31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” –John 8:31-41 ESV
This entire encounter between Jesus and His adversaries has taken place in the treasury of the temple, the area located in the Court of the Women. Between the colonnades of the courtyard were placed 13 boxes that were used for the collection of voluntary monetary contributions to the care and maintenance of the temple. Two of the boxes were dedicated to the collection of the half-shekel tax, which was required of every male Israelite of age, including proselytes and slaves. Mark describes the use of these offering boxes in his Gospel.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. – Mark 12:41-42 ESV
It was in this environment, the only area on the temple mount where women were allowed to enter, and where vast sums of money were collected and stored, that Jesus chose to address the crowd about His role as the “light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). He had come to shed the light of God’s glory through His sinless life but, ultimately, through His sacrificial death. As the Son of God, He would become the offering that would pay the debt owed by sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of His holy Father in heaven.
Jesus had come to earth in order to accomplish the will of His Father, which required that He give His life as a ransom or payment for a sinful and condemned humanity. He even alluded to His death and the role the religious leaders of the Jews would play in bringing it about.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” – John 8:28 ESV
And John indicates that, as a result of Jesus’ message, “many believed in him” (John 8:30 ESV). John doesn’t elaborate on what he means by this statement. But it seems clear that the belief of these people was limited in nature. They were becoming increasingly more convinced that Jesus was someone special, perhaps even the Messiah. But so much of what Jesus was saying still made no sense to them. They knew there was something special about Jesus but His claim to be the Son of God was outside their capacity to grasp. And Jesus was well aware that their belief in Him had its limitations. Which is why He addressed them directly.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 ESV
It is almost as if Jesus is expecting their belief to be short-lived. After all, He has already seen what happens when the content of His message becomes too difficult to understand or accept. Earlier in chapter six, John recorded the reaction of Jesus’ followers then they heard Him speak about eating His body and drinking His blood.
“This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” – John 6:60 ESV
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. – John 6:66 ESV
So, knowing that His message was going to become increasingly difficult to accept, Jesus warned His so-called followers that the proof of true discipleship would be to remain committed to hearing and keeping His word. It wasn’t enough to accept the parts they found attractive. When Jesus had spoken of a bread from heaven that gives life, the people had been eager to get their hands on it. But when He had elaborated on His meaning by saying He was that bread and they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they found His words distasteful and too difficult to accept. So, they had walked away.
The freedom Jesus offered would not be available until He had completed the task assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He was going to have to finish His mission by sacrificing His life on the cross. And all those who believed His death to be a satisfactory payment for their sins would find true freedom. Jesus states that they “will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).
But even this message of freedom becomes difficult for His audience to hear and accept. They immediately begin to reject His assessment of their condition, saying, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). They found His words to be offensive, not attractive. As Jews, they were extremely proud of their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as the recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and the rightful heirs to all the blessings God had guaranteed to shower on His children.
They even viewed their current occupation by the Romans as a temporary setback. They refused to view their condition as that of slaves and found Jesus’ offer of freedom offensive. But Jesus didn’t have the Romans in view either. The freedom He was offering them was spiritual in nature. And He clearly points out the difference.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – John 8:34 ESV
Remember what Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” He had told them that a true disciple would continue to accept what He had to say, regardless of how difficult it might be to hear. Now, He accuses them of being slaves to sin. As Jews, they would have recognized the reality of their sinfulness, but they would have also taken great comfort in the forgiveness made possible by the sacrificial system. They counted on receiving atonement for their sins by dutifully presenting their offerings to God. But what they failed to understand was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).
The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). The sacrificial system could only offer temporary absolution for sin. It could not provide a permanent release or freedom from the pervasive presence and power of sin. The very fact that the Jews had to continually offer their sacrifices was evidence that they were actually slaves to sin. But Jesus was offering them a different kind of sacrifice, that would provide a permanent solution to their sin problem – something the author of Hebrews points out.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV
What the people believed about Jesus was incomplete and insufficient. Even if they believed Him to be their Messiah, they failed to understand that He had come to set them free from slavery to sin, not to offer them release from Roman oppression. They viewed themselves as children of God, but Jesus makes it clear that they are simply the descendants of Abraham.
“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” – John 8:37 ESV
They were Jews by birth and right, but that did not mean that they were children of God. And this is where Jesus began to address their real problem. Because they refused to accept Him as the Son of God, they were proving their lack of relationship with His Father in heaven. And Jesus is about to blow away all their preconceived notions regarding their identity as God’s chosen people. He makes a somewhat cryptic comment that is going to leave them furious when they finally understand what He implies by it.
“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” – John 8:38 ESV
Their immediate response was to claim Abraham as their father. But Jesus counters that if this was true, they would be reacting to Him in a far different fashion.
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.” – John 8:39-40 ESV
They wanted to claim descendency from Abraham, but Jesus was revealing that they lacked the faith of Abraham. They failed to understand and believe in the promises of God as Abraham had. And the apostle Paul later explains what Abraham came to know and believe about the promises of God.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” – Galatians 3:16-19 ESV
The promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled in Christ – the Messiah of Israel. While Abraham did not understand the full import of God’s words, he chose to believe and trust all that God had to say. And the book of Genesis records that Abraham “believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).
Yet the people listening to Jesus in the Court of the Women were having a difficult time receiving and accepting what He had to say. And while they would vehemently defend themselves, claiming to be the children of God, Jesus was about to drop another bombshell on them that would turn their belief in Him to anger and resentment.
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.