Friday, April 3, 2020 -
A friend of mine in Arizona wrote me a letter which I received today. He asked me for my opinion on something perplexing him. He writes, “as in most Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching, the passage clearly identifies the particular audience that Jesus is addressing: those Jews who believed Jesus, as opposed to the crowds or as opposed to the Jewish leaders who did not believe. John 8:30-31 clearly identifies ‘many who believed in Him and then Jesus’ words to them,’ to the Jews who had believed in Him, if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ This famous statement of Jesus is usually quoted out of context since it applies only to those who are Jesus’ disciples.” So far so good.
“However, those believers who hear this teaching immediately ‘reply’ to Jesus, objecting that they are not slaves and are already the free-born children of Abraham, asking Jesus what He means by ‘set free.’
“Then Jesus replies both to them, and his back-and-forth conversation continues until Jesus accuses them of being children of Satan (John 8:44). So here is my problem. John clearly indicates that these are people who have put their faith in Jesus. Everywhere else in John and in the New Testament, such statements indicate these who truly have faith, who believe, who trust Jesus. But here, Jesus ends the conversation accusing these believers of being children of Satan. How can this be?
“I can imagine someone making an excuse for John’s report of these people’s faith, saying that perhaps their faith was not genuine. I do not see an indication of that in John 8:30-31, nor in the context of ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free,’ nor do I see an indication that the audience has changed between verse 31 and verse 44. On the contrary, the Greek clearly implies that the same people addressed in verse 31 are the people addressed in verse 44.
“In my experience, difficult passages often had a truth that is worth pursuing. I’m wondering what truth is in this one? Perhaps I am missing something? Whatever light you can shed, I’m interested.”
This is a tough one, and I thought about it for a long time before I showed the question to “W.” I came up with one idea, and he came up with another, and they are both plausible. I went back and read the entire chapter, and it appears the entire chapter takes place at the temple (John 8:20). All the scribes and Pharisees depart after Jesus calls them out in regard to the adulterous woman (verse 11), but the Pharisees are back in verse 13. However, the rest of the chapter merely refers to the Jews who are present. Whether that refers to the Pharisees alone or other Jews also at the temple is unknown. Verse 30 clearly says that as Jesus was speaking about being the light of the world, verse 12, being the son of God, verses 18-19, being not of this world and that they must believe in Him, verse 24, that means that many did, in fact, believe in Him. Jesus in verses 31 and 32 is clear in that He is addressing those who had just believed in Him. But what if it was not those who had believed but the others perhaps the Pharisees, who claim to be Abraham’s offspring and thereby free that He was now addressing after verse 32? There were both those who had believed and those who have not believed present. This is clear when in verse 48 they ask Jesus if he has a demon and question Jesus being greater than Abraham, verse 53, culminating in them actually picking up stones to throw at Jesus, verse 59. So clearly there were both believers and nonbelievers present and taking part in this back and forth conversation.
However, when I showed this to “W,” he suggested another possibility. Jesus had not yet died and come back to life, and thereby they haven’t fully come to salvation in Christ (been born again). They did not yet know the truth and the truth has not yet set them free. Many here in prison believe in Jesus, even the fact that He is the Son of God, but have never surrendered their life to Christ, repented of their sin, and excepted the salvation which comes only from their acceptance of Christ atonement for their sin.
After all, even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). But they do not stand in the truth and there is no truth in them (John 8:44). They speak lies and do not obey and certainly don’t abide in God’s word (John 8:31).
John 3:7-7 says “little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Salvation had not yet come to these Jews who believe. John 8:34 perfectly parallels the next two verses in I, John. For we go from being a slave to sin, or one who practices sin, to one who practices righteousness because of Christ’s cleansing blood.
I believe both of these explanations are very plausible. I think God for “W,” who is forcing me to look at things from a fresh and new perspective. It is amazing how in a little less than two weeks he has gained so much knowledge and scriptural insight. Nobody can tear him away from his Bible. (He says, “And they all try, too!”) Praise the Lord!