“Before Abraham Was Born, I Am”

John Chapter 8

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56,
scriptures from the New American Standard Bible, 1995).

by Ernie Kuenzli

“Before Abraham Was Born, I Am”

In some Bible translations, John Chapter 8 begins with the story of the woman caught in adultery. However, this incident is not found in many of the oldest manuscripts. Bruce M. Metzger writes:

“The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope [passage] of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as p 66, p 75, א ,B … [all the manuscripts from mid-4th century back to ca. AD 200] … When one adds to this … the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.”1

(1) “A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition), A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th revised edition);” United Bible Societies, 1998

Chapter 8 really begins with verse 12. The rest of the chapter describes Jesus’ encounter with the Jewish leaders while in Jerusalem. John the Baptist prophesied regarding these, “He [Jesus] who comes from heaven … What he has seen and heard, of that he testifies; and no one receives his testimony” (John 3:31-32). The leaders did not receive Jesus’ testimony because they did not have God’s word abiding in them (John 5:38).

During this encounter, Jesus made four profound statements. Through veiled language, Jesus revealed to those who had God’s word abiding in their heart, he was the Messiah. However, Jewish leaders were taken aback by what Jesus said. By these statements, Jesus’ contrasted himself, his teachings, and the God he served with that of the Jewish religious leaders. Because God’s word was not in their heart, their response was one of anger and violence rather than acceptance.

The Light of the World

Jesus initiated the conversation, saying “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). The light of the Jewish people had been the Law and the prophets. However, over the centuries it had been clouded by the commentaries and traditions of their leaders.

John wrote regarding Jesus: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4,5). Jesus’ teachings and life reflected the light of the glory of God. That light would bring life to those who followed it. Jesus said later, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). He added in John 12:35, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness will not overtake you.”

But the darkness had overtaken most in Israel, particularly their leaders, and so they rejected the light Jesus provided. They were “unwilling to come to me [Jesus] so that you may have life” (John 5:40).

The leaders’ response to Jesus showed their rejection. “Your testimony is not true.” Jesus countered, “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am he who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me testifies about me” (John 8:13,17,18). Jesus’ life and teachings and God’s spirit manifest in Jesus’ miracles were the two witnesses of which Jesus spoke.

Then Jesus said, “I am from above … I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (verses 23,24). In veiled language, Jesus stated he was from heaven and the only path to the forgiveness of sins was by accepting him. Still, the Jews did not understand. “Who are you?” (verse 25). Jesus added, “I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me’” (verses 28). Therefore, “many came to believe in him,” but not the religious leaders (verse 30).

The Truth Shall Make You Free

Now Jesus spoke “to those Jews who had believed him. ‘If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” (verses 31,32). This was a strange statement to the Jews, who were not thinking of being enslaved to sin and being in bondage to the Law and Rome (verse 33).

Jesus was speaking about their slavery to sin. “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. … So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (verses 34,36). The Law did not release the Jews from Adamic condemnation. To become truly free, they would need to come to a redeemer — Jesus. While the Law was a tutor to demonstrate Israel’s need for a redeemer and bring them to Christ, they, and particularly their leaders, had not grasped that lesson (Galatians 3:24).

Abraham’s Descendants

Then, Jesus replied to their earlier claim of being Abraham’s descendants. “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you” (verse 37). While Jesus recognized Israel’s physical descent from Abraham, he saw that his word and the Father’s word were not in their hearts. This was the root of their problem.

Then Jesus challenged them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham” (verse 39). Being Abraham’s true children meant following Abraham’s example. “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise” (Romans 9:8). Those with faith in Jesus would be the children of God. “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29). The religious leaders were not Jews inwardly, in their hearts.

Still they pushed back, claiming God was their Father (verse 41). Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, could comment authoritatively on that subject. “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God … Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear my word” (verses 42,43). If the Jews had the faith of Abraham and loved God and His word, they would have accepted Jesus. But God’s word was not in their hearts, and so, they rejected Jesus.

Your Father the Devil

Jesus revealed to the Jewish leaders who their father really was. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and … he is a liar and the father of lies” (verse 44). The leaders’ lies about Jesus, and their desire to kill him, confirmed the devil as their father (John 8:13, Matthew 12:10, John 7:1).

Filled with Satan’s spirit, the truth had no place in them. “Because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. … because you are not of God” (verses 45,47). Those who rejected Jesus’ words were clearly not God’s children nor seeking after Him.

Before Abraham I Am

The Jews became increasingly angry. “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (verse 48). But Jesus did not revile in return. “I honor my Father … I do not seek my glory” (verses 49,50). Jesus’ goal was to glorify God. “I glorified You on the earth” (John 17:4).

Then Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word he will never see death” (John 8:51). This was a hard saying for the Jews who were thinking literally. Jesus was promising that those who kept his word would not perish eternally, though they might sleep in death (John 11:25). But one had to believe that Jesus was sent by God, to not turn away because of this statement (John 6:67-69).

Now the unbelieving Jews thought they could prevail in this discussion. “You say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste of death.’ Surely you are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? … whom do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:52,53). As the Son of God and the Messiah, Jesus was greater than both Abraham and the prophets (Psalms 2:6-12, Isaiah 9:6,7, Zechariah 6:12,13).

Jesus countered, “It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (verse 54). God had glorified Jesus by giving him His words and Spirit and performing the miracles. “I know Him … and keep His word” (verse 55). As the Logos, Jesus had spent eons with the Father. He knew the Father more intimately than any other being in God’s creation (Proverbs 8:22-31). Still, the Jews did not grasp with whom they were speaking.

Finally, Jesus delivered a stunning conclusion to this conversation. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (verse 56). The Jews were astounded! “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (verse 57). Jesus’ response: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (verse 58). The Jews were dumbfounded! Their response was to pick up stones to hurl at Jesus.

This contrast and conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders has been continually repeated between Jesus’ followers and many in Christendom. While Jesus’ disciples have proclaimed the light and liberty available in Christ, Christendom’s leaders have kept the people in ignorance. God’s word is not in their heart. As a planting of the Adversary, they have hated, persecuted, and often slain many true Christians throughout the Gospel Age (Matthew 13:38,39). Let us follow Jesus’ example and “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” regardless of Christendom’s response, “for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

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