Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 6)
August 6, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 6)
In the middle of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus left Galilee and went to Jerusalem. While there, He went into the temple and began teaching. He faced opposition from the Jewish religious leadership, who wanted to have Him arrested but failed.
On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood in the temple and proclaimed that if anyone was thirsty, they should come to Him and drink. The following day, He returned to the temple and stated I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.1 It was at this time He began to speak of His Father—who sent Him and whom He said bears witness about me.2 He then stated that unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.3
After listening to Jesus refer to Himself as I am He, which was a claim to deity (as will be explained below), and stating that they would die in their sins if they didn’t believe in Him, those present asked Him,
“Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 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.”4
Jesus didn’t directly answer their question about who He was, other than to say that He was who He had been telling them all along. While He had much He could say about them and judge them for, His mission was to declare to the world what I have heard from him.
Jesus went on to state that the one who sent Him (the Father) is true. Within the Old Testament, we are told that God is the God of truth.
You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.5
He who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth.6
Truth is a characteristic of the Father (as well as Jesus, the Son, who said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life,7 and the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.8).
They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.9
Jesus had made reference to the one who sent Him, but until this point He hadn’t specifically called Him the Father. Since those He was speaking to didn’t recognize that Jesus’ origin was in heaven (we know from Scripture that He was in the beginning with God10), it didn’t mean much to them that He could trace the message He preached back to His Father, or that the message was true. This confirmed what Jesus had stated earlier:
“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”11
Having responded to their question of Who are you? Jesus continued with what He had been saying earlier.
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. 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.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.12
Jesus was referring to His soon-coming crucifixion when He mentioned being lifted up. He also used this phrase elsewhere in reference to His death.
I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.13
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.14
It would only be after Jesus was “lifted up” that people would know that I am he. The phrase I am He is found throughout the Old Testament when God makes reference to Himself.
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me.15
Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.16
Jesus stated that after His death and resurrection, people would understand that I am He, like His Father. To know Jesus, the “I am,” is to also know the Father.
Having made the point of His intimate unity and oneness with His Father, Jesus declared that everything He did was under His Father’s authority, and everything He spoke and taught was what God had spoken to Him. The Father sent Him, was with Him, and did not leave Him. Everything Jesus did was in alignment with His Father’s will, and because of this, His relationship with His Father was continuous and unbroken.
Many of those who were listening came to believe in Him; however, the faith of some of these would prove to be shallow or weak.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”17
Jesus was speaking to those who had been listening to His teachings in the previous verse, the “many” who believed in him. The truth that Jesus was referring to was that they would know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. The truth that sets one free is that Jesus was sent by His Father, and His Father is with Him.
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’?”18
Upon hearing that if they would abide in Jesus’ word, the truth would set them free, they responded by rejecting the concept that they had ever been enslaved. Oddly, they ignored Moses’ oft-repeated command in Deuteronomy, You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.19 Of course, they knew that what they were saying was not literally true. Their ancestors, who were the offspring of Abraham, had been slaves in Egypt; the Jewish people were also later taken captive and sent to Babylon; and in Jesus' time, they were subject to Rome. They were, however, expressing the idea that they were “free sons of Abraham, who have never inwardly bowed to foreign rule.”20
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits 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.”21
The phrase, “truly, truly” (“verily, verily,” KJV; “I tell you the truth,” NIV; “I assure you,” CSB; “most assuredly,” NKJV) was used by Jesus to indicate that what He was about to say was going to be a significant statement, something important and true.
Jesus pointed out that the enslavement (from which the truth will set you free) was not literal physical slavery, but slavery to sin. The apostle Paul also referred to being slaves of sin when he wrote,
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.22
After stating that those who commit sin are slaves to sin, Jesus drew attention to the difference between the relationship a slave had in the household of his owner and the relationship of a son in the home. The slave had no permanent place in the family, no security, no rights, and could be expelled from the home and sold to another. By contrast, the son had a right to be in the home because of his permanent position as a son.
In saying so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed, Jesus was rephrasing what He had said earlier: If you abide in my word, … you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.23 If both the Son and the truth can set a person free, then Jesus Himself is the truth. Those who dwell in His word, who know the truth, are free from slavery to sin and death, and they will have eternal life.
I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.24
Jesus didn’t dispute the claim of His Jewish listeners that they were Abraham’s descendants, but He denied that they were Abraham's children, as their character was nothing like Abraham’s. They wanted to kill Jesus because they had rejected His word. His teaching had not gotten through to them. Jesus then contrasted what He had “seen” with His Father and what they had “heard” from theirs. The implication was that their father was different from His Father. (The identity of their father is covered later in the passage and in part seven of this series.)
The “believing Jews” who were listening to Him strenuously objected to what He had said.
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, 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.”25
Again they claimed that Abraham was their father, and again Jesus pointed out that they didn't follow his example, behave as he did, or do the deeds he did. Their actions and attitudes did not emulate the “works of Abraham.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also touched on this point when He stated,
“Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”26
The apostle Paul made a similar point:
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.27
Jesus continued by saying:
“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.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”28
While Jesus again refers to their father and states that they are doing their father’s work, He doesn’t specifically state who their father is at this point; but He does point out that it isn’t God by stating If God were your Father… He was making the point that their father was someone other than Abraham and that their evil deeds were the result of who their father was.
Some Bible commentators consider that the response “We were not born of sexual immorality” referred to Jesus’ birth, since His mother became pregnant before she was officially married to her husband, Joseph.29 However, most commentators consider this idea to be unlikely. It’s more likely that they were trying to rebut Jesus’ questioning their spiritual paternity, and stating metaphorically that they were legitimate children of God. “We have one Father—even God.”
The structure of Jesus’ response points out that what they said was untrue. If God were your Father (which He is not), you would love me (which you don’t). Jesus denied their claim that God was their Father. If God truly was their Father, they would have welcomed Jesus, the one whom God sent.—And Jesus repeatedly made the point that He was sent by His Father.
It is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.30
The Father who sent me bears witness about me.31
He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.32
(Continued in Part Seven)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 John 8:12.
2 John 8:18.
3 John 8:24.
4 John 8:25–26.
5 Psalm 31:5 NKJV.
6 Isaiah 65:16.
7 John 14:6.
8 John 16:13.
9 John 8:27.
10 John 1:2.
11 John 8:19.
12 John 8:28–30.
13 John 12:32.
14 John 3:14–15.
15 Deuteronomy 32:39.
16 Isaiah 41:4. See also Isaiah 43:12–13, 25; 46:4; 48:12.
17 John 8:31–32.
18 John 8:33.
19 Deuteronomy 5:15. Also Deuteronomy 15:15; 16:12; 24:18, 22.
20 Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John, Vol. 2 (New York: Crossroads, 1982), 207.
21 John 8:34–36.
22 Romans 6:16–18.
23 John 8:31–32.
24 John 8:37–38.
25 John 8:39–40.
26 Luke 3:8.
27 Romans 9:6–8.
28 John 8:41–42.
29 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). See also Jesus—His Life and Message: Jesus’ Birth (Part 1).
30 John 8:16.
31 John 8:18.
32 John 8:29.