Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
Mount of Olives - The mountain about a mile directly east of Jerusalem. See the notes at Matthew 21:1. This was the place in which he probably often passed the night when attending the feasts at Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane, to which he was accustomed to resort John 18:2, was on the western side of that mountain, and Bethany, the abode of Martha and Mary, on its east side, John 11:1.
And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
Moses in the law ... - The punishment of adultery commanded by Moses was death, Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22. The particular manner of the death was not specified in the law. The Jews had themselves, in the time of Christ, determined that it should be by stoning. See this described in the notes at Matthew 21:35, Matthew 21:44. The punishment for adultery varied. In some cases it was strangling. In the time of Ezekiel EZechariah 16:38-40 it was stoning and being thrust through with a sword. If the adulteress was the daughter of a priest, the punishment was being burned to death.
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
Tempting him - Trying him, or laying a plan that they might have occasion to accuse him. If he decided the case, they expected to be able to bring an accusation against him; for if he decided that she ought to die, they might accuse him of claiming power which belonged to the Romans - the power of life and death. They might allege that it was not the giving an opinion about an abstract case, but that she was formally before him, that he decided her case judicially, and that without authority or form of trial. If he decided otherwise, they would have alleged that he denied the authority of the law, and that it was his intention to abrogate it. They had had a controversy with him about the authority of the Sabbath, and they perhaps supposed that he would decide this case as he did that - against them. It may be further added that they knew that Jesus admitted publicans and sinners to eat with him; that one of their charges was that he was friendly to sinners (see Luke 15:2); and they wished, doubtless, to make it appear that he was gluttonous, and a winebibber, and a friend of sinners, and disposed to relax all the laws of morality, even in the case of adultery. Seldom was there a plan more artfully laid, and never was more wisdom and knowledge of human nature displayed than in the manner in which it was met.
Wrote on the ground - This took place in the temple. The "ground," here, means the pavement, or the dust on the pavement. By this Jesus showed them clearly that he was not solicitous to pronounce an opinion in the case, and that it was not his wish or intention to intermeddle with the civil affairs of the nation.
As though he heard them not - This is added by the translators. It is not in the original, and should not have been added. There is no intimation in the original, as it seems to be implied by this addition, that the object was to convey the impression that he did not hear them. What was his object is unknown, and conjecture is useless. The most probable reason seems to be that he did not wish to intermeddle; that he designed to show no solicitude to decide the case; and that he did not mean to decide it unless he was constrained to.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
They continued asking him - They pressed the question upon him. They were determined to extort an answer from him, and showed a perseverance in evil which has been unhappily often imitated.
Is without sin - That is, without this particular sin; he who has not himself been guilty of this very crime - for in this place the connection evidently demands this meaning.
Let him first cast a stone at her - In the punishment by death, one of the witnesses threw the culprit from the scaffold, and the other threw the first stone, or rolled down a stone to crush him. See Deuteronomy 17:6-7. This was in order that the witness might feel his responsibility in giving evidence, as he was also to be the executioner. Jesus therefore put them to the test. Without pronouncing on her case, he directed them, if any of them were innocent, to perform the office of executioner. This was said, evidently, well knowing their guilt, and well knowing that no one would dare to do it.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Beginning at the eldest - As being conscious of more sins, and, therefore, being desirous to leave the Lord Jesus. The word "eldest" here probably refers not to age, but to benefit - from those who were in highest reputation to the lowest in rank. This consciousness of crime showed that the state of the public morals was exceedingly corrupt, and justified the declaration of Jesus that it was an adulterous and wicked generation, Matthew 16:4.
Alone - Jesus only was left with the woman, etc.
In the midst - Her accusers had gone out, and left Jesus and the woman; but it is by no means probable that the people had left them; and, as this was in the temple on a public occasion, they were doubtless surrounded still by many. This is evident from the fact that Jesus immediately John 8:12 addressed a discourse to the people present.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
Hath no man condemned thee? - Jesus had directed them, if innocent, to cast a stone, thus to condemn her, or to use the power which he gave them to condemn her. No one of them had done that. They had accused her, but they had not proceeded to the act expressive of judicial condemnation.
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Neither do I condemn thee - This is evidently to be taken in the sense of judicial condemnation, or of passing sentence as a magistrate, for this was what they had arraigned her for. It was not to obtain his opinion about adultery, but to obtain the condemnation of the woman. As he claimed no civil authority, he said that he did not exercise it, and should not condemn her to die. In this sense the word is used in the previous verse, and this is the only sense which the passage demands. Besides, what follows shows that this was his meaning.
Go, and sin no more - You have sinned. You have been detected and accused. The sin is great. But I do not claim power to condemn you to die, and, as your accusers have left you, my direction to you is that you sin no more. This passage therefore teaches us:
1. that Jesus claimed no civil authority.
2. that he regarded the action of which they accused her as sin.
3. that he knew the hearts and lives of men.
4. that men are often very zealous in accusing others of that of which they themselves are guilty. And,
5. that Jesus was endowed with wonderful wisdom in meeting the devices of his enemies, and eluding their deep-laid plans to involve him in ruin.
It should be added that this passage, together with the last verse of the preceding chapter, has been by many critics thought to be spurious. It is wanting in many of the ancient manuscripts and versions, and has been rejected by Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Grotius, Wetstein, Tittman, Knapp, and many others. It is not easy to decide the question whether it be a genuine part of the New Testament or not. Some have supposed that it was not written by the evangelists, but was often related by them, and that after a time it was recorded and introduced by Papias into the sacred text.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.
Thou bearest record of thyself - Thou art a witness for thyself, or in thy own case. See John 5:31. The law required two witnesses in a criminal case, and they alleged that as the only evidence which Jesus had was his own assertion, it could not be entitled to belief.
Is not true - Is not worthy of belief, or is not substantiated by sufficient evidence.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.
Jesus answered ... - To this objection Jesus replied by saying, first, that the case was such that his testimony alone ought to be received; and, secondly, that he had the evidence given him by his Father. Though, in common life, in courts, and in mere human transactions, it was true that a man ought not to give evidence in his own case, yet in this instance, such was the nature of the case that his word was worthy to be believed.
My record - My evidence, my testimony.
Is true - Is worthy to be believed.
For I know whence I came ...but ye ... - I know by what authority I act; I know by whom I am sent, and what commands were given me; but you cannot determine this, for you do not know these unless I bear witness of them to you. We are to remember that Jesus came not of himself John 6:38; that he came not to do his own will, but the will of his Father. He came as a witness of those things which he had seen and known John 3:11, and no man could judge of those things for no man had seen them. As he came from heaven; as he knew his Father's will; as he had seen the eternal world, and known the counsels of his Father, so his testimony was worthy of confidence. As they had not seen and known these things, they were not qualified to judge. An ambassador from a foreign court knows the will and purposes of the sovereign who sent him, and is competent to bear witness of it. The court to which he is sent has no way of judging but by his testimony, and he is therefore competent to testify in the case. All that can be demanded is that he give his credentials that he is appointed, and this Jesus had done both by the nature of his doctrine and his miracles.
Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.
After the flesh - According to appearance; according to your carnal and corrupt mode; not according to the spiritual nature of the doctrines. By your preconceived opinions and prejudices you are determined not to believe that I am the Messiah.
I judge no man - Jesus came not to condemn the world, John 3:17. They were in the habit of judging rashly and harshly of all; but this was not the purpose or disposition of the Saviour. This expression is to be understood as meaning that he judged no one after their manner; he did not come to censure and condemn men after the appearance, or in a harsh, biased, and unkind manner.
And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
And yet, if I judge - If I should express my judgment of men or things. He was not limited, nor forbidden to do it, nor restrained by any fear that his judgment would be erroneous.
My judgment is true - Is worthy to be regarded.
For I am not alone - I concur with the Father who hath sent me. His judgment you admit would be right, and my judgment would accord with his. He was commissioned by his Father, and his judgment would coincide with all that God had purposed or revealed. This was shown by the evidence that God gave that he had sent him into the world.
It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.
In your law - Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15. Compare Matthew 18:16. This related to cases in which the life of an individual was involved. Jesus says that if, in such a case, the testimony of two men were sufficient to establish a fact, his own testimony and that of his Father ought to be esteemed ample evidence in the case of religious doctrine.
Two men - If two men could confirm a case, the evidence of Jesus and of God ought not to be deemed insufficient.
Is true - In Deuteronomy, "established." This means the same thing. It is confirmed; is worthy of belief.
I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
I am one that bear witness of myself - In human courts a man is not allowed to bear witness of himself, because he has a personal interest in the case, and the court could have no proof of the impartiality of the evidence; but in the case of Jesus it was otherwise. When one has no party ends to serve; when he is willing to deny himself; when he makes great sacrifices; and when, by his life, he gives every evidence of sincerity, his own testimony may be admitted in evidence of his motives and designs. This was the case with Jesus and his apostles. And though in a legal or criminal case such testimony would not be admitted, yet, in an argument on moral subjects, about the will and purpose of him who sent him, it would not be right to reject the testimony of one who gave so many proofs that he came from God.
The Father ...beareth witness of me - By the voice from heaven at his baptism Matthew 3:17, and by the miracles which Jesus performed, as well as by the prophecies of the Old Testament. We may here remark:
1. that there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. They are both represented as bearing testimony; yet,
2. They are not divided. They are not different beings. They bear testimony to the same thing, and are one in counsel, in plan, in essence, and in glory.
Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.
Where is thy Father? - This question was asked, doubtless, in derision. Jesus had often given them to understand that by his Father he meant God, John 5:6; They professed to be ignorant of this, and probably looked round in contempt for his Father, that he might adduce him as a witness in the case.
If ye had known me ... - If you had listened to my instructions, and had received me as the Messiah, you would also, at the same time, have been acquainted with God. We may here observe,
1. The manner in which Jesus answered them. He gave no heed to their cavil; he was not irritated by their contempt; he preserved his dignity, and gave them an answer worthy of the Son of God.
2. We should meet the cavils and sneers of sinners in the same manner. We should not render railing for railing, but "in meekness instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth," 2 Timothy 2:25.
3. The way to know God is to know Jesus Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him," John 1:18. No sinner can have just views of God but in Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:6.
These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
The treasury - See the notes at Matthew 21:12.
His hour was not yet come - The time for him to die had not yet arrived, and God restrained them, and kept his life. This proves that God has power over wicked men to control them, and to make them accomplish his own purposes.
Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
I go my way - See the notes at John 7:33.
Ye shall die in your sins - That is, you will seek the Messiah; you will desire his coming, but the Messiah that you expect will not come; and, as you have rejected me, and there is no other Saviour, you must die in your sins. You will die unpardoned, and as you did not seek me where you might find me, you cannot come where I shall be. Observe:
1. All those who reject the Lord Jesus must die unforgiven. There is no way of pardon but by him. See the notes at Acts 4:12.
2. There will be a time when sinners will seek for a Saviour but will find none. Often this is done too late, in a dying moment, and in the future world they may seek a deliverer, but not be able to find one.
3. Those who reject the Lord Jesus must perish. Where he is they cannot come. Where he is is heaven. Where he is not, with his favor and mercy, there is hell; and the sinner that has no Savior must be wretched forever.
Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
Will he kill himself? - It is difficult to know whether this question was asked from ignorance or malice. Self-murder was esteemed then, as it is now, as one of the greatest crimes; and it is not improbable that they asked this question with mingled hatred and contempt. "He is a deceiver; he has broken the law of Moses; he is mad, and it is probable he will go on and kill himself." If this was their meaning, we see the wonderful patience of Jesus in enduring the contradiction of sinners; and as he bore contempt without rendering railing for railing, so should we.
And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
Ye are from beneath - The expression from bequeath, here, is opposed to the phrase from above. It means, You are of the earth, or are influenced by earthly, sensual, and corrupt passions. You are governed by the lowest and vilest views and feelings, such as are opposed to heaven, and such as have their origin in earth or in hell.
I am from above - From heaven. My views are heavenly, and my words should have been so interpreted.
Ye are of this world - You think and act like the corrupt men of this world.
I am not of this world - My views are above these earthly and corrupt notions. The meaning of the verse is: "Your reference to self-murder shows that you are earthly and corrupt in your views. You are governed by the mad passions of men, and can think only of these." We see here how difficult it is to excite wicked men to the contemplation of heavenly things. They interpret all things in a low and corrupt sense, and suppose all others to be governed as they are themselves.
I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
That I am he - That I am the Messiah.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
Who art thou? - As Jesus did not expressly say in the previous verse that he was the Messiah, they professed still not to understand him. In great contempt, therefore, they asked him who he was. As if they had said, "Who art thou that undertakest to threaten us in this manner!" When we remember that they regarded him as a mere pretender from Galilee; that he was poor and without friends; and that he was persecuted by those in authority, we cannot but admire the patience with which all this was borne, and the coolness with which he answered them.
Even the same ... - What he had professed to them was that he was the light of the world; that he was the bread that came down from heaven; that he was sent by his Father, etc. From all this they might easily gather that he claimed to be the Messiah. He assumed no new character; he made no change in his professions; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and as he had once professed to be the light of the world, so, in the face of contempt, persecution, and death, he adhered to the profession.
The beginning - From his first discourse with them, or uniformly.
I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
I have many things to say - There are many things which I might say to reprove and expose your pride and hypocrisy. By this he implied that he understood well their character, and that he was able to expose it. This, indeed, he had shown them in his conversations with them.
And to judge of you - To reprove in you. There are many things in you which I might condemn.
But he that sent we is true - Is worthy to be believed, and his declarations about men are to be credited. The meaning of this verse may be thus expressed: "I have indeed many things to say blaming or condemning you. I have already said many such things, and there are many more that I might say; but I speak only those things which God has commanded. I speak not of myself I come to execute his commission, and he is worthy to be heard and feared. Let it not be thought, therefore, that my judgment is rash or harsh. It is such as is commanded by God."
They understood not that he spake to them of the Father.
They understood not - They knew not, or they were unwilling to receive him as a messenger from God. They doubtless understood that he meant to speak of God, but they were unwilling to acknowledge that he really came from God.
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
When ye have lifted up - When you have crucified. See John 3:14 note; also John 12:32 note.
The Son of man - See the notes at Matthew 8:19-20.
Then shall ye know - Then shall you have evidence or proof.
That I am he - Am the Messiah, which I have professed to be.
And that I do nothing of myself - That is, you shall have proof that God has sent me; that I am the Messiah; and that God concurs with me and approves my doctrine. This proof was furnished by the miracles that attended the death of Jesus - the earthquake and darkness; but chiefly by his resurrection from the dead, which proved, beyond a doubt, that he was what he affirmed he was - the Messiah.
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
Is with me - In working miracles, etc.
Hath not left me alone - Though men had forsaken and rejected him, yet God attended him.
Those things that please him - See Matthew 3:17; "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," Philippians 2:8; Isaiah 53:10-12; 2 Peter 1:17; Luke 3:22; Matthew 17:5. His undertaking the work of redemption was pleasing to God, and he had the consciousness that in executing it he did those things which God approved. It is a small matter to have men opposed to us, if we have a conscience void of offence, and evidence that we please God. Compare Hebrews 11:5; "Enoch - before his translation had this testimony that he pleased God." See also 1 Corinthians 4:3.
As he spake these words, many believed on him.
Many believed on him - Such was the convincing nature and force of the truths which he presented, that they believed he was the Messiah and received his doctrine. While there were many that became more obstinate and hardened under his preaching, there were many, also, who by the same truth were made penitent and believing. "The same sun that hardens the clay, softens the wax" (Clarke).
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
If ye continue in my word - If you continue to obey my commandments and to receive my doctrines.
Then are ye ... - This is the true test of Christian character. John 14:21; "he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." See John 2:4; John 3:24; 2 John 1:6. In this place Jesus cautions them against too much confidence from their present feelings. They were just converted - converted by a single sermon. They had had no time to test their faith. Jesus assures them that if their faith should abide the test, if it should produce obedience to his commandments and a truly life, it would be proof that their faith was genuine, for the tree is known by its fruit. So we may say to all new converts, Do not repress your love or your joy, but do not be too confident. Your faith has not yet been tried, and if it does not produce a holy life it is vain, James 2:17-26.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Shall know the truth - See the notes at John 7:17.
The truth shall make you free - The truth here means the Christian religion. Compare Galatians 3:1; Colossians 1:6. The doctrines of the true religion shall make you free - that is, it will free you from the slavery of evil passions, corrupt propensities, and grovelling views. The condition of a sinner is that of a captive or a slave to sin. He is one who serves and obeys the dictates of an evil heart and the promptings of an evil nature, Romans 6:16-17; "Ye were the servants of sin;" - Romans 6:19; "Ye have yielded your members servants unto iniquity;" - Romans 6:20; Romans 7:6, Romans 7:8,Romans 7:11; Romans 8:21; Acts 8:23; "Thou art in the - bond of iniquity;" Galatians 4:3, Galatians 4:9. The effect of the gospel is to break this hard bondage to sin and to set the sinner free. We learn from this that religion is not slavery or oppression. It is true freedom.
"He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside." - Cowper.
The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
They answered him - Not those who believed on him, but some who stood by and heard him.
We be Abraham's seed - We are the children or descendants of Abraham. Abraham was not a slave, and they pretended that they were his real descendants, inheriting his freedom as well as his spirit. They meant that they were the direct descendants of Abraham by Isaac, his heir. Ishmael, also Abraham's son, was the son of a bondwoman Galatians 4:21-23, but they were descended in a direct line from the acknowledged heir of Abraham.
Were never in bondage to any, man - This is a most remarkable declaration, and one evidently false. Their fathers had been slaves in Egypt; their nation had been enslaved in Babylon; it had repeatedly been subject to the Assyrians; it was enslaved by Herod the Great; and was, at the very time they spoke, groaning under the grievous and insupportable bondage of the Romans. But we see here:
1. That Jesus was right when he said John 8:44, "Ye are of your father the devil; he is a liar, and the father of it."
2. People will say anything, however false or ridiculous, to avoid and oppose the truth.
3. People groaning under the most oppressive bondage are often unwilling to acknowledge it in any manner, and are indignant at being charged with it. This is the case with all sinners.
4. Sin, and the bondage to sin, produces passion, irritation, and a troubled soul; and a person under the influence of passion regards little what he says, and is often a liar.
5. There is need of the gospel. That only can make people free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and since every person is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
Whosoever committeth sin ... - In this passage Jesus shows them that he did not refer to political bondage, but to the slavery of the soul to evil passions and desires.
Is the servant - Is the slave of sin. He is bound to it as a slave is to his master.
And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
The servant abideth not ... - The servant does not, of course, remain forever, or until his death. with his master. If he is disobedient and wicked, the master sells him or turns him away. He is not the heir, and may at any time be expelled from the house of his master. But a son is the heir. He cannot be in this manner cast off or sold. He is privileged with the right of remaining in the family. This takes place in common life. So said the Saviour to the Jews: "You, if you are disobedient and rebellious, may at any time be rejected from being the people of God, and be deprived of your special privileges as a nation. You are in the condition of servants, and unless you are made free by the gospel, and become entitled to the privilege of the sons of God, you will be cast off like an unfaithful slave." Compare Hebrews 3:5-6.
Abideth not - Remains not, or has not the legal right to remain. He may at any time be rejected or sold.
In the house - In the family of his master.
For ever - During the whole time of his life.
The Son - The heir. He remains, and cannot be sold or cast off.
Ever - Continually. Till the day of his death. This is the privilege of a son, to inherit and dispose of the property.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
If the Son ... - The Son of God - heir of all things - who is forever with God, and who has therefore the right and power to liberate men from their thraldom.
Shall make you free - Shall deliver you from the bondage and dominion of sin.
Free indeed - Truly and really free. You shall be blessed with the most valuable freedom; not from the chains and oppressions of earthly masters and monarchs, but from the bondage of sin.
I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
I know ... - I admit that you are the descendants of Abraham. Jesus did not wish to call that in question, but he endeavored to show them that they might be his descendants and still lack entirely his spirit. See the notes at Matthew 3:9.
Because my word - My doctrine; the principles of my religion. You have not the spirit of my doctrine; you hate it, and you therefore seek to kill me.
Hath no place - That is, you do not embrace my doctrine, or it exerts no influence over you. The original word conveys the notion that there was no room for his doctrine in their minds. It met with obstructions, and did not penetrate into their hearts. They were so filled with pride, and prejudice, and false notions, that they would not receive his truth; and as they had not his truth or spirit, and could not bear it, they sought to kill him.
I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
I speak ... - John 3:11-13.
My Father - God.
Your father - The devil. See John 8:44. To see here means to learn of. They had learned of or been taught by the devil, and imitated him.
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
Abraham is our father - We are descended from Abraham. Of this the Jews boasted much, as being descended from such an illustrious man. See the notes at Matthew 3:9. As Jesus did not expressly say who he meant John 8:38 when he said they did the works of their father, they obstinately persisted in pretending not to understand him, as if they had said, "We acknowledge no other father but Abraham, and to charge us with being the offspring of another is slander and calumny."
If ye were Abraham's children - The words "sons" and "children" are often used to denote those who imitate another or who have his spirit. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. Here it means, "if you were worthy to be called the children of Abraham, or if you had his spirit."
But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
Ye seek to kill me - See John 8:37.
This did not Abraham - Or such things Abraham did not do. There are two things noted here in which they differed from Abraham:
1. In seeking to kill him, or in possessing a murderous and bloody purpose.
2. In rejecting the truth as God revealed it. Abraham was distinguished for love to man as well as God. He liberated the captives Genesis 14:14-16; was distinguished for hospitality to strangers Genesis 18:1-8; and received the revelations of God to him, however mysterious, or however trying their observance, Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 15:4-6; 22. It was for these things that he is so much commended in the New Testament Romans 4:9; Romans 9:9; Galatians 3:6; and, as the Jews sought to kill Jesus instead of treating him hospitably and kindly, they showed that they had none of the spirit of Abraham.
Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
The deeds of your father - See John 8:38. Jesus repeats the charge, and yet repeats it as if unwilling to name Satan as their father. He chose that they should infer whom he meant, rather than bring a charge so direct and repelling. When the Saviour delivered an awful or an offensive truth, he always approached the mind so that the truth might make the deepest impression.
We be not born of fornication - The people still professed not to understand him; and since Jesus had denied that they were the children of Abraham, they affected to suppose that he meant they were a mixed, spurious race; that they had no right to the covenant privileges of the Jews; that they were not worshippers of the true God. Hence, they said, We are not thus descended. We have the evidence of our genealogy. We are worshippers of the true God, descended from those who acknowledged him, and we acknowledge no other God and Father than him. To be children of fornication is an expression denoting in the Scriptures idolatry, or the worship of other gods than the true God, Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 57:3; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 2:4. This they denied. They affirmed that they acknowledged no God for their Father but the true God.
Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
If God were your Father - If you had the spirit of God, or love to him, or were worthy to be called his children.
Ye would love me - Jesus was "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person," Hebrews 1:3. "Everyone that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him," 1 John 5:1. From this we see:
1. that all who truly love God, love his Son Jesus Christ.
2. that men that pretend that they love God, and reject his Son, have no evidence that they are the friends of God.
3. that those who reject the Bible cannot be the friends of God. If they loved God, they would love Him who came from him, and who bears his image.
Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
Why do ye not ... - My meaning is clear, if you were disposed to understand me.
Even because ye cannot hear my word - The word "hear" in this place is to be understood in the sense of bear or tolerate, as in John 6:60. His doctrine was offensive to them. They hated it, and hence they perverted his meaning, and were resolved not to understand him. Their pride, vanity, and wickedness opposed it. The reason why sinners do not understand the Bible and its doctrines is because they cannot bear them. They hate them, and their hatred produces want of candor, a disposition to cavil and to pervert the truth, and an obstinate purpose that it shall not be applied to their case. Hence, they embrace every form of false doctrine, and choose error rather than truth, and darkness rather than light. A disposition to believe God is one of the best helps for understanding the Bible.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
Ye are of your father the devil - That is, you have the temper, disposition, or spirit of the devil. You are influenced by him, you imitate him, and ought therefore to be called his children. See also 1 John 3:8-10; Acts 13:10; "Thou child of the devil."
The devil - See the notes at Matthew 4:1.
The lusts - The desires or the wishes. You do what pleases him.
Ye will do - The word "will," here, is not an auxiliary verb. It does not simply express futurity, or that such a thing will take place, but it implies an act of volitions. This you will or choose to do. The same mode of speech occurs in John 5:40. In what respects they showed that they were the children of the devil he proceeds to state:
1. in their murderous disposition;
2. in rejecting the truth;
3. in being favorable to falsehood and error.
He was a murderer from the beginning - That is, from the beginning of the world, or in the first records of him he is thus represented. This refers to the seduction of Adam and Eve. Death was denounced against sin, Genesis 2:17. The devil deceived our first parents, and they became subject to death, Genesis 3. As he was the cause why death came into the world, he may be said to have been a murderer in that act, or from the beginning. We see here that the tempter mentioned in Genesis 3 was Satan or the devil, who is here declared to have been the murderer. Compare Romans 5:12, and Revelation 12:9; "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." Besides, Satan has in all ages deceived men, and been the cause of their spiritual and eternal death. His work has been to destroy, and in the worst sense of the word he may be said to have been a murderer. It was by his instigation, also, that Cain killed his brother, 1 John 3:12; "Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother." As the Jews endeavored to kill the Saviour, so they showed that they had the spirit of the devil.
Abode not in the truth - He departed from the truth, or was false and a liar.
No truth in him - That is, he is a liar. It is his nature and his work to deceive.
He speaketh of his own - The word "own" is in the plural number, and means of the things that are appropriate to him, or that belong to his nature. His speaking falsehood is originated by his own propensities or disposition; he utters the expressions of his genuine character.
He is a liar - As when he deceived Adam, and in his deceiving, as far as possible, the world, and dragging man down to perdition.
The father of it - The father or originator of falsehood. The word "it" refers to lie or falsehood understood. From him falsehood first proceeded, and all liars possess his spirit and are under his influence. As the Jews refused to hear the truth which Jesus spoke, so they showed that they were the children of the father of lies.
And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
Which of you convinceth me? - To convince, with us, means to satisfy a man's own mind of the truth of anything; but this is not its meaning here. It rather means to convict. Which of you can prove that I am guilty of sin?
Of sin - The word "sin" here evidently means "error, falsehood, or imposture." It stands opposed to truth. The argument of the Saviour is this: A doctrine might be rejected if it could be proved that he that delivered it was an impostor; but as you cannot prove this of me, you are bound to receive my words.
He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
He that is of God - He that loves, fears, and honors God.
Heareth God's words - Listens to, or attends to the doctrines or commandments of God, as a child who loves his parent will regard and obey his commandments. This is an evidence of true piety. A willingness to receive all that God teaches us and to obey all his commandments, is an undoubted proof that we are his friends, John 14:21; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:24. As the Jews did not show a readiness to obey the commands of God, it proved that they were not of him, and to this was owing their rejection of the Lord Jesus.
Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
Say we not well - Say we not truly.
Thou art a Samaritan - This was a term of contempt and reproach. See the notes at John 4:9. It had the force of charging him with being a heretic or a schismatic, because the Samaritans were regarded as such.
And hast a devil - See John 7:20. This charge they brought against him because he had said that they were not of God or were not the friends of God. This they regarded as the same as taking sides with the Samaritans, for the question between the Jews and Samaritans was, which of them worshipped God aright, John 4:20. As Jesus affirmed that the Jews were not of God, and as he, contrary to all their views, had gone and preached to the Samaritans John 4, they regarded it as a proof that he was disposed to take part with them. They also regarded it as evidence that he had a devil. The devil was an accuser or calumniator and as Jesus charged them with being opposed to God, they considered it as proof that he was influenced by such an evil spirit.
devil - In the original, demon. Not the prince or chief of the devils, but an evil spirit.
Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.
I have not a devil - To the first part of the charge, that he was a Samaritan, he did not reply. To the other part he replied by saying that he honored his Father. He taught the doctrines that tended to exalt God. He taught that he was holy and true. He sought that men should love him and obey him. All his teaching proved this. An evil spirit would not do this, and this was sufficient proof that he was not influenced by such a spirit.
And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
Mine own glory - My own praise or honor. In all his teaching this was true. He did not seek to exalt or to vindicate himself. He was willing to lie under reproach and to be despised. He regarded little, therefore, their taunts and accusations; and even now, he says, he would not seek to vindicate himself.
There is one that seeketh and judgeth - God will take care of my reputation. He seeks my welfare and honor, and I may commit my cause into his hands without attempting my own vindication. From these verses John 8:46-50 we may learn:
1. That where men have no sound arguments, they attempt to overwhelm their adversaries by calling odious and reproachful names. Accusations of heresy and schism, and the use of reproachful terms, are commonly proof that men are not only under the influence of unchristian feeling, but that they have no sound reasons to support their cause.
2. It is right to vindicate ourselves from such charges, but it should not be done by rendering railing for railing. "In meekness we should instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth," 2 Timothy 2:25.
3. We should not regard it as necessarily dishonorable if we lie under reproach. If we have a good conscience, if we have examined for ourselves, if we are conscious that we are seeking the glory of God, we should be willing, as Jesus was, to bear reproach, believing that God will in due time avenge us, and bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noonday, Psalm 37:6.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
If a man keep my saying - If he believes on me and obeys my commandments.
He shall never see death - To see death, or to taste of death, is the same as to die, Luke 2:26; Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1. The sense of this passage is, "He shall obtain eternal life, or he shall be raised up to that life where there shall be no death." See John 6:49-50; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 11:25-26.
Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
Hast a devil - Art deranged. Because he affirmed a thing which they supposed to be contrary to all experience, and to be impossible.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
Whom makest thou thyself? - Or, who dost thou pretend to be? Although the greatest of the prophets have died, yet thou a Nazarene, a Samaritan, and a devil pretendest that thou canst keep thy followers from dying! It would have been scarcely possible to ask a question implying more contempt and scorn.
Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:
If I honour myself - If I commend or praise myself. If I had no other honor and sought no other honor than that which proceeds from a desire to glorify myself.
My honour is nothing - My commendation or praise of myself would be of no value. See the notes at John 5:31.
Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
Your father Abraham - The testimony of Abraham is adduced by Jesus because the Jews considered it to be a signal honor to be his descendants, John 8:39. As they regarded the sayings and deeds of Abraham as especially illustrious and worthy of their imitation, so they were bound, in consistency, to listen to what he had said of the Messiah.
Rejoiced - This word includes the notion of desire as well as rejoicing. It denotes that act when, compelled with strong desire for an object, we leap forward toward its attainment with joy; and it expresses:
1. the fact that this was an object that filled the heart of Abraham with joy; and,
2. that he earnestly desired to see it.
We have no single word which expresses the meaning of the original. In Matthew 5:12 it is rendered "be exceeding glad."
To see - Rather, he earnestly and joyfully desired that he might see. To see here means to have a view or distinct conception of. It does not imply that Abraham expected that the Messiah would appear during his life, but that he might have a representation of, or a clear description and foresight of the times of the Messiah.
My day - The, day of the Messiah. The word "day," here, is used to denote the time, the appearance, the advent, and the manner of life of the Messiah. Luke 17:26; "as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man." See John 9:4; Matthew 11:12. The day of judgment is also called the day of the Son of man, because it will be a remarkable time of his manifestation. Or perhaps in both those cases it is called his day because he will act the most conspicuous part; his person and work will characterize the times; as we speak of the days of Noah, etc., because he was the most conspicuous person of the age.
He saw it - See Hebrews 11:13; "These all died in faith, not having received (obtained the fulfillment of) the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them," etc. Though Abraham was not permitted to live to see the times of the Messiah, yet he was permitted to have a prophetic view of him, and also of the design of his coming; for,
1. God foretold his advent clearly to him, Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18. Compare Galatians 3:16; "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ."
2. Abraham was permitted to have a view of the death of the Messiah as a sacrifice for sin, represented by the command to offer Isaac, Genesis 22:1-13. Compare Hebrews 11:19. The death of the Messiah as a sacrifice for the sins of men was that which characterized his work - which distinguished his times and his advent, and this was represented to Abraham clearly by the command to offer his son. From this arose the proverb among the Jews Genesis 22:14, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen," or it shall be provided for; a proverb evidently referring to the offering of the Messiah on the mount for the sins of men. By this event Abraham was impressively told that a parent would not be required to offer in sacrifice his sons for the sins of his soul - a thing which has often been done by pagan; but that God would provide a victim, and in due time an offering would be made for the world.
Was glad - Was glad in view of the promise, and that he was permitted so distinctly to see it represented. If the father of the faithful rejoiced so much to see him afar off, how should we rejoice that he has come; that we are not required to look into a distant futurity, but know that he has appeared; that we may learn clearly the manner of his coming, his doctrine, and the design of his death! Well might the eyes of a patriarch rejoice to be permitted to look in any manner on the sublime and glorious scene of the Son of God dying for the sins of men. And our chief honor and happiness is to contemplate the amazing scene of man's redemption, where the Saviour groaned and died to save a lost and ruined race.
Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
Fifty years old - Jesus is supposed to have been at this time about the age of 33. It is remarkable that when he was so young they should have mentioned the number 50, but they probably designed to prevent the possibility of a reply. Had they said 40 they might have apprehended a reply, or could not be so certain that they were correct.
Hast thou seen Abraham? - It is remarkable, also, that they perverted his words. His affirmation was not that he had seen Abraham, but that Abraham had seen his day. The design of Jesus was to show that he was greater than Abraham, John 8:53. To do this, he says that Abraham, great as he was, earnestly desired to see his time, thus acknowledging his inferiority to the Messiah. The Jews perverted this, and affirmed that it was impossible that he and Abraham should have seen each other.
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
Verily, verily - This is an expression used only in John. It is a strong affirmation denoting particularly the great importance of what was about to be affirmed. See the notes at John 3:5.
Before Abraham was - Before Abraham lived.
I am - The expression I am, though in the present tense, is clearly designed to refer to a past time. Thus, in Psalm 90:2, "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." Applied to God, it denotes continued existence without respect to time, so far as he is concerned. We divide time into the past, the present, and the future. The expression, applied to God, denotes that he does not measure his existence in this manner, but that the word by which we express the present denotes his continued and unchanging existence. Hence, he assumes it as his name, "I AM," and "I AM that I AM," Exodus 3:14. Compare Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 47:8. There is a remarkable similarity between the expression employed by Jesus in this place and that used in Exodus to denote the name of God. The manner in which Jesus used it would strikingly suggest the application of the same language to God. The question here was about his pre-existence. The objection of the Jews was that he was not 50 years old, and could not, therefore, have seen Abraham. Jesus replied to that that he existed before Abraham. As in his human nature he was not yet 50 years old, and could not, as a man, have existed before Abraham, this declaration must be referred to another nature; and the passage proves that, while he was a man, he was also endowed with another nature existing before Abraham, and to which he applied the term (familiar to the Jews as expressive of the existence of God) I AM; and this declaration corresponds to the affirmation of John Joh 1:1, that he was in the beginning with God, and was God. This affirmation of Jesus is one of the proofs on which John relies to prove that he was the Messiah John 20:31, to establish which was the design of writing this book.
Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Then took they up stones - It seems they understood him as blaspheming, and proceeded, even without a form of trial, to stone him as such, because this was the punishment prescribed in the law for blasphemy, Leviticus 24:16. See John 10:31. The fact that the Jews understood him in this sense is strong proof that his words naturally conveyed the idea that he was divine. This was in the temple. Herod the Great had not yet completed its repairs, and Dr. Lightfoot has remarked that stones would be lying around the temple in repairing it, which the people could easily use in their indignation.
Jesus hid himself - See Luke 4:30. That is, he either by a miracle rendered himself invisible, or he so mixed with the multitude that he was concealed from them and escaped. Which is the meaning cannot be determined.