Jesus has proclaimed himself to be the light of the world. This is the second “I am” statement recorded in John’s gospel. Rather than seeing Jesus as the light who would give them life and guide their path to the Father, they reject Jesus’ testimony. This is a defining moment as the leaders are missing out on their great opportunity to no longer have to walk in darkness. They can possess the light of life. They could come to Jesus and receive him as their all-satisfying God, the bread of life, in whom they will find their joy and satisfaction. But they refuse. This is what leads us into John 8:21-30.
Dying In Sins (8:21-24)
So now Jesus speaks some powerful words to these people. “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” First, we have another declaration that Jesus is leaving. Jesus declared back in John 7:33, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.” Jesus is returning to where he belongs. He belongs with the Father, ruling in the heavenly realms, not here on earth. So Jesus is going to leave them. But it is the rest of what Jesus says that is jarring.
“You will seek me and you will die in your sin.” Consider what Jesus says. It is possible for a person to seek Jesus and still die in their sins. This has been a critical message of this gospel thus far. We are reading about so many people who are searching for Jesus but are coming up short from having saving faith. Their dying in their sins prevents them from going where Jesus is going. Jesus is going to the Father. However, they cannot go with Jesus to where the Father is because of their sins.
Now, the natural question we need to ask is: How is it possible that we could seek Jesus and die in our sins? Rather than reflecting on where Jesus is going and the spiritual implications for Jesus to say that they would die in their sins, we continue to see the spiritual dullness of the people. They seem to smart off by saying, “Will he kill himself?” The insult is perhaps more far-reaching than we may realize at first glance. The Jews considered that those who killed themselves are received by the darkest place of Hades. The Jews, of course, thought they were going to heaven. So the insult may be that you must killing yourself to go where we cannot go. We are going to heaven to be with the Father. Therefore you must going to eternal darkness.
In verse 23 Jesus reverses what they are saying. It is not Jesus who is from below. They are from below and Jesus is from above. They are of this world and Jesus is not of this world. This is the first reason given by Jesus why they will seek Jesus but not find him and cannot go where he is going. The problem is that they belong to this world. Being in a relationship with the Father means not belonging to this world. Oil and water do not mix. Light and darkness do not mix. The Father and this world do not mix. You cannot belong to this world and belong to the Father. We are called to be strangers and live like foreigners while living on earth (cf. 1 Peter 2:11). This is a fundamental problem that must be addressed in our hearts. We cannot think we are seeking Christ when our hearts are tied to the things and cares of this world. We must seriously look at what consumes our minds. Look at what consumes our time. Look at what we desire the most. What is your hope? We have to honestly look and determine our heart is tied to this world or tied to Christ. Remember the message Jesus taught in John 6:26-27. Do we love Jesus for who he is or what he gives? Belonging to this world means we just want blessings of God without having a relationship with God.
Verse 24 drives this point further. Jesus explains why he told them that they would die in their sins. They must believe that Jesus is who he claims to be. Now, we must consider what Jesus is referring to. I believe that the “he” is in the statement, “Unless you believe that I am he” must belong. Every major translation puts the word “he” after “I am” because it is an implied predicated. D.A. Carson notes that a different Greek phrase would have been used if “I am” was the intended statement (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 343). Instead of trying to connect this statement back to Exodus 3:14, it appears that Jesus is connecting himself to a prophecy in Isaiah where we see the same terminology.
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. 13 Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:10–13 ESV)
This passage is where the phrasing matches Jesus’ words. Jesus is saying that you must believe I am who I claim to be. According to Isaiah, the claim is that Jesus is the Lord who has come to save. There is no other savior besides Jesus the Lord. This is the critical truth that must be fully believed to not die in our sins. We must believe that Jesus is the Savior and that there is no other. What do you believe is your functional savior? What do you believe will deliver you? Whether we believe it is our wealth or health or anything else, none of these things can nor will save us. Further, there is nothing on earth that can save us from our sins. Only Jesus is the Savior for our sins. Nothing else can resolve the problem of our sinfulness. We must have a high view of Christ. We must see him for who he truly is. True belief sees Jesus as our only savior. True belief sees Jesus as all that we need for our life. Please notice the certainty of Jesus’ words: “You will die in your sins.” There is no wavering in Jesus’ words. There is no question what the result will be if we do not believe in Jesus. We will die in our sins.
Who Do You Think You Are, Jesus? (8:25-27)
This leads the people to ask who Jesus is. Jesus just said that “I am he.” The people seem to respond to this statement, asking who Jesus is exactly. But the tone may be fairly sharp, indicating that the meaning is, “Who do you think you are?” Who is this man who thinks he can tell us what to do, how to live, and that we are going to die in our sins without believing in him? This is the same problem people have today with Jesus. He can’t tell us what to do! So Jesus responds by saying that he is who he has continued to say he is. He is sent from the Father and speaks with the authority of the Father the very words of the Father. This is the point Jesus emphasizes in verse 26. Jesus has much to say about them and much to judge and he is declaring the judgment of the Father. Jesus is not running around blasting people for fun. The words of judgment are coming directly from the Father because he has the authority of the Father. But they do not understand. They continue to be spiritually dull and unable to grasp what Jesus is trying to teach them.
Pleasing The Father (8:28-30)
So Jesus makes one more radical declaration in this section. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” The full disclosure of who Jesus is would take place at the cross. We see Jesus speak of his glorification and being lifted up as pointing to the cross throughout this gospel. The first time we see this language is in John 3:14. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so much the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is when his full glory would be revealed to every person. The cross becomes the glorification of Jesus. The cross becomes the defining moment for the world to know that Jesus is the savior sent by the Father to deliver the world through his death.
Now Jesus explains why he is doing this. Jesus always does the things that please the Father. There is the goal. There is the life example we learn from Jesus. We want to do things that are pleasing to the Father. Unfortunately we cannot do things that are pleasing like Jesus can. We fail at being pleasing to the Father. We do not always do things that bring the Father joy. There is only one person who did. What an amazing statement. Please notice this subtle but very important truth: This is why the Father has not left Jesus alone. Every human must be separated from God. Every one of us must be left alone because our sins have become a barrier between us and God. But think about these wonderful words. The Father has not left Jesus alone ever because Jesus always does what is pleasing and brings joy to the Father. Jesus would never need to be left alone or rejected by the Father. There is no need for separation between Jesus and the Father. We are separated and unless we believe in Jesus we will die in our sins. Jesus is the remedy for our separation. He lived the perfect life we could not live. He pleased the Father while on the earth. You will know that Jesus is your savior when you look to the cross and see his sacrifice for you.
Change your allegiance and life goal today. You can either live to be pleasing to yourself or you can live to be pleasing to the Father. You can live to bring joy to yourself or you can live to bring joy to the Father. Jesus showed us that bringing the Father joy is the life to live. But here is the amazing thing. When you make it your aim to be pleasing to the Father, then you will have joy yourself. Here are some passages which teach that our life goal is to please God and it is on these passage we will end.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8 ESV)
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1 ESV)
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV)
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 ESV)
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8–10 ESV)
So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10 ESV)
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16 ESV)
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:21–22 ESV)