(3) Further controversy with different groups, ending in partial admission of his claims by some.
This verse introduces a new scene and place, and perhaps a new day. The audience may have greatly changed, even if it had within it some of the same bewildered and exasperated enemies. Again he said, therefore. The οὖν refers to the fact that his liberty had not been infringed. The providence of God, the fear of the people, the inadequacy or confusing nature of the reports of his speech which had been taken to the authorities, had for a while arrested the tragedy. "No one laid hands on him." In consequence of this circumstance he said unto them again ( i.e. on a subsequent occasion), I go away, and ye shall seek me. So much he had said before to "the Jews," adding, "Ye shall not find me" ( John 7:34 ). Thus also he spake, later on, to the disciples, adding, "Thither ye cannot come" ( John 13:33 ). On all three occasions he was misunderstood. His departure was a mystery to the Jews, who thought, or at least said, that he, a pseudo-Messiah, might be contemplating a mission to the Greeks and to the Dispersion. His departure to the Father by a bloodstained pathway, by violent death, was unspeakably perplexing to his most intimate friends. The bare idea utterly conflicted with the current notion of the Christ; but it was in the last case ( John 14:1-31 .) modified by the promise that, though he was about to leave them and to return to his Father, yet he would come again—they should once more beheld him, and he would provide a place for them. Still, they would not be able for a while to follow him, even though willing to lay down their life for his sake ( John 13:33 , etc.). But in the face of a more bitter misunderstanding and an utter inability to perceive and know either him or the Father, Christ said not only, "Ye shall seek me," but ye shall die in your sin . The ἐν here indicates rather the condition in which they should die than the cause of their death. "In," not "of" (so Hengstenberg, Meyer, and Luthardt). He did not say, "perish by reason of this sin," but "die in this sin." They will die looking vaguely, hopelessly, for the Saviour whom they have, in such an hyperbole of spiritual dulness and of bitter malice alike, misunderstood and rejected. They will pass through the gate of death with no deliverance from sin secured. Knowing neither the Father nor the eternal life and light manifested in himself, they will seek and not find, they will die unsanctified, unatoned, unreconciled No gleam of light will play over the dark ness of the grave. Whither I go, ye cannot come. The eternal home of the Father's love will not open to such angry search. Such utter misunderstanding as they had evinced, such point blank refusal to walk in his light, will impede and block the way to the heart of the Father, whose perfect revelation and sufficient pleading they steadily resist. The language of this verse is probably the condensation and conclusion of s much longer debate.
A warning to the Jews of the importance of the present hour.
It was, probably, in the last day of the feast that our Lord uttered this warning.
I. THE SOLEMN ISSUES THAT HUNG UPON HIS CONTINUED SOJOURN WITH THE JEWS . "I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and ye shall die in your sin: whither I go, ye cannot come."
1 . Their rejection of him would close heaven against them. They could not possibly enter into that "rest" on account of their unbelief.
2 . His death was a matter fixed by the " determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. " Through death he is to pass upward to his kingdom and glory.
3 . The Jewish search after him would be in the day of their overwhelming despair, and would be fruitless because not in the way of faith.
4 . The separation between Jesus and the Jews would be made perpetual by their sin. "Ye shall die in your sin." The sin was that of unbelief, in "departing from the living God." "If ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins."
II. THE SPIRIT OF SCORNFUL LEVITY WITH WHICH THESE ISSUES ARE TREATED BY THE JEWS . "Will he kill himself? for he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come?"
1 . There is an evident increase in Jewish bitterness. Lately they asked—Would he go as a Messiah to the Gentiles? now they ask—Would he go to the dead?
2 . They insinuate that to follow him to the grave is out of the question. If he killed himself, he would find himself in hell; they, on the ether hand, expected to find themselves at death in Abraham's bosom.
3 . The question reveals the deepening moral separation between Jesus and his enemies.
III. THE CAUSE OF THEIR INABILITY EITHER TO FOLLOW OR TO UNDERSTAND HIM . "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore said I unto you, that ye shall die in your sins."
1 . They belonged to a different sphere from himself. His origin and nature were from heaven; their origin and nature were from earth. There could, therefore, be no moral understanding between them. "They were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them" ( Ephesians 4:23 ).
2 . Fatal effect of this worldly nature. "For if ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins." As following the course of this world, as minding earthly things, but, above all, as refusing to recognize his essential Divinity, they were separated from him who was the true Source of life, and were doomed to die in their sins.
IV. THE RENEWAL OF THEIR SCORNFUL QUESTIONING . "Then said they unto him, Who art thou? Jesus saith to them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning."
1 . How indurated was the unbelief of the Jews! They had received "line upon line, precept upon precept," and yet they rejected Christ.
2 . How utterly without excuse was their unbelief! They had heard but one consistent declaration of truth, ever growing in clearness and fulness; yet there was no spiritual or intellectual response to this teaching.
Excluded from the destination of Jesus.
In one sense Jesus was very near to men, very closely connected with them. At the same time he was very far from them, separated in many ways. The Gospel of John abounds in indications of this felt difference and superiority. Yet there is much to help and cheer even in words like these: "Whither I go, ye cannot come." The truth of Jesus is the same, spoken to friends or to enemies, and everything Jesus said on the earth has something of gospel in it. If we are born again and take shape after the new creature, then we also shall be from above.
I. THE DESTINATION THAT JESUS HIMSELF ASSUREDLY WILL REACH . Jesus is on a definite journey, knows where he is going, and that he will get there. His life is not an aimless wandering. In all his goings backwards and forwards between Galilee and Judaea his face was set towards Jerusalem, because there for him the door was to open from the seen to the unseen, from the life of time to the life of eternity. His enemies speak of him as if his thoughts were running in the same direction as those of Job. When Job sat among the ashes, despoiled of his property, bereaved of his children, smitten with pain all over the body, he thought death and the grave his best friends, where the wicked would cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. But Jesus was thinking of what he would attain, not what he would escape. The heavenly state, with its security, glory, and blessedness, was not an unexpected thing to Jesus. Jesus speaks as knowing for himself that the end depends on the way. Jesus knows where he is going, for he has been there already. In the autumn of 1492 three Spanish ships are making their way over the Atlantic, in waters where ship has never been known to pass before. Christopher Columbus of Genoa commands those ships, and he is going on an enterprise of pure faith. He believes there is a land ahead, but he has never been there. At present thousands go over that same Atlantic, returning home. And so Jesus was going back whence he had come. Every step took him nearer that day when he would pray the prayer, "Glorify thou me with thine own self, with that glory which I had with thee before the world was."
II. THE DESTINATION THAT SOME MOST CERTAINLY WILL NOT REACH . Most of the listeners would trouble very little about what Jesus meant. They would say, "Let him go, or let him stay; it is no great concern of ours." But if we do really believe that Jesus has gone into a state of glory, that he individually can no longer suffer pain, no longer be exposed to temptation, must it not be serious for us to reflect that possibly we cannot go where he has gone? Heaven is not to be earth over again. The mixtures and conflicts of the lower world are not to be known in the upper one. Good people have no monopoly of transit to any place on the face of the earth; but there is a state to which the evil cannot reach. A man may say, if he likes, that he will have a garden without weeds, but that will not keep the weeds out. But Jesus is the great and effectual Excluder. Beyond the veil there are divisions more intense and more manifest than any that obtain here. Jesus came amid the unions of time to make the separations of eternity.
III. THE DESTINATION THAT ALL MAY REACH . Speaking of exclusion is the strange work of Jesus. Even while he said, "Ye cannot come," at the same time he said, "Come." Any one can come who will enter in at the strait gate and tread the narrow way. Any one can come who will give the seed ground of his heart as good ground for the seed of eternal truth.—Y.