In part 2 of John 8, Jesus delineates for us the difference between a disciple and a mere follower. Being a true disciple of Jesus is not about learning doctrine or becoming a master of theological truth. Being a disciple has to do with embracing the rigors of walking with Jesus and remaining in a posture of ongoing expectancy of His unfolding glory in our lives on a moment by moment basis.
[John 8:31-59 KJV] 31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 33 They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? 34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: [but] the Son abideth ever. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. 37 I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. 38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. 41 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God. 42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43 Why do ye not understand my speech? [even] because ye cannot hear my word. 44 Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell [you] the truth, ye believe me not. 46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47 He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear [them] not, because ye are not of God. 48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? 49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? 54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad. 57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. 59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
In v. 31 of John 8, Jesus addresses those who are considered to have believed in Him, regarding the difference between being a follower and being a disciple. If we are to be His disciples, then He expects us to continue in His word. What does this mean? The word Jesus uses for disciple means to be a pupil, a learner. This is a challenge because if we are to consider ourselves as knowing something about the things of God then we place ourselves not as learners but teachers. You only need to learn that which you do not know. In a religious system where knowledge is the core value and often considered the basis of salvation, it is then very difficult to say in your heart or to others that you don’t know something. Yet unless we consider ourselves as being in possession of knowledge then we exclude ourselves from needing to learn and thence by Jesus’ definition cannot be His disciples. For instance, what if we say we do not know the doctrine of the Trinity? In much of Christian culture, this is considered the difference between a true believer and a heretic. What about the other core doctrines of Christianity? There are as many and varied as the 1000’s of denominations and groups that make up Christian culture. Christianity organizes itself around that which it knows and not that which it questions.
Are you more comfortable with your questions than you are with everyone else’s answers? The kind of questioning that makes one a disciple has nothing to do with skepticism, however. When Jesus says we must CONTINUE in His word to be His disciple, that word continue means to “remain in expectancy.” What would be the expectancy that Jesus’ hearers would have understood that to be? They are described in other passages as those who waited on the Consolation of Israel, those who waited on and looked for the Messiah. Jesus is representing Himself as the Messiah but so much more than a Messiah. He is saying to the people that His mission is much more than a nationalistic campaign, or a platform of political reform in the nation. He is coming to strike a blow at the existential threat of sin itself with a view toward destroying the very power of death and rendering open a door in Himself for men to recover themselves to a pre-Edenic state. It is too much for many of His followers to swallow and they challenge Him on this.
In v. 32, Jesus says that only by remaining in expectancy and being a pupil and not a master of truth could they ever actually come to know the truth. Knowing the truth is important because only by knowing the truth can one be made free. The Jews took this as referring to political freedom or liberty and object to Jesus’ words, insisting that they have never been in bondage to any man. This of course was a lie, for all the nation of the Jews was under the jackboot of the Roman occupation and in fact, in their history, had been a conquered people over the course of many centuries. How then could they say they were free and had never been in servitude to any man? They had shifted the definition of what that freedom entailed. The church does the same thing, when they read about the promise of temporal blessing or good health in the scripture and they say “well, that applies not to physical health or natural wealth, but to spiritual, esoteric blessings…” They then go on to build doctrinal objections to seeing things any other way than they choose by denouncing any who do not agree with them as heretics.
Jesus declares that He is not merely purposing to reform their society but to deliver them from the very bondage of sin that was brought about by Adam’s disobedience. He tells them that their servitude was not only to the Romans but that they are servants of sin, and as servants of sin (v. 35), they will not be allowed to abide in the house or be beneficiaries of the kingdom of God forever. We know that the scripture says that God reigns on the just and on the unjust, but He will not allow those who shake their fist in His face to be the recipients of His temporal clemency forever. As it was in the days of Noah, God’s Spirit will not always strive with man. Unless we are somehow rendered into a state of sonship we will, all of us at some point or another be excluded from the economy of God with disastrous and eternal consequences. Jesus’ invitation is that of a promise (v. 36) to make us free. Therefore, if the truth makes us free and the Son makes us free, then the truth and the Son are one and the same thing. Our truth is not a dogma, our truth is a person and His name is Jesus.
If our truth is not a dogma, but rather is something of an esoteric substance denoting our union and communion spiritually with the Son of God Himself, then one of the great freedoms is that we can loosen our hold on our finite understanding of orthodoxy and actually become learners and pupils at the feet of Jesus. We can rejoice in what we do not know, because He will teach us and we can learn. If your salvation is based upon any doctrine other than the core value of knowing that there is one God and one mediator between God and Man (Jesus Christ the Righteous), if there is any other idea regarding what brings about salvation, then you can never dare to speculate or inquire or learn, because your eternal salvation is based upon it. If however, your salvation is based upon a living relationship with Jesus, you can now become true learners, pupils and disciples, and as disciples receive the power to become not mere servants but sons in the kingdom of our Father.
Because of the scandal of what Jesus is saying to them regarding their status as children of Abraham, Jesus reveals that He is aware they intend to kill Him. Remember that moments ago these were those who believed on Jesus (v. 31) but now, because He has confronted them something has changed, and they are now a mixed multitude of believers and unbelievers. They were willing to believe in Him on their own terms but not on the terms that He has now made clear to them. If they must believe in Him as not only a political reformer but one who saves from sin, on whom all eternity in heaven or hell hinges, then they are offended to the point of seeking to take His life.
Because Jesus has relegated them to the status of servants and not sons, they object, saying that they are in fact Abraham’s children. Jesus simply responds that if they were Abraham’s children they would do the works of Abraham, that is to believe on Him. They then show their true scorn (v. 41) in bringing up His questionable parentage and the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy before marriage to Joseph. If they cannot overcome His wisdom they will impugn His person as is the case of any who cannot defeat the wisdom of the just and resort to petty accusations and insults. Jesus simply denounces them as not being true children of God or of Abraham but children of the devil himself, because the devil was a murderer from the beginning and they have murder in their hearts. Isn’t that the way of it even today when Christians get into harsh disagreements and start suggesting that the other party is going to suffer sickness or even death because they don’t agree with them? This unfortunately is very common among fundamentalist and evangelical people when such disputes arise.
The Jews are further incited, calling Jesus a devil and a Samaritan (perhaps to them a worse thing) and Jesus asks them who would convict Him of sin? He knew His own heart, and His purity before God, therefore could freely make such a statement. Today, we have so clouded the whole issue of sin that many would consider themselves as not being sinful because we live in a narcissistic society where right and wrong are matters of total subjective consideration based on the whim of the individual. Anticipating that they will accuse Him of lauding His own purity, Jesus declares that His testimony is not about seeking His own glory but always about seeking the glory of the Father. The tension is no doubt palpable, but Jesus presses His point, saying if they would choose to believe His words they would in fact not only be delivered from sin but NEVER SEE DEATH. Of course, theologians instantly equivocate, saying that Jesus is not talking about natural death but about spiritual death. Why do they do this? Because they can’t see a scenario where anyone does anything other than die. But Jesus’ statement is very plain. There is an aspect of belief in Jesus that will be arrived at by the final generation of man upon the earth that will actually not only lift them out of sin but cause them by their faith in Christ to conquer death itself and walk into their immortality. It is very unlikely that there will be anything about this generation that will be recognizable by Christian culture as we know it, but the testimony of scripture is sure, it will happen one day. This is the testimony of Revelations chapter 12.
The Jews indignation becomes white hot and now they are absolutely sure Jesus is possessed of a devil, because they have no connection or agreement in themselves with anything He is saying. In other words, we vilify and demonize any who do not agree with us. This is the character of one who knows nothing of being a disciple. Jesus retorts to them that they claimed to originate in Abraham, but they hated Him, though Abraham saw His day by prophetic insight and rejoiced. The Jews don’t understand this and question Him to which He gives the finality of His answer “before Abraham was I AM”. They cannot take it any longer and take up stones to stone Him, but He blinds their eyes and evades out of their midst.