48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”
49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
(John 8:48-59 NIV)
John records the remainder of Jesus’ conversation with the Jews in the temple courtyard. The Jews had claimed to be Abraham’s descendants and children of God, both claims which Jesus refuted. The Jews, in their pride, take a personal shot at Jesus and imply that they are not illegitimate children like Jesus is (conceived out of wedlock, like they think Jesus was).
In today’s passage, the Jews intensify their personal attacks against Jesus by accusing Him of being demon-possessed and a Samaritan. Jesus denies being demon-possessed and ignores their racial slur of being a “Samaritan”. To be called a Samaritan was to be categorically judged, hated, abused, and justifiably treated as a second-class human by the ones making the accusations.
Jesus ignored the “Samaritan” slander because it was the Jews calling Him names, trying to dishonor and discredit Him, saying He was an evil man and in disagreement with their traditions and rites. Jesus addressed the implications of demon possession, however, as these charges reflected upon the One who had sent Jesus, i.e., God the Father. Jesus wanted to be clear that He was sent from God and not from the devil.
In verse 51, Jesus makes the last of His four promises. Let’s review:
“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)
“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 8:32 NIV)
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 NIV)
51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death. (John 8:51 NIV)
Jesus begins this final promise with His call to attention: “Very truly I tell you…” (“Verily, verily, I say unto you” [KJV]). When the Jews hear Jesus offer of eternal life, they are incredulous. They can’t believe that Jesus would say such a thing. They are thinking physical (not dying); Jesus is talking spiritual life (spending eternity in community with God). Once again, Jesus is misunderstood.
Jesus goes on to faithfully share about His calling and nature and tying back to Abraham, saying that Abraham longed to see the day when Messiah came and was glad about it. The Jews have a fit, asking Jesus how He can know Abraham when He is not even fifty years old, much less five thousand years old when Abraham was on the earth (the time frame is exaggerated, but you get the point).
At this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to the Jews by claiming to be God, existing before Abraham was even born. The Jews react according to the knowledge of God’s Law by picking up stones to kill Him for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16). John records that Jesus slips away from the crowd, implying (as he had said earlier) that Jesus’ time had not yet come.
Let us hold fast to Jesus’ promises of light, truth, freedom, and life that only He can offer. May we point others to Messiah as they search for these same things, knowing that there are many counterfeits and dead ends that the world offers, but in Christ all are found.