John 8:42-59 “Who Is Your Father?”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” 48 Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50 And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. 51 Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”
52 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.’ 53 Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” 54 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. 55 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” 59 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.
In this passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. To understand what he is saying, you must understand that the Pharisees considered themselves to be faithful followers of God and His word. If you had asked any Pharisee, “What are you hoping for?” they would have answered, “I am hoping for the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah, the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus says that this is not so. That is, he declares to them that their father is not God. In verse 42, he says, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.” What Jesus is saying is clear: if you love God, you will love his Son. If you say that you love God, or that you believe in God, how can you reject His Son? But, that is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. In theory, they loved God, but in practice, when God came into their lives, they rejected Him. It’s like that with a lot of people today. If you ask them, “Do you love God?” they will say, “Yes, of course, I love God.” But, when you read to them what the true God of the Bible says, they don’t like that, because they want to believe in God on their own terms. In effect, they’ve invented their own God, and called him by the name ‘god’, but he is not the true God who is, the God of the Bible. And, most importantly, they reject the one whom God has sent into our world to save us from our sins, that is, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
But why? Why do they not believe in the true God? Because when he speaks, they don’t want to listen. As Jesus says in verses 43 and 44, “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” That is, their desires are not to listen to the word of the true God, because they have another father, and they listen to the voice of that other father.
You might think that Jesus here is speaking very harshly. Didn’t he want to win these men over to the truth? Yes, but some of us are so convinced that we are right, that God has to hit us over the head with a hammer before we listen to Him. And so Jesus tells us about the father of his enemies—he is the devil. And, he is the author of lies, and a murderer. What Jesus is saying is that the Pharisees are murderers and liars, because they listen to the voice of their father, Satan. And then Jesus goes beyond that and explains why they do not understand him either, and it is for the same reason: he tells them the truth, and they resist both Him and the truth, because he speaks from God and they listen to the voice of their father, the Devil.
Jesus asks them in verse 46 if he has sinned, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” That is, they could examine his life, and see that he demonstrated the truth by living a sinless life. They could bring no charge of sin against him. And yet, they did not listen to his words. Why not? The answer is very simple: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” If you are of God, you will listen to his words. So many people claim to believe in God, but when God speaks, they turn away from God and from His words, because they believe not in the God who is true and has revealed Himself to us through his Son, but in a God they have invented. Jesus tells them clearly in verse 47, “therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
Again, why did Jesus speak with such strong words, in such an offensive way? It is not to offend them, or us. It is so that we who are hard of heart and slaves to sin might understand our need to turn away from the Devil and his works and turn to the true God. Not a God that we have invented, who we can use as a pretext to do what we want to do. But the true God, who speaks to us in the Bible.
Well, the people that Jesus is speaking to understand Him. They say to Him in verse 48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They call him a Samaritan because it is easier to insult someone than answer his arguments. The Samaritans were people who had deliberately twisted the Word of God, and changed the text of the Bible in a few places. It was very easy to say to Jesus that he was Samaritan, so they would not have to listen to Him. Then they called him demon-possessed, again because if they make Him seem crazy, they will be relieved of the responsibility to listen to Him. They could have tried to answer His arguments, but instead they simply insult Him, hoping that in doing so they will be relieved of the responsibility of listening to him. Again, so it is with many people today. They hear the truth, and instead of dealing with it, they insult the person saying it, thinking that that excuses them from any responsibility.
Jesus responds to them in verses 49 and 50 by saying, “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.” Jesus first declares that He is not demon possessed, but then He makes it clear who ultimately makes the decisions about Him—his Father in heaven, for he says, “And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.” That is, it is God who judges the world, and God who glorifies His Son. And the way in which Jesus would be glorified, and his words vindicated, would be when His Father raised Him from the dead. That would be the ultimate proof that He is indeed who He declares to be.
But, that they might understand who He truly is, and why He came to earth, He declared to them (and us), “if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” This is a statement which seems absurd. After all, everybody dies. Everybody, sooner or later, sees death. This has been true since the time of Adam. And yet, Jesus says, “if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” He is here declaring that His words are the key to eternal life. Just as an aside, in verse 47 He had said, “He who is of God hears God’s words.” Here he says, “if anyone keeps My word.” That is, in one verse he calls it God’s word, and in the other, he calls it the word of Jesus. For us who believe in the Triune God, there is no problem. But, if you say that Jesus is not God, well, you cannot equate the words of Jesus and the words of God unless Jesus is God.
The Jews understand the words of Jesus. He is declaring that his words are the key to eternal life, and so they say to Him, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” They are saying that everyone dies, that no one can escape death, because even the greatest of their prophets, even father Abraham, were dead. And so they ask the question, “Are you greater than them?”
Jesus could have responded by saying, “Yes, I am greater than Abraham.” And, he will eventually say that. But first he wants them to understand that they are wrong about death. He first repeats what he had said earlier, that He does not glorify himself, but rather, it is His Father who glorifies Him. That is, He has nothing to prove, because the Father will prove it. Yet, he says something more. He says, “It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.” That is, they say that He is their God, but Jesus puts it that way because so many people say that God is their God, but if He really were their God, they would listen to Him. And he goes further, and says that if He were to say that He does not know God, he would be liar.
And so he corrects their misunderstanding about death. They had said that Abraham was dead and that the prophets were dead. And a lot of people think that today. They think that Abraham and prophets, and all those who have died are dead today. It seems reasonable—and it is not true. In verse 56, he says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” This verse is difficult to understand in one way, because Jesus is saying that long ago Abraham was looking forward to the coming of Jesus. Then, he said that Abraham had seen the day of Jesus Christ, that is, that Abraham was alive when Jesus came to earth. But how can this be? Abraham had died, many years ago, long before the days of Jesus, long before the Romans, long before the exile, long before Salomon and David and Moses, even before Isaac and Jacob. Hundreds, thousands of years before, Abraham had been laid in his grave. But he was alive! We read in St. Luke 16:22-26, “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’” Here we read that the beggar Lazarus dies, and joined Abraham in heaven. And not only is Abraham there, but he responds to the rich man when he cries for mercy, and explains why he cannot help him. Dead people don’t talk, but Abraham does talk, because he is not dead. And just as an aside, some people wrongly think that this is a parable, or just a story, but Jesus never says it is. In fact, he simply says, “there was a certain rich man” and goes on with his description of what happened to the rich man and Lazarus.
But how can this be? How can Abraham be alive? In another place, Jesus proves the same point by quoting Exodus 3:6 and 15, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” [St. Matthew 22:31, 32] Jesus is pointing out that the Scriptures do not say that God was the God of Abraham, but that he is the God of Abraham. This has always been the teaching of the Lord in His word, as he says in Psalm 115, “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence, But we will bless the LORD, From this time forth and forevermore.” [17 & 18] Notice well the hope that the Psalmist expresses. He not only denies that the dead praise the Lord, but he affirms that “But we will bless the LORD, From this time forth and forevermore.” Not just now—but forever.
Now upon hearing this, the Jews are incensed, but interestingly enough, they finally start to think. They ask a reasonable question, but it’s still based upon the assumption that Abraham is dead, a false assumption. They don’t understand, for they say, ““You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Actually, it’s not that Jesus had seen Abraham, but rather, that Abraham rejoiced to see the day when Jesus came to earth to save us. The Jews assume that Jesus would have to have been alive many years ago to have seen Abraham. And Jesus could have argued with them, to try to help them understand that Abraham was still alive.
But instead, he goes back to help them understand who he is. Not who they think he is, not even primarily who he thinks he is, but rather, who he is in reality. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” You need to pay attention to what he says, because to our ears, it doesn’t make sense. If Jesus was simply claiming to have lived before Abraham, he would have said, “before Abraham was, I was.” But instead, Jesus says, “before Abraham was, I AM.” In a way, it doesn’t make sense, because Jesus is mixing a present tense with a past tense. But he does this, that they and we might understand that he is declaring that he IS. It is exactly the same as happened to Moses when God appeared to him in the burning bush. In Exodus 3 we read in verses 13-14, “Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” The name that God uses for himself is “I AM.” The importance of this term is that it means that God has no beginning, and no end. It’s not that he “was” or “will be” in our way of thinking, but rather, he always “is.”
And that is exactly what Jesus declares about himself. He says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Perhaps there are some of you today who still don’t understand what “I AM” means. But the Jews who were listening to him understood him clearly, and we know this because of their reaction. They no longer mocked him, or asked him questions, because now Jesus was speaking as clearly as he could. He had declared himself to be God. And so the Jews took up stones to stone him. They could not respond to his arguments, or find any fault in him, but, their anger overcame them. Instead of looking at themselves, and seeing if indeed they were mistaken about Jesus, they sought to kill him because their self-righteousness did not allow them to hear the truth. But, at least they understood what Jesus was saying—that he is God.
But, it was not time for Jesus to die. We do not read that Jesus performed a miracle, but rather that he hid himself, and then walked through the midst of them, and passed by. I don’t know how he was able to do so. Yes, perhaps it was a miracle, but again, it shows that Christ Jesus was able to do what others could not.
But the Jews, in doing this, were proving the point that Jesus was trying to make. They were following a distortion of the truth that had been revealed by God through Moses and the Prophets. They did not understand that God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. And when the Son of God came to them, they rejected him, even to the point of seeking to murder him.
It is, of course, very easy to condemn these people, but they are not very different from people today. So many people today give lipservice to loving and serving God, but it’s just a cover for people doing what they want to do, without really thinking about what God says or wants. If we want to be different from the Pharisees, it’s not enough just to say that they were wrong. We must see Jesus for who He truly is—the one who has lived a perfect life, the one who died but was raised triumphantly from the dead and declared by His Father to be Lord and King, and the one who IS, God himself. Amen.