SESSION FOURTEEN: WHO IS THIS JESUS? (JOHN 8:12-59)
INTRO: Where did your ancestors come from? How did they get to this country?
- What is Jesus really claiming in verse 12? What is the promise? What does Jesus mean by "light" and "darkness"?
- What is at stake in this whole discussion (v. 24)? Why does everything hinge on who Jesus really is (v. 25) and who sent him (vv. 16, 18, 26, 29)?
- What does Jesus want to emphasize to the people who believed him? What does he mean by "disciples"? "Truth?" "Freedom?"
- Why does Jesus continue to address his relation with the Father?
- In reviewing vv. 12-59, what claims do the people make about Jesus? What claims does Jesus make about Himself?
- How is following Jesus like following someone with a light through a dark place?
- How do people that you know misunderstand who Jesus is? How do their lives exemplify darkness? How can you be a light-bearer to them?
- What has knowing the truth set you free to do? How can you be sure that there is room in your life for His Word? What needs to be cleaned out so there is room?
- Of the four claims Jesus makes--"Light of the World" (v. 12), "Truth" (v. 32), "Life," (v. 51) and "I Am" (v. 58)--which means the most to you and why?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: WHO IS THIS JESUS? (JOHN 8:12-59)
The scene of this argument with the Jewish authorities was in the Temple treasury, which was in the Court of the Women. The first Temple court was the Court of the Gentiles; the second was the Court of the Women. It was so called because women could not pass beyond it unless they were going to offer a sacrifice. Around the Court of the Women there was a colonnade (porch) set against the wall. Alongside this wall were thirteen treasure chests into which people dropped their offerings. They were called "The Trumpets" because they were shaped like trumpets (narrow at the top and opening large at the foot).
Each trumpet (or offering horn) had its own allotment. The first two were for half shekel offerings (an offering for the upkeep of the temple). The third and fourth trumpets were to pay for two pigeons that every woman had to buy to be purified after she gave birth. The fifth trumpet was for contributions to pay for the wood to keep the sacrificial fires going. The sixth was to cover expenses for the incense burned in the temple. The seventh trumpet held offerings towards the upkeep of the golden vessels used in various services. The additional trumpets were used for "trespass" or "thanksgiving" offerings.
The temple treasury was always a busy place. Worshippers were constantly going in and out of the area. For a rabbi looking for an audience this was the place to go.
Jesus begins his lesson by making a great claim about Himself. He is the "Light of the World." Remember the Feast of Tabernacles had just ended (John 7:37). However, the vivid ceremonies connected to this Feast remained strong in the minds of the people. On the first day of the Feast there was a special ceremony known as the "Illumination of the Temple." It took place in the Court of Women. The court was surrounded with deep galleries and special seating for spectators. In the center were four great candelabras. When darkness descended, the four structures were lit and, it was said, the blaze of light radiated throughout Jerusalem. All night long, until the rooster crowed in the morning, the greatest and wisest and holiest men in Israel danced before the Lord and sang songs of Joy and praise while the people watched. Essentially, Jesus is saying "You remember the blaze of the candelabras? Well, I'm even brighter. I don't just illuminate Jerusalem but the whole world!" Furthermore, the Light of Jesus doesn't last for just one night. It blazes eternally.
Jesus claimed to be the "light of life." The Greek can mean the light that comes from a source of life or the light which gives life. In this case, Jesus means both. He is both the Source and the Light from the Source. He's is both the sun and the "light of day."
Jesus then speaks of "following" (akolouthein) him. What does that mean? The Greek word has several meanings:
- A soldier following his captain
- A slave accompanying his master
- Following the advise of a counselor
- Following the law in a city
- Agreeing with a teacher's line of argument
Essentially to follow Jesus means all of these things. We are soldiers and slaves who obey Christ's laws and follow His counsel and teaching.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders didn't like this claim. They protested that Jesus could not make such a claim because he did not have sufficient witnesses. Jewish law demanded at least two eyewitnesses to verify a truth claim (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). Jesus answered that his own witness was enough. He also said He did have a second witness and that was God the Father. Then Jesus informed these religious leaders that they had no real knowledge of God. They were blind to the truth.
Jesus then tells these religious leaders that He's going away and they cannot follow him. And that's when they'll realize what they missed. Jesus is speaking of his ascension into heaven after his resurrection from the dead. He also tells them that if they continue to refuse Him that they will die in their sins. The word for sin (hamartia) literally means "missing the mark." It's an archer's term. These intelligent religious leaders were going to miss the mark (sin) because they misunderstood WHO JESUS WAS.
It's at this point that Jesus draws several startling contrasts. His opponents belong to the earth but Jesus is from heaven. They are of the world but He is not of the world. Essentially, Jesus is saying that this world is not our true home. There is something better for those who believe. The world (cosmos) is a broken place. It's broken because of sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin blinds us to the truth. Sin is fundamentally hostile to God. Jesus is breaking into our world to show us a different LIFE and a better LIGHT.
In John 8:31-32 Jesus outlines what a true discipleship looks like:
- Discipleship begins with belief.
- Discipleship means constantly remaining in the word of Jesus (through listening to his word and learning his word)
- Discipleship issues in knowledge of the truth. When we follow Jesus, we know real truth.
- Discipleship results in freedom from fear, self, other people and sin.
It's at this point the Jews get upset with Jesus. They claim they've never been slaves to any man, which is not true. They were slaves in Egypt. They were slaves in Babylon. Even at the moment, they're technically slaves to Rome. Of course Jesus was speaking to a different slavery: a bondage to sin. Jesus makes a veiled threat, but one the Jews would readily understand. Jesus tells them there's a difference between someone who is a son and the slave. The son is a permanent dweller in the house, the slave could be temporary.
This is where the argument turns to Abraham. The Jew considered Abraham the greatest figure in all religious history. The Jew also considered their bloodline (as a Jewish descendant of Abraham) meant they were safe and secure in the favor of God. Psalm 105:6 proclaims "O offspring of Abraham his servant, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!" The attitude of the ancient Jew is not unlike many still today who rely upon pedigree (family name) or their history (tradition) to be "safe and secure" with God.
Jesus points out that these religious leaders are doing the one thing Abraham never did: they're trying to kill the messenger. When angels visited Abraham he welcomed them, but not these Pharisees and religious leaders. They wanted to eliminate Jesus. Jesus then twists the conversation and makes a new claim: the religious leaders are not children of Israel at all, but kids of the devil (vv.. 41-45). Jesus notes two particular characteristics about Satan: 1) he's a murderer and 2) he's a liar. That's how we know the religious leaders were "of the devil." They were willing to kill and lie to keep the Truth suppressed.
The Jews countered that Jesus is the one demon-possessed and a Samaritan (vs. 48). Actually the word "Samaritan" may be a corruption of something else (because it's strange that he'd be accused of being a half-breed Jew). Perhaps that's why Jesus doesn't respond to the "Samaritan" charge (which is also strange). In the original Aramaic the word for Samaritan would be "Shomeroni." This word was also a title for the "prince of the devils" (a.k.a. Satan, devil). In the Koran, it states the Jews were were seduced into idolatry by "Shomeron, the prince of devils." Essentially what these religious leaders are saying is Jesus is a "child of the devil" and that he's mad or possessed by the Evil One.
The debate now heats to boiling point. Jesus makes claim after claim, each more tremendous than the one before. Now he states that anyone who keeps his word will not die. Jesus noted that all their leaders were dead. Abraham was dead. Their prophets were dead. But Jesus is greater than them all. He can actually stop death. Jesus then makes two additional claims:
- He claims unique knowledge of God.
- He claims unique obedience to God
This riles up the Jews even more. They point out that Jesus is still young, far younger than even a respectable "elder" (age 50+) in the Jewish community. Jesus has to be mad to claim to have "seen Abraham." The Jews, after all, had many beliefs about Abraham that informed what he was implying. The most dominant idea was that Abraham was living in a good place, secured only for the righteous awaiting resurrection at the "time of the end." Jesus will tell a story in Luke 16:22-31 about a man name Lazarus and a rich man who died and went to Hades (the land of the dead). This after world space was separated by a gulf, but evidently the gulf was small enough for people to communicate with each other across it. Was Jesus saying he saw Abraham in Hades? That's a bit strange.
The problem is in this passage it says Abraham rejoiced to Jesus' day. The word "rejoiced" is in the past tense. And that suggests a different take here. Rabbis commonly taught an idea that Abraham somehow, at sometime while he was alive, had a vision of the history of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. So when Jesus said that Abraham had seen his day, he was making a deliberate claim that he was the Messiah. He was really saying: "I am the Messiah that Abraham saw in his vision." To us these ideas are strange, but for the Jew they were quite normal, for he already believed that Abraham had seen the day the Messiah would come.
And yet, still again, the Jews protested. Jesus is still too young. He's not even at retirement age. In ancient culture an elder was any person over 50 years of age. From age 20 to 50 were the working years. After age 50, life slowed down for men and women. They were held in esteem for reaching such a high age. They were considered wise and blessed.
It's into this context that Jesus makes his boldest claim: "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus is claims to be timeless...and GOD. Only God is timeless. Jesus had a human body. A human body with a shelf life. For Jesus to use the phrase "I Am" is huge. This was the ancient name of God. God told Moses at the burning bush that His Name was "I Am."
It's why they responded by picking up stones. This was blasphemy. And blasphemy was a death sentence. No rabbi would dare claim to be God. It's the one charge that will stick. It's how they persuade Pilate to issue the execution sentence. Jesus is a blasphemer. He's not just a heretic who breaks the Sabbath. He's much, much worse.
But that's exactly what we should expect, according to Jesus, from those whose "father" is Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.
Discipleship. Fellowship. Prayer. WORSHIP.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...
"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.