He is the Great I Am

John 8

I. A Historical Event in the wrong place 7:53-8:11 – 

A. There is convincing external textual evidence, as well as internal elements of style and vocabulary that this passage is not Johannine.  One version places it after 7:36 and another after 7:44. A large number of early and diverse manuscript types omit it entirely. No Greek Father prior to the twelfth century comments on it.  Many place it at the end of the gospel, marked with symbols.  Also, it interrupts a very natural sequence of events from 7:52-8:12. Earlier Jesus had claimed to be living water and the giver of the Spirit. This was followed by controversy (7:37-52) and an attempt to remove him from public (7:32, 44-47). Then he claims to be the light of the world (8:12; also 9:5) and the “Son of Man” (8:28; 3:13, 14), the One in whom true knowledge of the Father subsists (8:16-19), again involving intense controversy and a developing plan to kill him (8:19-59

B.  It does, however, bear all the marks of authenticity as an event in the life of Jesus. Who recorded it and where it was kept before inserted is hidden from us. Jesus already had dealt with a woman of similar character among the Samaritans, and he opened to her the power of the fulfillment of the Messianic promises in himself. Would he do any less now? The civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law were coming to a close, so the command to stone her would not be operative. The moral function of the Law, however, still was in force, so Jesus died for its fulfillment and establishes it as a goal for the pursuit of sanctification. On that account he tells this woman “Neither do I condemn you, and from now on sin no more.” This is the language he used with the lame man (5:14). We see both the pivotal nature of the ministry of Christ as well as the greatness of his mercy. The era brought in by his appearance and his having abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel transcends the ceremonial Law and meets all the eternal moral demands of the moral Law. Jesus committed himself to this outcast woman to be the propitiation for her sins (“Neither do I condemn you”). So it was with everyone whose sins he forgave in his lifetime (Luke 7:47-50; John 15:13), as well as all the believers before his words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

II. “I am the Light of the world.” [sixth discourse] – This is reiterated 9:5 and expanded 12:35, 36. It also is the second “I am” following 6:35, “I am the bread of life” Still remaining are 10: 7,9, 11, 14, “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd”, “ I am the Son of God” (10:36), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the way the truth and the Life” (14:6), “I am the vine” (15:1) 12-20 In this passage presently before us (8:12) Jesus’ status as light of the world insinuates that his words should bear intrinsic witness that his teaching is the same as the Father’s. He was the “true light” who gives light to men and as having his eternal existence form “the bosom of the Father,” he alone “has declared him” (See John 1:1-9, 18; 1 John 1:5-10).

A. Unity of Testimony

1. Jesus presents his self-understanding as absolute truth and thus as intuitively credible (12-14). He bears witness to himself for he knows perfectly who he is. He has been giving and will continue to give observable evidence that this testimony is true, but his own consciousness of it is a vital aspect of this entire episode, and indeed the entire witness of the Gospel of John. If he is the true light, the true Son of Man, and the Son of God who is given for the life of the world, he must be fully conscious of it in all of its detail and depth. Jesus is not wondering who he is or why he is here. The full character of his person as eternal Son of God and truly Son of Man is known without any shadow to him; his purpose to give his life as a necessity for the full redemption of his people never recedes in the slightest from his consciousness. 

2. The disciples have not imagined or invented their witness to Christ’s eternality but take it from his own words. Their observations are in perfect accord with his claims. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 John1:1, 2)

3. He can state with confidence, therefore, that his own consciousness is in utter harmony with the Father’s testimony (17, 18). Jesus cited the Old Testament standard of true evidence from Deuteronomy 17:6 to verify his judgment about himself. This second witness has in it two elements of vindicating truth: “My Father who sent me testifies about me” (18). The Father sent him, and the Father, in accordance with the purpose of his sending, bears witness about him (Galatians 1:1; Romans 6:4; 2 Peter 1:17; Matt. 17:5).

B. Unity of Judgment

1. Jesus does not make his judgments from merely personally biased human observation the way the Jews do (15). His knowledge of them is perfect and his final judgment of them is yet to come: “I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you” (26). 

2. His judgment is true, and is not partial or biased or unjust, built on prejudice, false assumptions, and external appearance. Instead, his judgment arises from his being intimately acquainted with and sent by the Father (16; [41 times John records that Jesus claims that the Father “sent” him.; 5 times here in chapter 8. See verses 16, 18, 26, 29, 42 apesteilen, sent with a message, the word from which the office of “apostle” is derived. The word also is used six times in John 17. See verses 3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25]). 

3. As cited above, Jesus reminded them of the revealed law of witnesses. Obviously, he knew about their rush to judgment mentioned in 7:51. Nicodemus reminded them that they were not even allowing him to bear witness in this attempt at condemnation. Jesus knew their proceedings and their tendency to judge against both evidence and the law.

C. Not knowing Jesus means not knowing the Father (19).  This word from Jesus is so persistent throughout the gospel that it is one of the wonders of the world that an evangelical could ever consent that one may know God apart from knowledge of Christ (24).

D. They still could not seize him for his time had not yet come (20). Jesus would know the event that would indicate that his time had come. The pursuit of the Greeks for an audience with Jesus marked that moment (12:23). Jesus saw temporally what he knew in the eternal decree, that the transition from a singular nation to a universal people as the new and true “Holy nation, peculiar people” that would show forth his praises was in the immediate events.

IV. Jesus envisions the completion of His work (21-30).

    1. He claims he will go away to a place they cannot come, that is in a glorified state to the Father. They cannot go to that place, because he will raise to life only those given to him by the Father (John 6:44, 54). They are not among that graciously blessed group (John 10:25-30).
    1. They cannot go there, because only those who believe his claim, “I am He” (24) will find eternal life in the presence of the Father. By “I am He,” Jesus refers both to his unique relationship with the Father as eternal Son and to his status as the only acceptable and effective Redeemer. Their refusal of him means they will die in their sins (24).
    1. His crucifixion at their hands (28) will serve to demonstrate that the Father is with him and he has taught what the Father has said. He is the antitype of Moses in the redemption of Israel, but he does his own speaking from the Father and is himself the redeemer. He is the “I am” who spoke to Moses as he was sent to bring Israel out of bondage in Egypt (Ex 3:14).
    1. Showing the incongruity of their being finally with Him
      • I go away (21)
      • Where I am going (21)
      • I am from above (23)
      • I am not of this world (23)
      • I Am He (28)
      • You will die in your sin (21)
      • You cannot come (21)
      • You are from below (23)
      • You are of this world (23)
      • Who are you? (25)

V. Shallow belief is easily dislodged (31-59). Note that this speech is made to “those who had believed in him” (31). There is a belief that is mere mental assent to certain ideas about Christ. This belief endures for a while, shorter or longer, being manifested for a time for reasons that are perceived as advantageous in some way for the promotion of the welfare of the so-called believer.

A. What distinguishes the true from the false disciple – “truly my disciples” (31).

1. True disciples abide in his word. Experientially they are clothed with the truth as mentally they see its revelatory power. They embrace this freeing truth is in their study, in their mental outlook, in their deportment, in their confidence for eternal life. The words that Jesus speaks are, to them spirit and life (John 6:63).

2. Conformity of mind and heart to the truth of Jesus’ words and actions sets one free (32). They are free from the condemnation of the Law and free from the absolute dominance of the flesh that exerts itself with ferocity in its opposition to the Law of God (Romans 8:6-10). They are free from the intimidation of worldly powers who may kill the body but have no power over the soul and pose no danger to the promise of eternal life (Acts 4:18-22; 21:12, 13).

B. False disciples continue to be slaves of Sin (33-37).

1. Those whose lifestyle is sin are its slaves.

      • All of us are slaves to sin until set free by Christ (Colossians 3:1-7).
      • The slave does not stay in the house forever. So these Jews, till now considered as privileged children of the covenant, will be excluded from the household if they are not set free by the Son. (36)
      • Because they could not abide in his word, and his word found no place in them, they sought to kill him. (37)

2. Only the Son sets these slaves free and makes them sons.

      • He does this by his word (32) and by his personal will (36).
      • He does according to an eternal plan executed in heaven in the presence of his Father (38).

C. Because they are not the spiritual children of Abraham 37-41

1.  They do not share the faith of Abraham (37). The promise of God took root in the heart of Abraham. But as for them—“My word has no place in you.”

2.  They do not do the deeds of Abraham (39, 40, 56).

D. Instead of being Abraham’s children (see Galatians 3:6, 7; 13-14; 29), their resistance to belief in him gives evidence that they are children of Satan (42-47).

1. Their lifestyle of resistance to truth and murderous hatred is native to Satan. He is the father of lies, hates the truth, and hates it so much that he is willing to murder in order to perpetuate his lie.

2. Jesus speaks the truth and has no sin, yet they do not believe him and want to kill him. 

3. Therefore, they are not from God but from Satan (47) [but Jesus is ek tou theou, that is, both in his mission and in his nature he is of the Father. The one, his mission, is to accomplish redemption for those that the Father has given him; and the other, his nature, sets him forth as true God (John 1:1, 2, 18)]. 

E. They dishonor Jesus who honors the Father (48-59).

1. They claim that Jesus is demonic, but he alone truly honors the Father (49).

2. Those that believe the word of Jesus will not see death; that is, they will not pass into the state of eternal death but will pass immediately into eternal life (51, 52).

3. Jesus is glorified by the Father, ultimately in the resurrection (54). 

4. Jesus is identified with I Am (verse 58). Now they show their utter hostility to the truth and their consequent murderous intent (cf. 24, 28, 18:6).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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