31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
(John 8:31-38 NIV)
As we pick up with today’s passage, Jesus continues the dialogue with those still gathered around Him as He taught in the temple courtyard. Despite the Pharisees’ constant scrutiny and attempts to discredit Jesus, John told us that many still believed in Jesus.
After the incident with the Pharisees’ foiled trap of the adulterous woman, Jesus resumed His teaching with the first of four promises:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
(John 8:12 NIV)
In today’s passage, Jesus continues with the second of the four promises:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31b-32 NIV)
Once again, some in the crowd misunderstand Jesus and react to His words. They key in on Jesus’ words of being set free and take great offense to His implication that they are in bondage. With great nationalistic pride, they reply that as Abraham’s offspring, they have never been slaves of anyone.
Jesus did not go off-topic here, but He could have. How many generations were the Israelites slaves in Egypt? And how many times was Israel overrun by marauders and taken captive because of the nation’s sin, only to have God rescue them again? And who was the sovereign state over them at this very instant? The Romans were not the cousins from out of town come to visit; they had the final say in all matters, including life and death.
Jesus skips right over the Jews’ nationalistic pride and gets to the heart of each person listening to His teaching. Jesus responds in verse 34, clarifying that He is talking about being captive to sin. Jesus is not talking about their sovereignty as a nation, but about the captivity of their hearts. Notice that Jesus uses His familiar “Pay attention!” phrase to begin verse 34: “Very truly I tell you (“Verily, Verily, I say unto you… [KJV])”
In verses 35 – 36, Jesus illustrates His point by comparing a slave to a son in the father’s eyes. The slave has no right and no inheritance while the son has both. And that is what Jesus is offering – to transform each of them (and us) from slaves of sin to sons (and daughters) of God.
In verses 37-38, Jesus acknowledges that the Jews listening to Him are indeed Abraham’s biological descendants, but their biological lineage does not automatically guarantee their free passage into heaven.
This had been the Israelites’ downfall and mistaken belief for generations – that as God’s chosen people, they had an “in” with God and eternity, and therefore, their heart (which reflected their relationship with God) and their behavior (which revealed their heart) did not matter. Jesus was addressing this generational lie that came from the pit of hell and Satan himself.
Again, Jesus called out that the Jews were trying to kill Him because they did not know the Father or the Son whom the Father had sent. Jesus acknowledged their common biological ancestry but again brought the conversation around to their spiritual lineage, the matter of their hearts’ allegiance to God the Father and Himself as the Son. Jesus was reflecting His Father’s heart and message, and they were revealing their father’s heart.
So what are the faith lessons here today?
- The first thing is that Jesus offers freedom from the enslavement of sin. No one or nothing else can provide that kind of liberty, the freedom of the heart and soul that carries over from this life to the next in eternity.
- The second thing is like the Israelites, the world is looking in all the wrong places for freedom. As followers of Christ, we must keep our heart allegiance to Christ, and not look to human institutions such as a political party, a country, a government, or even our association with a denomination or church to provide us ultimate freedom from sin that only Christ can and does offer.
May we experience the real freedom that Christ offers, and not accept any substitutes or cheap imitations that promise everything but deliver less than what Christ offers.