The Hour of Decision

36 When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:36-43 ESV

Jesus has just informed the crowd that the hour has come. The time of His death was drawing closer. And when He was “lifted up” on the cross to die for the sins of mankind, it would accomplish a God-glorifying victory in the supernatural realm.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” – John 12:31 ESV

When His death eventually took place, the Jewish leadership would take it as victory. They had judged Jesus to be a blasphemer and He had gotten what He deserved. But they would not be alone in their rejoicing. Their father, the devil (John 8:44) would also celebrate the death of the Messiah. But only because he was ignorant of what Jesus death really meant. From a spiritual perspective, it would appear that Satan had won the day.

Yet Jesus informs His disciples and all those within His hearing that Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. Jesus projects onto Satan his ultimate defeat which will take place at the end times. But He also suggests that His death will destroy Satan’s power once and for all. The enemy’s vice-like grip on mankind will be broken by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. The payment for mankind’s sin debt will be made in full. God’s just and righteous requirement of a blood sacrifice will have been satisfied by the offering of His own Son’s sinless life.

But Jesus informs His audience that His death will bring judgment upon the world. At first glance, this seems to contradict an earlier statement made by Jesus. In his nighttime encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told assured him that “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NLT). Now He is declaring that His death will be accompanied by judgment. To better understand what Jesus means, we have to consider all that He said to Nicodemus on the matter.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:16-19 NLT

Jesus was letting Nicodemus know that God had sent Him into the world to bring salvation to mankind. In a sense, the judgment of mankind has already taken place. All humanity stands before God as guilty and condemned, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). And because of their guilty state, all men face the same fate because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). 

But the good news Jesus tried to convey to Nicodemus was that He had come to offer an alternative. His death was going to provide a way for condemned sinners to escape the inevitable and unavoidable judgment of God. Paul explains it this way:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. – Romans 3:23-25 ESV

The only way to escape judgment will be through faith or belief in Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him” (John 3:18 NLT). Through belief in Jesus, the sinner moves from condemnation to justification. He or she is made right with God because they have placed their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus. As John wrote in one of his later letters, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

The death of Jesus would bring judgment upon the world because it would force sinful men and women to make a decision The only way they could escape judgment would be through faith or belief in Jesus. But John reveals that “despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him” (John 12:37 NLT). Even after witnessing Jesus raise a dead man back to life, some would still refuse to believe He was the Messiah. And John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sees this failure to believe as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? – Isaiah 53:1 ESV

As John wrote in the opening chapter of his gospel, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus had come, speaking His Father’s words and displaying His Father’s power. But they refused to believe. The light had appeared in their midst, but they refused to acknowledge Him. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Again, John reaches back into the writings of the prophet Isaiah to show that the rejection of Jesus by the people of Israel was inevitable. It was part of the will of God. Paraphrasing the words of Isaiah, John announces that the stubborn refusal of the people of Israel was the handiwork of God.

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” – John 12:40 ESV

Their disbelief, pre-ordained by God, was essential to His redemptive plan. It was essential that Jesus be rejected and, ultimately, crucified. His death was absolutely necessary if mankind was to have any hope of escaping future judgment.

But many of the Jews continued to stubbornly cling to their own way of doing things. They could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was offering them a means of being made right with God that did not require their strict adherence to the law. And the apostle Paul would later describe that their continued belief in law-keeping as the means for achieving a right-standing with God was preventing them from believing in Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Belief and disbelief. That is the crux of the matter. Belief brings salvation and a right standing with God. Disbelief brings the judgment of God because it rejects the gracious gift of the Son of God.

But John indicates that there were those among the Jews who believed in Jesus. But he adds that they kept their belief to themselves, out of fear.

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:42-43 NLT

Belief and disbelief. Light and darkness. The closer Jesus gets to the cross, the more intense the contrasts become. The day of reckoning is quickly approaching. When the time comes for Jesus to hang on the cross, it will be a watershed moment in history. Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). All eyes will be fixed on Him. And, from that moment forward, His death will force every man and woman to make a decision, a choice to believe or disbelieve. To embrace the light or to continue to dwell in the darkness of sin, to face judgment or accept the free gift of a right standing with God through faith in His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Free Indeed

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:30-44 ESV

After confessing that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV), Martha ran to tell her sister Mary that He had come to Bethany. And Mary, filled with emotion, ran to meet Him and fell to her knees in front of Him. Likely through tears, Mary greeted Jesus with the same words that her sister had used.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

And like her sister, Mary was not expressing anger at Jesus for arriving too late. She was simply expressing her firm belief that He could have prevented the death of Lazarus. Had Jesus been able to come just four days earlier, her brother would still be alive.

Upon seeing the tears of Mary and her companions, Jesus was “deeply moved.” This somewhat cryptic phrase is used two different times in this passage. The Greek verb is embrimaomai, and, according to the NET Bible Study Notes, it “indicates a strong display of emotion, somewhat difficult to translate—‘shuddered, moved with the deepest emotions.’”

John will use the very same phrase to describe Jesus’ emotional state when seeing the tomb of Lazarus. But why would Jesus be indignant or angry at the tears of the weeping women or the sight of Lazarus’ grave? It is because He is witnessing the devastating impact that sin and death have brought upon creation. This was not the way it was meant to be. Jesus, the Word of God, had been with His Father “in the beginning” and “All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:2-3 ESV). Jesus had created life. In fact, John writes that “In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind” (John 1:4 ESV).

So as Jesus, the giver of life, stood watching the tears of Mary and her friends, He was filled with indignation and anger at having to witness the pain and suffering caused by death. And He knew that death was the result of sin. He also knew that death brought delight to Satan, whom Jesus earlier described as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV).

At that moment, Jesus must have been filled with a range of emotions. Of anyone, He knew that He could have prevented Lazarus’ death, but to do so would have been out of His Father’s will. The death of Lazarus was part of God’s plan to display His glory and “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 ESV). Jesus was fully aware of how this was all going to turn out, but it still grieved Him to witness the despair that sin brought upon a helpless humanity. He stood before them as the answer to their problem, but many refused to believe in Him. Unlike Martha, who confessed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of God,” the majority of the Jews could not bring themselves to embrace Jesus as their Messiah.

Jesus had told Nicodemus, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). The women who stood before Jesus, weeping with Mary over the loss of her brother, would one day face the same fate. They too would die and, if they Jesus knew that if they refused to believe in Him, the would be condemned by their unbelief and be destined to face an eternity separated from Him and His Father. All of this angered Jesus because He had come to offer Himself as the one and only solution to the problem.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

Jesus was moved to tears. His anger was mixed with sorrow, empathy, and compassion. It is interesting to note that Jesus had begun His public ministry at a wedding feast, a joyous occasion marked by celebration over that start of a new chapter of life. Now, here He was, nearing the end of His ministry and attending a funeral, a somber event marked by sorrow and despair over the end of life.

And as Jesus made His way to the tomb of Lazarus, there were those who expressed their confusion as to why He had not intervened. They had heard about His other miracles and couldn’t help but wonder why, if He loved Lazarus so much, He had not healed him. Their question seems to convey speculation that, perhaps, Lazarus’ condition was somehow out of His league.

Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” – John 11:37 ESV

But their doubt was about to be replaced with utter disbelief. They were going to be eye-witnesses to an amazing display of God’s glory.

Upon coming to the tomb, Jesus demanded that they roll away the stone blocking its entrance. At this point, the readers of John’s gospel should be recognizing the similarities between this story and the one they had heard about Jesus Himself. The tomb, the stone, the mourners. It all sounds familiar. The darkness, the despair, the overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It is eerily similar. But they have a sense of how this is going to turn out because they know the rest of the story.

And despite Martha’s protests, Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away, and He gently reminds her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV). Jesus had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26 ESV). And while Martha had boldly proclaimed her belief, she had not envisioned what was about to take place. Even though Jesus had told her, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), she had not gone to the tomb expecting to see it happen.

But it did. After a brief prayer to His Father, Jesus proclaimed with a loud, triumphant shout, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John, somewhat matter-of-factly and anticlimactically, writes, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV).

Don’t miss this moment. Up until this point in time, the atmosphere has been filled with doom and despair. The mood has been dark and doubtful. Both Mary and Martha had greeted Jesus with words of disappointment: “If only you had…”. The crowds had expressed their speculation as to whether Jesus could have done anything to help Lazarus. The whole scene has been marked by tears, mourning, resignation, and regret. And then, suddenly, “the man who died came out.” Lazarus was alive. And not only had he been restored to life, but any decay his body had experienced had also been miraculously reversed.

It is fascinating and a bit frustrating to consider that John provides no details concerning the response of Mary and Martha to this incredible event. He gives no indication as to how the crowd reacted when the heavily wrapped body of Lazarus hobbled from the tomb. John simply records the words of Jesus that must have broken the stunned silence of the moment.

“Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:44 ESV

There is so much wrapped up in these words. They bring to mind what Jesus had said to the religious leaders.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:34-36 ESV

The apostle Paul would echo these words when he wrote to the believers in Rome.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:32 ESV

He would write virtually the same thing to the believers in Galatia.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1 NLT

Jesus had just set Lazarus free from the bonds of death. He came out of the tomb alive and well, but he was still wrapped in the vestiges of death, in the form of the cumbersome grave cloths. To be truly free, Jesus demanded that Lazarus be untied and released to enjoy his newly restored life. In a sense, Jesus was communicating an aspect of the Gospel that would become a reality when He had offered His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. – Galatians 5:4 NLT

The restoration of Lazarus to life was meant to be a precursor of something greater to come: The resurrection of Jesus Himself. And with Jesus’ death and resurrection, all those who place their faith in Him would find themselves permanently freed from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they would no longer have to try to live up to God’s holy standards in their own strength. They would be free indeed.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. John 11:17-29 ESV

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

Those two statements sum up the first 16 verses of this chapter. After having received the news that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus had chosen to delay His departure for two days. When He had finally decided to leave Bethany beyond the Jordan for Bethany near Jerusalem, it took another whole day to make the journey. So, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.

This entire scene is intended to create an emotional disconnect in the mind of the reader. The mental picture John paints is meant to elicit feelings of pity, confusion, and even frustration. And these emotions are given voice by the two sisters who had sent word to Jesus about their brother’s desperate condition. Martha was the first to become aware of Jesus’ arrival, and she rushed out to greet Him, immediately expressing to Him her despair.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

Martha’s if-then statement to Jesus reveals her firm belief that had He arrived sooner, He could have healed her brother. But He was too late. There are some who read a hint of anger in her words and assume that she is berating Jesus for His late arrival. While that reaction would be understandable considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely based on the rest of Martha’s statement to Jesus.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” – John 11:21 ESV

She is not angry and she has not lost faith in Jesus. In spite of what has happened, she still believes that Jesus has the ear of His Heavenly Father and is able to ask and receive whatever He requests. With this statement, Martha is not suggesting that Jesus could ask God to raise her brother from the dead. She is simply expressing her continued belief in Jesus despite her devastating disappointment. That Martha harbored no expectations of resurrection is made evident when Jesus later commanded the stone to be moved from the tomb. Martha immediately responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 ESV). Her brother’s resuscitation was the last thing Martha expected.

This scene is filled with contradictions and contrasts. Mary and Martha are accompanied by mourners and friends who have gathered to console them. There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness because of the death of Lazarus. But for the reader, there should be a sense of eager expectation because the light of the world has just arrived on the scene. The words that Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a special significance at this point in the story.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But the 12 men who had accompanied Jesus to Bethany would have wrestled with the meaning behind those words because they had just heard the same news that Jesus had: Lazarus was dead. How would God receive glory now? How did Jesus intend to be glorified through the death of His friend? It all made no sense. The entire situation seemed hopeless and maddeningly pointless.

Yet the reader has been provided with 10 chapters of information that should act as a corrective filter through which to view this unfolding scene. John had opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus, the Word of God, had taken part in the creation of all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:3-4 ESV

He was the original giver of life. And His incarnation had not diminished His capacity to bestow life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus that He had come to earth so that He might provide eternal life.

“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” – John 3:35-36 ESV

Yes, Lazarus had died. But in spite of what Martha, Mary, their friends, and the disciples of Jesus believed, Lazarus’ death was not the end of the story. Yet when Jesus informed Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), the full import of His words escaped her. From her limited perspective, Lazarus’ death had been final, but she believed that she would one day see him again at the final resurrection. Her belief in the future bodily resurrection of the dead was based on several Old Testament passages.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2 ESV 

That Martha was thinking of this future form of resurrection is made clear by her response to Jesus.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:24 ESV

And rather than refute her belief in that future reality, Jesus provides her with additional information intended to clarify the nature of that future resurrection.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

While Martha’s mind was focused on a future event, Jesus was redirecting her attention to a present reality: Him. The very one who was life and had the power to give life was standing right in front of her. And He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life. There was no present life or future resurrection apart from Him. His power had not been impacted by the death of Lazarus. And while physical death was an inevitable and unavoidable reality for every human being, it was not the end. The death of Lazarus was not final. It was not the end of the story. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, though Lazarus had died, he would live again. It was just as Jesus had told the religious leaders.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:29 ESV

But the key to resurrection and eternal life was belief. Jesus had made that point perfectly clear: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26 ESV). And when Jesus asked Martha whether she believed, she responded, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV).

Martha responded affirmatively. She verbally confessed to her belief that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets had promised. But it seems clear that Martha had not fully comprehended all that Jesus had said to her. His declaration that He was the resurrection and the life had gone over her head. And the way she describes Jesus to her sister seems to verify that little had changed regarding her assessment of Jesus and His identity. John describes Martha as running to get her sister Mary and telling her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28 ESV).

Martha says nothing about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. There is no hint in her words that she anticipated something supernatural was about to happen. She simply informed her sister that “the Teacher” had arrived.

But little did Martha know that Jesus was about to back up His words with action. He was going to put on a never-before-seen display of power that would not only defy their limited expectations but the laws of nature. The Teacher was about to give them a lesson they would never forget.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Are We Also Blind?

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. John 9:24-41 ESV

The Pharisees were beside themselves in frustration and anger. Standing before them was a common street beggar, claiming to have had his congenital blindness miraculously healed by Jesus, their arch-nemesis. They had already threatened to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who claimed Jesus to be the Messiah. And while this man had only proclaimed Jesus to be a prophet, they essentially accused him of blasphemy for having given glory to Jesus rather than God. They seriously doubted the veracity of this man’s story, but they still found him guilty of attributing to Jesus what only God could have done.

The formerly blind man was perplexed by their reasoning and their declaration that Jesus was nothing more than a sinner. Their logic made no sense to him. But in his simple way of thinking, it didn’t even matter. He responded, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25 ESV).  All he knew for certain was that he used to blind, but now he could see. And it was all because of this man named Jesus.

Unable to coerce a confession out of the man, they resorted to further questioning, hoping to expose a hole in his story. But the man responded with a hint of exasperation mixed with sarcasm, “Look!…I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27 NLT). The content of his statement and the tone with which he said it produced an immediate and intense reaction from the Pharisees.

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.” – John 9:28-29 NLT

Their response revealed their complete disdain for Jesus and His followers. In their estimation, Jesus was a rogue Rabbi whose teachings contradicted those of Moses. In their minds, Jesus was nothing more than a Sabbath-breaker who associated with sinners. His miracles were the work of Satan, not Yahweh. And all His talk of being the Son of God was nothing less than blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

But once again, this passage juxtaposes the light with the darkness. It contrasts those who are blind with those who have eyes to see. The Pharisees, so proud of their discipleship to Moses, had failed to understand that Moses wrote of Jesus’ coming. The great emancipator and law-giver had received a promise directly from God.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

And Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophecy. But the Pharisees were too blind to see. They “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). But the lowly beggar, who had received his sight from Jesus, saw the absurdity of their position.

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

It was as clear as day to him. There was no way that Jesus was a sinner. And it was idiotic to think that Jesus was able to do what He did without the full support and authority of God. You didn’t have to be a religious scholar to know that the giving of sight was an act of God. And because this man could now see, he knew that Jesus had the ear of God. But sadly, his message fell on the dear ears and sin-darkened hearts of the Pharisees, who angrily responded, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” (John 9:34 ESV). Who was he to lecture them? He was nothing more than a man who had been cursed to blindness because of sin. And with that, they banned him from the synagogue.

This was to become a common occurrence among those Jews who aligned themselves with Jesus. In fact, Jesus would later warn His disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:2-4 ESV). The Jews, in their religious zeal, would end up persecuting all those who became followers of Jesus. The Book of Acts reveals that the apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, had been a Pharisee whose job it was to hunt down Christians. 

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2 NLT

It was going to become increasingly more dangerous to be a follower of Jesus. And His death and resurrection would not make it any easier. But this lowly beggar was about to have a second “chance” encounter with Jesus. The one who had healed him sought him out and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV).

From the overall context of the passage, it seems that this was the first time the man had actually seen Jesus with his own, newly restored, eyes. So, when Jesus spoke to him, he had no way of knowing that this was the same man who had healed him. He also had no idea that Jesus was referring to Himself as the Son of Man. Which is what led him to ask, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Even with his restored sight, he was still spiritually blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He most likely understood that this stranger was referring to the man who had healed him, and he desired to know more about him. “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

And John states that, with this revelation from Jesus, the man expressed his belief and worshiped Him. It is at this point that Jesus reintroduces the metaphor of darkness and light.

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” – John 9:39 ESV

As the light of the world, Jesus judged the world by His very presence. He illuminated the darkness, but there were those who chose to remain in the darkness. They rejected the light and, in doing so, they judged themselves. They already stood condemned for their sins, and God had graciously sent His Son to provide them with atonement. But because they refused to “see” Jesus as the Son of God, they remained in their darkness. But those who “saw” and believed received forgiveness and freedom from condemnation.

The Pharisees, overhearing Jesus’ words, were offended by what He said, and objected to His inference that they were blind. But Jesus said their real problem was their belief that they had spiritual insight. They believed themselves to be enlightened and informed. But Jesus informed them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt” (John 9:41 ESV). In other words, if they would only see and confess their blindness, they would receive sight. Jesus would later accuse these very same men of viewing themselves as in need of nothing He had to offer. They did not believe they were sinners, so they had no need for a Savior.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” – Matthew 9:12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Light and Darkness

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” John 9:8-23 ESV

A man who lived his life as a beggar, due to having been born blind, happened to have a “chance” encounter with Jesus. Having lived his entire life trapped in a world of perpetual darkness, he had never seen the light of day or the face of another human being. But when the light of the world walked into his life, everything changed. Jesus, the Son of God, took plight on his condition, mercifully and miraculously providing him with sight. But according to Jesus, this man’s blindness, rather than a curse, had been intended as an opportunity to display God’s power and glory. He had been born blind so “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

And when the man had returned from the Pool of Siloam, having washed away the mud Jesus had placed on his eyes, he was no longer blind. And this amazing transformation was readily apparent to all who saw him. But, somewhat ironically, not everyone could believe what they were seeing. Some questioned whether it was really the same man or simply someone who looked like him. In other words, they couldn’t believe their own eyes. It was just too much to take in. It seems the only one who could see clearly was the formerly blind man. And he was relegated to standing among the scoffers insisting, “I am the man” (John 9:9 ESV).

It was difficult for his neighbors to deny that this was the same man they had seen begging on the streets for years. Now, they were left trying to explain how he had suddenly received his sight. So they asked him the obvious question: “Then how were your eyes opened?” (John 9:10 ESV). And the man responded by telling them about all that Jesus had said and done to him. When they asked the man where Jesus was, he had to admit that he had no idea. The “light” had vacated the premises and everyone was left in a state of darkness or ignorance, including the man who had just received his sight.

Unable to locate the one who had performed the miracle, the people took the beggar to the Pharisees. And this is where Jesus’ use of the metaphors of light and darkness, blindness and sight, comes into clearer focus. The Pharisees immediately demand to know what has happened, and the man tells his story yet again. But it becomes quickly apparent that these men are less interested in the miracle that has taken place than in what they believe to be a violation of the law. It is at this point in the story that John adds a vital piece of information.

Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. – John 9:14 ESV

And this seemingly minor detail begins to explain some of the rather bizarre steps Jesus took to heal the man’s eyes. Why had He spit in the dirt and made mud? Why had He bothered to apply the mud to the man’s eyes and then instructed him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash? It seems clear that none of this was necessary or required for Jesus to heal the man. But now, His actions take on a whole new light. Jesus had been fully aware that it was the Sabbath and yet, He had purposefully taken steps that appear in violation of the law against doing work on the Sabbath. And His enemies are quick to pick up on this point.

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” – John 9:16 ESV

They knew who Jesus was and they weren’t surprised by His actions. This was not the first time that Jesus had violated their Sabbath-keeping traditions. But some among them argued, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (John 9:16 ESV). Jesus was an enigma to them. They couldn’t argue with the miraculous nature of His works, but they couldn’t bring themselves to believe He was who He claimed to be. That is why they ended up attributing His miraculous powers to Satan. In their minds, Jesus was nothing more than a law-breaker, a violator of their code of conduct, and a menace to their way of life. But their continued inability to recognize Jesus as their Messiah is further proof of their spiritual blindness. They could not see the Son of God standing right in front of them. The light was shining in their sin-darkened world, but they were too blind to see it. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus, one of their own.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – John 3:19 ESV

Interestingly enough, these spiritual leaders of Israel ended up turning to the formerly blind man for insight. They asked him, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” (John 9:17 ESV). And the man, able to see but still blind to the reality of who Jesus was, simply responded, “He is a prophet.” He had progressed in his view of Jesus, having earlier referred to Him as “the man” and now declaring Him to be “a prophet.” All he knew was that Jesus was someone special. But the Pharisees rejected the man’s assessment Jesus and even denied the veracity of his story and the legitimacy of his claim to have been born blind. They were looking for proof to invalidate the whole affair. So, they sent for the man’s parents.

The Pharisees’ hatred for Jesus had grown so intense that they had threatened to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who claimed Jesus to be the Messiah. The beggar’s parents, aware of this edict, were extremely cautious in their response to the Pharisees, choosing to verify that their son had indeed been born blind. They had no information regarding his healing and recommended that the Pharisees take that matter up with him. In a sense, they were throwing their son to the dogs. Rather than face removal from the fellowship of the synagogue, they handed over their own son to the ire of the Pharisees. They fully realized that their son, who had spent his life as a beggar and an outcast, was running the risk of becoming a social pariah yet again.

The contrast between the light and the dark is readily apparent in this story. If you recall, the disciples had originally asked Jesus whose sins had resulted in the man’s condition of blindness.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – John 9:2 ESV

While Jesus absolved the man and his parents of responsibility, He did not deny that sin was involved. The very fact that blindness exists is a result of sin entering the world through the fall of Adam and Eve. Disease and disabilities are evidence of the curse that came upon the earth as a result of our first parents’ rebellion against God. With the fall, the entire creative order was plunged into the darkness of sin and relegated to wait for a future day when relief would come. The apostle Paul explains it this way:

…all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

Jesus had come to earth. God had taken on human flesh and entered into the world He had created and which He had been forced to curse. But the Son of God came to redeem and restore. The light came into the world in order to illuminate the darkness and eliminate the curse of sin and death. But in this story, we see that there were still those whose eyes were blind to the truth. There were those who preferred the darkness over the light. Jesus had performed a miracle, yet the Pharisees called Him a sinner. The parents were amazed that their son could suddenly see, but rather than give Jesus credit for what He had done, they chose the comfort and community of the synagogue. In this story, light and sight face off against darkness and blindness. And we begin to see what Jesus meant when He told His disciples:

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 ESV

The light does not eliminate darkness. It simply illuminates it. But the words and works of Jesus reveal the pervasive nature of the darkness and the hopeless condition of mankind’s spiritual blindness. But He came to change all that. And He would – on the cross.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Man Born Blind

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:1-7 ESV

As has been noted before, John does not attempt to adhere to a strict chronologically accurate timeline. He has chosen to arrange his Gospel according to a theme, selecting those stories that best illustrate and prove the point he is trying to make. Since John is most interested in establishing the deity of Jesus, the stories he has included are those that best support his premise. As a result, there are many events recorded in the Synoptic Gospels that do not appear in John’s record of Jesus’ life. And, in today’s passage, John provides the details surrounding a miracle that none of the other Gospel writers include.

But John’s placement of this particular miracle at this precise point in his narrative was not without purpose. For several chapters, he has chronicled the ongoing and quickly intensifying conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities. As the light of the world, He has entered the sin-darkened land of Israel, revealing the glory of God with words of truth concerning His ministry, mission, and identity as the Son of God. But the religious leaders have repeatedly rejected His claim to have been sent from God. They have scoffed at His offers of living water, true bread, and eternal life. And they had found his most recent statement particularly off-putting.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Who did this man think He was?  What right did He have to question the spiritual integrity of the nation’s preeminent religious scholars? They were incensed by His offer to set them free because they were slaves to no one. And, of course, they weren’t exactly flattered when He had called them sons of the devil. He had accused them of being murderers and liars, completely out of touch with God, and incapable of hearing or accepting His claim to be the Son of God. And John closed chapter eight closes with a not-so-subtle summary of their reaction to Jesus’ words.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:59 ESV

Jesus simply walked away. The light of the world departed the temple grounds, symbolically leaving the area bathed in darkness. But the story does not end there. John records that “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1 ESV). it just so happened that as Jesus left the temple and the company of the belligerent religious leaders, He came across a man who suffered from physical blindness. But don’t miss the fact that this man had been born blind. This detail is what will set this particular miracle apart. While there are other accounts of Jesus restoring people’s sight, this is the only instance in which we are told that the man had been blind since birth. In a sense, he had born into darkness. He had never seen the light of the sun. He had never experienced the joy of seeing his parents’ faces. This man had been born into a world marked by an all-pervasive darkness and he was completely incapable of doing anything about his condition.

This man was about to become a visible symbol for the plight of all humanity. He had been born with his debilitating condition. It was not as if he had once had sight and then lost it. He had never had the capacity to see. And he would have remained in darkness had he not encountered Jesus, the light of the world.

For the Jews, physical blindness was closely associated with sin. Because of the egregious nature of this particular disorder, most Jews assumed that it was a form of divine punishment for sin. That is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). In their minds, it wasn’t a matter of whether sin had been involved, it was a case of who was the guilty party. Since the man was born blind, the logical conclusion would be that his parents were responsible for his pitiable condition.

It seems quite evident that the disciples made no connection between this man’s condition and the spiritual state of the religious leaders who had just tried to stone their master. To them, this was just another blind man, one of many anonymous sufferers that filled the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. Their only interest in this man was as a point of theological discussion. But Jesus reveals that this man’s condition and his appearance at that moment in time was all God-ordained.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

This simple statement carries a powerful punch, revealing the sovereign hand of God over every detail of human existence. This man’s very existence had been orchestrated by the will of God Almighty. And his encounter with the Son of God had been providentially prearranged. He had been placed in the path of Jesus, not so that his sight be could be restored, but so that the power of God could be revealed. Jesus was about to give this man something he had never possessed: The ability to see. He had been born into darkness, but he was about to have his eyes opened for the very first time in his life.

Jesus took the opportunity to address His disciples, reminding them that time was of the essence. His days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. And in the time remaining, they would need to keep their attention focused on “the light of the world.”  While so many of Jesus’ conversations had been with the religious leaders, His words had been directed at His disciples. They had been His primary audience, and everything He had said had been for their benefit.

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 NLT

They didn’t yet realize it, but Jesus’ days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. They would not always have the luxury of His company. And He wanted them to take advantage of every single moment they had in “the light” of His presence because the night was coming.

As usual, Jesus did not explain His words. He left the disciples to wrestle with the meaning of His comments and turned His attention to the blind man. And every single action taken by Jesus is filled with powerful symbolism and meaning. John describes Him as spitting on the ground and making mud from the dirt and His own saliva. Then Jesus took the mud and spread it over the blind man’s eyes. When finished, He instructed the blind man to somehow make his way to the Pool of Siloam, where he was supposed to wash away the mud.

This entire scene was meant to instruct the disciples. Jesus had just told them, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Now, He has shown them an example of the task they had been assigned by God. They didn’t understand it yet, but they had been chosen by God and been given the responsibility of opening the eyes of the blind. And Jesus was giving them a physical demonstration of the spiritual transformation that He had come to bring to those born into the darkness of sin.

John provides no explanation regarding Jesus’ actions. We are not told why He chose to mix His saliva with dirt and apply it to the man’s eyes. His instructions for the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam come with no commentary. But all of it had to have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Yet, the blind man never utters a word. He simply stands there, blindly oblivious to what Jesus is doing, but faithfully willing to do whatever this unidentified and unseen man told him to do. When Jesus told him to wash in the pool, the man obeyed. And John describes what happened next.

So the man went and washed and came back seeing! – John 9:7 NLT

This man’s life had just been radically transformed by an encounter with the Son of God. Born into darkness, he was suddenly able to see for the very first time in his life. As amazed as this man must have been at the transformation he experienced, it was the disciples whom Jesus intended to impress with His actions. His healing of the man born blind was meant to be a powerful demonstration of the Father’s power and a sign of their future ministry and mission.

At one point the disciples of John the Baptist had approached Jesus with a question from their master.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 NLT). And Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6 NLT). Jesus was informing John that everything He did was in keeping with His Father’s will. The evidence for His identity was clearly visible in the things that He did. Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

In a real sense, Jesus’ healing of the blind man was designed to open the eyes of His own disciples. The light of the world was illuminating the darkness of their own understanding, helping them to grasp the reality of who He was and what He had come to do. But their lesson was far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The True Offspring of Abraham

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.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Who Are You?

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,
    lasting forever.
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.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Sinner Condemned, Unclean

53 But They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”John 7:53-8:11 ESV

This section of John’s gospel is a bit controversial because it is not found in the oldest of the extant Greek manuscripts. While there are more than 900 ancient manuscripts that include the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is significant that none of the early church fathers referred to this encounter in their commentaries on the Gospel of John. It is the belief of most modern commentators that this story was a later addition to the Gospel, which raises the question of whether it should be considered as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

While the evidence seems to indicate that the story was edited into John’s Gospel by some unknown source, it does not necessarily invalidate its authenticity. And there is no reason to assume that its inclusion by someone other than the apostle John means that it was uninspired and, therefore, unworthy to be considered a part of the Canon of Scripture. Perhaps it was part of the oral tradition of the early church and later placed within the text of John’s Gospel to further support the theme of Jesus’ power and authority as the Son of God.

There are those who consider this an apocryphal story, spurious in its authenticity and therefore, unworthy to be considered as the inspired Word of God. But the story does provide insight into the growing hostility between Jesus and the religious leaders, a theme that John is gradually unfolding.

Chapter seven ended with a tense exchange between Nicodemus and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They were frustrated that their guards had failed to arrest Jesus while He was on the temple grounds. Instead, they had let Him go because they had been mesmerized by His teaching. When Nicodemus had suggested that Jesus be given a fair hearing, his colleagues mocked him for being as uneducated and lawless as the Galileans who mindlessly followed after this huckster from Nazareth.

John has made it clear that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. The Sanhedrin, while determined to have Jesus arrested, were powerless to thwart God’s divine timeline for His Son’s mission. So, Jesus left the temple grounds and headed east to Mount of Olives, just opposite Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Evidently, He and His disciples spent the night there, rising early the next morning to return to the temple grounds, where He resumed His teaching.

One can only imagine the frustration of the Sanhedrin as they woke that next morning only to find Jesus sitting in the middle of the temple courtyard, surrounded by a large and attentive audience. His persistent presence and uncanny ability to attract a crowd wherever He went caused these religious leaders great angst. So, as was quickly becoming their habit, they devised a plan by which they might trap Jesus into saying or doing something that might give them grounds for having Him arrested. Because of His growing popularity, it was necessary that they devise a plan that would expose Jesus as a fraud and cause the people to turn against Him.

On this occasion, they chose the controversial topic of adultery to “test” Jesus. This was a hot-button issue among the Jews. The people knew what the Mosaic law had to say about the matter, but there was a lot of debate concerning how to interpret and enforce this particular law. Leviticus 20:10 reads: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

But in this case, the religious leaders drag a woman into the temple courtyard and throw her down in front of Jesus. There is no mention of her male companion in crime. This might be because this woman was guilty of violating another aspect of the law concerning adultery. In the book of Deuteronomy, there is another scenario described in which a man marries a woman only to discover on their wedding night that she was not a virgin. In that case, the law prescribed the following punishment:

The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 22:21 NLT

It is impossible to know the true nature of this woman’s crime. But she is publicly shamed, dragged by the religious leaders into the temple courtyard, and thrown at Jesus’ feet. To them, she was nothing more than a prop, a nameless tool in their effort to discredit and destroy Jesus. They were not interested in seeing that justice was done. They simply wanted to create a no-win situation in which Jesus would be doomed no matter how He responded. So, using the woman as bait, they set their trap and waited for Jesus to condemn Himself.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” – John 8:4-5 NLT

These men were experts in the law. They were not interested in Jesus’ views on legal matters but were hoping that He would say something that violated the law or infuriated the people. And John makes their intentions quite clear.

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him… – John 8:6 NLT

They already viewed Jesus as a law-breaker, because He had already violated the prohibition against working on the Sabbath by healing a man and then instructing him to carry his bedroll. So, they must have been convinced that Jesus would choose to violate the law once again, and hoped that He would recommend releasing the woman. If He did, they could accuse Him of being in violation of the Mosaic Law and have Him arrested on the spot. But if Jesus surprised them and announced that the woman should be stoned for her crime, the crowd would probably turn on Him. Adultery had become commonplace among the Jews and the laws concerning its punishment were rarely enforced. And if Jesus had condoned the stoning of this woman, He would have been suggesting that they violate the Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment.

The religious leaders believed they had Jesus in a conundrum. In their minds, they had Him caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter what He said, He would end up condemning Himself. But rather than speak, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dirt with His finger. As he did so, the religious leaders demanded that He give them an answer to their question. So, He stood up and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7 NLT). Then, He knelt back down and continued to write something in the dirt.

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day. But the text provides absolutely no insight into the content of Jesus’ message. We are simply told that when Jesus said, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone,” the crowd began to disperse, including the men who had instigated the whole affair. Perhaps Jesus had written the Ten Commandments in the dust. We will never know. But whatever Jesus scrawled in the dirt that day had caused the woman’s self-righteous accusers to slink away one by one, starting with the oldest among them.

Some have speculated that Jesus had shamed these men by writing down a list of specific sins each of them had committed. Embarrassed at having their personal sins exposed, they quickly vacated the premises. While this is an interesting proposal, there is nothing in the text that supports it. All that is clear is that no one was able to pick up a stone because no one was without sin.

This seems to be the main point behind the entire story. Jesus had come to earth in order to provide forgiveness for sin. And, according to Scripture, all men are guilty of sin. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And the apostle Paul reiterated that truth when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

The religious leaders considered themselves to be pure and holy, fully righteous before God because they painstakingly and pridefully kept the law of Moses. But Jesus exposed the truth about their spiritual condition, revealing their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. These men had arrogantly set themselves up as judges over the people, looking down their noses at the irreligious rabble who were incapable of living up to God’s holy standards like they did. They saw Jesus as no better than the woman they had dragged before Him. He was a lawbreaker and worthy of condemnation and death just as she was. But they failed to recognize their own guilt and their need for cleansing. The sad reality is that they chose to leave rather than face the truth about their own sinfulness. Only the woman remained. She stood before Jesus and the crowd, accused and condemned, her sin openly acknowledged for everyone to know.

But rather than judging her, Jesus asked her where her accusers had gone. He points out that no one stood before her, stone in hand, ready to condemn her for her crime. They had all disappeared, meaning there were no witnesses left to verify her guilt. So, Jesus, acknowledging that her accusers were nowhere to be found, announced to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV). There were no witnesses left to condemn her, so there was no evidence to convict her. And on that basis, Jesus encouraged her to go and to sin no more. She had been given a reprieve. While evidently guilty of the crime and worthy of death, she had been graciously given a second chance to change the way she lived. Her sin, while real, was forgivable. Her guilt, though undeniable, was survivable. All thanks to Jesus.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Will Live Because of Me

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. John 6:52-59 ESV

As strange as this whole conversation has been, what makes it even more bizarre is the realization that it all took place in the local synagogue in Capernaum. For some unexplained reason, John chose to withhold this bit of information until now. That Jesus made this important announcement about the bread of life in the synagogue is significant because it was the place where the Jews gathered to listen to God’s Word. As the Son of God and the living Word of God, He was expounding on the written Word of God, conveying new truth regarding His Father’s plan of redemption for mankind.

Yet His choice of location for revealing this information did not make the news any easier to understand or accept. The Jews in His audience were confused and, most likely, a little turned off by the thought of what He was saying. And they made their distaste and disbelief known.

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” – John 6:52 ESV

What Jesus was saying was implausible and totally unappealing. Everything about His claim sounded ridiculous and unacceptable to His audience. Notice their emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. They refer to Him as “this man.” They were still wrestling with the fact that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (John 6:42 ESV). They knew who His parents were and so His claim to have “come down from heaven” made no sense to them. He was nothing more than a man. Even those who had been part of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and had expressed awe at what they had witnessed, had wondered aloud whether Jesus was “the Prophet we have been expecting” (John 6:14 NLT). To them, Jesus was just a man and nothing more. And because He was a mere man, they could not fathom what Jesus meant by eating His flesh.

But rather than providing much-needed clarification, Jesus simply expands on His thoughts and adds to their confusion.

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 NLT

It is easy to imagine the looks of consternation on the faces of His audience as Jesus paints this rather unpleasant visual image. What they heard Jesus describing was cannibalism, plain and simple, and the fact that Jesus had added the aspect of drinking His blood made it all the more repulsive. In His law, God had strictly forbidden the consumption of blood.

And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’” – Leviticus 17:10-12 NLT

Yet, here was Jesus making the audacious claim that eating His flesh and drinking His blood was the key to eternal life. God had warned that the drinking of blood would bring permanent banishment from community, but Jesus was claiming that drinking His blood would result in permanent communion with God. For the Jews in the synagogue that day, it was all contradictory and confusing. 

What they failed to understand was that Jesus was speaking about belief. He had told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47 ESV). They believed Jesus could do miracles. Some believed He might be the prophet Moses had spoken about. Others were beginning to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But none were accepting the fact that He was the Son of God who had come down from heaven. When they looked at Jesus, they saw a man. And the idea that He could also be a co-equal with God was unfathomable and unacceptable. 

Yet, Jesus was informing them that it was His deity and humanity that would make salvation possible. He was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. And all the imagery concerning His flesh and blood had to do with His coming death. He was going to lay down His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would allow His body to be broken and His blood to be shed so that sinful men and women might have receive permanent cleansing and release from their condemnation of death.

Luke provides a description of the night on which Jesus shared a final Passover meal with His disciples. At one point, He repurposed the unleavened bread and the wine served with the meal in order to make a point about His death, which was just hours away.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. – Luke 22:19-20 ESV

Jesus was letting His disciples know that it was His body that was going to be sacrificed on their behalf. As the Son of God, He had taken on human flesh so that He might become the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of the book of Hebrews provides further insight into this substitutionary aspect of Jesus’ death.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:4-10 ESV

What Jesus was trying to convey to His audience in the synagogue was the necessity of His deity and humanity. He had to be divine so that He could live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He had to be human so that He could serve as an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Animal sacrifices were not enough. The blood of bulls and goats could not offer permanent cleansing from sin. Only Jesus, the God-man, could be an acceptable sacrifice, fully satisfying the just and holy judgment of God against the sinfulness of humanity.

The author of Hebrews adds: “But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Hebrews 10:12 NLT). Jesus eventually accomplished His mission. He fulfilled the will of His Father and offered Himself up as the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He gave His life so that sin-enslaved humanity might be restored to a right relationship with God.

The crowds had come looking for another free meal that might satiate their physical appetites for another day. But Jesus was offering so much more. He was letting them know that He came to offer a permanent solution to their very real problem of sin and death. They all stood before Him condemned and worthy of death. They were guilty of rebellion against a holy God. But Jesus, the Son of God, had come to earth to serve as the sole solution to their pressing sin problem.

But they were going to have to believe in Him. They would have to accept His claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson