The Path to Life and Freedom: John 8:31-59

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As we continue in John’s gospel, and in the debate that Jesus was having with the Jews, we discover some amazing truths within Jesus’ response, we discover a powerful challenge Jesus shares about an important subject, and we also find one of my favorite Bible passages. Since this is a longer passage, let’s dive right in.

Our passage for this episode is found in John’s gospel, chapter 8, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 31, John writes:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “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.”

Pausing briefly, I want to point out one of my favorite verses, and this is the message Jesus shares as our passage opens. If we were to ask the question about what makes us true disciples of Jesus, Jesus’ first words in this passage gives us the answer. Jesus tells us, “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 is one of my favorite Bible passages, because it clarifies the path to the truth, and the benefit we get from knowing the truth. The way to the truth is becoming a disciple of Jesus, and the way to become a disciple of Jesus is holding onto Jesus’ teaching. When we apply Jesus’ teachings into our lives, we walk the path of a disciple, and on the path of being a disciple, we discover the truth and are ultimately set free.

However, the Jews present took offense to the idea of being set free. Continuing reading in verse 33:

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

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.

In this passage, we have a lot we could unpack, and simply not enough time to do so with the format of these shorter episodes.

However, one truth that I want to draw out of this passage is very significant. This truth is that the idea of dying and death in this passage use two different Greek words, and while these words are similar, the way Jesus uses these two words in this passage help to frame a huge truth that is easily missed, or perhaps intentionally ignored.

In this passage, specifically in verse 51, Jesus shares the promise that “whoever obeys my word will never see death.” This promise is repeated with a likely mocking tone of voice by the Jews responding to Jesus in verse 52.

However, it is interesting to note that in this entire passage, these are the only times this Greek word for death is used. Instead, when describing how the prophets and significant people from the past died, a different Greek word was used.

This is a very significant detail, because when we look at how Jesus frames these two words for death in the four gospels, we quickly discover that Jesus used one of these words to describe an eternal death, and the other to describe a death that will be cut short with a resurrection. This truth is made a little more complicated, because the Greek term used for sentencing someone to death, is the one that describes an eternal death, which makes historical sense, because the Greek’s dualistic beliefs stood entirely opposed to the concept of resurrection as something that their gods would do, or that would even be desirable to experience.

To arrive at this conclusion, I looked at all the places in the gospels where Jesus used these two Greek words, and not simply at all the places they appear. Looking at all the places they appear in the gospels prompts us to conclude that these might be very interchangeable terms.

However, when we look at Jesus’ own words, Jesus uses the term “death”, specifically the one we see only mentioned a couple times in this passage, to describe a death that lasts forever, and when He describes the types of death that people were sentenced to. When being sentenced to die, I know of no court that would include the context of a future resurrection. Being sentenced to death is being sentenced to having one’s life removed with no expectation of it returning.

The other Greek word for dying has a future resurrection implied. This is easily seen when Jesus is talking with Martha about Lazarus dying, which is an event we will look at in a future episode. Both Martha and Jesus frame this type of death as one that looks forward to a resurrection. Jesus just helps Martha discover that resurrection can happen sooner than Jesus’ return.

As we are running out of time, let me draw this powerful truth out into the open: Jesus promises us that everyone who obeys His Words will never see eternal death. This is powerful for us to remember, because it makes the truth about believing Jesus relevant. A truth we reject is one that we don’t apply into our lives, while a truth we believe is one that we will obey. By not obeying Jesus’ truth, we reject Him, and we step off of the path of discipleship.

When we reject Jesus’ teachings, we lose out on not just discovering God’s truth and the freedom that comes with it, as we looked at in the beginning of this passage, but we also lose out on the promise of never tasting eternal death as well.

Instead of falling into Satan’s trap, let’s hold onto Jesus’ teaching, apply it into our own lives, and let the Holy Spirit lead us into God’s truth, specifically the truth that brings us resurrection and eternal life.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first and choose today to apply Jesus’ truth and teachings into your life. Choose to obey, not simply because Jesus has challenged us to, but because obeying leads us to discovering God’s truth and obedience is the best way to make your belief known. A hidden, secret faith does not have value if it stays hidden.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and discover God’s truth for your life. We can look to the Bible, specifically to the four gospels, to discover Jesus’ teachings, and by following Jesus’ teachings, we step onto the path of discipleship. Never let anyone get in the way of you following Jesus and applying His truths into your life.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in John – Episode 21: While debating with religious leaders about truth, freedom, and life, discover a powerful truth Jesus shares about how to become a disciple, and how being a disciple leads us to having not only freedom from sin, but a future eternal life as well.

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