“[Jesus responds to their claim of having one father, God:] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8:48-59 ESV)
Insults and Accusations:
A quick review from last week… Not surprisingly, the Jewish leaders are angered by Jesus’ response. Jesus questioned their love of God (vs. 42-47). He accused them of claiming to love God, while really despising God’s ways. If they were really Abraham’s children, they would love God and the one He has sent. As it is, they show their true colors. They don’t love God. They don’t speak His words. They speak words of their father, the Devil. He lies and always has. Those are the only words he knows. He can’t speak without lying and they do the same.
The Pharisees don’t disappoint us. They immediately flare up and respond in a fit of rage, just like Jesus indicates they would. “Well, wouldn’t we be correct in saying you are an enemy, a religious and political enemy of the Jewish people? You must be a Samaritan, and demon possessed.” The hatred of the Jews towards the Samaritans was more, so much more, than just a racial issue. The northern kingdom of Judah was considered to have forsaken the true worship of Jehovah when they established their own “true” Temple site on Mount Gerizim and established their own priesthood. (See John 4, notice how the woman at the well reacts to Jesus’ claims and challenges him on where true worship takes place.)
So, when the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of being a demon possessed Samaritan, it wasn’t just a racial slur. It was a declaration that he had abandoned the true worship of God, and was blasphemous in his claims. It was a direct and intentional denial of Jesus and his religious claims. You only say these things as an enemy of God, not as His spokesman. Your words aren’t truth, life giving. They are demonic. Notice, however, Jesus’ response… he ignores the Samaritan slur but jumps on their statement that he’s “demon possessed.” He says, “I don’t have a demon, but I honor my father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.”
In essence, Jesus declares that he hasn’t come to argue with them and defend himself to them. He has come to obey and honor God, and God will be the judge of his actions and theirs. Then he makes a stunning statement, one that makes you step back and ask “what did he just say?” He says, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Death, the ultimate equalizer…
I have no doubt Jesus’ words left the crowd stunned. I would love to have seen the look on the faces of the Pharisees when Jesus uttered those words. It must have been one of those situations where you stop, glance around, and ask… “what did he just say?” Let’s dig into this for a few minutes.
First, let’s consider what he didn’t say. Does he mean Christians won’t physically die? If that were true, we have a real problem. EVERYONE who has ever followed Christ has physically died. So, either that interpretation is wrong or Jesus was wrong. I think that interpretation is wrong. Why? Jesus is trying to give us a different perspective on life and death.
Here are few verses just to illustrate Jesus’ view on the issue:
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6 ESV)
“Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19 ESV)
“”I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:1-3 ESV)
“Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:19-22 ESV)
So, what does Jesus mean when he says his followers won’t see or taste death. Here’s a passage to help illustrate: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:24-29 ESV)
Just one final verse, from the Apostle Paul will help explain:
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-58 ESV)
I know, a really long passage. But, did you catch what Paul said? The physical body can’t receive or inherit immortality. But, if you take a seed and plant it in the ground, it dies. But then begins the miracle of the resurrection. Through the mystery of God, it becomes a new and heavenly body. Similar, but somehow completely different! If you are born physically, you will live and, eventually, die physically. If you are born spiritually, you will live forever spiritually with Him!
You’re reaction to this truth may be just like those Jewish religious leaders who heard Jesus… Yeah, right. You say these things, but even a man of great faith like Abraham died. Every one of the prophets died.
Just who do you think you are?
Such big promises from a backwoods Jewish carpenter. But, Jesus then blows everything out of the water with his next statement. He tells them that Abraham expected to see Jesus’ day and, in fact, did see it. Now, I have little doubt that Jesus meant Abraham saw Jesus’ day through the eyes of faith and believed in full anticipation and expectation of God fulfilling His promise. But, that’s not really the focus here. The Jews challenge Jesus and state, “You aren’t yet 50 years old. How could you have seen Abraham?” Wait for it…
“I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Sounds like a simple statement, but catch the implications. Jesus doesn’t just say he is older than Abraham. He identifies himself as “I AM.” He is the very God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets. He IS the God of Israel. If I promise that my followers will never die, I AM the God who makes it happen. He is Lord of life and death.
Because Jesus is God, his work on the cross and his word, his promise will be totally successful. So, when he says, “You will never see death,” you will never see death. God has spoken. And his word never fails. Yahweh promises, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10) — that is what it means to be God. He speaks and it is. And Jesus is God, so when he promises in verse 51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death,” that person will never see death!