Two little boys got into an argument and started hurling insults at one another. The insults kept getting longer and longer. These two children were new at this sort of thing. Usually, this name-calling ended up in a fist fight, but one of the boys came up with an insult that was so long and so ridiculous that there was a moment of silence. The boys looked at each other, started laughing, and then went back to playing with each other again. I guess he won by an insult and the other boy conceded! It’s too bad that many little children continue to practice insulting one another and become very good at it by the time they’ve grown to adulthood.
Have you ever been insulted? Can you remember what it was like and the way you responded to it? Can you remember hearing a person say something sarcastic and then realized that it was directed at you? How did you react? The children’s saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” isn’t really true, is it? I recently overheard someone make an insulting remark in the hearing of that person and in the hearing of those around her. Later, when he tried to apologize, she wouldn’t accept it. The hurt and embarrassment were too deep and his apology was too shallow.
An insult is defined as an offensive remark meant to hurt the feelings of another person. Sarcasm is a mocking remark using statements that are usually the opposite of what the person really means. The word “insult” comes from two Latin words meaning “to leap on”. “Sarcasm” is derived from two Greek words meaning “to tear flesh”. Those are good descriptions of what it feels like inside when you’re on the receiving end of an insult or of sarcasm, aren’t they?
In this passage of Scripture, John 8:48-59, Jesus is under verbal attack because of His claims and the statements He made to the Jewish leaders. Their attitude seems to be: “If we can’t come up with any winning arguments, then let’s attack His character”. As we take a look at the words that are said to Jesus by the Jewish leaders, let’s seek to understand His responses to them. To prepare your mind for what is about to be said, think about and answer for yourself the following two questions. “What is the worst insult you can ever remember hearing or reading?” Secondly, what is the most painful insult you have ever personally received from someone else?” Have you answered both of those questions in your mind? If so, you are better prepared to understand and identify with the sequence of events in this passage of Scripture.
I. THEIR INSULTS (verse 48)
The Jewish leaders find themselves on the losing end of their conversation with Jesus. Their self-glorification, calling themselves “children of Abraham” and “children of God” got them nowhere because they didn’t fit the description. There was no spiritual resemblance between them and Abraham or God. They also could not find Jesus guilty of any sin. In their frustration, they resort to name-calling, and they are very good at it. In verse 48, the Jews say to Jesus, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon.” That statement may not mean much in this day and age but in first-century Palestine, it was probably the worst thing a Jew could say to another Jew. Either one of those descriptions is bad enough, but to put the two together is the ultimate slam. This is the only place in all four of the Gospels where the words “a Samaritan and have a demon” are used together.
Why is that expression so demeaning? They have already told Jesus that He had a demon in a previous conversation with Him in John 7. True, but this time they are saying, “You are a demon-possessed Samaritan”. The Samaritans were odious to the Jews, who considered them to be heretics because they were of mixed blood and worshipped at a different place and in different ways. The Jews looked upon them as God’s “rejects” so they despised them and would have nothing to do with them. To get the full picture, these Jews are saying to Jesus, “You’re not only rejected by God but you’re also controlled by demons! Only a demon-possessed Samaritan would dare to question our relationship to Abraham and to God!” After hurling this “mega-insult” at Jesus, I can envision the “victory-smiles” on their faces as they wait for Jesus to respond.
II. JESUS’ RESPONSE (verses 49-51)
Once again their plan failed. They expected to see Jesus lose His temper and lash out at them as they did to Him, but they were mistaken. What Jesus doesn’t say in His response to them is as noteworthy as what He says. Observe His opening words in verse 49: “Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon’.” He doesn’t say anything about the word “Samaritan”. He ignores the word or intentionally overlooks it. Why would He do such a thing? Unlike His accusers, Jesus had no hatred toward the Samaritans. He had no prejudices.
In the rest of verse 49, Jesus says, “but I honor My Father, but you dishonor Me.” His purpose for coming to this earth was not self-promotion but the salvation of all who believed in Him. Jesus was here to honor the Father, not Himself. By trying to disgrace Him, these Jews were also dishonoring the Father whom they just claimed as their own. He amplifies those words in verse 50 where He says, “But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges.” The Father’s glory and approval meant everything to the Lord Jesus Christ. What others thought of Him was immaterial. His Father would take care of His reputation and execute judgment. Based upon what we read in the rest of the New Testament, His Father certainly has and He certainly will take care of those concerns.
In verse 51, the Lord Jesus makes a confusing claim and promise. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death.” That statement must have raised some eyebrows on the faces of His listeners. It opened some mouths also, as we’ll see in the next verse. What does Jesus mean by that fantastic, illogical statement? He’s not saying that those who keep His word won’t die physically. He is saying what the apostle Paul later said in II Corinthians 5:8. The person who follows the Lord and keeps His word, when he dies he is “absent from the body . . . present with the Lord.” He does not see the consequences of unbelief – a spiritual death described as a separation from God in Hell for eternity (John 5:24; Hebrews 9:27). Rather, a believer closes his eyes for the last time on earth and opens them in the presence of the Lord in heaven. He does not see death. He sees the Lord Jesus and enjoys Him for eternity. Isn’t that a wonderful thought!
III. THEIR SARCASM (verses 52-53)
It wasn’t a wonderful thought in the minds of His listeners. They are still interpreting His words from the wrong point of view. However, those words became the fuel for more criticism on their parts. This time it’s in the form of sarcasm. They respond to Jesus by saying, “Now we know that you have a demon.” He has removed all doubt in their minds. They are saying, “Now we KNOOOOW that you are mentally deranged.” That sort of thing was attributed to demons. The sarcasm has begun! Now they explain their reason for making that statement. “Abraham died, and the prophets also; and yet You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he shall never taste of death.’ ” They are rudely throwing Jesus’ words back in His face, loudly making fun of Him for making such a ridiculous statement. “Abraham and the prophets died, and yet YOOOUUU say . . . “. If someone has ever done that to you, then you know how it hurts inside!
In verse 53 we see that Jesus’ words have also triggered a defense mechanism among these Jews. They say, “Surely You are not greater than our father, Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?” Once again they are defending Abraham and the prophets. Jesus can’t be better than them. So in our vernacular, they are saying, “Who do You think You are, anyway! How can You dare to make such statements!”
IV. JESUS’ REBUTTAL (verses 54-55)
Once again Jesus is calm and clear in His response, saying, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our Father’.” Once again He tells them that He is not seeking His own glory. Whatever earthly glory He might have was a gift from His Father. Did you catch the irony in the last half of his statement? They claimed that God was their Father yet they display no knowledge of Him or commitment to Him. The Father desires to glorify His Son, not them. They seek only to glorify themselves. In verse 55, Jesus continues to give them a taste of their own medicine. He says, “and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word.” The apostle, John, uses two different Greek words for the English word “know”, which means that Jesus must have used two different Aramaic words when speaking to them. The word that Jesus applies to them means “to begin to know” or “to make progress in knowledge”, whereas the word He applies to Himself means “complete and intimate knowledge”. He is saying to these leaders, “You haven’t even begun to know the Father, whereas I know Him personally and completely, and I obey His words.” True knowledge of the Father cannot be separated from obedience.
Can you imagine the anger that’s building up inside these Jews as they listen to Him? Jesus’ words were meant to be taken as an insult, and there is sarcasm in the wording, but every word of it is true. They have been calling Him names and now Jesus is calling them by their true name. They are liars and the Old Testament prophets would have called them by the same name. Those prophets were used by God to point out the sinfulness of the people of Israel. Here Jesus, in one of His roles as a Prophet, is being used by the Father to do the very same thing. By confronting them with their evil desires and actions, Jesus is once again giving them an opportunity to acknowledge their sin, repent, and follow Him.
V. COMPARISON WITH ABRAHAM (verses 56-58)
Now the Lord Jesus says something very mysterious in verse 56. He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” When did Abraham see Jesus? There are many possibilities. Let me give you three of them. The first time may have been when he met Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God. He gave Abram an offering of bread and wine, and Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all he had (Genesis 14:17-20). Hebrews 5:6 speaks of Jesus as ” priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” It must have been a very moving and joyous experience for Abram to respond with such generosity. In Genesis 15 the Lord appeared to Abraham in a vision. Later, in Genesis 18, three men came to Abraham to tell him that his wife, Sarah, will have a son by next year. They also told him about what was going to happen to Sodom and Gomorrah. But in chapter 19 only two angels came to Lot in Sodom. That third person may have been Jesus.
Once again, the Jewish leaders are reasoning from a physical perspective only. In verse 57 they ask, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” In their minds, they are thinking, “that’s impossible; You’re insane!” Jesus immediately responds with an amazing proclamation. In verse 58, “Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am’.” He uses God’s covenant name: Jehovah. This was God’s great name, and it was treated with the utmost reverence by the Jews. They would not speak it. Historians tell that when a scribe was copying the Scriptures and came to that name for God, he would take a new pen just to write that name. It is also said that when a public reader in the synagogue came to that name in the sacred text, he would not read it. He would bow his head in worship and the congregation, knowing that he had come to God’s special name, would bow in worship also. Jesus was saying in this verse that there had never been a time when He had not existed. He was claiming to be God.
VI. AN ATTEMPTED STONING (verse 49)
The Jews were so enraged by that statement that they ended the argument. In their minds, there was only one thing to do. They must stone Him to death. Verse 59 says, “they picked up stones to stone Him. The word “stones” means “heavy stones”. (MORE TO FOLLOW SOON)
CONSTRUCTION SITE: (A Work-In-Progress)
Welcome to this construction site: John 8:48-59. I’ve placed it on-site so that you can grab your gear and work alongside me if you would like to do so. God wants all of us to be workmen who handle accurately the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). That involves a lot of hard work but it’s well worth the effort!