The dialogue between Jesus and the Jews is lengthy and confrontational throughout John 8. In recent studies of this chapter, we have seen the Lord affirm Himself to be the light of the world. The Jews rejected such, claiming He could not testify or witness for Himself. Jesus responded by stating that the heavenly Father was also a witness for Him. He went on to declare that they would die in their sins if they did not believe that He was the Messiah. Many did believe in Jesus, but their faith was not strong. Jesus then spoke frankly about the Jews not really being Abraham's children since they did not do the works of Abraham. They were liars and murderers, much like their father--the devil! This further angered the Jewish crowd that was gathered and led to the following verbal exchange.
"Then the Jews answered and said to Him, 'Do we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?' Jesus answered, 'I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.' Then the Jews said to Him, 'Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, "If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death." Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make yourself out to be?' Jesus answered, 'If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, "I do not know Him," I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.' Then the Jews said to Him, 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?' Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.' Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:48-59).
The Jews speaking in this context are the ones who had "believed Him" (John 8:31). Their view of Jesus has changed drastically! They now label Him as a demon-possessed Samaritan! Jesus had shown that they were not the true sons of Abraham or God, and they retaliate by calling Him names. This was a ridiculous accusation, spoken only as an attempt to anger Jesus. Since our Lord did not share their negative view of Samaritans, He felt no need to defend Himself on this point. They also accused Him of having a demon. This was equivalent to saying that He was crazy or not in His right mind. This accusation, if believed by anyone, would negate all that Jesus claimed. Thus, Jesus responds to this false charge.
"I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father" (John 8:49). Jesus stated that He was not possessed as they supposed; in fact He was doing His best to honor His Father which is something no demon would do. Our Lord, because He wasn't seeking His own glory, was unconcerned about the fact that they dishonored Him. The Father in heaven would judge between them and glorify Jesus.
Jesus boldly declared in John 8:51 - "If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." Here is another way of stating the message of 8:31,32. One must "abide" in God's word to be set free from sin and death. To "keep" God's word is to cherish and obey it. Those who do such will never die. Certainly Jesus is referring to spiritual death (i.e., separation from God and all that is good) because even the most faithful die physically. A complementary passage is found in Matthew 7:21 where Jesus affirmed - "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Those who fulfill the will of God in their lives will enjoy everlasting life with Him!
The Jews Jesus was speaking to, who think He is referring to physical death, don't believe that any man in his right mind would make such a statement. They now feel confident that Jesus is under the influence of a demon. After all, Abraham and the prophets kept God's word, yet both he and they were dead! For Jesus to claim to be able to do something (i.e., preserve those who obeyed Him) that the greatest and most faithful of their race hadn't been able to do seemed crazy to them. Of course, the problem lies in their misunderstanding of Jesus' claim. He was referring to spiritual life, and they, as usual, were focused on the physical.
They asked Him bluntly in John 8:53 - "Who do You make Yourself out to be?" (cf. 4:12). Essentially, they are asking Him: "Jesus, are you implying that You are greater than Abraham and the prophets?" Surely they expect Him to deny this, but He doesn't, as the following verses show.
Before Jesus answered specifically, He reiterated that He was not trying to seek His own glory (cf. 8:50,54). The One who honors Jesus is His Father (e.g., Jesus at His baptism in Matt. 3:16,17). This was the same Being they claimed as their God!
There are two different Greek words used in John 8:55 to indicate knowing God. The first one, used in reference to these Jews, means to know through observation. They had never really known God, even though they should have through the Scriptures. The other uses of the word "know" in this verse make use of a different Greek word and refer to knowing something intuitively. This term is used to describe the knowledge Jesus had of God through direct, personal contact. Jesus had always known the Father! This should not be surprising to believers who understand that He had always been with the Father from the beginning (John 1:1)! However, this claim will be surprising to the Jews!
So, friends, who exactly is Jesus making Himself out to be? The answer: One who knows God yet is not seeking His own exaltation; One who will not lie to them even though telling them the truth will anger them.
Jesus continued in John 8:56 - "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." Abraham found great pleasure in anticipating Jesus' "day" (i.e., the time of His manifestation on earth as the Messiah). Certainly Abraham saw this "day" by faith in that Jesus was the promised "Seed" who would bless all the families of the earth (cf. Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:8,16). Whether he saw more than this is unknown. The Scriptures do not reveal if Abraham, as a spirit being, was allowed to see some of Jesus' earthly ministry from the Hadean realm.
In John 8:57 these men twist Jesus' words, though perhaps they do so unknowingly - "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus, being about 33 years old physically at this time, hadn't seen Abraham with His fleshly eyes and He didn't claim to have done so. What Jesus had stated was that Abraham had seen His day! It wasn't necessary for the two men to meet in the flesh for Jesus' words in 8:56 to be true.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58). This statement from Jesus would put the Jews over the edge emotionally with rage. However, before we discuss their response, let us look closely at Jesus' words. This statement implies that there was a point in time in which Abraham came into existence. However, it is affirmed of Jesus (here and elsewhere) that He has always existed (cf. 1:1-3). The tense used here is "timeless present" and conveys the same idea as Jehovah's words in Exodus 3:14. Jesus didn't just exist before Abraham did; He has always existed! Jesus is claiming to be eternal, and therefore God! And, let it be noted that He didn't make any apology to these carnally-minded Jews regarding His eternal nature and identity. They asked who He was, and He told them the truth. Tragically, they would not accept that truth.
As the chapter closes, these Jews feel that Jesus has committed blasphemy. They, in a moment of rage, are ready to put Him to death! They are so zealous for what they believe, but sadly, their zeal lacked understanding (cf. Rom. 10:1-4). It is unknown as to how Jesus "hid Himself" from them. Perhaps His friends helped hide Him or maybe a miracle was involved in His escape. Regardless, the stones they picked up to throw at Him were not able to be used for that purpose.
Dear listeners, may we cultivate and pray for open minds and soft hearts so that when truth is presented to us we will embrace it and not proudly resist it or attack it. May we trust in the One who has always been and will always be--the great I AM!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.