William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Fatal Incomprehension (John 8:21-30)

8:21-30 So he said to them again: "I am going away, and you will search for me, and you will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going." So the Jews said: "Surely he is not going to kill himself, because he is saying: 'You cannot come where I am going'?" He said to them: "You are from below, but I am from above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. I said to you that you will die in your sins. For if you will not believe that I am who I am, you will die in your sins." They said to him: "Who are you?" Jesus said to them: "Anything I am saying to you is only the beginning. I have many things to say about you, and many judgments to deliver on you; but he who sent me is true, and I speak to the world what I have heard from him." They did not know that it was about the Father that he was speaking to them. So Jesus said to them: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am who I am, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but that I speak these things as the Father has taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do the things that are pleasing to him." As he said these things, many believed in him.

This is one of the passages of argument and debate so characteristic of the Fourth Gospel and so difficult to elucidate and to understand. In it various strands of argument are all woven together.

Jesus begins by telling his opponents that he is going away; and that, after he is gone, they will realize what they have missed, and will search for him and not find him. This is the true prophetic note. It reminds us of three things: (i) There are certain opportunities which come and which do not return. To every man is given the opportunity to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord; but that opportunity can be refused and lost. (ii) Implicit in this argument is the truth that life and time are limited. It is within an allotted span that we must make our decision for Christ. The time we have to make that decision is limited--and none of us knows what his limit is. There is therefore every reason for making it now. (iii) Just because there is opportunity in life there is also judgment. The greater the opportunity, the more clearly it beckons, the oftener it comes, the greater the judgment if it be refused or missed. This passage brings us face to face with the glory of our opportunity, and the limitation of time in which to seize it.

When Jesus spoke about going away, he was speaking about his return to his Father and to his glory. That was precisely where his opponents could not follow him, because by their continuous disobedience and their refusal to accept him, they had shut themselves off from God. His opponents met his words with a grim and mocking jest. Jesus said that they could not follow where he went; and they suggested that perhaps he was going to kill himself. The point is that, according to Jewish thought, the depths of hell were reserved for those who took their own lives. With a kind of grim blasphemy, they were saying: "Maybe he will take his own life; maybe he is on the way to the depths of Hell"; it is true that we cannot and will not follow him there.

Jesus said that if they continued to refuse him they would die in their sins. That is a prophetic phrase (compare Ezekiel 3:18 ; Ezekiel 18:18 ). There are two things involved there: (i) The word for sin is hamartia, which originally had to do with shooting and literally means a missing of the target. The man who refuses to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord has missed the target in life. He dies with life unrealized; and he therefore dies unfitted to enter into the higher life with God. (ii) The essence of sin is that it separates a man from God. When Adam, in the old story, committed the first sin, his first instinct was to hide himself from God ( Genesis 3:8-10 ). The man who dies in sin dies at enmity with God; the man who accepts Christ already walks with God, and death only opens the way to a closer walk. To refuse Christ is to be a stranger to God; to accept him is to be the friend of God, and in that friendship the fear of death is for ever banished.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Fatal Incomprehension (John 8:21-30)

Jesus goes on to draw a series of contrasts. His opponents belong to earth, he is from heaven; they are of the world; he is not of the world.

John frequently talks about the world; the word in Greek is kosmos ( Greek #2889 ). He uses it in a way that is all his own.

(i) The kosmos ( Greek #2889 ) is the opposite of heaven. Jesus came from heaven into the world ( John 1:9 ). He was sent by God into the world ( John 3:17 ). He is not of the world; his opponents are of the world ( John 8:23 ). The kosmos ( Greek #2889 )is the changing, transient life that we live; it is all that is human as opposed to all that is divine.

(ii) Yet the kosmos ( Greek #2889 ) is not separated from God. First and foremost, it is God's creation ( John 1:10 ). It was through God's word that his world was made. Different as the world is from heaven, there is yet no unbridgeable gulf between them.

(iii) More than that, the kosmos ( Greek #2889 ) is the object of God's love. God so loved the world that he sent his Son ( John 3:16 ). However different it may be from all that is divine, God has never abandoned it; it is the object of his love and the recipient of his greatest gift.

(iv) But at the same time there is something wrong with the kosmos ( Greek #2889 ). There is a blindness in it; when the Creator came into the world, it did not recognize him ( John 1:10 ). The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth ( John 14:17 ). The world does not know God ( John 17:25 ). There is, too, an hostility to God in the kosmos ( Greek #2889 ) and to his people. The world hates Christ and hates his followers ( John 15:18-19 ). In its hostility Christ's followers can look only for trouble and tribulation ( John 16:33 ).

(v) Here we have a strange sequence of facts. The world is separate from God; and yet between it and God there is no gulf which cannot be spanned. God created the world; God loves it; God sent his Son into it. And yet in it, there is this blindness and hostility to him.

There is only one possible conclusion. G. K. Chesterton once said that there was only one thing certain about man--that man is not what he was meant to be. There is only one thing certain about the kosmos ( Greek #2889 ), it is not what it was meant to be. Something has gone wrong. That something is sin. It is sin which separated the world from God; it is sin which blinds it to God; it is sin which is fundamentally hostile to God.

Into this world which has gone wrong comes Christ; and Christ comes with the cure. He brings forgiveness; he brings cleansing; he brings strength and grace to live as man ought and to make the world what it ought to be. But a man can refuse a cure. A doctor may tell a patient that a certain treatment is able to restore him to health; he may actually tell him that if he does not accept the treatment, death is inevitable. That is precisely what Jesus is saying: "If you will not believe that I am who I am you will die in your sins."

There is something wrong with the world--anyone can see that. Only recognition of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, obedience to his perfect wisdom and acceptance of him as Saviour and Lord can cure the individual soul and cure the world.

We are only too well aware of the disease which haunts and wrecks the world; the cure lies before us. The responsibility is ours if we refuse to accept it.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Tragic Incomprehension (John 8:21-30)

There is no verse in all the New Testament more difficult to translate than John 8:25 . No one can really be sure what the Greek means. It could mean: "Even what I have told you from the beginning," which is the meaning the Revised Standard Version takes. Other suggested translations are: "Primarily, essentially, I am what I am telling you." "I declare to you that I am the beginning." "How is it that I even speak to you at all?" which is the translation of Moffatt. It is suggested in our translation that it may mean: "Everything I am saying to you now is only a beginning." If we take it like that, the passage goes on to say that men will see the real meaning of Christ in three ways.

(i) They will see it in the Cross. It is when Christ is lifted up that we really see what he is. It is there we see the love that will never let men go and which loves them to the end.

(ii) They will see it in the Judgment. He has many judgments still to pass. At the moment he might look like the outlawed carpenter of Nazareth; but the day will come when they will see him as judge and know what he is.

(iii) When that happens they will see in him the embodied will of God. "I always do the things that are pleasing to him," Jesus said. Other men however good are spasmodic in their obedience. The obedience of Jesus is continuous, perfect and complete. The day must come when men see that in him is the very mind of God.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible