Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October

John 8.45-59.

So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well.

So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting words—and that’s what we read in the rest of this chapter.

Back to Jesus:

John 8.45-57 KWL
45 “You don’t trust me because I say the truth.
46 Who among you can convict me of sin? If I say the truth, why don’t you trust me?
47 One who’s from God, hears God’s words. This is why you don’t hear: You’re not from God.”

Determinists have used this passage to claim we first have to be elect before we can listen to God. If he never intended to save you, you weren’t created with the special innate ability to receive his words, and receive him. You were predestined for hell. Supposedly these Judeans were likewise predestined for hell, so Jesus was just talking to them for show. He knew they were doomed, but he had to at least look like he was engaging them, and pretend he wanted to lead ’em to truth. All to keep up the illusion God is love… ’cause in a deterministic universe, he’s really not.

In reality, Jesus figured telling them the unvarnished truth might shake a few of ’em out of their complacency. In John we only see the responses of those this tactic didn’t work on. Their bad behavior was a calculated risk on Jesus’s part. Well, now he had to deal with them.

John 8.48-49 KWL
48 In reply the Judeans told Jesus, “Don’t we rightly say you’re Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus replied, “I don’t have a demon, but honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”

Just to remind you: “You have a demon” is a Judean euphemism for “You’re insane.” It didn’t mean they literally thought Jesus was demonized. Demons make people act insane, but not all insanity is demonic.

“You’re Samaritan” was also a euphemism: It was their way of calling Jesus heretic, ’cause Samaritans were heretics. Certain commentators claim “Samaritan” was a slam on Jesus’s parentage, ’cause of the old doubts about who Jesus’s biological father is. (It’s presumed to be the source of the Judeans’ comment, “We weren’t begat by some fornicator,” Jn 8.41 but that ignores how they contrasted this with God being their father.) I seriously doubt the Judeans were trying to goad Jesus about his odd conception; they were just trying to call him a crazy heretic. The easiest way to dismiss someone: Claim his brain’s defective.

His followers won’t see death.

Jesus went on,

John 8.50-53 KWL
50 “I don’t seek my own opinion. One who seeks such things is judging.
51 Amen amen! I promise you when anyone keeps my word, they might never see death in the age to come.”
52 The Judeans told him, “Now we know you have a demon. Abraham died! And the prophets.
And you say, ‘When anyone keeps my word, they may never taste death in the age to come.’
53 You’re not greater than our father Abraham, who died; and the prophets died.
Who are you making yourself out to be?”

Those who follow Jesus—who aren’t just seeking him for the purpose of nitpicking his words, looking for loopholes, and rejecting his message—will never see death εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα/eis ton eóna, “in the age,” by which Jesus means the age to come.

Weirdly, English translations don’t include “in the age.” Seriously, they’ve all dropped it, following the KJV’s example. Most of the reason for this is because they tend to translate eis ton eóna as “forever” or “eternally,” and if you’ll never see death eternally, that seems redundant. So they just leave it off.

Here’s why they shouldn’t. Whenever Jesus says “in the age,” he’s not always referring to eternity. Sometimes he means this age. Sometimes the next. In this case the next; he means the millennial age when the Son of Man takes his glorious throne and rules the world, right after his followers have been resurrected and won’t die again. That certainly doesn’t happen in this age. So no, Jesus isn’t claiming his followers before Kingdom Come will never die, ’cause we will. But at his second coming we get resurrected, and that’s when we’ll never see death.

Chopping Jesus off before eis ton eóna implies Jesus was saying his followers won’t die anymore. Which, at face value, is false: Christians still die. All the apostles died. And Christians will leap to the conclusion Jesus only meant “will never see death” as a metaphor for something else… then come up with weird interpretations for what that something else might be.

The Judeans knew nothing about the next age. They assumed it’d be exactly like this age, only with Messiah ruling the world and Israel’s enemies overthrown. Conquering death? No no; Messiah was only gonna conquer Romans, not death. They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, and since they’d just been talking about Abraham, they quickly dragged him back into this: Abraham died. The prophets died. Who did Jesus think he was, that he could abolish death? How could he have that kind of power?

Before Abraham came to be.

We Christians already know how Jesus had that kind of power, and in expressing what that made him out to be, the Judeans understandably freaked out.

John 8.54-59 KWL
54 Jesus answered, “When I promote myself, my opinion means nothing. It’s what my Father thinks of me.
You say of him that he’s your God, 55 and you haven’t known him.
I’ve known him. If I said I hadn’t known him, I’d be like you—a liar.
But I’ve known him and I keep his word.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he might see my day—and sees, and rejoices.”
57 So the Judeans told Jesus, “You haven’t 50 years yet, and you saw Abraham?”
58 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you before Abraham came to be, I am.”
59 So they picked up stones so they could throw them at him.
Jesus hid, and went out of temple.

I’ve heard a lot of preachers speculate about how and when Abraham saw Jesus’s day. Lots of it is based on the idea “my day” meant the first century: Abraham wasn’t given a vision of the Son of Man entering his glorious kingdom, but was instead allowed to see Jesus hanging around Roman-occupied Israel, having spats like this with Pharisees and unbelievers. Maybe his crucifixion; maybe his resurrection. Why the LORD would show Abraham this, when he hadn’t given such details to any of his other prophets, I dunno.

Now, what the LORD did show quite a lot of people, was the End. Or at least apocalypses of it. So it stands to reason “my day” meant the Day of the LORD, the end of this age, which we Christians all look forward to.

Anyway the scriptures and history are mute as to what Abraham actually saw. All we know is he saw something.

Why the Judeans leapt to the conclusion Jesus knew this ’cause he saw Abraham, instead of knew this through revelation, is a lot easier to figure out: It’s a crack at how old Jesus was at the time. Art and movies have given us the false idea Jesus was the same age as these Judeans who challenged him. The reality is he was in his late thirties, his students were in their teens, and the naysayers were likely closer to his students’ age than his. (I used to point to their obnoxious attitudes as evidence of their youth… but having met plenty of obnoxious older folks, I now know better. Maturity doesn’t always come with age.) So “Oh, you know what Abraham saw ’cause you were there,” was mockery.

But it turns out he was there: “I promise you before Abraham came to be, I am.” Jn 8.58 In other words he’s more than “not yet 50 years old,” but (as of that date) more than two millennia old; we don’t know exact dates. Because, as we Christians recognize, Jesus is God. In fact most of us interpret when Jesus said “I am,” it’s a reference to “I AM,” the name God told Moses to describe him as to the Hebrews: “This is what you’re to tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” Ex 3.14 So Jesus was as much as saying “I know what Abraham saw ’cause I’m the LORD.”

Well, that’d explain why they were gonna throw stones at him, right? If someone claims he’s God, he’s gotta be nuts, maybe dangerous. Yeah we know Jesus is legitimately God, but they didn’t.

But I seriously doubt your average Judean would pull “I’m the LORD” out of a simple ἐγώ εἰμι/eghó eími, “I am.” Everybody says “I am” as part of casual conversation, on a daily basis. “I’m tired” or “I am out of milk,” or “You don’t realize how busy I am.” The reason Christians conclude Jesus was saying “I’m [God]” is because we’re looking for the reason the Judeans gathered stones. As if they needed any reason to want him dead: He did just call them the devil’s kids y’know.

“They needed a legal reason to stone him,” I’ve heard it preached, “and the only legal reason was blasphemy.” Actually no. The Romans had forbidden the Judeans from enacting the death penalty without their permission. Thanks the the Romans, you could say any blasphemy you wished, even in temple. Of course, the people might still riot and try to kill you anyway, as they did Paul Ac 21.27-36 and Stephen. Ac 7.57-60 But riots weren’t legal. Still aren’t. Legality has nothing at all to do with the ways mobs react.

If you don’t read “I’m God” into Jesus’s statement—if you understand it at face value, as the Judeans likely did—all Jesus said was, “I’m before Abraham ever came to be.” That alone comes across as crazy. And as you might recall, how’d the Judeans say “crazy” back then? “You have a demon.”

If you legitimately think someone has a demon, you get the demon out of ’em, right? Ordinarily yeah. But when you have no sympathy nor love for them, you’ll more likely drive ’em out, lock ’em up, or throw rocks at ’em.

Christ Almighty!