John 8:30-47
 Jesus, The True Source of Freedom
 

American Journal of Biblical Theology     July 1, 2007
Copyright © 2007, John W.  (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


What does it mean to be free?  Freedom is an important word in America, as it is in most places in the world, and if you ask ten people this question you will most likely get ten different answers.  I can recall as a child one of the common statements that was used by the bullies was "This is a free country, I can do anything I want."  The statement was usually used to defend a behavior that is hurtful to someone else, a behavior that would be characterized by selfishness or rebellion.  This childhood philosophy considered freedom to be anarchy, the absence of controls.  "A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is a possession of only a savage few."1  "Freedom does not mean the right to do whatever one wants. Freedom is not license! Whoever turns freedom into license has already dealt it a mortal blow. The free person is bound to the truth; otherwise their freedom has no more permanence than a lovely dream that vanishes on waking. The person does not owe their existence to themself, but is a creature of God."2

The founders of this country understood that freedom was experienced, not by an absence of laws that control social behavior, but by establishing laws that limit the role of government in order to preserve individual rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The enforcement of social laws is one of the important functions of government in a free nation, protecting its people from those who would take away their rights by committing crimes against them.  Consequently, many of those who have been convicted of breaking the laws of the land are imprisoned.  However, there is probably not a single citizen who has not broken one of the social laws, though probably few have broken more than minor ones.  Whether one had driven over the speed limit, cheated on their taxes, or broken any of the lesser laws, one is still guilty of breaking the law, and that individual is a lawbreaker.

Though we are all lawbreakers, most of us still experience the freedom that our society affords.  We can purchase and own our own land and homes, choose our careers, and raise our families without fear of losing our children.  We are still free to gather together in any social manner we wish, including for the purpose of worship.  Our govermnent is not omniscient and does no know the thoughts of our hearts and cannot condemn us for it.  However, God knows.  God knows and sees the evil in our hearts and has judged that all sin, and all who sin deserve eternal separation from Him.  We all deserve to go to prison.

The Jerusalem Jews of the first century were rabid when it came to enforcing their laws.  Unlike the laws of liberty that protect individual rights, the traditional and oral laws of the Jews invaded every area of personal life.  One broke the law simply by stating that they disagreed with it, an heresy that could bring a death sentence.  These laws placed an unreasonable and impossible burden on those who would obey.  Consequently, only a zealous few did attempt to keep all of the laws, and these were usually the ones who pressed their legalism on others.

John, Chapter 8, starts with the trial of a woman caught in adultery.  The religious leaders brought the woman to Jesus with the intent of trapping Him, so that they could accuse Him of breaking the law.  Though the punishment had not been carried out for centuries, the Mosaic law allowed for capital punishment by the stoning of one caught in adultery.  The religious leaders knew that Jesus would not give instructions to stone the woman, and so would be in violation of the law.  When asked, Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7b).  None of the conspirators probably ever thought that they would actually be the ones to throw the stones.  They simply wanted to execute judgment and catch Jesus in a heresy.  Their question of Jesus was public, and so was His response, so the religious leaders had little to do but back down.  The Roman government strictly forbade the Jews of executing capitol punishment.  One by one, starting with the eldest, the religious leaders left, leaving Jesus and the woman alone.  Jesus demonstrated forgiveness when he told her, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11b).  This event sets the stage for the remainder of the chapter as Jesus brings his message of forgiveness, first to the skeptical and confrontational religious leaders, and then to his disciples.  He described Himself as the "Light of the World," bringing the light of life, found only through forgiveness of the sin that keeps all people in bondage to it and separated from God.

John 8:30.

As he spake these words, many believed on him.

Though most of the religious leaders could not overcome their pride and prejudice, many others who were able to observe the interaction between Jesus and His opponents could see the stark contrast in their messages, and believed Jesus.  They could see in Him something that was quite absent from the Jewish leadership: wisdom and sincerity, both demonstrated in His love for all people.  Learning in the ancient near eastern culture was accomplished through apprenticships, through submitting to another's teaching.  As people witnessed Jesus' wisdom and heard His message of forgiveness, many chose to place themselves under His teaching, becoming His disciples.

John 8:31.

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;.

Certainly, many people did not hold to the rabid fundamentalism of the religious leaders, and were not blind to their pride and arrogance.  With a more objective viewpoint to consider, some people agreed with Jesus, some had favorable opinions of Him, and others followed Him.  We find a full spectrum of responses to Jesus where at one end we see the total rejection of Him by the religious leaders, and at the other end we see those who fully trusted in Him, believing that He is who He says He is, and trusting in His message of salvation.  Today's society has responded to Jesus in a similar way.  Many outright reject Jesus' claims.  Others have accepted Him as their Savior and Lord.  Still, there is a huge segment of society who believes that Jesus existed, that He was a wonderful teacher with a wonderful message of love, yet they fall short of making a commitment to Him as their Lord, missing His promise of salvation.  This is certainly true of many who are part of non-Christian religious groups.  However, there are also many who are members of churches that carry the Name of Christ, yet are not fully committed to Him.  Some churches have become so weak in their commitment to Christ that they have been reduced to social clubs with a Christian theme.  Are such people who call themselves Christians, truly Christians?  

We see from Jesus' statement to his followers that discipleship is not free.  Discipleship is conditional.  What is a disciple?  It is one who is a learner, subject to the teaching of another.  When Jesus defines those who are His disciples, He places the requirement that they "continue" in His word.  Other translations use the word, "remain" or "abide."  Furthermore, it is Jesus' "word" that a disciple abides in.  The "word", or logos, is a concept that the first-century Hellenistic Greek culture understood.  An individual was defined by his word.  Conversely, the word represents all of the character and authority of the "speaker."  It is with God's word that the creation of the universe took place.  Jesus, in this statement, is inviting all followers to become disciples by immersing themselves without compromise in Him and His message of forgiveness.  Once one does this, there is no longer a need to search for any other.  The One answer has been found.

John 8:32.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

This is one of the most universally familiar verses of the Bible.  It is so familiar in our culture, that many might not even know that it's source is the Bible.  However, few who are outside of the circle of Jesus' true disciples realize that these words are the second half of a sentence.  By removing the first half of Jesus' statement, this verse has been made "politically correct" by removing the context for the word "truth" that is used here.  We see this statement in courtrooms that seek the truth in social conflicts.  Yet, the truth in our courtrooms is usually used to condemn one to fine or imprisonment, not freedom.  To properly understand this verse, we must keep it within the context of its use.   Jesus' message is one of mercy and forgiveness applied by God's grace to people who do not deserve, on their own merit, anything else than eternal separation from God as a punishment for their sins.  However, Jesus herein is teaching that freedom from eternal condemnation and death is possible.  We can be forgiven for our all of our sin. 

How do we receive this freedom?  The word, "know" is also important, as it refers to an intimate and accepting knowledge of all there is to understand about a subject. All people have an opportunity to know the truth, and as used in the original language, that knowledge is deep.  To know the truth goes beyond booklearning and involves an acceptance if its authority in our hearts.  To know the truth is to immerse ones' self into it.  To know the truth is to experience it.  To know the truth is to know God Himself in a deep and personal way. 

The truth is Jesus (John 14:6).  It is only in Him and through Him that salvation can be found, and so by knowing that truth, one can be free.  The truth is God (Psalm 31:5).  The truth is the Holy Spirit (John 14:17).  God, in His fullness is the One Truth and the only source of freedom from the punishment for sin that we all deserve. 

We may see a parallel in this verse to the commission that Jesus gave His disciples when He told them to make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:18-19).   

The full and empowered knowledge of this truth comes only through being a disciple.  One can know much about Jesus and not be a disciple.  One can claim the name of Christ, and yet not be a disciple.  Jesus offers this knowledge to all who will place their faith and trust in Him.  With that knowledge of God comes the forgiveness for sins that brings the individual into the family of God, and as a child of God, the individual can experience of the peace that comes from the knowledge that the sin problem has been solved.  The freedom that we receive from Jesus is full, and eternal.  Jesus may not be the agent through which we are freed of the incarcerations of this world, and we still experience the consequences of our sinful actions, but Jesus is the agent through which we are eternally free, a freedom that no man can take away.  Like the woman caught in adultery, we can experience the forgiveness of sin, even now, when we repent of our sin and turn to Jesus as our LORD and Savior, seeking that forgiveness. 

John 8:33.

They answered him, We be Abrahamís seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? 

One of the greatest tragedies, and barriers to faith, is the belief by most people that they are free without God.  What Jesus was teaching contradicted what the Jews had been taught from birth:  that they were the blessed children of Abraham, the chosen people, specifically appointed by God to be His people, His family.  Ultimately, that is God's purpose, but in fact, that is not what took place.  The children of Abraham rejected Abraham's faith in God, and by so doing rejected the covenant that God made with Abraham.  That covenant promised a relationship with God for those who placed their faith and trust in Him.  Those who reject that covenant and fail to turn to God in faith, will find themselves outside of God's protection, subject to the eternal separation from Him that this world offers.  Without God's forgiveness, those who are lost carry the burden of their sin to their grave and beyond.  Those who are lost may think they are free, accepting as truth an unholy lie that would provide a way to justify them apart from faith in God.  Thinking they are free they are destined for an eternal prison, an eternal bondage to the sin that they carry through their days and beyond.

God's love for people never waned, and because of that love, He sent Jesus with the message of His plan for the salvation of mankind.

The difficulty here is that many people think that they are already secure with God.  Many will argue that they might have made mistakes but their goodness outweighs their sin.  They do not see a need for a Savior.  The same was true with many of those listening to Jesus.  "We have never been in bondage to any man."  This may be true.  However, the bondage that we are freed from is not bondage from man, it is bondage to the condemnation for our sins.  It is bondage within the realm of Satan.  The world teaches many sources of security, many paths to freedom.  However, the God of creation has provided a single message of freedom, that message that came with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

John 8:34.

Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

The context for verse 32 is clearly indicated by Jesus' words.  The bondage from which we are set free is the bondage of sin.  The payment for sin is death, eternal separation from God. (Rom. 3:23).  A slave or a servant is one who is under the authority of another.  Whosoever commits sin is placing him/herself under its authority.  It is the sin that is in control, not the sinner.  Satan is the embodiment of this authority of sin, and when one sins, they are placing themselves under Satan's authority, and are therefore in bondage to him.  We can see from the people's comment that they do not understand that Jesus is not referring to a worldly bondage to a human slave master, but to a spiritual bondage to The Slavemaster.  It is a bondage from which all people need to be set free.  

John 8:35.

And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.

Contrast the position of a servant with a son in a first-century household.  What is the standing of a servant within a house?  As a slave, he is without social standing or respect.  As property, he can be bought, sold, or discarded.  The owner has no special obligation to care for the slave, and may use force, coercion, or any other oppression to attain his ends.  The servant has no part in the inheritance of the master, and his position in the household is temporary.  The slave is denied any basic freedoms that the master chooses. 

On the other hand, the Son shares the name of the master and is loved by him.  The son is cared for and nurtured by the father so that he would ultimately share in the inheritance.  His word carries the authority of the father and he is respected for it.  A son remains in the family of a loving father forever.

To reject God, to choose sin over salvation is to choose to be a slave instead of a son.  It is to choose Satan as the slavemaster rather than God as the Father.  

John 8:36.

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

True freedom comes from choosing life with the Father over death without Him.  People seek freedom from their conscience in many different ways, seeking after any rationalism that will bring them peace.  Regardless of what method that people try to find freedom, it is only through the forgiveness of their sin that true peace can be found.  It is through the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross that such forgiveness is attained, and so the only true source of freedom is also the complete and final source of freedom.  When one is safely in the fold of the Family of God, one is free, indeed.  

John 8:37.

I know that ye are Abrahamís seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.

Being one of the children of Israel does not make one a child of God.  This is an axiom that the Jews never did accept.  Salvation does not come as a function of who one's father is.  In fact, these children of Abraham had wandered so far from God's plan and purpose that they were conspiring to murder the Messiah, the One sent from God Himself to save the people from their sins.  Still, the Jews were so blinded by their presupposition that they were the ones that were holy, that they were spiritually blinded by the pride that those prejudices engendered.  Likewise, many people today are entirely blinded to their fate by their world view.  

What would you do if you witnessed an individual taking a photograph through a camera, and walking backwards in order to compose the picture, and unaware that they are about to step off of a cliff?  You would probably shout out a warning to STOP!  People who are rejecting Jesus Christ because of their blindness to the truth are making the same error as the photographer, moving steadily toward the abyss of separation from God for eternity.  Yet those who are convinced of their goodness apart from God's grace are doomed, and are the most difficult to save.  This is why "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6.)  To reject Jesus Christ is to ultimately break the commandment, "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord in vain" (Exodus 20:7).

When one accepts forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in the heart and mind of the saved.  God's prophesy is fulfilled, "I shall take my word and place it in their hearts."

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33.)

The word of God has no place in the hearts of the lost.

John 8:38-41.

I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abrahamís children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. 41Ye do the deeds of your father. 

Jesus pointed out that, though the religious leaders consider themselves children of Abraham, they fail to follow his example.  If one is going to identify himself with another, it is appropriate that he imitate his basic attributes.  Abraham loved and trusted God, so much so that He was willing to carry out the sacrifice of his son, trusting in God's promise that Isaac would be the father of many nations.  Abraham's act on Mount Moriah is one of the clearest examples of faith that is recorded in scripture.  The religious leaders neither loved God, nor did they trust in Him.  Their theology was wrapped around the Law and they took great pride in their knowledge of it, and their adherence to it, as hypocritical as that obedience was.

How can one know if another is a child of God, or a child of the Slavemaster?  Jesus is recorded in John 13:35 as stating that Christians will be known by their love, that God-fearing and self-less agape love that comes only from the Holy Spirit.  We certainly do not see this attribute of love being demonstrated by the religious leaders who seek only to discredit and destroy Jesus.  People who love God usually stand out in this perverse world.  Rather than seek to destroy, they are often characterized by their seeking reconciliation of the conflicts around them.  They tend to spread love and tolerance rather than hate and bigotry.

John 8:42-45.

Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. 42Jesus 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. 43Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44Ye 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. 45And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.

Another indication of one's salvation is their love for Jesus.  If one love's God, they would also love the Son of God whom He sent.  This is very difficult for someone to understand if they do not accept Jesus for who He is.  To accept Jesus for who He says He is, is to accept the Father.  To reject Jesus is to reject the Father.  Likewise, any world religion that rejects Jesus is also rejecting the Father, propagating a false faith.  The Jewish religious leaders insisted that their one father is God, yet Jesus rebukes their claim because they reject the Son.  

They could not understand Jesus' claim because they were spiritually blinded by the authority they placed in their beliefs and the pride they had in their status in their culture.  This same blindness is characteristic of many in our modern society.  People come up with any number of reasons to reject God, and many who acknowledge God come up with reasons to reject Christ.  Those who are caught up in pride and in the anti-Christian or anti-Semite world view are in a similar state as these first-century leaders of Jerusalem.  The most vocal of Christ's enemies are characterized by attributes that are more suited to Satan:  violence, hatred, bigotry, and murder.  These are the characteristics of ungodly and violent men, not of men who love God.

John 8:46-47.

Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? 47He that is of God heareth Godís words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. 

These enemies of Christ had accused Jesus of sin for His healing of the lame man of Bethsaida on the Sabbath.  This was a sin by measure of their human traditional oral law, but not a sin by any other.  The oral law was more restricted than God's law which states to "remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy."  The Sabbath is a day to separate out for God, and actions that bring Him glory on this day are quite appropriate.  Based upon their rejection of Christ, their violent hatred of Him, and their conspiracy to kill Him, there is little to state in any defense to their claim of righteousness and holiness.

A lesson can be learned from the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders.  We must keep our hearts and minds open to God's Word and be vigilant to disallow personal pride and prejudice to lead us into sin.  We live in a world where Satan has dominion over the spirits of most of the population, and yet God's remnant remains.  Let this remnant be seen by all men, as Jesus described, the Light of the World, leading the lost to salvation.  Christians are not called to judge or condemn those who are lost, but rather to demonstrate love, mercy and compassion to all people so that opportunities to share the gospel can be made fruitful.  

The conduct of the religious leaders communicated their motives with room for ambiguity.  What message are you giving to the world by your conduct?  Is your commitment to God half-hearted, with one part of you firmly on the ground and the other part dabbling in spiritual matters.  If Jesus is Lord of All, or Jesus is not Lord at all.  Jesus calls us to an uncompromised commitment to Him, and promises eternal life, an eternity with God, for those who follow Him.  Let us put aside our petty quarrels, and those barriers to obedience, and turn to Christ in commitment so that we will not find Jesus saying of us, "Ye are not of God.", but rather having experienced the true freedom that comes from forgiveness, He would say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." 


References.

George R. (1999). John, 2ed. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books.  

Hummell, Bradford S. (Fall, 2002).  First-Century Jewish Concepts of the Messiah, Biblical Illustrator, 29(1).  Nashville, TN: Lifeway Christian Resources.  

Tenney, Merrill C. (1981).  John, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House. 

Reynolds, H.R.  (1950).  The Gospel of John, The Pulpit Commentary Volume 17.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Citations

1 May 20, 1945 - from a public speech delivered in New York's Central Park, quoted by William Safire in Lend Me Your Ears.

2  Pope John Paul II