In Matthew's Gospel we find the most important question you will ever face. It is the question that Yeshua asked His disciples:
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Matthew 16:15 NASB
Your eternal destiny depends on how you answer that question. A correct belief in Yeshua is what separates the saved from the damned. It is a question that Yeshua answers for us in our text for today.
We are working our way through the 8th chapter of the Gospel of John. The context of chapter 7 and 8 is the Feast of Tabernacles. During the intertestamental period two major rituals were added to the celebration of this feast. There was a procession with a pitcher of water up to the altar where a water libation was poured out. And there was also a special "Fire Ceremony" involving the lighting of huge menorahs ln the Court of the Women.
Both "light" and "water" played an important part in the symbolism of this feast. The water ceremony commemorated the water that God provided from a rock for Israel in the wilderness. During this ceremony Yeshua shouted, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink." Yeshua is claiming to be the true Rock of the wilderness wondering who can provide eternal life to all who come to Him.
In conjunction with the Fire Ceremony that remembered God's presence in the pillar of fire in the wilderness, 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. These were astounding claims, why should anyone believe what Yeshua is saying. By the time this dialogue occurred, everybody in Israel was aware of Yeshua. It's about three years into His ministry. These statements are coming from a man who calms the sea, heals lamb men, raises the dead, and feeds thousands with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread.
In response to Yeshua's invitation to follow Him as the "Light of the world." The Jewish leaders are infuriated and simple want to kill Him.
These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come. John 8:20 NASB
The treasury was in the Court of the Women, which was close to the hall where the Sanhedrin met. Yet even here no one dared to touch Him, because the hour appointed for His glorification and return to the Father had not yet arrived. They wanted to seize Him and kill Him, but they couldn't because in Yahweh's sovereign plan He was to die six months from now, not now. Having been rejected by many as the true light, Yeshua issues a strong word of warning:
Then He said again to them, "I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come." John 8:21 NASB
The Greek word "again" here is from the Greek palin, which indicates a pause, but not a significant break in the narrative. So it seems that what follows continues Yeshua's teaching in the court of the Women in the Temple on the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles.
"I go away…where I am going, you cannot come"—does this sound familiar? This repeats the thought of:
Therefore Yeshua said, "For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. "You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come." John 7:33-34 NASB
When Yeshua said, "I go away," He was speaking of His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Yeshua is saying, "I came down from heaven. I'm going back to heaven." They could "not come" where He was going because of their present, unsaved condition. You will never go to heaven. Heaven is for those who believe in the Lord Yeshua the Christ and no one else. Heaven is not for everybody.
"You will seek Me"—He is not saying that the Jewish leaders will seek Him, but they would continue to "seek" the Messiah that they want. One that will free them from Rome and provide a physical utopia. So they will go on looking for the Messiah, but will never find Him because they have rejected Yeshua the only Messiah there is.
"And will die in your sin"—who is He talking to? Yeshua is talking to the Jewish leaders, those who thought they were the representatives of God. And three times He tells them that they will die in their sins. In John 7:34 Yeshua had said, "You will seek me and you will not find me." In 8:21 He says, "You will seek me and you will die in your sin." To not find Yeshua is to die in your sins. Yeshua has offered living water (7:38) and the light of life (8:12). If people refuse this gift of eternal life, they will die in their sin.
The word "sin" here is singular. For Lazarus there is ultimately only one sin, that of not believing in Yeshua. Now someone may ask, What about the unpardonable sin?
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" Mark 3:29 NASB
This concept of an unpardonable sin has caused many Christians a lot of unnecessary anxiety. I have had people tell me they are concerned they have committed the unpardonable sin. Technically the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today. Yeshua is not physically on earth. No one can witness Yeshua performing a miracle and then attribute that power to Satan instead of the Spirit.
So today, the only unpardonable sin is to die having rejected Yeshua as Savior. Any sin today can be forgiven. But if someone denies the person and work of Yeshua, there is no means by which God can forgive them——because they have denied the only way to salvation. That's the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is to deny Yeshua as the Christ. Every other sin can be forgiven. But to reject Yeshua as the Savior is to die in your sin.
So the Jews were saying, "Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, 'Where I am going, you cannot come'?" John 8:22 NASB
When you see the word "Jew" in this Gospel it's primarily referring to the leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, but it embraces all the people who followed in their pattern, in their religious system.
The question is constructed in Greek in such a way as to show that the author assumed the answer to be, "No! He will not kill Himself." It will in fact be the Jews that kill Him.
Yeshua's adversaries presume they are going to heaven, so if where Yeshua is going they cannot come— they assume He is going to hades. And so they jump to the conclusion that He is speaking of killing Himself. From Josephus we learn that suicide condemned one to the lowest parts of Hades. Their question apparently indicates that this is where they thought Yeshua should be.
So here Yeshua's hearers wondered if He was speaking about taking His own life. In 7:34-35, they wondered if He was talking about going on a mission to the Gentile world. In both cases, they did not grasp that Yeshua was speaking of spiritual, rather than physical, spheres of reality. In both cases the Jews ironically reveal a truth. In chapter 7 they foretell the Gentile mission. The apostles and the Church carried out this mission. In chapter 8 Yeshua's departure would involve His death, not as a suicide, but as a sacrifice for sin. So their words here are kind of an ironic prophecy of the Gentile mission and Yeshua's death.
They thought He may kill Himself and Yeshua does say:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 NASB
Yes, He is going to give His life. He's going to offer Himself as a sacrifice. It's not suicide in the sense of the term suicide. But He is to give Himself to death. But it's in order that He might be a ransom for many.
And He was saying to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. John 8:23 NASB
Yeshua explained their reason for misunderstanding Him as being traceable to their origin. Yeshua was from God "above," whereas they came from "below." The contrast here is between heaven, where Yeshua is from, and earth, where His opponents are from. The Jews cannot follow Him because they and He belong to two fundamentally different worlds. To understand Yeshua's meaning, His hearers needed a birth from above (3:3, 5).
The word "world" here is kosmos and here we see here the most negative meaning of it so far in this Gospel. It will increasingly come to mean all that is arrayed against Yeshua. He uses the word to describe humankind living their lives out without regard to God. Notice what Yeshua says in His prayer in chapter 17:
"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. John 17:14 NASB
He says it again in:
"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. John 17:16 NASB
Believers, we are not of this world. Paul says in Philippians 3:20 "our citizenship is in heaven." We are from above!
Being from "below" or "of this world" means that they "will die in your sins." It is because they have not been born from above that they will die in their sins:
"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
The word "sin" is used in the singular in verses 21 and the first time here in 24, but it is in the plural form in its second use in 24. Sin is to refuse to believe in Yeshua and therefore to refuse life itself.
The pronoun "He" is not in the text; it is added by the translators. The text says,
"Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins"—what are they to believe? What is He saying that people have to believe so that they don't die in their sins? The conditional clause provides the proper object of faith: "If you do not believe that ego eimi. We have seen the phrase ego eimibefore. It was used in John 6:35 and 8:12 with a predicate (object)— "I am the bread of life," and "I am the light of the world." We will see it used in other predicate constructions in future verses in John. It was used without a predicate in John 6:20 when Yeshua appeared to the disciples in the storm on the sea and said, "I AM; fear not."
Yeshua, in claiming to be "I Am," was asserting equality with Yahweh Himself, who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" —the self-existent, eternal God:
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 NASB
"I AM WHO I AM" is "Ehyeh; asher ehyeh" and means: "I am that which exist."
The root of Ehyeh is hiya, which means: "to be" or "I exist." So here Elohim tells Moses His name is Ehyeh. But look at the next verse:
God, furthermore, said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. Exodus 3:15 NASB
Elohim again gives His name to Moses, but this time it is Yahweh. The two names, Yahweh and Ehyeh, are related. Yahweh is , and Ehyeh is . Ehyeh means: "I exist, I will exist, I am." And Yahweh means: "He exists, He will exist, He is." And both of these names are related to each other. They are both conveying the idea that Yahweh is the existing One.
The prophets guided by the Holy Spirit picked up that phrase and use it. Isaiah particularly, several times he speaks about the God who has called him to minister as "I am."
"Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? 'I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'" Isaiah 41:4 NASB
In the Hebrew original, Yahweh discloses Himself in the repeated declaration, "I am He"; it is this expression that the LXX consistently renders by eg eimi, formally 'I am.' Isaiah 43:10 is especially close to what Scholars call Johannine language:
"You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. Isaiah 43:10 NASB
The Greek Old Testament contains this purpose clause, "In order that you know and believe and understand that I AM [ego eim]." It is the combination of the verb "believe" and the use of I AM [ego eimi] in Isaiah 43:10 that causes scholars to believe that it was on Yeshua's mind at this point.
The last part of Isaiah 43:10 seems to be based on Exodus 3:14. The unique (and here important) part of Isaiah 43 comes in verse 11 where the speaker says":
"I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. Isaiah 43:11 NASB
Here we see there is no savior besides Yahweh. And yet Yeshua says, "Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins." What is Yeshua saying? He is saying, "I am Yahweh, there is not savior besides me. Verse 12 goes on:
"It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And I am God. Isaiah 43:12 NASB
The point of Isaiah 43:10-12 is that I AM is a God of salvation. This appears to be Yeshua's point in verse 24. As long as the Jews refused to come to faith in I AM—the one who saves His people— they will die in their sins.
In Isaiah, the contexts demand that "I am He" means "I am the same," "I am forever the same," and even "I am Yahweh," with a direct allusion to Exodus 3:14. For others to apply this title to themselves was blasphemous, an invitation to face the wrath of God:
"Now, then, hear this, you sensual one, Who dwells securely, Who says in your heart, 'I am, and there is no one besides me. I will not sit as a widow, Nor know loss of children.' Isaiah 47:8 NASB
Verse 11 tells us what happens to the one who claims "I am":
"But evil will come on you Which you will not know how to charm away; And disaster will fall on you For which you cannot atone; And destruction about which you do not know Will come on you suddenly. Isaiah 47:11 NASB
For Yeshua to apply such words to Himself is to say, "I am Yahweh, the only savior." So when Yeshua tells the Pharisees, who knew Isaiah well, "I am He," using the same phrase that the Lord repeatedly uses in Isaiah, He was claiming to be the eternal God.
Listen to me, people, Yeshua is Yahweh. To deny the deity of Christ, to deny that He is in fact Yahweh in the flesh, is to die in your sins. Is that too strong? This is what Yeshua is saying, "Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins."
This truth that Yeshua is Yahweh is taught from the very first verse of this Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 NASB
"The Word was God"—this statement could not be much clearer! In fact these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi, (was) means: "to be" or "to exist," and suggests continued existence. So the Word always existed as Yahweh.
Lazarus does not say, "and the Word was divine" or "the Word was like God." He makes the bold statement, "the Word was God." He here leaves no room for anyone to see Yeshua as less than God in some way, or to some degree.
John Phillips writes, "That is, in His essence, in what He actually is, in His nature, person, and personality, in His attributes and character, Jesus is all that God is. All the essential characteristics of deity are His." (Exploring the Gospel of John)
The Word literally was Yahweh. Yeshua is God in a body. Nothing less. He is God in a body, the full mysterious deity of Christ exemplified in humility, and unbelievable condescension. And so at the very beginning Lazarus lays it down that Yeshua is the living Word, and He alone is the perfect revelation of Yahweh.
It is at this point, that Yeshua is Yahweh, that the Arian controversy of the early church and some contemporary pseudo-Christian cults deviate from the biblical perspective. The heretic Arius and his modern disciples, the Jehovah's Witnesses, argue that Yeshua was not eternal; rather, He was the first created being. On the basis of a flawed and inconsistent interpretation of the Greek text this last phrase in verse 1 is translated "the Word was a god," reducing Christ to a being less than and different from God.
Paul understood that Yeshua was Yahweh:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Yeshua, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, Philippians 2:5-6 NASB
The word "existed" is the Greek word huparcho, it is a verb that stresses the essence of a person's nature, it is to express the continued state of a thing, it is unalterable and unchangeable. Paul said, "Yeshua unalterably and unchangeably exists in the form of God." This speaks of His pre-existence.
The word "form" is morphe. Multin and Milligan say that "morphe" is a form which truly and fully expresses the being which under lies it. It refers to the essence or essential being. Yeshua pre-existed in the essence of God.
When Paul uses hupareco; being, and morphe; form He is saying something very specific; He is saying that Yeshua has always existed in the unchangeable essence of the being of Yahweh. Yeshua is God and always was. This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith—Yeshua is Yahweh.
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, Colossians 2:9 NASB
The word "dwells" comes from the Greek word katoikeo, which means: "to settle down and be at home." The present tense indicates that the essence of dDeity continually abides at home in Christ. He is fully God forever.
The Greek word translated "Deity" is theotetos, an ontological word. What that means is: "it has the idea of essential nature or essential being." The essential ontological nature of Yeshua is what? Deity. He is Yahweh.
John Eleazar, aka Lazarus also writes:
And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Yeshua Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 NASB
The Son of God, Yeshua the Christ, is "the true God and eternal life."
David Flusser, who was a devout Orthodox Jews, and a professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said, "You poor Christians, you wonder why the Bible doesn't say Jesus is God more often. It says it all the time, you just don't understand Jewish thought."
Let me give you one more:
saying, "What do we have to do with You, Yeshua of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!" Mark 1:24 NASB
Notice that this demon recognizes both Yeshua's humanity and His deity. "Yeshua of Nazareth" speaks of His humanity; "Holy One of God" speaks of His deity. It's interesting to me that here we are 2000 years later, and we're still arguing about who Yeshua was. The demons got it right, they knew who He was. This was God in the flesh. They knew that. And they also understood that there was nothing they could do to keep Yeshua from taking authority over them.
The phrase "Holy One" is used in the Tanakh of Yahweh. Who is the Holy One of Israel:
How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness And grieved Him in the desert! Again and again they tempted God, And pained the Holy One of Israel. Psalms 78:40-41 NASB
It is Yahweh who is called the "Holy One" or the "Holy One of Israel." Calling Christ, "The Holy One" is a clear reference to the Deity, by no less than the demons themselves.
When I say that Yeshua is Yahweh it's important to understand that I am not talking about Modalism, which denies the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and says that God sometimes manifested Himself as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit. This view sees the Father, Son, and Spirit as all the same Person, just appearing or operating in different modes at different times.
This first verse in John destroys Modalism, "And the Word was with God"—the theological importance of these words is that they distinguish God the Word from God the Father. In other words, John is telling us that although the Godhead is One Holy and Eternal God, God the Word and God the Father are not the same Person:
"O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; John 17:25 NASB
Here the Son prays to the Father, both of whom are Yahweh.
The words "was with God" prohibits us from seeing no distinction between the Father and the Word. This "with" infers a relationship, an interface, an interaction, between two distinct persons. There is a distinction. The Son, the Word, is distinct from the Father.
The truth is that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all three of the same essence, but they are three separate and distinct Beings. The Trinity is not three Gods, but the three persons of the one true God.
So Yeshua is Yahweh. He is the Messiah. He is the one upon whom God has put his name. He's the second person of the divine trinity. He's the one that in the Tanakh led Israel out of the land of Egypt. He's the one who made the covenants with them. He's the one who wrestled with Jacob. He's the one who spoke to Abraham. He's one whom Daniel saw. And he's the one whom Gideon dealt with, and so on. All the theophanies of the Tanakh are theophanies of the Son of God.
"You will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins"—there's only one thing that prevents you from dying in your sin and being damned forever and that is belief that Yeshua is Yahweh. Belief of the truth, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. Works play no part in salvation.
So they were saying to Him, "Who are You?" Yeshua said to them, "What have I been saying to you from the beginning? John 8:25 NASB
"Who are You?"—as I said at the beginning this is the most important question we can ask. Commenting on this Carson writes, "The ambiguity bound up with eg eimi (v. 24) prompts Jesus' opponents to ask, Who are you?" I sure don't see that. I see no ambiguity in Yeshua saying "I am," and I don't think they did either.
Their question could rightly be translated, "Who do you think you are to tell us that we will die in our sins?" They were challenging Yeshua, not seeking to know the truth about Him. After Christ's resurrection Peter tells the Jews who Christ was:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Yeshua the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— Acts 2:22 NASB
In light of all that Christ had done how could they not understand who he was?
"Yeshua said to them, 'What have I been saying to you from the beginning'?—Yeshua's reply here is hard to translate from the Greek text. Originally the Greek manuscript had no spaces between the words. Therefore, the Greek letters can be divided in different places to make words that fit the context. The divergence of translations on this verse is not related to a manuscript variation, but word division. Here are the options. 1. hote — "I have said to you from the beginning" (NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB, NIV). 2. ho ti as a Semitic idiom of exclamation — that I talk to you at all (NRSV,TEV footnote).
It is grammatically possible to translate Yeshua's reply as a question, "Why do I speak to you at all?" (NRSV). This would imply that Yeshua was despairing of ever trying to successfully communicate with the Jews. This makes sense in light of chapter 6:
And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." John 6:65 NASB
Yeshua is saying, Unless you have been called, you'll never get it.
"I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world." John 8:26 NASB
The themes of, the Father sent Me; the Father is true; Yeshua's teachings are from the Father; Yeshua reveals the Father are repeated throughout this Gospel for emphasis.
They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. John 8:27 NASB
Here Lazarus clarified for his readers that Yeshua "had been speaking about" His "Father" when He mentioned the One who sent Him. This is amazing! They are blind and cannot see the "Light." How is this possible? Well, this is possible because the Bible says so plainly the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB
They were natural, without the Spirit. They were of the world, from below. So the natural man does not only not understand, but he cannot understand. It's impossible for you to understand in your natural intellect. The Bible is not something that you can of your own ability understand.
So Yeshua said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. John 8:28 NASB
"When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am"—this is an allusion to death by crucifixion. Wherever the Greek word hypsoo ("lifted up") occurs in the Fourth Gospel, and it only occurs in four verses (cf. 8:28; 12:32, 34), it combines the ideas of crucifixion and exaltation.
Lazarus' pattern is to combine two aspects of Yeshua into one word. He uses "lifted up" to describe both the death of Yeshua on the cross and the resurrection and glorification of Yeshua. The word "lifted up" also means "exalted" and is used in the rest of the New Testament for Yeshua being exalted to the right hand of the Father after His resurrection. For Lazarus it is the whole scope of the crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Yeshua that focuses our attention on God the Father.
I think he is saying, When you lift me up, crucify me, then you will know by the resurrection that I am.
"The Son of Man"—this is Yeshua' self-chosen title because it had no militaristic or nationalistic implications within rabbinical Judaism. Yeshua chose this title because it connects both the concepts of humanity (cf. Ezek. 2:1; Ps. 8:4) and deity (cf. Dan. 7:13).
"I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me"—this is what we saw in chapter 5, the unity of the Father and son. The Son does only what the Father does (5:19). The Son gives life just as the Father gives life (5:21, 26). The Son has the same authority as the Father (5:22 ,27). The Son does nothing by himself, but only what he hears from the Father, only what pleases the Father (5:20). The Son comes in the name of the Father, not in his own name (5:43).
"And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John 8:29 NASB
Yeshua again affirmed that everything He said came from and with the authority of His Father (cf. vv. 16, 18, 26). All that He said and did was the Father's will, including the Cross.
"For I always do the things that are pleasing to Him"—how would you like to be able to say that? Could you say that? Can we live a life that is always pleasing to the Father? Why not? I think we could, if we really wanted to.
As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. John 8:30 NASB
After this exchange Lazarus notes that many people believed in Yeshua. That note of belief and of new disciples also becomes the transition to the next section.