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When John the Baptist bore witness that Jesus was the Christ, this should have been sufficient evidence for the religious leaders and the common people. Jesus already had two or three witnesses to prove that He was the Messiah, and so His own claim to be “the light of the world” merely confirmed the testimony of previous witnesses.
However, when men do not want to believe something, no amount of evidence is sufficient to convince them. So in John 8:13 we find the Pharisees trying to find fault with Jesus for speaking and acting as though John’s witness actually meant something. If Jesus had made claims that no other had made before Him, their criticism might have had some validity.
However, the Pharisees refused to believe John’s witness as well as the witness of the Father that was evident whenever Jesus performed a miracle. So they were unable to believe Jesus’ witness about Himself.
In John 8:17-19 Jesus says,
17 “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am He who testifies of Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies of Me.” 19 And so they were saying to Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”
Just as men were often identified according to their fathers, so also did Jesus identify Himself according to His own heavenly Father. Joseph was Jesus’ legal father, but He identified with His heavenly Father on the grounds that His mother had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit and not by any earthly man.
The Pharisees, of course, refused to believe her story, and they apparently did not believe that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Hence, they had a distorted view of the Father, which was made worse by their ambition and self-interest.
John 8:20 says,
20 These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come.
The “treasury” was the 13 corban chests in the outer court (“Court of Women”) that were popularly known as “trumpets.” These were shaped somewhat like trumpets, narrow below and wider above, into which the people placed various types of offerings. Jesus made reference to this in Matt. 6:2 when He said, “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do.” There were some who made sure that their coins made plenty of noise so that everyone would see how much they were giving.
Jesus had been teaching in the Court of Women when the Pharisees brought to Him the woman caught in adultery. We do not know how many days He spent teaching in the outer court of the temple after the end of the feast of Tabernacles.
We should also take note of the sovereignty of God in John’s statement. God had established that Christ would be “seized” (or arrested) and crucified at the feast of Passover. So regardless of the will of the religious leaders who wanted to silence Him, they were unable to carry out their will at Tabernacles. God’s will is more powerful than man’s will, and for this reason, God could prophesy centuries in advance without fear that man might cause His word to fail.
John 8:21 says,
21 Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.”
Jesus had said as much during the latter half of the feast (John 7:33, 34-36), so it appears that He continued to speak of His departure. The Pharisees, no doubt, hoped that He would either kill Himself or leave the country so that they might continue to rule and enrich themselves without hindrance. But here we have an added detail, for He told them that they would die in their sin. This is explained in next verses.
John 8:22-24 says,
22 So the Jews were saying, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come?’” 23 And He was saying to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 Therefore I said to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”
Men are either from below or from above. One’s soulish identity originates with Adam, who was made a living soul. One’s spiritual identity originates with the last Adam (Christ), who was made a life-giving spirit. 1 Cor. 15:45, 46 says,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
The Pharisees were of the earth, and their claim to their status as “sons of God” was based on their biological descent from the first Adam and also from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus, however, claimed to be from above, not having an earthly father. He was begotten from above, and so His claim as the Son of God had an entirely different basis.
We ourselves have started out as Adamic, and the soul has been our seat of consciousness and personal identity until we were begotten from above and were able to become new creatures. That is, our personal identity shifted from the mortal soul to the immortal spirit. So this is really a question of “who are you?” Are you earthly or heavenly? Those who are of the earth remain under the curse of the law that was imposed on Adam for his sin. The curse of the law is not the law itself but is the sentence of death imposed by the law of God.
Therefore, those who remain soulish will die in their sins, for such is the fate of the soul of all who claim Adam as their father. The remedy is to “believe”—to claim by faith in Christ—a new identity, so that when the soul dies, one’s identity does not die with it. Once again, the question is “who are you?”
Jesus Himself knew who He was, but the Pharisees did not recognize or acknowledge Him. They did not believe what Peter testified in Acts 4:12, saying,
12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
The revelation of the New Testament presented a Messiah that was quite different from what the religious leaders believed and taught. They were looking for a great military leader who would conquer Rome and who would feed the people with manna. To them, the promises of God were about ruling the world and having the gentiles serve them, feed them, and enrich them so that they could benefit from the labor of others. They were more concerned about their enslavement to Rome than their enslavement to their own mortal, corruptible souls.
Jesus, however, came to resolve the deeper problem that had begun with Adam’s sin. He was the only One who could do this, for that was the calling of the Messiah. It was not an easy work, for it would require Him to die on the cross to pay the penalty that the law had imposed upon Adam and all men. By believing in Him and His mission, we have opportunity to avoid the usual fate of dying in our sins.
The Greek phrase, ego eimi, translated “I am He,” is often used in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John. The phrase can be literally rendered, “I am” (where “He” is implied). It is a normal response when someone asks if you are so-and-so. In this case, the question is: “Are You the Messiah?” Jesus’ affirmation is: “I am” or “I am He,” or “I am the One.”
Some go beyond the simple meaning of this by connecting ego eimi with the “I am” in Exodus 3:14, where Yahweh identifies Himself to Moses, saying, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.” This is then taken to mean that Jesus was claiming to be the same “I AM.” This is the unitarian position taken by those who believe that Jesus is the Father Himself, essentially making Jesus to be His own Father.
The problem with that interpretation is seen in John 8:28, 29,
28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He [ego eimi], and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things 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.”
The phrase “I am” comes in the context of Christ making a clear distinction between Himself and His Father. The Son spoke what His Father taught Him. The Son was “sent.” The Son is not “alone.” The Son pleases the Father at all times. There is no supporting evidence here to interpret “I am” as if the Son were the Father Himself.
Jesus never claimed to be both Father and Son. John 1:1 makes it clear that the Logos (“Word”) was both “with the God” (pros ton theon) and “was God” or “was a God” (theos). The deity of the Logos, then, is unquestionable, and that same Logos/God “became flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus was “the only-begotten God” (John 1:18), born through Mary. He pre-existed with the Father and provided the double witness as the Amen of God by which all creation was established in accordance with the Father’s nature and will (Rev. 3:14).
In doing the works of His Father, and being in full agreement with Him, He was “one” with the Father. Hence, all that the Son did can be attributed to the Father, just as we can say that when an army wins a battle, it is the general who is given credit for the victory, even though the general may never touch a sword but only give orders to the troops.
Jesus was sent to reveal the Father and thereby bring heaven to earth. If the Trinity doctrine were so important, surely Jesus would have taught it clearly to avoid confusion and controversy. And if the Father and Son were one and the same Being, surely Jesus would not have distinguished Himself from the Father so often and so clearly.
So if one does not believe that Jesus is the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, will he then die in his sins? Must a man believe that the Son is the Father in order to be saved? I do not see it that way. Is this even a salvation issue? I do not believe so, for then very few would be saved indeed—all because Jesus was so obscure in His teaching.