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In Judea, Jesus’ life was seriously endangered. For this reason, he centered his activity mainly in Galilee. (John 7:1)
His brothers, James, Joseph (Joses), Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3), did not appear to have been aware of the threat to his life. They did not have faith in him as the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God. In their estimation, he was a worker of miracles who wanted to be more extensively known but had avoided the very region where he would have received greater public attention. Therefore, with the approach of the Festival of Tabernacles in the month of Tishri or Ethanim (mid-September to mid-October), they recommended that he go to Judea and there let his disciples see the work that he was doing. As far as they were concerned, no man acts in secret if his aim is to be widely known. Their advice to Jesus was, “Show yourself to the world.” (John 7:2-5)
Rejecting their recommendation, he pointed out that it was not yet his time to act but that, for them, the time was always opportune. This was because the “world” or the unbelieving populace could not hate them, implying that his brothers had not done or said anything that would incur hostility. He, however, had become the object of the world’s hatred, for he had presented the testimony that exposed the works of the unbelieving people as bad. (John 7:6, 7)
Jesus then told his brothers to be on their way to the festival without him. His time for going had not yet arrived. After his brothers had left, Jesus remained in Galilee for a time and then, with some of his close disciples, headed for Jerusalem. He chose to do so at a time when most of the people had already left Galilee to attend the festival, which would have made it possible to avoid having the news about his departure spread. Thus he left Galilee in secret, not openly. (John 7:9, 10)
In his going to Jerusalem, Jesus was aware that the time was drawing near for his being “taken up.” This being “taken up” likely refers to his return to his Father, which would be preceded by his being rejected, abused, and mocked, suffering an agonizing death, being resurrected, and then ascending to heaven. Although he knew what lay ahead for him in the comparatively near future, he was determined (literally, “set his face”) to go to Jerusalem. He chose to travel the more direct and less commonly used route through Samaria and sent messengers ahead of him to find a place where he could stay for the night. When the inhabitants of the Samaritan village learned that Jesus intended to go to Jerusalem, which city they regarded as a competing center of worship to their sacred mountain (John 4:20), they refused to extend hospitality. (Luke 9:51-53)
The response of the people in this Samaritan village infuriated James and John. They asked Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven upon them and destroy them. (Luke 9:54) James and John knew what Elijah had done when he was addressed disrespectfully by two captains and their 50 men, demanding that he come with them to King Ahaziah. On each of these captains and their subordinates, Elijah called down fire from heaven, and they perished. (2 Kings 1:9-12; see the Notes section regarding Luke 9:54.)
Based on this example from past history, James and John felt justified in seeking the destruction of the Samaritan village. Jesus’ teaching about loving and praying for enemies had not as yet taken firm root within them. (Matthew 5:44-48) Jesus turned and then rebuked them for suggesting the fiery destruction of the inhospitable Samaritans. With the disciples, he headed for another village. (Luke 9:55, 56; see the Notes section for the expanded reading found in later manuscripts.)
On the way, a certain scribe expressed his willingness to follow Jesus wherever he might go. In reply, Jesus indicated that this decision would not lead to apparent gain. Unlike foxes that had dens and birds that had roosts, the Son of Man did not have a place where he could lay his head. He had no permanent residence. (Matthew 8:19, 20; Luke 9:57, 58)
Jesus’ reply suggests that this scribe’s words were not the product of serious reflection but stemmed from surface emotion. Possibly knowledge about Jesus’ miracles had led the scribe to think that much was yet to be gained from close association with Jesus, including the benefit of being in the presence of a remarkable teacher.
To another man, Jesus extended a direct invitation to follow him. While not declining it, the man asked for permission to first bury his father. As it was customary to bury the deceased on the day of their death, it does not appear that the father had actually died. Otherwise, the son would have been in mourning and attending to the burial. Possibly the father was advanced in age or ailing. Whatever the circumstances, the man basically revealed that he was not yet ready to follow Jesus. (Matthew 8:21; Luke 9:59)
In response, the Son of God told him, “Let the dead bury their dead,” and urged him to proclaim the “kingdom of God.” He was not to postpone accepting the call to follow Jesus as an active disciple, stalling for time to look after his father in the declining part of his life until he actually died. The spiritually dead, those dead in sin on account of their unbelief in Jesus, could attend to the burial of their own dead, removing any valid basis for delaying acceptance of the invitation to fulfill the requirements of discipleship. This involved proclaiming the message that centered on Christ and the need for repentance to become part of the realm where God reigns by means of his Son. (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60)
Still another man acknowledged Jesus as Lord and agreed to follow him but first wanted the opportunity to say farewell to those of his household. Jesus admonished him not to delay, telling him that one who had put his “hand to the plow” was unfit for the kingdom of God if he looked back to the things behind. Putting the “hand to the plow” indicated setting out on a particular pursuit. The person who accepted the call to be a disciple should not look back, giving in to second thoughts. For the man to have talked about his decision with relatives and friends could easily have led to their seeking to dissuade him from following through on the commitment he had made. (Luke 9:61, 62)
In Luke 9:54, many later manuscripts add “even as Elijah did” when referring to the calling down of fire from heaven.
In Luke 9:55, 56, a number of later manuscripts add words of rebuke. “You do not know of what spirit you are, for the Son of Man came not to destroy [the] souls of men but to save [them].”
The chronological placement of the events narrated in Matthew 8:19-22 and Luke 9:57-62 is based on Luke’s account, which seems to follow the chronological order more closely than does Matthew’s account.
In Jerusalem, many who knew about Jesus tried to find him and wondered where he was. Among their trusted acquaintances, they engaged in considerable subdued talk about him. Some said that he was a good man, whereas others disagreed, maintaining that he deceived the multitude. Out of fear of fellow Jews, no one spoke concerning him openly. People must have been aware that the Pharisees generally and the prominent members of the nation were hostile toward Jesus. They doubtless feared incurring the displeasure of influential countrymen and being ostracized in the community for suspected sympathizing with Jesus and his teaching. (John 7:11-13)
In the middle of the festival, Jesus made his public appearance and began to teach in the temple precincts. His teaching astonished those who heard him, and they began to wonder how it could be that he spoke authoritatively as a lettered man when he was not among the recognized learned ones of the nation. In response, Jesus gave all the credit to his Father, saying that his teaching was not his own but that of the one who had sent him. Anyone who desired to do God’s will would recognize whether he was the source of Jesus’ teaching or whether Jesus was expressing his own thoughts. Any man who spoke of his own would be desirous of glorifying or bringing honor to himself. Then, referring to himself, Jesus indicated that the one who sought to glorify or honor the one who sent him is “true” (completely trustworthy and truthful) and free of any evil. There would be nothing deceitful or underhanded in him. His motivation would be pure. (John 7:14-18)
Those who heard Jesus’ teaching should have responded to him in faith, especially since they claimed to believe in Moses. From Moses they had received the law; yet, as Jesus pointed out, they did not heed it. According to the words of the law they considered to have been received from Moses, the Jews who heard Jesus knew that they were to listen to the prophet like Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:15) The miracles Jesus performed as the representative of his Father confirmed that he was a prophet “like” Moses and, in fact, the prophet greater than Moses and the foretold Messiah or Christ. Those who wanted to kill Jesus, instead of heeding his words, proved undeniably that they did not do what the law said. Those in the crowd who were unaware of the earlier attempt to kill Jesus for violating the Sabbath and blasphemy regarded his comments as preposterous and accused him of having a demon. “Who is trying to kill you?” they asked incredulously. (John 7:19, 20)
In response, Jesus called attention to the one work he had done on the Sabbath, which had been the curing of a man who had been afflicted for 38 years and was lying on a mat at the pool near the Sheep Gate. (John 5:2-9) That work had prompted amazement among those who came to know about it. (John 7:21)
The Son of God then referred to the law to show that no one should have objected to what he did on the Sabbath. Moses had given the command about circumcision (Leviticus 12:3), which command had actually come from an earlier time. It had been given to the “fathers” or ancestors of the Israelites, specifically to their forefather Abraham. (Genesis 17:11-14) If the eighth day falls on a Sabbath, a baby boy is circumcised to avoid breaking the law of Moses. Why, then, asked Jesus, should the people be infuriated at him for having made a man’s body completely whole on the Sabbath? He called upon them to desist from judging according to mere appearances but to judge rightly. (John 7:23, 24)
Certain inhabitants of Jerusalem among the multitude who heard Jesus’ words recalled that he was indeed the one whom fellow countrymen wanted to kill. It puzzled them that he spoke openly and that no one said anything, causing them to wonder whether the rulers had come to know that he was indeed the Messiah. Believing that they knew from where Jesus was (from Galilee, if not also from Nazareth), they, however, dismissed the possibility of his being the Messiah. They reasoned that no one would know from where the Messiah had come. (John 7:25-27)
Refuting their claim about knowing him and from where he came, Jesus cried out that he had not come of his own and that the one who sent him is true and was unknown to them. Thus he identified himself as the one whom his Father had sent. When speaking of him as “true,” Jesus probably meant “trustworthy” or “dependable.” He thereby appears to have implied that the people should have believed in him, for he did the works of his Father and conveyed his teaching. If they had known his Father, they would have recognized him, for as the Son he reflected his Father flawlessly in word and deed. Unlike the unbelieving Jews, he knew his Father and could truthfully say, “I am from him, and he sent me.” (John 7:28, 29)
Those who opposed Jesus wanted to seize him, doubtless to take him to the ruling authorities. No one, however, laid a hand on him, for “his hour” had not yet come. It was not then the time for him to finish his earthly life. (John 7:30)
Despite the prevailing unbelief, many among those who listened to his teaching believed in him. They reasoned that when the Christ or the Messiah came he would not perform more signs than Jesus had. (John 7:31)
The unbelieving Pharisees heard the subdued talk about him and appear to have found it very disturbing. Therefore, they and the chief priests decided to send temple guards to arrest him. (John 7:32)
Knowing what lay ahead for him, Jesus told the multitude that he would be with them for only a short while and then would return to the one who had sent him. Though they would look for him, they would not find him, for they would be unable to go where he would be. Not understanding that Jesus would return to his Father, the people were puzzled about the meaning of his words. Some thought that he might leave the land of Israel and go to the “Dispersion of the Greeks” (Jews living among the Gentiles) and teach the Greeks (or non-Jews). (John 7:33-36)
On the Last Day of the Festival of Tabernacles
The festival of tabernacles ended the agricultural year and was marked by great rejoicing. The law required only the males to be present for the observance, but they often attended with their whole family. For seven days, they were to dwell in temporary shelters or booths made from palm fronds and leafy branches from various trees. These shelters were to remind them of the tents in which the Israelites lived during their journeying in the wilderness after they left Egypt. (Leviticus 23:34-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Nehemiah 8:14, 15)
The law outlined the specific sacrifices to be offered on each day of the festival. Other ceremonial features came to be added later in connection with the temple services. One of these involved the pouring out of water brought from the Pool of Siloam. Ancient rabbinical views are divided as to whether the water was poured out only on the first seven days or also on the eighth day. According to ancient rabbinical sources, two silver bowls were positioned above the altar. Wine would be poured into the one to the east, and water into the one to the west. These bowls were perforated with holes through which the liquids could flow into a channel that led to the base of the altar. (Tosefta, Sukkah, 3:14, 15) The act of pouring out accompanied “the offering up of the limbs of the daily whole-offering.” (Tosefta, Sukkah 3:16, Jacob Neusner’s translation)
Ancient Jewish sources associate the water with Ezekiel 47:2-10 and Zechariah 13:1 and 14:8. (Tosefta, Sukkah, 3:3-10) In Ezekiel, the reference is to life-giving water flowing from the temple and continuing to deepen until it formed a river. (Compare Joel 3:18[4:18].) Zechariah’s prophecy (14:8) speaks of living water flowing from Jerusalem, with half of it going to the “former sea” (the “eastern sea” or the Dead Sea) and the other half going to the “hinder sea” (the “western sea” or the Mediterranean Sea). Zechariah 13:1 pointed forward to the time when a fountain would be opened for the house of David and the people of Jerusalem, a fountain that would serve for cleansing from sin.
On the last day of the festival, Jesus revealed that the foretold life-giving water was available through him. As he stood, he cried out for all thirsty ones to come to him and drink. Paraphrasing the words of the prophets, he added regarding anyone who believed in him, “Rivers of living water will flow from his inmost part.” (John 7:37, 38; for additional comments about John 7:38, see the Notes section.)
The account explains Jesus’ words as applying to those who would receive God’s spirit because of believing in him. As Jesus had not yet been glorified or in possession of the splendor he formerly had when with his Father in heaven, there was as yet “no spirit.” (John 7:39) Whereas God’s spirit did powerfully operate through the Son of God and also when the apostles performed miracles in his name, none of the disciples enjoyed the fullness of the spirit’s operation. With holy spirit operating fully within them, they would be abundantly blessed spiritually, empowered to conduct themselves in harmony with God’s will, enlightened to grasp Jesus’ teaching, strengthened and sustained in times of trial and distress, and filled with courage to make expressions about their faith. Moreover, they would be able to impart to others everything that was essential for coming into possession of eternal life. Thus it proved to be that streams of living water flowed out from them, and those who responded in faith came to enjoy the real life, ceasing to be dead in sin.
Based on what they had heard, the people came to different conclusions about Jesus. Some regarded him to be “the prophet,” probably meaning the prophet like Moses but distinct from the Messiah. (Deuteronomy 18:15) Others believed him to be the Messiah or Christ. Not knowing that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, certain ones reasoned that he could not be the Messiah, for he had come from Galilee, which did not agree with the scripture that foretold his being of the “seed [offspring] of David” and David’s village Bethlehem. As a result, the multitude proved to be divided in their view of him. (John 7:40-43)
“Some,” likely meaning the temple guards whom the unbelieving Pharisees and chief priests had sent to arrest Jesus, wanted to seize him. No one, however, laid a hand on Jesus. (John 7:44)
When the temple guards returned empty-handed, the unbelieving Pharisees demanded why they had failed to bring Jesus in. “Never has a man thus spoken,” they replied. The indignant Pharisees chided them for having been deceived and added that none of the rulers or Pharisees believed in him. The only ones who did were those of the ignorant multitude, persons who did not know the law and whom they pronounced as accursed. (John 7:45-49)
Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had much earlier spoken to Jesus, tried to appeal to his fellow Pharisees on the basis of their sense of justice. He reminded them that the law did not condemn a man until he is first heard and known for what he is doing. Nicodemus was then ridiculed, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up from Galilee.” (John 7:50-52) The prominent unbelieving members of the nation failed to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1, 2) that referred to a great light to be seen in the territory of Galilee and disregarded the very law they were obligated to uphold. (See the Notes section for comments about John 7:53-8:12.)
No specific passage in the Scriptures matches the quotation in John 7:38, but the thought can be gleaned from the prophetic writings. A linkage of water and spirit (John 7:39) is found in Isaiah 44:3. There God’s pouring out of water on the ground (in the form of rain) parallels the pouring out of his spirit on his people. Then, in Isaiah 58:11, those who would repent and change their ways are promised to become like a watered garden and an unfailing spring of water.
It appears that knowledge about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem may only have existed among the few who were familiar with his early history, likely only members of the family and close acquaintances. The majority only knew him as being from Galilee, where he had lived nearly all of his life.
The narrative about the woman accused of having committed adultery (John 7:53-8:11) follows the account that focuses on Jesus’ words spoken at the Festival of Tabernacles. This narrative is missing in all of the oldest extant Greek manuscripts, raising doubt about whether it relates to an actual occurrence. Later manuscripts do include it here, but in others it appears after John 7:36, John 21:25, or Luke 21:38.
John 7:53 through 8:2 does provide an introduction for the account about the woman. This introduction relates that each one went to his home and that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, returning to the temple precincts early in the morning of the next day and seating himself to the teach the people.
Later, the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman and asked Jesus about his view of the law that set forth stoning as the penalty for her sin, their aim being to trap him so as to have something to use to accuse him. He ignored them, bent down, and began writing on the ground with his finger. When, however, they continued questioning him, he straightened up and said that the one without sin should cast the first stone and then bent down again and resumed writing on the ground. Thereafter the accusers began to depart, leaving the woman by herself. When Jesus asked whether anyone had condemned her, she replied, “No one.” After telling her that he also did not do so, he admonished her not to continue sinning. (John 8:3-11)
That Jesus would be writing on the ground seems unusual and, therefore, raises a question about whether the account preserves a historical event. If it does pertain to an actual happening, a possible explanation could be that Jesus, by his action, chose to indicate that he was not going to involve himself in the matter. According to the law, both the man and the woman were guilty and yet the scribes and Pharisees made no mention of the adulterer, which would suggest that their seeming concern about the law was insincere.
Although the question about the historicity of the account may need to be left open because of its existence in many later manuscripts, the narrative does not seem to fit with the rest of the eighth chapter of John. After Jesus’ admonition directed to the woman in verse 11, the next verse tells of his addressing the multitude and starts with the words, “Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them.” These introductory words suggest a continuation of his teaching at the Festival of Tabernacles. Moreover, what he said thereafter harmonizes with that conclusion. Accordingly, it appears preferable to regard John 7:53 through 8:11 as an insertion that interrupts the logical flow of the narrative about what Jesus said at the Festival of Tabernacles.
Another later custom associated with the Festival of Tabernacles involved illumination for most of the nights. According to ancient Jewish sources, four large golden lampstands occupied the Court of the Women. Each of these lampstands had a ladder and four golden bowls that held the oil. Four youths of priestly descent would ascend the ladders, each carrying a jar holding a large quantity of oil. They would pour the oil into the bowls and light them. The worn drawers and girdles of priests served as wicks. Light from the illuminated courtyard could be seen at a great distance. With torches in their hands, men known for godliness and good works danced before the lampstands. They would raise their voices in song and praise. Many Levites played harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets and other instruments as they stood on the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Court of the Women. (Mishnah, Sukkah 5.2-4)
When Jesus identified himself as the “light of the world,” those who heard him may well have thought about the impressive illumination during the Festival of Tabernacles. His statement also answered the objection that no prophet would arise from Galilee, as his words alluded to the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1, 2) that referred to a “great light” to be seen there. (John 8:12)
As the “light of the world,” Jesus provided spiritual illumination and dependable guidance. No one who followed him would walk in darkness or be unable to discern the right course of action. Instead, the individual would have the “light of life.” (John 8:12) This could be the light needed for the enjoyment of the real life that is distinguished by an enduring relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. Another possibility is that this would be the essential light for living a divinely approved life.
The Pharisees objected, contending that Jesus’ testimony rested solely on his own word and, therefore, could not be “true,” being unacceptable on the basis of the law that required at least two witnesses for verification. He countered with a statement revealing the superior nature of his testimony. Even if he did testify about himself, his witness proved to be true or deserving of full acceptance, for he knew from where he had come and where he was going. His testimony was not like that of humans generally, for he had come from the realm above and would return to this heavenly realm. The Pharisees did not know from where Jesus had come and where he was going, for they refused to believe his words. They judged “according to the flesh” or by human standards. He, however, did not judge or condemn anyone in this manner. If he did judge, his judgment would be “true,” right, or just, for he would not be acting alone or exclusively on his own authority. The one who had sent him, the Father, would be with him. (John 8:13-16)
According to the law, “the testimony of two men is true.” Jesus testified about himself through his words and works, and the one who had sent him, the Father, testified, enabling his Son to perform miracles of a nature and on a scale that no one else did. (John 8:17, 18)
In response to Jesus’ words about his Father, the Pharisees asked, “Where is your father?” “You know neither me nor my Father,” Jesus answered. “If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” By his words and deeds, Jesus flawlessly reflected his Father. In him, therefore, the Pharisees should have recognized the image of the Father and acknowledged him as his Son. Their failure to recognize the Son revealed that they did not know his Father. (John 8:19)
This interchange took place in the treasury of the temple precincts. (John 8:20) According to ancient Jewish sources, this was located in the Court of the Women, where 13 trumpet-shaped chests lined the surrounding wall. Into these chests, the people deposited their monetary offerings and contributions. Six of these receptacles were designated for freewill offerings. Each of the other seven served for a distinct purpose—new shekels, old shekels, bird offerings, young birds for burnt offerings, wood, frankincense, and gold for the propitiatory. (Mishnah, Sheqalim 2:1; 6:1, 5; Tosefta, Sheqalim 3:1)
During the time Jesus taught there, no one laid hold of him or arrested him. His “hour” had not yet come. It was not then the time for him to finish his earthly course. (John 8:20)
Previously, Jesus had said to the people that he was going away. He again repeated this point, telling them that they would seek him (probably meaning that they would continue to look in vain for the coming of the Messiah), would die in their sins, and would be unable to come to the place where he was going. Completely misunderstanding that Jesus would be returning to his Father in heaven, certain ones wondered whether he might kill himself, as they could not come to the place where he would be going. He then made it clear that he had come from a different realm, saying that they were from “below,” whereas he was from “above.” They were from the world of sinful mankind, but he was no part of that world. If, as Jesus said, they did not “believe that I am,” they would “die in [their] sins.” To refuse to acknowledge his true identity as the one who had come from above (God’s unique Son) would signify to reject the provision of forgiveness of sins through him. With their record of sin remaining unforgiven, they would die in their sins. Obstinately refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the one he had revealed himself to be, the unbelieving Jews asked him challengingly, “Who are you?” (John 8:21-25)
The Greek text conveying Jesus’ reply is obscure, and this accounts for the variations in the renderings of modern translations. (John 8:25) Preserving the basic meaning of arché (“beginning”), a number of translations read, “I am exactly who I told you at the beginning.” (CEV) “What I told you from the beginning.” (NAB) “I am what I have told you from the beginning.” (NCV) “I am what I have told you I was from the beginning.” (Phillips) Other translations do not render the word arché as “beginning” and translate the statement as a question. “Why do I speak to you at all?” (NRSV) “Why, in the first place, am I speaking to you?” “Why should I speak to you at all?” (NJB, footnote)
There is a strong possibility that arché (“beginning”) could be understood to denote that which is fundamental, essential, or basic. Jesus’ reply may be rendered, “Basically, what I am also telling you,” indicating that all along his words revealed his true identity. (See the Notes section for additional information.)
Jesus had much to say about the unbelieving people and to express judgment respecting them. Both his words and his judgment would relate to their failure to put faith in him despite the abundant evidence, including his many miracles. They had ample proof that the Father had sent him. This should have given them sound reason for faith, for the Father is “true,” ultimately trustworthy. In the world or among the people, Jesus spoke what he had heard from his Father, the one who had sent him. Therefore, the Son of God should have been believed. Although Jesus had spoken about coming from “above” and his words about the one who had sent him clearly did not pertain to an earthly father, the unbelieving people did not recognize that he was talking about his heavenly Father. (John 8:26, 27)
Once, however, they had “raised the Son of Man up high,” they would come to know who he truly is (“that I am”), doing nothing of his own accord but speaking what his Father had taught him. The “raising up high” refers to his being lifted up on the implement on which he would die. His agonizing death through crucifixion led to his glorification, for he was raised from the dead and returned to heaven as the exalted Son of God. When the people would again see him as the one whom they had lifted up or in whose death they shared by rejecting him, they would see him as the one entrusted with all authority in heaven and on earth. Their former unbelief would merit adverse judgment, and they would come to know who Jesus truly is and that he, while in their midst, had spoken the truth that his Father had taught him. At all times, the Father who had sent him proved to be with him, never leaving him. This was because he always pleased his Father. (John 8:28, 29)
Although many persisted in their unbelief, others began to believe in Jesus. To the believing Jews, he said, “If you remain in my word [continuing to act on his message in faith], you truly are my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will free you.” (John 8:30-32)
This truth relates to him—his identity as the Son of God. Through him alone, full knowledge about the Father is disclosed and forgiveness of sin is made possible, liberating all who put faith in him from the sin that stood as a record of debt against them.
Whereas Jesus’ words were directed to those who believed, the others who did not put faith in him also heard his words. These unbelievers seem to have been the ones who strongly objected and later tried to stone him. They proudly maintained that they were the “seed” or offspring of Abraham and never had been slaves to anyone. They then asked, “How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” Although they were then living under Roman authority, their reply focused on their status as free children on the basis of their descent from Abraham. They were not born in slavery. (John 8:33)
In response, Jesus repeated “amen” (truly) when solemnly calling attention to their being enslaved to sin, saying that “everyone who engages in sin is a slave of sin.” Alluding to the dismissal of the slave woman Hagar and her son Ishmael from the household of Abraham, Jesus reminded them that a slave does not remain permanently in the household but a son does. A son, however, could set a slave free. Therefore, Jesus, as the Son of God, could liberate individuals from enslavement to sin, making them completely free. While Jesus acknowledged that those who had objected to his words were of the “seed” of Abraham or his descendants, he implied that their attitude did not reflect that. They were seeking to kill him, as his “word” or the message he proclaimed encountered obstinate resistance, finding no room among them. (John 8:34-37)
Whereas Jesus spoke what he had seen while he had been with his Father, they did what they had heard from their father. In this way, the Son of God revealed that their desire to kill him proved that they had a different father, an evil father with a murderous disposition. (John 8:38; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Again, they claimed to have Abraham as their father. Jesus, though, indicated that this would mean that they should have been doing the works of Abraham, which would have included manifesting the kind of faith Abraham did. This, however, was not the case. Instead of putting faith in Jesus, they tried to kill him, the very one who had told them the truth he had heard from God. “Abraham did not do this.” They did the works of their father. Insisting that they were not illegitimate children, they maintained that their only Father was God. (John 8:39-41)
Countering their claim, Jesus said that they would love him if God were their Father, for he had come from God. He had not come on his own accord but had been sent by him. “Why,” asked Jesus, “do you not comprehend what I am saying?” He then answered the rhetorical question, “Because you cannot [stand to] listen to my word.” They did not want to accept what Jesus said. (John 8:42, 43)
He then outspokenly declared the devil to be their father. It was the devil’s desires that they wished to carry out. He was a murderer (by implication the one responsible for the death of the first humans) from the “beginning” or from the time he commenced his life as the devil or slanderer. He did not “stand” in truth, not proving himself to be its upholder, for truth is not in him. As a malicious slanderer, he is a depository of lies and so there is no “truth in him.” By reason of who he is, he speaks the lie. The falsehood has its source in him, for he is a liar and the father or originator of it (probably alluding to the first lie on record, the one conveyed to Eve). (John 8:44)
Jesus, though, told the people the truth, but they refused to accept it. Addressing their unbelief, he asked who among them could level a charge of sin against him and why they did not believe him when he told them the truth. Explaining the reason for their unbelief, Jesus said, “Everyone who is from God [belonging to him] listens to the words of God. Therefore, you do not listen, for you are not from God [not belonging to him].” (John 8:45-47)
Angered, they accused Jesus of being a Samaritan (not a recognized member of God’s chosen people) and having a demon. “I do not have a demon,” said Jesus. “I honor my Father, but you dishonor me.” As he was the Son, their dishonoring him indicated that they also dishonored the Father who had sent him. Jesus did not seek glory for himself, diligently striving to win the plaudits of others. He looked to his Father to bestow glory on him, manifesting his approval. The Father also did judging. Unlike the baseless judgment of the unbelieving Jews that slandered him as being a demonized Samaritan, Jesus’ reference to his Father as judging implied that his judgment was right or just. The Son of God followed this up with the startling statement (preceded by a repeated “amen” [truly]) that those who observed his word or heeded his teaching would never “see” or experience death. (John 8:48-51)
The unbelieving Jews did not understand that he spoke about coming into possession of the real life as persons forgiven of sin and, therefore, liberated from the condemnation of death. Believers would not die as condemned sinners.
Refusing to recognize that Jesus had come from the realm above, the unbelieving Jews replied that they were certain he had a demon, saying, “Abraham died; also the prophets. And you say, ‘Whoever observes my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Also the prophets died. Who do you make yourself [out to be]?” (John 8:52, 53)
Jesus acknowledged that glorifying himself or making claims on his own authority would not mean anything. The Father, however, had glorified him, the very one whom the unbelieving Jews professed to be their God. (John 8:54) The miracles Jesus performed proved that his Father had empowered him, thus glorifying him as his beloved Son.
The murderous hatred of the unbelieving Jews proved that they did not know God, that they had no relationship with him. Otherwise, they would have recognized his Son and loved him. Therefore, about his Father, Jesus could say to them, “You do not know him, but I know him [his relationship being that of an intimate, the beloved Son of his Father].” If Jesus had said that he did not know the Father, he would have been a liar, as they had demonstrated themselves to be liars. They claimed to know God, but their slanderous words and hateful actions directed against the Son proved that this was not the case. (John 8:55)
Jesus, though, knew his Father and observed his word, always acting in harmony with his Father’s will. Abraham, the “father” or ancestor of the Jews, rejoiced to see, or eagerly anticipated with joy, the time Jesus called “my day.” In faith, Abraham saw it and was glad. His thus seeing it was based on the promise that through his “seed” (or offspring) all the families of the earth would be blessed. (John 8:55, 56)
Knowing that Jesus could not possibly be even 50 years old, the unbelieving Jews challenging said, “And you have seen Abraham?” “I am [from] before Abraham existed,” Jesus replied, preceding his words with the solemn “amen, amen” (truly, truly). Thus he confirmed that he, the one whom the people then saw, was the very same person prior to Abraham’s birth. (See the Notes section on John 8:58.) Furious that Jesus claimed to predate Abraham and, by implication, to be from the infinite past, the unbelieving Jews picked up stones to hurl at him. He, however, went into hiding and left the temple precincts. (John 8:57-59)
Based on different meanings for some of the Greek terms, the obscure statement in John 8:25 has been variously rendered.
The Greek word arché usually means “beginning.” When understood adverbially, the expression tén archén, has been defined to mean “essentially,” “at all,” and “all the time.”
The Greek term hóti means “that” or “because,” whereas hó ti denotes “whatever” and “whoever” but can also signify “what.”
In Greek, the word for “and” (kaí) may additionally mean “even” or “also.”
When Jesus’ words are translated “that I am even speaking to you at all,” they are commonly construed as a question, “[How is it] that I am even speaking to you at all?” To preserve the meaning “beginning” for arché requires adding the preposition “from” or “at” and changing the present tense Greek word for “I speak” or “I say” (laló) to the past tense (“whatever [or what] I said to you from the beginning”). Taking the words tén archén as being used adverbially and meaning “essentially,” “fundamentally,” or “basically” does not require supplying additional words or changing the verb from the present tense to the past tense. Therefore, the preferable sense appears to be, “Basically, what I am also saying to you.”
In the left margin of an early papyrus manuscript (P66, probably from the second century), the words eipon hymin (“I told you”) appear and are meant for insertion before tén archén. By supplying “from,” the text (with the insertion) would read, “I told you [from] the beginning what I am also saying to you.”
There are manuscript readings of John 8:38 that do not qualify the second mention of “father” with the adjective “your.” This is the reason for the following renderings: “You should do what you have heard from the Father.” (NRSV) “Then do what you have heard from the Father.” (NAB) Contextually, these renderings, however, do not fit the subsequent objection, “Our father is Abraham.”
For many centuries, the expression “I am” (egó eimi [in John 8:58]) repeatedly has been linked to Exodus 3:14, where the same words appear in the Septuagint. The Exodus passage relates to the time God revealed his unique name (YHWH) to Moses. The words egó eimi, however, do not constitute the complete thought in the Septuagint, but the Almighty is quoted as saying, egó eimi ho ón (“I am the One Who Is” or “I am the Being”). Then, what Moses is to say to the Israelites is not a repetition of egó eimi but of ho ón (ho ón apéstalkén me prós hymás; “the One Who Is has sent me to you”).
Like “I am” or “it is I,” the Greek egó eimi often is the expression individuals used to identify themselves. At the time confusion existed about his identity, the former blind man who had received sight through Jesus is quoted as telling others, egó eimi (“I am,” meaning that he was indeed the same person as the man who had previously been blind). (John 9:9) Similarly, when the disciples were frightened upon seeing what they imagined to be a phantom or a ghost walking on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is represented as identifying himself with the words, egó eimi mé phobeísthe (“I am [It is I]; fear not”). (Mark 6:50)
In keeping with common use, John 8:58 may be understood to mean that Jesus identified himself as being the very same person (the unique Son of God) before Abraham’s birth as he then was among the existing generation. Therefore, an appropriate rendering that preserves the meaning of “I am” for egó eimi would be, “I am [from] before Abraham existed.” This would harmonize with Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday and today, and into the ages [to come].” Other places in John 8, where “I am” appears, also point to the true identity of Jesus.
Upon seeing a man blind from birth, the disciples asked Jesus whether the reason for his condition was his own sin or that of his parents. Their question reflected the common (but erroneous) view about the afflicted and suggests that it interfered with their looking upon him with compassion, wanting him to have sight. It appears that they had not grasped the lesson contained in the book of Job that the illnesses or other afflictions individuals may experience are not a valid reason for concluding that they are guilty of serious sin. Correcting their wrong view, Jesus indicated that the man’s blindness was not to be attributed to his sin or that of his parents, adding that it was that the “works of God” would be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3) The condition in which the man found himself provided the occasion for a marvelous work of God to be seen. This would be the work of granting him sight, which work could not have been accomplished through human power or ability.
Indicating that it was then the time for carrying out this work of God, Jesus continued, “We must [I must, according to many extant manuscripts] work the works of him who sent me [sent us, according to the earliest extant manuscripts (P66 and P75)] as long as it is day. The night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the world’s light.” (John 9:4, 5) The night that lay ahead was the period of darkness that would see Jesus being arrested, abused, and killed, causing the disciples to scatter out of fear. Before the arrival of that dark day, opportunities continued to exist for doing God’s work. As the light of the world or among the people, Jesus brought enlightenment, opening the eyes of the blind both in a literal and a spiritual sense.
He then proceeded to do the work of his Father. After spitting on the ground, Jesus took the moistened soil, placed the clay he had made on the man’s eyes, and instructed him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The account provides the meaning of the name “Siloam” (“Sent forth”), suggesting that the miracle had been accomplished through the one who had been sent forth. (John 9:6, 7; see http://bibleplaces.com/poolofsiloam.htm for pictures of and comments about Pool of Siloam.)
When neighbors or acquaintances and others who were aware of the former blind man’s begging saw him, they thought that he might be the same person. Certain ones, however, concluded that he was just a man who resembled him in appearance. The former blind man is quoted as identifying himself with the words, “I am” (egó eimi) or “It is I.” In response to the question about how he came to have sight, he told them what Jesus had done and how his having washed in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus had instructed him led to his being able to see. Instead of rejoicing with the man about his enjoyment of sight, the questioners reflected a negative attitude toward his benefactor, not even mentioning his name when asking, “Where is he?” “I do not know,” the former blind man answered. (John 9:8-12)
The man’s blindness had been cured on the Sabbath. Therefore, the questioners led him to the Pharisees, with the apparent intent of determining whether a wrong had been committed. When the Pharisees questioned him how he had gained his sight, the man explained that Jesus had made clay and put it on his eyes and that, upon washing it off, he could see. Certain ones of the Pharisees concluded that Jesus could not be from God, for he did not observe the Sabbath. Others, however, found it hard to accept how a sinner could effect such a miracle, resulting in a division among them. (John 9:13-16)
They asked the man about his view of the one who had opened his eyes. He replied, “He is a prophet.” Not wanting to accept the evidence, the unbelieving Jews summoned the man’s parents, asking them whether he was their son who was blind at birth and how it happened that he could see. They acknowledged him to be their son who was born blind but disclaimed any knowledge about how he had been cured and who had brought it about. The parents added that their son was of age and would be able to answer for himself. Out of fear that they could otherwise be treated as outcasts, they limited their comments to the condition of their son at birth. Among the Jews generally, it had become known that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. (John 9:17-23)
For a second time, the Pharisees summoned the man. “Give glory to God,” they demanded. “We know that this man is a sinner.” The expression “Give glory to God” constituted a solemn charge for him to tell the truth. Although the Pharisees had asserted that they knew Jesus to be a sinner, the man courageously declared that this is something he did not know. What he did know was that he had been blind, but (as he said) “I can now see.” (John 9:24, 25)
Again the Pharisees asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” Boldly, the man replied, “I told you already, and you did not hear [responsively]. Why do you want to hear [everything] again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (John 9:26, 27)
Irritated, they responded abusively to him, saying, “You are a disciple of that one [disparagingly refusing to call Jesus by name], but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know from where this one is.” (John 9:28, 29)
Not allowing himself to be intimidated, the man replied courageously, “This is something amazing, You do not know from where he is, and he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he listens to one who is godly and does his will. From the [past] age[s], never has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind. If he were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” (John 9:30-33)
Unable to give an answer to the man’s sound reasoning and greatly provoked, they reviled him, saying, “You were fully born in sins, and you are teaching us?” Their angry reply indicated that they considered his having been blind at birth as a reason to despise him as a sinner who had no right to express himself in the manner he did. The Pharisees then expelled him, declaring him to be an outcast. (John 9:34)
Upon hearing that they had expelled him, Jesus looked for the man and found him, providing him with the spiritual help and comfort that he needed. He asked him whether he believed in the Son of Man (Son of God, according to many later manuscripts). Although the man had declared his faith in Jesus as a prophet who had come from God, he did not then know him as the Son of Man or the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Therefore, he asked, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe in him?” “You have seen him,” said Jesus, “and he who is speaking with you is that one.” “I believe, Lord,” replied the man and prostrated himself, thereby acknowledging Jesus as God’s Son and his Lord. (John 9:35-38)
Jesus had come into the world of mankind for judgment, that the blind would see and that the sighted might become blind. This judgment, based on how individuals responded to Jesus, revealed whether they wanted to do God’s will. Those who did see were persons who imagined themselves to be sighted and to whom others looked for guidance. The blind, though including the physically blind, primarily were persons who longed for a clearer vision of God and a closer relationship with him. (John 9:39) These formerly blind ones put faith in Jesus and gained clear spiritual vision, whereas those who thought of themselves as sighted rejected him, resulting in even greater spiritual blindness in their case.
Jesus’ words prompted certain Pharisees who had been listening to ask incredulously, “We, too, are not blind, [are we]?” “If you were blind [unable to perceive],” said Jesus, “you would have no sin. Now, however, you say, ‘We see,’ [so] your sin remains.” (John 9:40, 41) Had they sensed a lack within themselves respecting their relationship to God, they could have come to see their error, ceasing to be unbelievers. Their previous unbelief would have been due to ignorance and could have been forgiven. (Compare 1 Timothy 1:12, 13.) When, however, they insisted that they did see, they could not be freed from their sin, for they had deliberately chosen to continue in unbelief.
The opening verse of chapter 10 does not introduce a change in location. Accordingly, it must have been in the presence of his disciples, the former blind man, the unbelieving Pharisees, and others that Jesus illustrated his personal concern for his followers.
He likened himself to a caring shepherd and his fellow Jews as sheep in an enclosure. “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you,” he solemnly declared. “He who does not enter the sheepfold through the door but climbs in another way is a thief and a robber. He, however, who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens. And the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all of his own out [of the enclosure], he goes in front of them, and the sheep follow him, for they recognize his voice. A stranger, however, they will not follow but will flee from him, for they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)
The unbelieving Pharisees and other religious leaders in the Jewish community had seized a position in relation to their fellow Jews (the “sheep”) that was not divinely approved. The manner in which certain Pharisees had treated the cured blind man was comparable to the actions of a thief and a robber. When expelling him, they deprived him of any acceptable standing in the Jewish community. Like a robber who has no regard for his victim when resorting to violence to seize what he wants, the religious leaders abused the former blind man with hateful words and stole his reputation from him.
It was common for several shepherds to shelter their flocks for the night in an enclosure, where a doorkeeper would guard the sheep. In the morning, the shepherds would arrive, calling each one of their own sheep by name. The sheep would then follow their shepherd as he led them out to pasture. A stranger could not get them to follow him, but they would run away from him, especially upon hearing their own shepherd calling. The sheep did not recognize anyone else’s voice.
Whereas all the Jews professed to be God’s people, not all recognized the voice of Jesus as being that of their divinely appointed shepherd. Only those who listened to him proved to be his sheep, and they followed him, letting his example and teaching guide their course. Those with genuine faith in him paid no attention to the voice of others who presumed to speak for God.
John 10:6 indicates that Jesus’ words were primarily directed to the unbelieving Pharisees, with the reference to “them” applying to the group of Pharisees mentioned in John 9:40. They, however, did not understand what he had said to them.
After a solemn introductory “Amen, amen, I say to you,” Jesus next compared himself to the “door of the sheep.” (John 10:7) Whether this is an allusion to a different enclosure out in the field where the flock is pastured cannot be determined. In the case of such an enclosure, the shepherd would lie down in the opening at night and, like a door or gate, keep intruders out.
The ones to whom Jesus referred as thieves and robbers would have been those who falsely claimed to represent God. (John 10:8; see the Notes section for additional comments.) These men could have included false prophets and false messiahs, who deceived many and led them to their ruin. The genuine sheep, as Jesus added, did not listen to them.
The Son of God is the “door,” making it possible for those with faith in him to come into a relationship with him and his Father and to continue to have access to him. The “sheep” who enter this door by believing in Jesus would be “saved” or delivered from sin. Liberated from sin, they would enjoy true freedom, their condition being comparable to that of sheep which are not confined but can enter and exit through a gate. Like sheep whom a shepherd leads to pasture and water, Jesus would provide spiritual abundance for believers and look out for their welfare. (John 10:9)
The thief, whose actions the abusive religious leaders had imitated, would come only to “steal and slaughter and destroy.” Ruin would come to anyone who blindly followed the unbelieving Pharisees. This was the very opposite respecting Jesus’ coming. He came so that believers might have life and have it to the full, enjoying the real life of an enduring relationship with him and his Father. (John 10:10)
Jesus identified himself as the good shepherd, the shepherd who demonstrates his ultimate concern for the welfare of the sheep by sacrificing his “soul” or life for them. He is not like a hireling who is primarily concerned about receiving his pay for services. A hireling does not own the sheep and does not have the kind of personal interest in their welfare that a shepherd has. When the hireling sees the wolf coming, he looks to his own welfare first and runs away, abandoning the sheep and leaving them for the wolf to seize and scatter. He does not care about what happens to the sheep, because he, as a hireling who works only for pay, has no personal attachment to or genuine interest in them. (John 10:11-13)
The unbelieving Pharisees and other religious leaders proved themselves to be like hirelings, being primarily concerned about their position and maintaining it. They despised the common people, looking down upon them as persons ignorant of the law and burdening them with many regulations that had no basis in the law. (Compare Matthew 23:4; John 7:49; 11:45-48; 12:10, 11.)
In his role as a good shepherd, Jesus knows his sheep, and they know him. The relationship is an intimate one, being like the one Jesus enjoys with his Father. His Father knows him as his beloved Son, and he knows his Father like no one else does, because he is the unique Son. For the “sheep” that are dear to him, Jesus said that he would lay down his “soul” or life. (John 10:14, 15)
At the time Jesus spoke about giving up his life, all of the “sheep” who recognized him as their shepherd were believing Jews. They, however, were not to be his only sheep. He had other sheep who were not in the same enclosure or not members of the “house of Israel.” (Compare Matthew 15:24.) These future sheep he would also lead. They would listen to or respond to his voice and, with the Jewish believers, come to be one flock, following him as their one shepherd. (John 10:16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Jesus enjoyed his Father’s love because he delighted to do his will and that included sacrificing his “soul” or life for the sheep. Although he would give up his life, he would receive it again. The surrender of his life would not come about based on any human determination to have him killed, but he would lay it down of his own accord. His Father had granted him the power or right to lay down his life and to receive it again. Jesus referred to this “power” as having been given him on the basis of his Father’s commandment or authoritative decree. Therefore, his resurrection was certain. (John 10:17, 18)
Jesus’ words resulted in a division among those who heard them. Many concluded that he was a demonized madman, and they could not understand why anyone would listen to him. Others, however, did not believe Jesus’ words to be the expressions of a demonized man. They found it impossible to conclude that a demon could open the eyes of the blind. (John 10:19-21)
For John 10:8, the manuscript reading commonly found in printed texts is, “All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.” The words “before me” are missing in a number of early manuscripts, and “all” is not found in one fifth-century manuscript.
It is of note that, in John 10:16, Jesus did not refer to the “other sheep” as being in a particular fold or enclosure. Whereas he had been sent to none but the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” many others outside the “house of Israel” later responded to his voice (conveyed through his disciples), with all of them coming to enjoy the same status as his “sheep” or beloved followers. (Matthew 15:24; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)
In view of the fact that the former blind man had been declared an outcast, he must have been greatly strengthened and uplifted upon hearing that Jesus deeply cared for him, even being willing to give up his life for him.