I know that you are Abraham’s descendants….If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God, this Abraham did not do…You are doing the deeds of your father…If God were your father you would love me…You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. [Excerpted from John 8.]
This is a dangerous passage because they contain words that only God can speak but which man too often presumptuously speaks. In only the rarest of rare occasions might we hear a man speak these words, and then in fear and trembling being moved by the Holy Spirit – so it is better to say that only God can speak these words and if a rarest of rare occasion should come upon us let us trust God to help us negotiate it in humility and sorrow knowing that presumption on own part is grounds for our own conviction. Only God knows the hearts of men and women.
It is dangerous enough to judge others, it is far more dangerous to attribute the parentage of others to the devil; these are words only God can speak.
Those whom Jesus is addressing are Abraham’s children one minute and the next minute they are not. Paul helps our understanding in Romans Chapter 9:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendents, but: THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendents.
Paul also writes to the Galatians: For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
If Jesus’ audience had no warrant to trust in its genealogy, perhaps we should take care not to trust in our traditional or current affinities. Being members of a spiritual or religious culture, no matter how correct in doctrine and practice, is not the same as having a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The evil in the world as expressed in John 8 is clothed in religious garb. This is not evil as we normally think of evil; and indeed evil has many forms – some hideous to the eye, all hideous to the heart. Some forms of evil would have us think that all religion is evil; some religion would have us think that all ways of living other than its particular way are evil. As in this chapter, so in all of life’s chapters, the Person of Jesus Christ is the line of demarcation.
Sometimes things are as they appear; sometimes they are not as they appear. There are those who profess Christ but who perpetrate evil; there are those who make no explicit profession of Christ but who are merciful and gracious. There are those who have heard the Gospel yet who live like devils; there are those who have never heard the Gospel and yet live like saints. There are tensions in life that only find their resolution before God’s judgment seat.
Betsey and Corrie ten Boom, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and others witnessed concentration camp guards with hearts filled with sustained merciless evil turn to Christ in repentance. Despite appearances, those guards had appointments with redemption. And yet there are others, whether appearing in overt wickedness or in the garb of religious or social respectability, that have no such appointment with redemption; while on the one hand we acknowledge this reality on the other we admit it is beyond our understanding. We must never underestimate evil, but we must also never forget that evil is no match for God Almighty.
The context of John 8 is the Temple; it is not a heroin den, nor a sex-slave house, nor a field of genocide, nor an executive board room ruled by the dollar; the context is the Temple. One only has to read the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation if one wants to see what evil looks like in the church; some of the evil is apparent, some of the evil is not – some of the evil in the Seven Churches is only seen by the piercing eyes of Christ. Let us not forget that the Laodicean church was an affluent church – so much for the health and wealth Gospel, but also so much for any Gospel which is defined by economics – including an economic class’s status quo. When Christians speak more of the economy than they do of the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ what do we tell the world about where our hearts are? About where our treasure is?
The words of Jesus Christ in John 8 do not lead me to wonder about others, they confront me with myself.