John’s gospel is showing the mounting opposition against Jesus in Jerusalem. The gospel began with those words: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). But what Jesus has been doing is declaring who true disciples are. In this segment of Jesus’ teaching in John 8, Jesus has explained how we can know that God is our Father. God is not our Father just because we can trace some sort of physical lineage. God is not our Father just because we go to church regularly or take the Lord’s Supper or were baptized. Jesus has explained that we must hear his words and his words must live in us. We must remain in his words and be transformed by his teachings to consider God to be our Father.
This section is about the deity of Jesus and how this truth leads to no death for his followers. These are the two teachings that we will observe that our author wants us to know. The pivotal teaching comes from verse 51 and it is an amazing declaration. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” This is an amazing promise. If we keep his word, we will have eternal life. We will never be separated from the Father. So what does it mean to “keep his word?” We are seeing what true, saving belief looks like. True belief does what Jesus says. This is why living and following the words of Jesus is so important. Eternal life results from humbly and obediently believing his word and following him. You will not see death. In case we think this is a mistake, Jesus says this again in John 11:25. Your body will die but you will not die. Do you see what Jesus saying? Do you see the amazing hope in these words? If you keep his words and you live in his words, it is never over for you! There is no end. Listen to what Jesus already taught us in this gospel.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)
You have passed to unending life. By definition eternal life does not stop. There is no reason to fear the moment of death (cf. Hebrews 2:15). The body dies, not you! You will never see death. His words give life. “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Jesus is going to explain now who he is to make this offer and what we must be to receive this offer of never seeing death.
Seek God’s Approval (8:48-51)
Jesus has told the people in verse 47 that the reason they are not hearing the words of God is because they do not belong to God. It is an obvious truth, but is a smack in the face. The reason you do not listen to what God has to say is because you have no relationship to God and do not belong to him like you think you do. This certainly brings out a reaction. “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Quite simply, they are saying that Jesus is crazy and a heretic. You are not of God; you are sinful and evil!
Jesus responds that the problem is not that he is crazy. Rather, he honors his Father and they are dishonoring Jesus for doing so. Notice the emphasis that he honors his Father, not our Father. I am doing the right thing, which is honor the Father, yet you dishonor me for it. But notice that Jesus says that his goal is not to receive glory from these people. He is not seeking glory for himself. If Jesus needed to seek the glory of others, he could have stayed in the heavenly realms and received that praise and honor from the heavenly beings. Jesus did not come for his own glory, as seen in his lowly beginnings and lack of honor he received throughout his whole time on earth. Jesus came to complete the will of the Father. The Father seeks his glory.
Jesus will be vindicated by the Father. The Father is the judge. The Father’s judgment will show that Jesus honors the Father and the people do not. Jesus is living his life so that the Father seeks his glory. Further, all that matters to Jesus is the glory that comes from the Father. What others think is immaterial. God’s approval is everything. Jesus tells them that the Father would be the judge of them since his entire mission has been to honor the Father. As such, Jesus does not have to defend his own honor. The Father will do that for him and judge those who dishonor him.
Jesus, Greater Than All (8:52-54)
This declaration about never tasting death puts the people over the edge. “Now we know you have a demon!” Now we know you are crazy! Abraham died, as well as the prophets. Yet again we see a misunderstanding in what Jesus is saying because they are dull in their minds and hearts. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus. The Samaritan woman and the paralytic man misunderstood Jesus. His brothers misunderstood him. Even his disciples misunderstood him on a number of occasions. But the people continue in their slander and unbelief toward Jesus. “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Who do you think you are? No one is greater than Abraham and the prophets, according to these Jewish people. So who do you think you are so that you can say that if people keep your word they will never taste death ever?
Jesus has a response to this as well and notice how Jesus proceeds to prove himself. Jesus did not overtly declare his deity but lived and spoke in a way that people would observe his divine nature and confess it. There is no glory in self-glorification and self-promotion. If you have to promote yourself, then you really do not have glory at all. If you have to get people to pay attention to you, then you really are not noteworthy at all. Which is an important lesson to keep in mind. There is no glory if you have to seek it for yourself. You have nothing if you have to go get it for yourself and beg people to give it to you. Jesus did not need to advertise his glory. He just lived a life and taught in such a way that people knew that this was God. Jesus lived in a way that the Father glorifies him.
Know The Father (8:55-56)
But here is the problem: you do not know him. You say that he is your God but you do not know him at all. They claimed a relationship that they did not have. Jesus does know the Father and keeps his word. If he denied his relationship with the Father, he would be a liar like these people who claim to have a relationship with the Father. Previously Jesus said that they were murderers like their father the devil (8:44). Now Jesus says they are liars like their father the devil (8:55). They had claimed to be the children of Abraham. “Abraham is our father” they said (8:39). Jesus says in verse 56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Remember that we learned that children act like their father. These people are not children of Abraham because they are not rejoicing at my arrival as Abraham has rejoiced. Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, which brings Abraham joy. Jesus identifies himself as the ultimate fulfillment of all of Abraham’s hopes and joys. Since Jesus fulfills what is announced in the Old Testament, then for the Jews to be children of Abraham would have meant for them to share in Abraham’s attitude of joyful expectation and reception. You are not Abraham’s children at all because you are not like Abraham.
I believe there is one more point in verse 56 and it is a glorious point that Jesus is making. Notice that Jesus does not say that Abraham hoped to see this day. Rather, he rejoiced that he would see this day and he has seen it. Remember what the people said in verse 53? They said that Abraham was dead. “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?” Jesus says, “He isn’t dead.” He is rejoicing at the arrival of this day because he saw it. Abraham did not see death. Abraham is proof that though the body dies, God’s people do not die.
I Am (8:57-59)
The people understand what Jesus is saying about Abraham. You are not even 50 years old. How can you say that you have seen Abraham? Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” If Jesus wanted to declare his preexistence he could have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” In essence, I was around before Abraham. But there is more that is going on here. Notice that Jesus does not say, “I am he” like we saw in John 8:28. There we saw Jesus using the prophecy of Isaiah to show that he is the only Savior and there is no other deliverer but him. Now Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This is another declaration that he is the eternal God. “I AM” is the name of God that God revealed to Moses when Moses asked who he should say sent him. This is why they pick up stones because this was the penalty for blasphemy (cf. Leviticus 24:16). Of course, the scripture decreed this as a judicial sentence, not as an excuse for mob violence which is what is forming at this moment. But Jesus is not killed because Jesus will give his life on his own terms at his own time. Jesus’ life will not be taken from him. Because Jesus is the “I AM” we have our faith in his words that we will never taste death when keeping his words. Jesus has full control over the power of death.
What a precious hope and we must live our lives in the knowledge of this hope. We will not taste death if we will draw ourselves close to Jesus by living in his word and keeping what he says. But are we lying by claiming something that isn’t true? The people thought they were children of Abraham through which they claimed to have a relationship with the Father. Are you a Christian? What does that mean? Christian is not a label. It is who you are because your life is all about Christ. Are we lying with our claim to be a Christian? Or is it true that our desire is to keep his word? Know the hope that we have for wearing the Christian name and let us keep the words of our Lord to receive this wonderful reward. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my work, he will never see death.”