11.02.19 Jn. 8:31-47
JESUS CONFRONTS THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS WITH SEVERE SARCASM
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. 36 Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. 37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill Me because My word is not welcome among you. 38 I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father; therefore, you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 “Our father is Abraham!” they replied.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” Jesus told them, “you would do what Abraham did. 40 But now you are trying to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do this! 41 You’re doing what your father does.”
“We weren’t born of sexual immorality,” they said. “We have one Father — God.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, because I came from God and I am here. For I didn’t come on My own, but He sent Me. 43 Why don’t you understand what I say? Because you cannot listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of liars. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Who among you can convict Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why don’t you believe Me? 47 The one who is from God listens to God’s words. This is why you don’t listen, because you are not from God.”
Jesus not only had a heated discussion about their relationship to the patriarch Abraham, but they saw Jesus placing Himself above Abraham (Jn. 8:53-54, 58). To them this was an abomination. They believed that since they were descendants of Abraham, they were “God’s Chosen People” and, therefore, did not need the salvation that Jesus taught. Furthermore, Jesus identified their true characteristics and pointed out the following:
- Their spiritual father is the devil that has not only has blinded them, but they also chose to remain blind. For example, they believed that exorcism was possible only through the Spirit of God, yet they claimed Jesus performed exorcisms by the power of Satan – an obvious contradiction of their own belief system.
- If they were true sons of God, they would have recognized Him as did John the Baptist (Jn. 8:41-44), but they didn’t recognize John either.
- He did not break a single law of Moses, so why were they trying to kill Him (Jn. 8:36)? Obviously their motives had nothing to do with the Mosaic Law.
- In John 8:58 Jesus finally revealed Himself with an “I am” statement, which caused an instant outrage.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If there was anything the Jewish people cherished, it was freedom. They had experienced slavery in the past and now were under political bondage. With the term freedom, came the thoughts of slavery and how to avoid it in the future.
The large number of Hebraisms found in the gospels is clearly indicative that the gospel writers thought like typical Jews. Therefore, it becomes incumbent to examine the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek words. For example, the word “truth” (Heb. emet; Gk. aletheia) has a broad band of meanings but the Hebrew includes the definition to have an understanding of the justice of God. To know and live in truth would render one free from the wrath of God. This is illustrated in many Old Testament references, such as Isaiah 42 and 61, but most prominently in Hosea 4:6 that reads, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” There the word “knowledge” means revelation knowledge that encompasses an understanding of the justice of God. Truly, there is freedom in divine truth, as it places one in right relationship with God.
“We are descendants of Abraham … and we have never been enslaved to anyone.” The leading Pharisees were so emotionally caught up in the heat of discussions that they forgot their history of slavery under the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Syrians, the torment of the Greek dictator Antiochus Epiphanes IV, and the economic slavery of the Romans. In fact, their only good leader of recent centuries was Alexandra Salome, queen of Judea (reigned 76-67 B.C.). Their prideful arrogance led them to selective recollections or denials of their past. When Jesus responded, He did not mean any particular act of sin, but the definite article the refers to a life of sin.
“We weren’t born of sexual immorality.” Now the leading Pharisees were on the offensive, implying that Jesus was an illegitimate child. This phrase was the severest sarcasm one could make. It meant not only that was Jesus born out of wedlock, but He also had no right to the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, in their reasoning, how could any son born of sin live a righteous life and preach of righteousness?
This phrase is also a classic example of a Hebraic play on words. It implied that the Jews were legitimate children of Abraham. Because God had said that the Israelites were “His Chosen People,” they felt they had no need for repentance and they were exempt from any spiritual danger. Only absolutely “pure” Israelites were assured of the messianic salvation – no “impure” blood from heathen nations would be accepted – they thought. Obviously this was not the opinion of John the Baptist or Jesus.
“You are of your father the Devil.” Jesus never applied terms such as “children of the devil” to sinners and tax collectors, but He did apply them to the leading Pharisees and Sadducees. They were so evil that Jesus referred to them as sons of Satan (and so did John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7). The reason Jesus said this was that they had become hardened against the will of God. The reason the church skewed the passage may have been for anti-Semitic reasons.
During the time of Christ, on the other hand, the School of Shammai was influential in the Jerusalem synagogues and the Sanhedrin. The two schools of biblical interpretation (Hillel and Shammai) had become immensely polarized and the Talmud essentially said that the “Torah had become two Torahs.” Some sages said that, “Whoever observed the teachings of the School of Shammai deserved death.” For example, the first century sage Dosa ben Harkinas highly criticized his brother Jonathan for a decision he made with this school concerning a levirate marriage, and for this called him “the first-born of Satan.” Essentially, the followers and disciples of the School of Shammai were accused of being the descendants or “followers of the devil.” These powerful words of Jesus appear to be out of character, but in cultural context, they were properly placed and understood in public opinion.
Jesus had His greatest opposition with the School of Shammai, although the School of Hillel also came under His scrutiny. In later years, it was from a descendant of Hillel, that his grandson Gamaliel who was the teacher of the Apostle Paul.
“Who among you can convict Me of sin?” This simple question left His critics without an answer. How they wished they could prove Him guilty of anything in the Mosaic Law, but they could not. Had their search for any evidence have been successful, they would most certainly have broadcasted it far and wide. For more than three years the religious scribes, leading Pharisees, and Sadducees had been watching His every move in great dismay.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 16, page 16.
. Because the Jews experienced slavery, thankfulness was one the tenth of their Eighteen Benedictions. Since Jesus lived in a Jewish “honor culture,” for a Jew to unjustly call another Jew “a slave,” could subject him to excommunication from the synagogue. See Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:304.
. Blizzard III, “Be Free” Yavo Digest 1:4, 15-17.
. See 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:4-8; Jn. 3:21.
. See Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-14, 19; 22:15-18.
. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 301-02.
. It is a shameful history, but so-called Christians took this passage, as well as those in Revelation 2:9, 13 and 3:19, where synagogues are referred to as Synagogues of Satan, and church leaders called all Jews, “sons of Satan.” These passages were taken grossly out of context and used for a wide variety of anti-Semitic activities for which the corporate body of the church needs to repent.
. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 88b; Falk, Jesus the Pharisee. 48, 114.
. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 11a; Falk, Jesus the Pharisee. 117.
. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 16a.
. Falk, Jesus the Pharisee. 118-19.