90 Days with Jesus, Day 42: John 8:54-59: The Glory of Jesus

John 8:54-59

Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

He is speaking here of glory. He was pointing to the cross: “The nature of that glorification, of course, is not in the public display some might have appreciated, but in the ignominy of the cross and consequent return to the glory the Son enjoyed with the Father before the world began (17:5)” (DA Carson, The Gospel According to John, 356). And Jesus has said earlier, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what please him.”

Isn’t that ironic? Jesus comes right out and says: I’m not doing any of these things for my own sake, for my own glory, but for that of the Father who sent me. And at this, they were ready to not believe him, and they were ready to kill him. Isn’t it ironic how, when someone is doing the right thing, the first thing to be question is their motives? Now, if Jesus had been doing all these things for his own sake, to lift himself up, to make himself look good, to gather a crowd around himself, to ‘make himself a public figure’ (7:1-10), the people would have flocked to him in droves. The would have hung on his every word. They would have obeyed any word he said. But here he is doing everything he does for the sake of the Father and people are bent on his destruction. Ironic.

But there is a greater irony involved here too. Jesus has been saying that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of his day, that is, Jesus’ day. And these folks, Abraham lovers that they were, were rejecting the very One that Abraham had been looking forward to. Thus they prove themselves out of line with Abraham. Thus they prove that they really wanted nothing to do with Abraham or the things that Abraham was looking forward to (see Hebrews 11:8-12). It is somewhat amazing that Jesus here says that Abraham ‘saw it’ (Jesus’ day), and it sets a precedent in John’s Gospel. John will say later, in chapter 12: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” So Jesus was not entirely unknown to these OT people and yet their testimony about Jesus offends people and escapes their grasp.

Briefly, this should cause us to look at the Old Testament in perhaps a new light. If Jesus is saying that those characters from days gone by looked to his arrival, and ‘saw’ him, then perhaps it is true that their life stories, recorded in the Old Testament, are also testimonies to Jesus. I should hope so since Jesus, elsewhere, and after his resurrection, took the disciples on a whirlwind tour through the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Law and showed how they testified to Him (see Luke 24).

There is, perhaps, another irony here. Jesus said, “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you.” What is ironic about this is that people are often so willing and ready to believe the lie. It is strange how these people he spoke with that day would have tolerated a liar but they would not tolerate the truth. He said as much in verse 45: “Yet because I tell you the truth, you don’t believe me!” Would they have believed him if he had spoken to them lies about himself, about God, about his mission? Why are human beings so prone to living and believing the lie? Why are people so prone to listening to the voice of the devil, the Father of Lies? Why are people so in tune with lies, and so terrified and offended by the truth? The more I think about this stuff, the more I think that perhaps we are incapable of hearing and understanding what Jesus said. However…

Make no mistake about it: They understood what Jesus was saying! He said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I Am!” At this, they wanted to stone him. Carson notes, “That the Jews take up stones to kill him presupposes that they understand these words as some kind of blasphemous claim to deity” (commentary, 358). They understood: still they refused to believe. This is the final irony. There are many people who perfectly understand what Christians are saying about Jesus and what Jesus said about himself: We say, “He is God”; Jesus said, “I Am God.” Jesus echoes Isaiah’s thoughts: “I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he” (Isaiah 41:4).

Jesus took these things, the things Abraham saw or looked forward to (‘the Day of the Lord’), the ‘I Am He’ statements of the Lord, and he not merely applied them to himself, but announced that these things were talking about him to begin with. He was their embodiment, their fulfillment; it was He that spoke them to begin with! This offends people, even today.

People seem to want this sort of Jesus who embodies compassion, empathy, and some vague, unthinking version of tolerance. But it is never clearly defined by those who say such things how Jesus embodied or exemplified such things himself. Jesus was compassionate (See John 6:1-15), but when they followed him around, hoping for more bread, he announced, rather intolerantly, “I am the Bread of Life. Come to me to have life. Work for bread that endures to eternal life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” and so on and so forth. So, can a case be made, from Scripture, that Jesus was in fact a tolerant individual in the sense that he never challenged people’s preconceptions and idols? Did Jesus tolerate the presence of atheists and God-haters and the demon-possessed? Or did Jesus call them to the same repentance that he called the thief, egomaniac, and adulterer to? I think Jesus very much did have a great deal of empathy for people but he did not neglect to show them the solution: Himself! What is compassion for the sake of compassion? But if I show compassion in the Name of Jesus then I follow His example: I’m not doing it so that I will feel good about myself, or so that people will honor me, but so that the Name of Jesus will be glorified!

The Christian message is essentially no different and the response of folks is no different either. Christians are still accused of being unsympathetic, intolerant, judgmental, and un-compassionate. Christians are supposed to ‘open their minds’ and hear the plight of the atheist who had a bad day in church as a child and consequently rejected Jesus, and anyone who follows Jesus. The implication seems to be, “We’d rather you lie to us.” That is, people would rather the Christian evangelist tell a lie about Jesus instead of the truth. I can talk about Jesus the healer, the forgiver, the feeder, or the empathizer; but I am forbidden to talk about Jesus the God, the Demander of Holiness, the Purveyor of Righteousness, the King, the Crucified, the One who calls sinners to repentance. If I, as a Christian, give a poor, hungry atheist a piece of bread, I am a good soldier in the atheists eyes. But if I happen to mention to the atheist that God loves him and calls him to repentance and salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ the Crucified and Resurrected, then I have overstepped the boundaries of etiquette. Then I am intolerant and judgmental! On the one hand, I’m empathetic and compassionate: “Feed the poor! Clothe the Naked! Slake the thirst of the drought stricken! But, don’t you dare mention the God in whose Name you do those things!” On the other hand, “Don’t tell us the truth about your God that we reject. We’ve no use for such intolerance.”

It is sad really that this is the response, but I hardly think the Christian is being intolerant for telling the truth. And I hardly think the Christian is unsympathetic because she does what she does in Jesus’ Name. And I hardly think the Christian judgmental when he suggests that people need to do more than merely listen to this Jesus or inanely ‘follow his example.’ But I also fully expect that, as Jesus said, if we do the things he did, speak the truth about him, people will respond the same way to us as they did to him: unbelief, incredulously, and with stones.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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  1. Pamela

    “…the plight of the atheist who had a bad day in church as a child and consequently rejected Jesus, and anyone who follows Jesus.”

    “We legitimize taking moments out of context and seizing upon the least sympathetic interpretation.” –David Weinberger




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