Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.”…And He was saying to them “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, 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, you will die in your sins”…So they were saying to Him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning?”…They did not realize that He had been speaking to them of the Father…So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me”…As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. Excerpted from John 8:21 – 30.
The balance of the chapter, which we will explore in future posts, deals with what Jesus says to the many that came to believe in Him. The themes in verses 12 – 30 intensify in verses 31 – 59, but again, we’ll touch on them in future posts; however, this reminds us that the Scriptures are not to be explored and understood by driving quickly through them, but that we need to get out of the car and walk, slowly walk, stop and look and ponder…and then retrace our steps to look and ponder again. We must not presume to master the Word; we must allow the Word to master us.
These are the words of God, these words that Jesus speaks; they are words of mercy for those who will receive them and words of judgment for those who will not; the same sun that hardens the clay melts the wax. Some hear the words of an upstart rabbi, some the words of a lunatic, others hear the words of God from God Himself.
Should a patient be offended to hear a doctor say, “You have a disease that will kill you, you will die of this disease, unless you allow me to treat you”? Should a person be offended to hear God say that he has sin that is killing him, eternally killing him, and that unless he comes to God that he will die in a state of sin – and enter eternity in that condition?
How often do we want to come to God on our own terms? How often do we insist that He come to us on our terms? If we seek Him on our terms we will not find Him, for where He is going we cannot come; not by seeking Him on our terms. If Jesus is from above and we are from below, from this world, should it surprise us that His words are alien, His ways strange? Our perspective is wrecked and warped by sin and self-centeredness, the blind man in Chapter Nine will see because all he knows is blindness, but we who see…well of course we see, we are not blind and we are not as bad as all that, we need not follow this Jesus of Nazareth.
But suppose we decide to follow this Jesus, what does He require? Give us a mission, allow us to achieve a meaningful task – give us a standard to measure up to, to rid ourselves of this disease of sin and to earn our right to enter the Throne Room of the Almighty. What is this He says? We are to believe that He is I AM? But what about the task, the mission? What about the great quest to earn and prove our righteousness?
Jesus says, “Unless you believe that I AM…” Now English Bibles typically translate these two statements of Jesus in the above passage thusly: “Unless you believe that I am He”. English Bibles such as the KJV, NKJV, NASB and some others italicize the word “He”, this means that the word is not in the Greek New Testament, other English Bible translations choose not to italicize words they use that are not the Greek New Testament – they don’t disclose this to the reader. Translators add the word “He” twice to the above “I AM” statements of Jesus; but is it necessary to add the word? And might we miss something by adding the word? Bear with me, ponder with me.
Consider the motif of I AM in the entire chapter, as pointed out in a previous post Jesus begins and ends the extended passage with I AM…I AM the Light of the World; before Abraham was, I AM. In the latter statement (verse 58) the word “He” is not added by English translations with which I’m familiar; so why add it in verses 24 and 28? If it is not added in verses 24 and 28 then we must confront the same statement that Moses confronted at the Burning Bush, “I AM”. Jesus is, once again, stating that He is God. Adding the word “He” detracts from the force of Jesus’ declaration, it allows us to avert our gaze from His straightforward statement of Divinity. This entire passage is first about the fact that Jesus Christ is God, then it is about God’s desire to save us from slavery to sin, then it is about whether we will respond in a belief that results in repentance, in acknowledgment of our sin, and whether we will throw ourselves on Him and His mercy and grace in acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is God. It also shows us what happens when we do not acknowledge our sin, when we choose to consider ourselves free and independent – but central to all is the Divinity of Jesus.