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John 8:25-27 says,
25 So they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning? 26 I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father.
When John the Baptist began his ministry, the people wanted him to identify himself. John said he was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23). In other words, he was fulfilling one of Isaiah’s prophecies. It seemed that the people demanded prophets to testify about themselves. Yet when Jesus claimed to be the Son sent by the Father, the religious leaders claimed that His witness was not true because He was testifying about Himself!
The entire question centered around the circumstances of His virgin birth, but the people misunderstood. Apparently, Jesus did not try to explain to them how He had been begotten supernaturally by the Holy Spirit, nor why He had been called Jesus, or Yeshua (“salvation”). The angel said He was to be called Jesus (Yeshua), because He was to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20, 21).
Because the people misunderstood, Jesus covertly explained to them in John 8:28, 29 that they would know after He was lifted up—in other words, after His crucifixion. But again, He did not tell them what that meant. Perhaps they thought He meant acceptance and exaltation to a position of authority. While that assumption was partially true, John 12:33 says that this language indicated what kind of death He would die—i.e., being lifted up on the cross.
The main thrust of Jesus’ message is summarized in John 8:28, 29, where Jesus stated clearly that He had been sent by the Father, that He spoke only what He heard His Father say, and that the Father “has not left Me alone.” From this, we can derive not only His identity and mission but also the distinction between Father and Son.
It appears that Jesus won over many that were listening to Him, for John 8:30 says,
30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.
Jesus then told these new believers how to strengthen their faith. John 8:31, 32 says,
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Faith is always tested, not so that God knows for sure if it is real but so that we may know whether our faith is real. Knowing the truth is more than having an understanding of historical facts. As we will see later in John 14:6, Jesus is Truth personified. This is the particular truth that sets men free in the ultimate sense, because no one is truly free unless he has been set free from the curse of Adam’s sin that put the whole creation in bondage. Paul says in Rom. 8:20, 21,
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
To gain such freedom requires genuine faith in Jesus Christ, who is Truth personified. One gains such freedom, not by understanding the principles of slavery to Mystery Babylon, but by knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Peter received that revelation (Matt. 16:16).
To “abide in My word” means to dwell or live one’s life according to that truth. It also implies enduring through the tests that would seek to destroy that faith.
John 8:33 continues,
33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
This was an objection from the religious leaders, not from those who actually believed in Him. No doubt they were claiming that they were not part of the class of slaves who were numerous in those days throughout the empire. While that was an obvious fact, it was equally obvious that as a people, they were slaves of Rome. But the religious leaders did not understand that Jesus was speaking of inner slavery to sin and corruption, which was the root cause of their captivity to the four beast empires in Daniel 7.
John 8:34 says,
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
The law commands that if a man sins, he becomes a debtor, for sin is reckoned as a debt. If the debt is greater than his assets, he must be “sold” as a slave (Exodus 22:3). So also, in all of Israel’s captivities in the time of the Judges, God “sold” them into the hands of foreign nations (Judges 3:8; 4:2). Sin brings slavery. Jesus came to set us free from slavery.
John 8:35, 36 says,
35 The slave does not remain [as a slave] in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
The law does not demand perpetual slavery. Exodus 21:2 says,
2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
In other words, if a man sinned and incurred a debt he could not pay, he was to be sold as a slave. Nonetheless, the debtor was to be set free in the Sabbath year.
But if his sin was great and the judge had sentenced him to a longer time of slavery, the debtor was to return to his master after the Sabbath year to continue working for him. It was only in the year of Jubilee that the man’s debt was fully cancelled so that he could be truly free.
But Jesus was referring specifically to a situation where a debtor (slave) had reached the end of his sentence prior to the Jubilee. He was to be set free. In this way, the freed slave differed from the son in the household. Slaves do not remain in the house forever, but sons do.
The law, however, makes it possible for a freed slave to attain the status of sons. If the freed slave wishes to return voluntarily on account of his love for his master, he may do so. Exodus 21:6 says,
6 Then his master shall bring him to God [the judges representing God], then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
Like a son, the voluntary slave also remains in the house permanently—not because he was forced to do so, but because he loves his master. Obviously, biblical slavery, when done by the mind of God, was not oppressive. The master took responsibility to set his slave free from his old ways of sin and into a life of spiritual maturity and lawful behavior.
As with all of the laws of God, this law prophesied of Christ and His mission. Jesus is the Door (John 10:9), When our ears are opened, we hear His voice. When our ears are nailed to the door, we are joined with His household. Hence, “if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Such free men remain in God’s house permanently and are treated as “friends” and even “sons.”
Jesus then responded to the Jews’ claim as “Abraham’s descendants.” He says in John 8:37, 38,
37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your Father.
The religious leaders taught that the Jews were Abraham’s children by genealogy, and Jesus acknowledged this. However, there was a deeper principle at work, because it was well recognized that the idea of a “son” was more than genealogical. Enlightened ones were “sons of light” (John 12:36); James and John were bold “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17); wisdom had children (Luke 7:35); and, of course, there were children of Abraham. Gal. 3:7 says that those who follow the example of Abraham, the father of faith, are his true sons.
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
So the dispute is between those who claim genealogical sonship and those who claim sonship by adopting the faith that characterized Father Abraham. Which factor makes a true son?
Jesus answered this in John 8:39-41,
39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the deeds of your father….”
True sons of Abraham are those who follow His example of faith, which comes by hearing the truth. Faith and truth come from the same Hebrew root word, aman. In other words, one cannot claim to be a son of Abraham unless he hears and believes the truth that Jesus spoke. The religious leaders refused to hear and instead wanted to kill Jesus. So from God’s perspective, they were not sons of Abraham at all, regardless of their genealogical connection to him.
The Jews objected in John 8:41,
41 … They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.”
This suggests that the religious leaders had investigated the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. They did not believe Mary’s story, nor did they believe Joseph’s revelation in his dream (Matt. 1:20). So they implied that Jesus Himself had been “born of fornication.” The circumstances surrounding their own births were better than the manner in which Jesus was born. They still clung to their natural birth from Abraham (and back to Adam) as the basis of their claim as sons of “one Father, even God.”
Jesus did not accept their answer. John 8:42-45 says,
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father, the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.
The problem was not that the religious leaders were descended from Cain, the first murderer. The problem was that they were inspired by the same “devil.” Their works were the same, and their lack of hearing was the same.
Some have taken Jesus’ statements as proof of their genealogy, but Jesus was not arguing about their genealogy. In fact, He said that physical genealogy was not the issue. The issue was their deeds and who they were imitating. Their lack of faith proved they were not Abraham’s children. Their murderous hatred proved that they were not sons of God but sons of the devil.
So we see that the question of “Who are You” was not only about establishing who Jesus’ Father was, but also about identifying the father of the religious leaders who had rejected His word of truth. The underlying problem, of course, is the fact that those begotten of Adamic, natural seed are born mortal and corruptible, whereas those who are begotten by the Holy Spirit are children of God.
And only such children have been truly set free.