Trypho. And the Jewish man says this: "They who are the seed of Abraham, according to the flesh, shall in any case, even if they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient toward God, share in the eternal kingdom."
Yeshua had just said to them, "You will die in your sins, and where I go, you can't come." So the Rabbis said that all Jews go to heaven, but Yeshua said where He was going, heaven, they could not come.
Were these hostile Jewish leaders Abraham's descendants? Physically yes, but spiritually no! In 8:37, Yeshua acknowledges that they were Abraham's descendants physically, but they were not Abraham's descendants spiritually. They claimed kinship with Abraham as the basis for their privileged position, but they were confused.
The word "descendants" here is sperma, which means: "the seed or offspring." Do you see the irony here? These Jews are claiming to be Abraham's seed to the One person who is truly Abraham's seed. Notice what Paul writes:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB
What promises is he talking about? This is a reference to the Abrahamic Covenant, and the promises Yahweh made to Abraham. Now, as to the promises given to Abraham, the Jewish leaders would argue that they were only given to Israel since they were the seed or descendants of Abraham.
Paul, under inspiration of the Spirit, says, "The promises were given to Abraham and his seed." The Hebrew word used in Genesis 15 for "seed" or "offspring" is zera, which is a collective singular that can refer either to one descendant or many descendants. An English collective singular, for example, is "sheep"— that can refer to one sheep or many sheep. Paul explained that the seed God had in mind in Genesis 13:15 and 17:8 was the one descendant, Christ. The apostle calls particular attention to the word "seed," as distinguished from "seeds." And that singular seed that God had in mind was Christ, not all the blood descendants of Abraham.
Why does Paul qualify the word "seed" here? Well, one reason is that the word "seed" in the Greek can be used the same way we would use it in English. If you go to the store to buy seed for your garden, you're not talking about one individual seed, but a packet of seed which contains many seeds.
However, if you were going to the store to buy seed, and you only had one seed in mind, you would make that distinction. And that's what Paul is doing here. When he says that the promise was given to Abraham and his seed, he is making that distinction of a special kind of seed; a seed or descendant who would be found in One person.
We have to realize that Paul's definition of seed contradicts the Jewish nationalistic interpretation of this term. Jews were convinced that the term seed referred to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Therefore, they believed it was absolutely necessary to belong to the Jewish nation in order to receive the blessings promised to Abraham.
Let me tell you what I see this verse as saying and then try to explain why. Paul is saying that the primary recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant were Abraham and Christ. This, of course, would include all who are in Christ—believers. This promise is not realized in the Jews, but Christians.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 NASB
Apart from Paul's divinely inspired commentary, how many of us would have understood that Abraham's seed was Christ? Please listen: When the New Testament authors comment on a passage from the Tanakh, they do not give an interpretation, but THE interpretation. The New Testament interprets the Tanakh. The Old Covenant was a veiled representation of the New Covenant.
It is in the New Testament that we learn that the material things of the Old Covenant were types and shadows of spiritual counterparts found in the New Covenant. We are to interpret the Tanakh through the lens of the New Testament. We must understand that the last 27 books are a divinely inspired commentary on the first 39 books.
So these Jews thought that they were Abraham's descendants and thus heirs to the promises, but they were not! The promises were for those who were in Christ.
John the Baptizer dealt with the Jews on this same issue:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? "Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Matthew 3:7-9 NASB
John, just like Yeshua and Paul, was trying to teach the Jews that physical relationships were inadequate. John put his finger right on the problem in verse 9. These Jews had been taught and had believed that every physical descendant of Abraham was going into the kingdom. Therefore, all they had to do to make sure they were going into the kingdom was to trace their lineage back to Abraham. But John informed them that being a physical descendant of Abraham has nothing to do with getting into the kingdom. God could even turn stones into children of Abraham if He wanted to. John was telling them that they had no more chance than stones of getting in just because of their relationship to Abraham.
So they claim to be Abraham's descendants, and then they say, "and have never yet been enslaved to anyone"—some scholars suggest that Yeshua's hearers would understand freedom in a political sense. I don't think that even the Jews were that blind.
They had been in bondage most of their existence. They were in slavery to the Egyptians, in captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians; dominated politically by the Persians, Greeks, and now the Romans.
I agree with Carson who says, "It is unlikely that the objection means the Jews have never been in political subjection to anyone. That would be absurd: there was scarcely a major power whom the Jews had not served: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Syria, and Rome had all held the Jews in political captivity."
Now, they know that this is not the political sphere of things under discussion, because they've been slaves of many nations. I don't think they are talking about social freedom either. Because the Jews, while not exposed to slavery quite as much as the Gentiles have been in the ancient world, were nevertheless slaves. And they had been sold and freed just like Gentiles. They were bought and sold. So they couldn't say, "We are Abraham's seed and we have never been in bondage to any man," because they were in bondage to men.
I think we have to see them as speaking about religious freedom. They probably meant that they had never been spiritual slaves. They viewed themselves as spiritually right with God because of their descent from Abraham. They're talking about spiritual freedom. They're claiming to be spiritually free.
When the Jews said that they had been no man's slaves, they were saying something which was a fundamental article of their creed of life. Even when they were in bondage they maintained an independence of spirit, which meant that they might be slaves in body but never in soul. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote of Joseph: "Joseph was sold to be a bond slave, yet he was free, all radiant in the nobility of his soul." So even to suggest to a Jew that he might be regarded as a slave was a deadly insult.
It's clear from the next verse that Yeshua is talking about spiritual slavery:
Yeshua answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. John 8:34 NASB
"Truly, truly, I say to you"—literally this is "Amen! Amen!" Yeshua's doubling of this term is found only in John's Gospel, where it appears twenty-five times. "Amen" is a form of the Hebrew word for faith (emeth), which meant: "to be firm." Here it is used of an affirmation. In this initial position in a sentence, it was a unique way of drawing attention to Yeshua's significant, trustworthy statements or revelation from Yahweh.
"Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin"—here Yeshua makes plain the kind of slavery He has in mind. For Yeshua the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but slavery to sin.
Verse 34 states an important Johannine understanding. The one who is practicing sin is a slave of sin. The Greek present participle poion ("who commits sin" or "who sins") implies repeated, continuous action is in view. The one whose lifestyle is characterized by repeated, continuous sin is a slave to sin. This is a general truth that applies to both believers and unbelievers. People who continually commit sin become the slaves of sin. Sin tends to become habit-forming and is addictive. Notice what Paul says:
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? Romans 6:16 NASB
Paul lays down a very axiomatic principle in verse 16, and that is that we become the slaves of whatever we choose to obey. Paul talks about the enslaving aspect of sin, Peter also talked about it:
promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19 NASB
Let's be clear about this, sin enslaves. It puts you in bondage. Pornography does that, doesn't it? Pornography puts people in bondage. That's what sin does. Same way with alcohol. Same way with drugs. The same way with a critical spirit or bitterness. The same way with lust—It never satisfies. It just enslaves you. Sin is destructive, it ruins lives.
Commenting on our text in John 8, Hall Harris writes, "The particular sin of the Jewish authorities, repeatedly emphasized in the Fourth Gospel, is the sin of unbelief. The present tense in this instance looks at the continuing refusal on the part of the Jewish leaders to acknowledge who Yeshua is, in spite of mounting evidence."
The NET Bible (p. 1921 #21) adds a comment that the contextual sin in John is "unbelief" (the unpardonable sin). This is not an ethical context, but a "belief unto salvation context."
So the Jews are saying that they have never been slaves, and Yeshua tells them that they are slaves to sin, particularly the sin of unbelief.
Now in 8:35-38, Yeshua uses the analogy of the son and heir releasing his father's slaves from bondage. In Egypt the Israelites were slaves of another nation. God promised redemption from their slavery and promised them freedom and salvation in a Promised Land. But what the ancestors faced was a political slavery and a political salvation. What Yeshua is promising is real freedom from the slavery of sin and He is promising real freedom which is to be redeemed from sin by His blood shed on the cross. He is the only true perfect sacrifice that can be offered to purchase that freedom. He is the sacrifice that every Old Covenant sacrificial animal pointed to, and His salvation isn't a physical earthly one for which they will have to continue to labor.
"The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. John 8:35 NASB
Given the context of them thinking they were the descendants of Abraham, this might be an allusion to the story of Ishmael and Isaac:
Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." Genesis 21:9-10 NASB
Ishmael was a slave. Ishmael had no inheritance from Abraham. Ishmael and his mother, the slave, were sent away. Sarah and Isaac stay in the house. Isaac receives the inheritance. Yeshua is saying to them, "You think you're Abraham's son, but if you are, you're Ishmael. You're a slave, and you're not an heir."
Paul teaches us the meaning of this in:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. Galatians 4:22-23 NASB
Paul says that Ishmael was born according to the flesh, and Isaac was born as the result of God's promise. Ishmael is born a slave, because his mother was a slave; Isaac is born free, because his mother was a free woman.
The Jews taught that your lineage was all that mattered. They would say that the thing that was all important was, "Who's your father?" But Paul said, "I've got a more important question. Who's your mother?" The Jews knew that they were the descendants of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, but Paul turned their most prized "bragging right" on its head by saying, "No, you are the descendants of Hagar!" He is saying that those who think that they can enter the kingdom because Abraham is their father are in fact the children of the slave woman and not the free woman.
This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. Galatians 4:24-25 NASB
Paul says, "these women are two covenants." Here, Paul reveals that the two women in that Genesis account actually represent the two covenants of God. So Hagar and Sarah represent the Old and New Covenants.
In the apostle's argument is the most startling reversal in the entire history of prophecy. Hagar, the Egyptian bondmaid, is identified with Jerusalem and Jewry. Sarah is identified with the true Church-"the New Covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem."
The allegory thus declares that earthly Israel (the twelve tribes) is to be regarded as Ishmael, because they are in bondage to the Law and not free. The true Church of Gentile and Jew (in which all distinctions of race, degree, and privilege are abolished) is the true Israel to whom the promises made to Abraham apply.
But what does the Scripture say? "CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN." Galatians 4:30 NASB
"Cast out the bondwoman with her son." This refers to the Old Covenant and the earthly Israel and physical Jerusalem. The dreadful judgment of these words should be unmistakable. Yahweh was about to judge Old Covenant Israel for rejecting and crucifying her Messiah.
The abolition of the Old Covenant means the abolition of physical Israel from all her privileges, and the emergence of the New Testament Church is the rise of the new "Israel of God," Jew and Gentile, with all distinctions obliterated, to whom alone the Abrahamic promises belong. While Ishmael and Isaac coexisted, neither received the inheritance, and in order for Isaac to receive full inheritance, it was necessary to cast out Ishmael. When Yahweh destroyed Israel in A.D. 70 the Church received her inheritance.
These Jews in our text in John thought of themselves as occupying a privileged and secure position, as sons within God's household, because they were "Abraham's descendants" (v. 33). Yeshua now informed them that they were not sons but slaves. The implication was that they did not enjoy a secure position but could lose it.
Listen to Matthew 8:
"I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 8:11-12 NASB
There are going to be people at the table with Abraham. But it's not going to be you physical Jews. They will be the sons of Abraham, by faith, Galatians 3.
"The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. John 8:35 NASB
The son in this context is Christ Himself (the Gk. word for 'son' is ho huios, always used by Lazarus for Yeshua; believers are ta tekna tou theou, (children of God'). So who is the son who remains forever? Yeshua, the true sperma of Abraham and all who trust in Him:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Yeshua. Galatians 3:26 NASB
A slave has no permanent place in the family. He can be sold at any moment. But a "son" is very different. His status as a son is permanent:
"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 NASB
The "if" is a third class conditional sentence, which speaks of potential action. The Son of God, like the illustration's slave-owner, also has the authority to liberate slaves, in this case spiritual slaves, from their bondage to sin and its consequences.
We can't end this slavery on our own; there needs to be a deliverer. Yeshua had already identified Himself as "the Son," and told His listeners what "the Son" would do. In verse 28 He had clearly referred to the death He would die on a cross just six months later there in Jerusalem, when He would be lifted up to die.
Verses 37-38 begin the transition to the next section. The implication is that Yeshua's words and actions demonstrate who His Father is. Likewise, the words and actions of the Jews will reveal their true father:
"I know that you are Abraham's descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. John 8:37 NASB
"I know that you are Abraham's seed"—Yeshua acknowledged that the Jews listening to Him were "Abraham's descendants," but only on the physical level. How different from the actions of Abraham were the actions of these Jews. Would Abraham have sought to kill the representative of Yahweh? Would he have sought to slay one who came on a mission from the Father in heaven?
The reason they reject and seek to kill Yeshua is because, "My word has no place in you"—the word translated here as "has no place in you" is the Greek word choreo, which is an interesting word. It was used of the growing of a plant. It is also used of the flowing of water. And it was used of a man's investment growing. So my word makes no headway in you. My word has no place in you. The investment is not growing. The plant is not growing. The water is not flowing. It is clear from this that our Lord regards them as unreceptive to the things of the Word of God. Again, the problem is receiving or not receiving the Gospel. It is an issue of salvation, not moral progress.
"I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father." John 8:38 NASB
"Which I have seen"—is a perfect active indicative which relates to Yeshua's pre-existence and current fellowship with the Father. At least seven times in this passage, Yeshua points to the fact that He is from the Father, and speaks on the authority of the Father, and is going to the Father, and does nothing on His own. He claims, in other words, that His authority is not owing to any human origin. It's owing to His relationship with God the Father.
"Therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father"—we know that Yeshua's Father is Yahweh, who is He suggesting is their father? Yeshua says in verse 44, "You are of your father the devil". We'll look at the rest of this chapter next time.