21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. –John 8:21-30 ESV
Jesus has performed miracles. He has healed the sick. And He has repeatedly and unapologetically declared His identity as the Son of God. In spite of all the instances in which He has referred to God as His Father, alluded to His having come down from heaven, and of possessing authority over death and life, the people still can’t seem to figure out who He is. And as Jesus continued to reveal His identity to the Jewish crowd that had gathered to hear him in the treasury of the temple, all they could say to Him was, “Who are you?”
Jesus had just declared Himself to be “the light of the world” who came to offer “the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). And He backed up His statement by claiming God Almighty as His witness. Not only that, He declared God to be His Father.
“I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” – John 8:18 ESV
The meaning behind His words escaped them. They couldn’t figure out what it was He was trying to say. When He referred to His Father, they could only think in earthly, human terms. Which is what had led them to ask, “Where is your Father?” (John 8:12 ESV). And Jesus had responded to this question by stating, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19 ESV).
Their inability to recognize Jesus as the Son of God was because they lacked a relationship with His Heavenly Father. They were blinded by their own ignorance. They knew the Scriptures but had no true knowledge of the God whom the Scriptures revealed. Even the Mosaic law, provided by God to reveal His own holiness, had become little more than a list of burdensome regulations and rules to keep. Yet David had described the commands of God as intensely valuable and desirable because they came from God.
The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
The laws of the Lord are true;
each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
a great reward for those who obey them. – Psalm 19:7-11 NLT
But because the people had no real understanding of God, they were incapable of comprehending the identity of His Son. Unlike David, the people of Israel had no love for God’s written Word. They found its content to be restrictive and overly demanding. So, how would they ever learn to love His Living Word?
God had graciously given the people of Israel His law in order to set them apart as His own prized possession. By living according to His holy commands, they would experience His blessings in the form of His ongoing presence and provision. Now, the Living Word of God was standing right in front of them, revealing the key to the ultimate blessing of God: eternal life.
During their years in the wilderness, God had provided the people of Israel manna, a miraculous source of nourishment that required no sowing, reaping, or baking on their part. It was a gracious gift, freely given, that was designed to meet their daily need for physical sustenance. Now, the Bread of Life was standing right in front of them, offering His body as the key to their spiritual nourishment – “the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27 ESV).
And the Creator God who had said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3 ESV) and had “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4 ESV), and declared it good, had sent His Son to bring light into a world darkened by sin. But the people failed to see Jesus for who He was. Their spiritual blindness kept them from even recognizing the brightness of God’s Light shining right in front of them. And John opened up his Gospel with the sobering reality of their rejection.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV
And as Jesus stood in the treasury that day, He proclaimed to His sin-blinded audience, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). Jesus was announcing that God’s “light of life” was not going to shine forever. He had come to earth to illuminate the darkness with His perfectly sinless life. With His incarnation, He had made the invisible God visible. As John stated in the opening chapter of his Gospel, Jesus made God known.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. – John 1:18 BSB
But Jesus was letting the people know that His light was going to be extinguished. He had come to die. It was all part of God’s divine plan of redemption. His incarnation would be followed by His crucifixion and, ultimately, His resurrection and ascension. Jesus had not come to take up permanent residence on earth. He even told them, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23 ESV). He was the Son of God, who had been sent on a mission by His Heavenly Father, and once His task was complete, He would be returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven.
And Jesus made a sobering pronouncement to His audience that day: “you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). The “Light” would be leaving and they would remain in the darkness of their sin, incapable of finding Jesus or a way to have eternal life. He was the key to gaining access to God the Father and the only hope they had of experiencing everlasting life. That is why He will later declare:
“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT
Jesus had been very clear about who He was and what He had come to do.
“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – John 8:23 ESV
He had been brutally honest about His identity and had openly declared their need to believe in who He was and to accept His offer of eternal life. But all they had to say was, “Who are you?” And Jesus patiently responded, “The one I have always claimed to be” (John 8:25 NLT). There were no secrets. Jesus hadn’t been hiding the ball or disguising His mission. Their failure to recognize Him was due to their own spiritual blindness.
They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. – John 8:27 ESV
What they failed to understand was that Jesus had come from God. They could not bring themselves to believe that He was divine. All that He said and did was due to His identity as the Son of God. He had authority and power because He was God in human flesh. He could offer life because He was the author of life. He had power over the natural realm because He had created it. He had the ability to heal because He had all the power of heaven at His disposal.
But Jesus informed them that the true proof of His deity would come in an unexpected and spectacular form.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” – John 8:28 ESV
His pending death, of which they were clueless, would become the greatest evidence of His deity because it would result in His resurrection. By rising from the dead, God would deem His Son’s sacrifice for the sins of mankind as worthy and acceptable. Jesus’ offering of His body and blood in the place of condemned sinners would satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And by raising His Son back to life, God would declare His righteous wrath as fully satisfied. And all those who believed in His Son’s death on their behalf would enjoy eternal life. Rather than facing condemnation for their sin and rebellion, they will enjoy complete forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. All because of Jesus, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV).
Jesus was on a mission. He had a job to complete. And the ability of the people to fully understand His identity would not come about until He had finished the task He had been assigned. It would not be until He had been “lifted up” and risen again that the full scope of His ministry would be revealed. And as Jesus will reveal to His disciples, it will only be through the coming of the Holy Spirit that sinful men and women will be able to see the glory of God’s gift of salvation through the death of His Son.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.