Read John 8:21-30.
Last week we saw Jesus attacked by the Pharisees and we looked at his three point rebuttal. (See the previous post on the book of John, The Pharisees Attack The Light Of The World) In this post Jesus addresses the Pharisees again.
Jesus says to the Pharisees: I’m going away, and you’ll seek me, but you’ll die in your sin. Where I’m going you can’t come.
The Pharisees say, sarcastically, and disdainfully: Will he kill himself? I mean, he said, ‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’ So, suicide, right? That’s what he’s talking about.
They said this sarcastically and with disdain for two reasons. 1) They disapproved of suicide. And, 2) They tried to justify themselves. They’re saying, yes, if you commit suicide then we can’t go where you go, because if you commit suicide you’ll go to hell, and us Pharisees–we’re all going to heaven. Ironically, 2,000 years later, a Harvard University study on church attendance would prove that Jesus’ followers are five times less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t follow him closely. And of course Jesus would never kill himself, he would be murdered, a victim of the same Pharisees who mocked him about suicide. (Suicide study based on frequency of church attendance greater than once per week. See Harvard University Professor Tyler VanderWeele’s Reddit AMA)
Then Jesus says: You’re from below; I’m from above. You’re of this world; I’m not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, because unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.
In Jesus’ time Jewish teachers would try to convince criminals on death row to confess their sins, repent, and believe that their death would atone for what they did. So this “dying in your sins” thing was a big deal. Your time just prior to death was your last opportunity to repent. If you died without repenting, you died in your sins. There’s a beautiful passage in Ezekiel that expresses this idea. It also speaks of God’s mercy and grace, even before Jesus’ time came. The Ezekiel passage ends with these words, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (I encourage you to check out the entire passage: Ezekiel 18:21-32.) (Keener)
Here we see Jesus saying to the Pharisees and to the crowd (and to you, and to me) that whatever you might do, unless you believe in him, unless you believe in Jesus, you will die in your sins. (Keener)
The historical and cultural context around Jesus’ statement about dying in your sins is sobering. Because I have friends who died without any evidence of a belief in Jesus. You probably do too. So I can’t help but hope somehow there’s a way for them to reconcile with Jesus after death. My prayer is that of Richard Baxter: “O God, for a full heaven and an empty hell.” (Baxter as cited in Ironside, 1920) For my friends who dismissed Jesus in this life, I want to believe that they have a second chance at salvation, after death. I badly want to believe that. But, Jesus appears to say otherwise. His statement is direct, to the point, even piercing. “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (Ironside)
And here’s the problem, in the next breath, speaking of God his Father, Jesus said, “. . . I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
So these words that seem to offer Jesus only to those who embrace him this side of death, they’re from the Father. They’re from God Himself. As he would say later, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
I don’t want to test those words. If you’re an unbeliever reading this right now, maybe it’s not coincidence. Maybe you’re supposed to be reading these words. Don’t wait. Just look to heaven and tell him right now: “Okay Jesus, I believe you’re the one God sent. I’ve made mistakes. I’m guilty. I surrender. Please save me.” If you want, you can email me after. It would be my privilege to help you any way I can. Or email if you just have questions. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So the Pharisees say: Who are you anyway?
Jesus says to them: I am who I’ve been telling you I am all along, from the beginning. I have a lot to say about you, and much to judge. But he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.
The people didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking to them about the Father.
So Jesus says: When you lift up the Son of Man, then you’ll know that I am he, and that I do nothing of my own authority, but I speak just as the Father taught me. 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.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
So Jesus is talking to the crowd and they lose him. They don’t follow him when he says, “. . . he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They don’t realize he’s talking about the Father, his Father. (John 8:27)
To help them understand he talks about when he will be lifted up on the cross. He says that when you have killed me, when you have lifted me up, on the cross, then you’ll know that I am he who was sent by God Himself. And he says again that he does nothing on his own authority, but he speaks just as the Father taught him. And he says that his Father is with him. And he says, he always does the things that are pleasing to him, to the Father.
And this crowd of cynics, the same crowd who mocked him earlier, raised no objection when he said, he always does what pleases the Father. It’s a testimony to Jesus’ love for his Father and it’s a testimony to his holiness.
So after he speaks of how he always pleases his Father, and after he speaks of them lifting him up [on the cross], verse thirty tells us it’s then that many minds and hearts in the crowd believed in him.
That’s my hope and my prayer for you. He’s been so good to me. My life without Jesus doesn’t even compare to my life with him. He’s put love inside of me that just wasn’t there before. He really is the light of my world. He can do the same for you. He can change your life.
Just ask him to and he’ll rescue you from dying in your sins.
References and Resources:
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity Press, 1993
H.A. Ironside, John: An Ironside Expository Commentary, Kregel, 2006