To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This section opens with Jesus turning to address those among the crowd who have believed in Him. In speaking to them, Jesus issues a new challenge: discipleship. To become His disciple, they must “hold to my teachings.” The meaning of the original text is more like the rendering of the NASV: “continue in my word.” This is much more than being a good Bible student, for John introduced Jesus as the Living Word (1:14) so that to “continue in my word” would require that they have a relationship with Him. In the following sentence, Jesus goes on to tell these people that they will know the truth (Jesus Himself) and that the truth will set them free. This is not a freedom from political or worldly oppression, but a freedom from spiritual oppression; freedom from slavery to sin. This is where His opponents resume their attack…
In 8:34-38 His opponents ask Jesus a question with a false premise: We have never been slaves. Jesus in His reply does not take the bait; He is talking about slavery to sin and they are all slaves to sin. He uses the metaphor of a slave’s position in the family of the master to illustrate the fact that if He, God’s Son sets them free from bondage to sin, He is doing something that it is His place to do. He goes on to mention that they have refused to “have room for my word.” Notice that this is the complete opposite of the disciple who continues in His word. He ends this reply with a set-up of His own…
I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.
They object to this saying that they are not “illegitimate” being Abraham’s descendants, and Jesus continues by pointing out that they are not acting like Abraham would act, instead they are following not Abraham but their own father. Now they say that their only father is God; they have fallen into His trap. Jesus tells them that if this were true they would love Him, not be plotting to murder Him. They are doing the work of their father the devil, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning. They hate hearing the truth from Him because they are following the lead of their father “master” because they are slaves to sin (the devil). Jesus finishes this comment by telling them the obvious: If they belonged to God they would hear and comprehend His Word, but since they belong to the devil they cannot hear or comprehend.
Once again the Jews respond in a way that seeks to marginalize His words, calling Him a Samaritan and demon-possessed. Jesus calmly tells them that He is neither and says that He is honoring God, and that anyone who keeps His Word will never see death( v. 51).
This section begins with the Jews asking Him more or less just exactly who He thinks He is, and Jesus is quick to tell them in vv. 54-55 that He is God’s Son. In the next verse He tells them that He knows Abraham’s thoughts as well when He says that Abraham looked forward to this day and rejoices in it, It is important to note that Jesus did not say this so as to speculate on what Abraham would have thought, but instead He is stating it as a fact; He is acting as a witness to it.
This completely blows their minds.
Their response in verse 57 is not one of amazement but is instead ridicule; they are marginalizing Him again so as to reduce or eliminate His credibility with the rest of the people. Verse 58 is the tipping point in the discourse: Jesus claims to be God. To make the statement that Jesus made here is one that is direct, to the point and undeniable in its meaning. “Before Abraham was born, I am!” Jesus is telling them two things, first that He has been around since before Abraham; He isn’t thirty-something, He’s at least 2,000 years old. Second, notice that Jesus didn’t say “before Abraham was born, I was alive” no, He said “I am”. I Am is the name God used to identify Himself to Abraham, thus Jesus is telling them that He is none other than God in the flesh. They understood this, and since they knew blasphemy when they heard it, they proceeded to grab for stones with which to execute Him. Jesus slips away, for His time had not yet come to die. It is worth pointing out that for all of the reasons Jesus cited, these people did not stop to consider the possibility that He might be telling the truth. These great men of God, these teachers, lawyers and scholars were actually following the devil, and their haste to shut Jesus up when He states the greatest truth of all is a poignant reminder to all of us that we must “continue in His word” to ensure that we are recognizing the truth when it is spoken in this difficult and dark age in which we live.