© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

Already as we have seen that Jesus’ statements and claims have provoked antagonism in the Jews. They have seen clearly what he is claiming, and they have rejected those claims. But Jesus does not give up. In chapter eight he presses his statements to their ultimate significance, making his claims even clearer. He knows, as only he could know, how imperative it is that they see and believe who he really is. He is doggedly persistent in his presentation of himself as God.



An historical narrative interrupts the flow of the contention between Jesus and the Jews [8:1-11].

And yet it is part of the Jews’ antagonism. While he sat teaching in the temple they brought a woman caught in adultery, with the express purpose of trapping him in order to have some grounds for their accusations [8:6]. If on the one hand he states that she should be stoned to death, then they can accuse him in terms of the Roman law; if on the other hand he says not to stone her, then they can accuse him for going against the Law of Moses. They think that they have him in an inescapable corner. Whichever way he responds will be wrong.

But they are mistaken. His simple response ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’ completely reverses the situation; it is now they, not him, who are being put to the test. It is they, not him, who are shown to be law-breakers.

Jesus’ words to the woman demonstrate both grace and truth, love and justice. He recognizes her sin, he forgives her sin, but he does not condone or permit her sin.



Here we have the second of Jesus' absolute, exclusive claims. He said: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ [ 8:12 ; see also 3:19 ; 9:5; 12:35 ,36,46].

This statement, like those Jesus made in preceding chapters, is rich with Old Testament images. In the exodus from Egypt the Israelites were accompanied by a pillar of fire and cloud, encompassing them with physical light, and symbolising the presence of the Lord [Exodus 13ff]. This pillar hovered over the Tabernacle after it was built. During the Feast of the Tabernacles, which had probably just finished when Jesus made this statement, the Temple was illuminated, reminding the people of God’s presence with them on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, and drawing attention to its significance as the earthly ‘dwelling place’ of God.

In the Psalms light is associated with God.

Read these verses from the Psalms, write out what they say about God and light, and discuss how they teach us about Jesus Christ. [Note that Psalm 118 is filled with joyous anticipation of the coming Christ.]

Psalm 27:1


Psalm 36:9


Psalm 43:3


Psalm 56:13b


Psalm 118:27


Isaiah also identifies God as the ‘Light of Israel’ [10:17], identifies the coming Servant of the Lord as ‘a light for the Gentiles’ [42:6], and in 60:1-3 and 19-20 looks ahead to a glorious time of salvation when the light of the Lord will enlighten and draw to himself people from all nations.

As Jesus stood in the Temple , where the brilliant lights of the Feast of the Tabernacles had recently been extinguished, and claiming ‘I am the light of the world’ all of this richness of meaning pulsated through his words. By these words he identifies himself, not only as the prophesied Messiah/Suffering Servant, but also as God. The symbolic, prophetic lights have gone, but he whom they both symbolised and prophesied is here. Just as they need no more the symbolic, prayerful pouring out of the water, so also they need no more the brilliant illumination of the Temple. What purpose in gazing at a mere symbol when he whom it symbolises is here? What purpose in rejoicing in a prophetic hope when the subject of the prophecy has arrived? What purpose in rejoicing in the symbol of God’s presence, when God himself is present?

There is no more darkness for those who recognise and believe what Jesus is claiming when he says ‘I am the light of the world’; those who believe in him, those who follow him both see and know God. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ No longer is God hidden in inscrutable darkness: he has come to us in this man, Jesus. No longer are we limited to looking at a symbol of God. Here in this man we see God. ‘If you knew me,’ Jesus said, ‘you would know my father also’ [John 8:19 ]; but those to whom he spoke knew neither him nor his Father. [See also 9:5.]

We must not lose the profound, far-reaching significance of Jesus' simple words. Knowledge of God is inseparably bound to knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jesus is making it unquestionably clear that it is impossible to know God apart from knowing who Jesus really is. He is the Light of the world. All other supposed lights are not true lights at all; they are either inadequate, inaccurate or false. No matter how enlightened they may suppose themselves to be, Jesus makes it clear that those who do not follow him walk in darkness. Those who do not know God by knowing Jesus Christ do not and cannot know God.

Jesus is the Light of the world: the one place where God can be seen and known.



C.1 John 8:24

If you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.’ [Note: the bracketed words are not in the Greek text.]

Jesus uses here in this critical statement the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew words God used to identify himself in Exodus 3:14. Moses had asked God what was his name, so he would be able to tell the Israelites who the God was who had commissioned him. God's answer to this request was: ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’ Here in John 8:24 Jesus says: ‘unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins’ [literal translation].

In the two exclusive claims seen so far [John 6:35 and 8:12 ], and in those yet to come [10:7,11; 11:25 ; 14:6; 15:1] this ‘I AM’ expression of deity was also used by Jesus. In each of these when Jesus says ‘I am …’ he uses the words ‘ego eimi’, instead of the simpler ‘I am’ - eimi. The significance of it is comprehended in these claims, for he says that those who do not believe in or follow him in terms of these claims are excluded from eternal life. But whereas his use of this term in his exclusive claims is not overt, and its significance is hidden, here in John 8:24 Jesus comes straight out and leaves no room for failure to understand: unless a person believes that he is who he is they will die in their sins. In other words, if a person does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so equal to God the Father that he has the right to use God's self-identifying name, that person will die in their sins.

It is becoming increasingly clear through John’s Gospel that the key focus of saving faith is the deity of Jesus Christ: that only those who believe in him, that is, believe he is God in human flesh, are saved.

C.2 John 8:28

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] …’ [Note: the bracketed words are not in the Greek text.]

Jesus again uses this divine name – I AM, and tells them that when they have crucified him, then they will know that he is God. The crucifixion is followed by the resurrection. When that happens, then they will know that he actually did have the right to make the claims he made and that the teaching he gave was identical to the Father’s teaching. It is instructive that Peter, in his first sermon in Acts 2:22-36, set about affirming and proving the divine identity of Jesus Christ, and that as a result of this, the listening Jews finally understood that Jesus was indeed both Christ and Lord [Acts 2:36-37]. Paul, in Romans 1:4, states that the resurrection declares that Jesus is the Son of God.

C.3 John 8:58

‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!’

Jesus has just said to the Jews: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ And the Jews responded ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!’ Then Jesus made this extreme statement.

So clearly did the Jews grasp the significance of Jesus' words ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ that they immediately picked up stones to stone him. For a man to say what Jesus said here, was blasphemy of the grossest kind. It was claiming for himself the attributes and the name of God. It was a claim to be God. Not only has Jesus clearly used for himself the divine name of Exodus 3:14 , he has also ascribed to himself eternal existence. He did not say ‘I was’ or ‘I existed’, or even ‘I came into existence’. He said ‘I am’ - he speaks of himself as one existing in an eternal present, without beginning, without ending. He speaks as God. It is God alone who inhabits eternity, yet here is a man, Jesus of Nazareth, claiming eternity.



The Pharisees challenged Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world by pointing out that he was appearing as his own witness [13] and therefore what he claimed was not valid. Jesus refuted this challenge and affirmed the integrity of his claim on several grounds:

D.1 His testimony is valid because it is based on knowledge of the facts [14-15,55]

It is not opinion. It is not speculation. It is not human interpretation. Nor is it knowledge that has been learned in school from some other human being. Jesus knows who he is: he knows where he has come from and he knows where he is going. The Jews look at the physical reality, ‘judge by human standards’ and see just a man; they know nothing of the spiritual reality – they don’t really know – they ‘have no idea’ - where he has come from [even though they think they do] and they don’t really know where he is going. It simply doesn’t enter their heads that he actually has come down from heaven.

So sure is this knowledge of Christ of his own identity and of God who sent him that he states that if he said he didn’t know he would be a liar. He knows. He knows God. This is pure knowledge. Pure truth. Indisputable. Immovable. No matter what they might say, Jesus knows who he is. Jesus knows who God is. Jesus knows that to know him is to know God. It is simply fact. Deep, eternal, absolute. Fact. Ultimate truth.

D.2 His testimony is valid because it is supported by the Father’s testimony [16-18]

Jesus’ testimony, and his judgment, and his decisions ‘are right’ because there is one with whom he stands together in testimony, judgment and decision: the Father who sent him. Jesus does not stand or work or speak alone: he stands with the Father, the Father stands with him. This unity of word and action between the Father and the Son is affirmed repeatedly:

      • The Son does only what the Father does [ 5:19 ]
      • The Son gives life just as the Father gives life [ 5:21 ,26]
      • The Son has the same authority as the Father [ 5:22 ,27]
      • The Son does nothing by himself, but only what he hears from the Father, only what pleases the Father [ 5:20 ]
      • The Son comes in the name of the Father, not in his own name [ 5:43 ]
      • The Son came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father [ 6:38 ]
      • The Son teaches only what comes from the Father [ 7:16 ]
      • The Son is not a stand-alone renegade – he is an ambassador sent from the Father [ 7:28 ; 8:29 ]
      • The Son tells the world what he heard from the Father [ 8:26 ]
      • The Son does nothing on his own, but speaks just what the Father has taught him [ 8:28 ]
      • The Son tells them what he has seen in the Father’s presence’ [ 8:38 ]
      • The Son tells them the truth that he heard from God [ 8:40 ]

Jesus sums up this perspective with the words: ‘I am not alone. I stand with the Father’ [8:16b]

Reflection :

While we as human beings cannot identify with Jesus Christ in his divine equality and unity with the Father, there is a level here at which this unity of the Son with the Father is a demonstration of the dependence, trust and allegiance which we as humans should have towards God.

Ø Jesus said that he can do nothing without the Father – and that is precisely what is true of us whether we acknowledge it or not [John 15:5]

Ø Jesus said that he is not alone – and part of our lostness is that we do stand alone, we have severed ourselves from our God; whereas our true identity is found in positive relationship with God.

Ø Jesus said that he came not to do his own will, but the Father’s – and that is what we are supposed to do.

Ø Jesus said that he stands with the Father – and that is where we are supposed to stand: dependent on the Father, on the same side as the Father, with the Father’s agenda, etc.

In what way are these perspectives a challenge to your personal attitude to and relationship with God?









Throughout this chapter Jesus points out several contrasts between himself and the Jews. And we see again here the flesh/spirit contrast introduced in the conversation with Nicodemus.



The Jews













Notice how different ‘the Jews’, and we ourselves, are from Jesus. Some of it is because he is God and we and the Jews are human. Some of it is because he is the perfect human, totally at one with God and at ease with dependence on God, and we and the Jews are imperfect humans, rebels, rejecting dependence on God.



F.1 Spiritual darkness [ 8:12 ]

Those who do not follow Jesus walk in darkness. This ‘darkness’ is ignorance of God. To know God is to have eternal life [17:3]. To be ignorant of God is to be cut off from life. The coming of Jesus is the coming of Light into the world [John 3:19 ], but rather than come to and follow the Light men prefer to stay in their dark ignorance of God and his truth.

This ignorance is further affirmed by Jesus in verse 19: ‘You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father also.’ Again, as in 8:12 , knowledge of Jesus Christ means knowledge of God. Rejection of Christ means ignorance of God. To not recognize and know Christ is to not know God.

In rejecting Jesus Christ we reject God’s ultimate and final self-revelation: here in Christ God comes and shines into our darkness. If we refuse him here in Christ there is nothing but darkness for us in this present life, in our own souls, and for eternity.

What do these texts teach about this darkness?

Matthew 6:23


Matthew 25:30


Luke 1:79


John 12:35,46


Acts 26:18


Romans 13:12,13


1Corinthians 4:5


2Corinthians 6:14


Ephesians 5:8-14


Ephesians 6:12


Colossians 1:13


1Thess 5:4,5


1Peter 2:9


2Peter 2:17


1John 1:5,6


1John 2:8-11


Jude 13


F.2 No forgiveness [ 8:21 ,24]

Jesus said: ‘if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’ [John 8:24]

In verse 21 Jesus told his hearers that they would die in their sins. Here in verse 24 he explains why he said that. In the intervening verses he has made an emphatic distinction between himself and his hearers. They are from below: he is from above. They are of this world: he is not of this world. It is essential that they realise this. If he goes away, if he leaves the earth, and they have not realised and do not realise who he is, then they will die in their sins. This fate is the ultimate disaster. To die with one's sins unrepented of and unatoned for, to die still under the curse of one's sins, still severed from God by one’s sins, is eternal judgment. My eternal destiny depends on this one point: do I, or do I not, believe that Jesus is who he is? Do I, or do I not, believe that he is the one he claimed to be? Do I, or do I not, believe that he is God, the great I AM, the ever-living, self-existent One? Unless I believe in God, here as he stands before me in Christ, I can never be forgiven. I stand forever condemned. [This we have already seen in 3:18 and 5:24 .]

F.3 Allegiance and relationship to Satan, not to God [ 8:42 -47]

‘He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ [ 8:47 ]

In this section of the debate [John 8:42 -47] Jesus answers his own questions about why those listening to his words do not hear or obey what he is saying. The statement above is his final answer.

    • In verse 43 he had reasoned: ‘Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.’
    • They are unable to hear what he is saying because their father is the devil, not God.
    • Jesus tells them the truth, but they do not believe him. Why do they not believe him? Because he is God, and only he who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason they do not hear what Jesus [who is God] says, is that they belong not to God, but to the devil.

Their rejection of Jesus and his teaching is clear and certain evidence that their allegiance and relationship is with Satan, not God. To Jesus this is perfectly clear. To the Jews it is extremely offensive, for they believe they are God’s people, the children of Abraham [ 8:33 ,39], they believe that they are God’s children [41].

The Jew's response to this line of debate is to classify Jesus as a Samaritan and demon-possessed. To their darkened understanding it is Jesus, not they¸ who has an allegiance and relationship with Satan.

F.4 Death

If a man keeps my word, he will never see death.’ 8:51 .

This statement has much in common with the statements in 3:36 , 5:24 and 8:24 , which we have already considered.

To rightly respond to the word of Christ is to have eternal life – to never see death; to reject the word of Christ is death.

The response it brought forth from the Jews [52-53] indicates its considerable significance: ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! .... Who do you think you are?’ Abraham died, the prophets died, great though they were, and here is Jesus proclaiming that whoever keeps his word will not see death. If Abraham and the prophets, who kept God’s word died, who on earth does Jesus think he is that anyone who keeps his word will not die?


Leaving aside the obvious physical concept of death that they are referring to, the Jews have rightly identified the extreme and radical claim that Jesus is making. It is a claim that is consistent with deity. Although they reject it and condemn him for it, he cannot not make this claim, for it is true. He knows that this is true: that those who keep his word, those who hear and believe his testimony about himself, will not taste spiritual death. He knows it just as his knows who he is. There is no way out of it. No other way to say it, except to say it. Apart from him and his word there is only death.

But so wrong is it for a human to make such a claim that they are certain he must be demon-possessed. No man in his right mind, no man in control of his own senses, would make such a claim.

But back to this outcome of unbelief – this ‘death’.

    • It is the opposite of the ‘life’ and ‘eternal life’ that Jesus so frequently associates with himself and promises to all who believe in him throughout this Gospel.
    • It is affirmed by Paul as the state and status of all people apart from the Gospel [Romans 5:12 -21; 6:23 ; Ephesians 2:1,5]