John tells us the people all went to their own houses but Jesus had no place to lay His head so He went to the Mount of Olives. The people returned to the temple at daybreak. The festival had just ended and many people were still in Jerusalem. And, they were attracted by the presence of a noted rabbi. A crowd began to gather and Jesus sat down to teach them. Sitting was the common position for teachers. As always, there were religious leaders in the crowd or on the fringes, watching and looking for any opportunity to trap Jesus and have him arrested. Bringing the woman caught in adultery into the middle of the teaching was a rude interruption but the Pharisees were intent on confounding Jesus. The Greek of the sentence pronounced against this woman was presented in the form of a legal claim. The law required two witnesses and it carefully outlined what evidence was needed. Stoning was specified only in certain cases of adultery, such as when the woman was a betrothed virgin. This sin cannot be committed alone so the question arises as to why only the woman was brought to Jesus. This was a trap for Jesus and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her because they could have kept her in private custody while they talked to Jesus. This wasn’t so much about the woman as it was Jesus. His response would determine their course of action. If Jesus said not to stone her then He would have contradicted Jewish law. If He had said to stone her Jesus would have run counter to Roman law which didn’t permit Jews to carry out their own executions. No one knows what Jesus wrote in the dust nor does it really matter. As Jesus wrote, the religious leaders kept harassing him for an answer. When Jesus did answer, the people were once again amazed. He had avoided their traps again and made them look foolish. Let the one without sin cast the first stone. None of them fit into that category and they slowly walked away, leaving Jesus and the woman standing alone. The accusers didn’t condemn the woman because none of them were without sin. Jesus told her He wouldn’t condemn her either but she was to go and sin no more. This doesn’t mean she was innocent. Jesus views sin and judgement very seriously but He also looks graciously and forgivingly on those caught in sin’s grip.
The rest of chapter 8 focuses on the debate started in 7:52. This centered on whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus was still at the festival of booths in Jerusalem. During the festival the conflicts Jesus had endured in chapter 7 continued and intensified. After the last night and the great ceremony with the lighting of the giant torches, Jesus had told the people that He is the light of the world. He is the source of light and His light brings salvation not only to Israel but to the world regardless of race or locale. The Pharisees charged that Jesus’ claims were invalid because Jewish law required more than one witness. Jesus answered the Pharisees charges saying He could make such claims about Himself because He knew both His origin (heaven) and His destination (heaven). Then He pointed to the most vital witness for His case, His Father who had sent Him. Jesus was not alone because both He and His Father, through signs bore testimony to Jesus’ works and words. Throughout the festival Jesus’ audience proved that they were in the darkness as they misunderstood Him. They wanted to meet Jesus’ Father, who is God. But since they didn’t truly know God, they were unable to understand Jesus. The treasury was located in the section of the temple called the court of the women. Jesus often taught there so that both men and women could hear Him. Early in the debate at this festival Jesus’ origins were at issue. Here Jesus mentioned going away to the place He came from, meaning heaven. But once again His words were misunderstood. And they couldn’t understand because the people were from below, meaning humans from earth. And they couldn’t understand things that were of heaven.
In verse 24 Jesus used His official name, I AM. But the people missed that altogether. He tried to warn the people saying that His presence in the world was the light of heaven that was piercing through the darkness of the sins of the world. Jesus is the world’s only chance for salvation. In the first three gospels we see Jesus describe and predict His death three times. John parallels this, showing that the Father governs His Sons fate. And Jesus used His official name again. The continued discussions left the people divided. Now many believed in Him and what Jesus was saying. They believed He was telling the truth. But once Jesus’ full identity was disclosed their faith was sorely challenged.
Discipleship is more than just knowing who Jesus is. It is also about obeying His teachings. Because Jesus is the truth, knowing Him brings discernment of what is true and what is false. Jesus’ truth brings freedom from darkness, falsehood, and sin. Free here means freedom from bondage to sin and obedience to the Lord means fellowship with Him, protection from sin, and experiencing His love. Here Jesus challenged a widely held belief about Israel’s status as God’s chosen people. Their heritage as descendants of Abraham had inspired feelings of privilege and immunity rather than obligation and responsibility. The people misunderstood what it meant to be set free. Jesus wasn’t referring to freedom from human bondage but instead He meant spiritual bondage to sin. Their religious traditions would not set them free, only Jesus could do that. Jesus’ logic was that if Israel was a spiritual slave, it has the same insecurity as any slave in a household. Members of a family are secure but slaves are not. Only Jesus can change the status of slaves and make them free and secure. The leaders plot to kill Jesus unmasked their true identity. They belonged to a different household and their father was not Jesus’ Father. They were relying on the fact that Abraham was their ancestral father, but Jesus challenged their spiritual pedigree. Verse 44 is the climax of His challenge. Jesus knew who controlled them. This was both a defense and an attack. The people began talking smack about Jesus saying we are not illegitimate children but you are. It seems this rumor had followed a Jesus for many years, implying that Jesus was illegitimate. The unbelieving people didn’t love Jesus so they were not children of the Father in heaven who sent His beloved Son. Their true spiritual ancestry was revealed in their desire to kill Jesus, God’s Son. This was the work of the evil one who one who brought death to the world, and still does.
By calling Jesus a Samaritan devil, His opponents turned His charges back on Him with a racial slur, and their statement that He was demon possessed countered His claim that they were linked to the evil one. Jesus rightly implied that their words were a profound dishonor. In fact, it was a serious and unforgivable offense. Again they asked Jesus who He thinks He is. The question was antagonistic and aggressive but if Jesus is immortal, ruling over life and death, then He IS greater than Abraham, the prophets, or any of the greatest people in Israel’s history. But like His opponents, Jesus appealed to Abraham. Rabbis taught that God had given Abraham prophetic insight, teaching him about the coming age of the Messiah. Abraham had seen Jesus’ coming and was glad. The people were confused because Jesus wasn’t even 50 yet. Jesus was talking about His divine presence and not His physical age. And again Jesus used His official name, I AM, telling the people that before Abraham’s even born, He, Jesus already existed. Jesus’ life spans the past from before creation and sweeps beyond the present into eternity. This is the same I AM we saw in the Book of Exodus, given on Mount Sinai. Finally the people understood Jesus’ claim to divinity but they were furious. They had just heard blasphemy and they picked up stones to throw at Him , which was the proper legal response (see Leviticus 24:16) but Jesus was hidden from them because it was still not His time yet.
At the festival of booths Jesus claimed to be the light of the world. Here John tells us about Jesus giving light, both physically and spiritually, to a blind man who lived in darkness. The story ends with a splendid reversal of roles. The blind man who was assumed to be in a spiritual darkness could see God’s light while the Pharisees, who could physically see and were thought to be enlightened were shown to be spiritually blind. It was common thought that if a serious issue had befallen someone it was because that person had committed a grave sin and this was their punishment. Here the people wanted to know if it’s the blind man or his parents who had committed the horrible sin. Jesus answered neither but that this man had been born blind for the glory of God. During the New Testament era spit was used for medicinal purposes and mixing clay with spit was a common practice used for eye infections. Jesus may have used this clay to provide an opportunity for the man to exercise his faith by actually going to wash it off. The pool of Siloam was at the south end of the city of Jerusalem and it was the source of water for the ceremonies at the festival of booths. The Word Siloam means sent so this had a double meaning. Jesus who had been sent by God, sent the blind man to wash in a pool called sent. When asked who healed him, the blind man identified Jesus and testified strongly about Him. This man was healed of his physical infirmity, gained increasing spiritual insight, and became Jesus’ disciple. It was on the sabbath that Jesus gave this man his sight. The community looked to the Pharisees explain this miracle that everyone had a hard time believing. But rather than celebrate this miracle of healing these religious leaders interrogated the man because Jesus had performed this miracle on the sabbath. The leaders would not leave the man alone, even questioning the man’s parents. This man had already identified his healer, more than once. Now he made his own spiritual judgement. He called Jesus a prophet but the Pharisees wanted to discount the miracle and hoped the man’s parents would deny the healing. They confirmed the man had been born blind but they hesitated to judge how he could see because they were afraid of the social consequences. The parents could have been expelled from the synagogue. The Jews had three kinds of excommunication: one lasting 30 days during which the person could not come within six feet of anybody else. There was one for an indefinite time during which the person was excluded from all fellowship and worship, and one that meant absolute expulsion forever. These judgements were very serious and no one could conduct business with a person who was excommunicated. The leaders were convinced that God should get the glory for the blind man receiving his sight because they were sure Jesus was a sinner.
The Pharisees could not defeat the logic of the miraculous sign so they turned from reason and cursed Jesus. The harsh division between Jesus and the religious leaders was very clear. They considered those who followed Jesus to have rejected Moses and Judaism. They didn’t know where Jesus came from and the man’s astonishment was understandable. This sort of healing was unprecedented. Jesus’ works confirmed that He came from God and once His true identity was known belief and discipleship should have followed. But the Jewish leaders were willfully blind. Only God could do something such as open the eyes of a man born blind. By healing the man Jesus offered the Jewish leaders an unquestionable sign that He was from God and was in fact the Messiah. Discipline such as being thrown out of the synagogue was not uncommon. It brought social isolation that might require the man’s departure from the village. Such serious persecution was precisely what Jesus predicted for His followers. Jesus pressed the man who had been blind to understand the miracle and the identity of his healer. Immediately the man expressed faith and gave Jesus reverence due only to God. People were not totally sure what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Son of Man but it signifies Jesus’ identity as both human and as the Messiah. Jesus didn’t come into the world to execute judgement but the result of His coming is judgement because some refuse to believe. As the light of the world Jesus came that the blind might see and those who think they can see will be made blind. Pharisees who were standing nearby heard Jesus say this and they asked if He was talking about them. He answered that those who claim to hold all religious truth will discover that they are blind while those who recognize their spiritual poverty will find true sight. In the story the blind man and his parents frequently confessed they did not know, while the Pharisees repeatedly stated their confidence and remained guilty because of their religious pride. If they had confessed their ignorance and admitted their spiritual blindness, they would be guiltless. Instead, their conscious and willful rejection of Jesus established their guilt.
Chapter 10 continues the series of festival sermons. Now Jesus moves to Hanukkah, the festival of dedication, the timing of which is critical to understanding the story. The illustration of the shepherd and his sheep assumes a Middle Eastern understanding of shepherding and it draws on Old Testament tradition deeply embedded in first century Jewish culture. God was the shepherd of Israel. Spiritual and political leaders of Israel were also shepherds of God’s people, the flock of God. Jesus’ sermon builds on the occasion of Hanukkah to address the theme of shepherds, using this festival to reflect on Israel’s leaders in light of Ezekiel 34. Jesus presents Himself as the only Good Shepherd. A wilderness shepherd would build a sheepfold, a pen with low stone walls topped with thorny branches to hold his sheep at night to protect them from danger. The pen had one gate that was closed with branches. Any invasion of the pen was a threat to the flock. A bad shepherd was like a thief or robber. He exploited the sheep for his own interests and did not care for or nurture them. Bad shepherds took the sheep’s milk and wool for themselves and butchered the sheep without providing for the animals safety. This was the most stinging indictment of the Jewish leaders yet. The Middle Eastern shepherd is well known for having intimate knowledge of the sheep. They might be led by flute tunes, songs and or verbal commands. A good shepherd always leads his sheep. He never drives them because they would scatter. When the sheep recognize his voice they trust his leadership and follow him. A good shepherd is known for guarding the sheep at the gate as a sentry. And then Jesus told them that He is the gate for the sheep. As the gatekeeper Jesus keeps away those who might harm His sheep, keeping His sheep inside the pen where they are safe. Jesus’ followers must be aware of bad shepherds who desire to steal and kill and destroy. As the Hanukkah story was told to the Jewish people they were reminded about false religious leaders whose failures had led to the loss of God’s temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus also told the gathered people that He is the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd leads his sheep, finds them food and water, and locates paths in the wilderness. The good shepherd stands between his sheep and danger and fights to protect them. The Old Testament describes God as Israel’s shepherd. The leaders of God’s people should shepherd their flock as God does. However, the leaders of Israel in Jesus’ time were bad shepherds. Small villages often created communal flocks and employed a hired hand to tend the sheep, but employees lacked the commitment of a true shepherd. The wilderness of Judea held many predators. When a wolf of other predator attacked the hired hand usually ran the other direction rather than defend the sheep. Jesus will never do this, he will always stand between His sheep and danger. Jesus knows His sheep and they know Him. In fact, Jesus loves His sheep so much He is willing to lay down His life for them. Here He is alluding to His crucifixion. Verse 16 most likely caused the religious leaders heartburn. Jesus said He had other sheep that aren’t in the sheepfold. Here He is referring to the Gentiles who will come to believe in Him. Jesus vision here is that there will be sheep from all over in His sheep pen and the diverse cultures will become one flock with one shepherd…Jesus.
Jesus tells us all that no one can take His life but He willingly lays it down. He was not a martyr or a victim. In His obedience to the Father, Jesus willingly laid His life down for us. His resurrection was not an after thought where God rescued His Son from a tragedy. God could not be contained by a tomb and since Jesus and God are one Jesus possessed the authority to rise from death. All of the things that Jesus was saying once again divided the audience. People were either for Jesus or they were against Him. There was no middle ground. But some believed that Jesus was demon possessed and others asked how that could be because demons could not open the eyes of someone who was blind. Hanukkah was a winter festival that commemorated the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus IV. Two hundred years before Jesus, Greek soldiers captured and pillaged the temple, took its treasures and artifacts, and made it unusable for worship. In the winter of 165-164 B.C. a Jewish army led by Judas Maccabaeus reclaimed the temple and rededicated it to the Lord. During this festival priests examined their commitment to service using Ezekiel 34 as their principal text for reflection.
Massive covered colonnades surrounded the four sides of the central courtyard of the temple and Solomon’s colonnade on the east provided shelter from the winter weather. The people who surrounded Jesus could have been supporters or they could have been hostile. The same word describes how Jerusalem and Jericho were surrounded before being destroyed, and in Acts 14:20 the word describes Paul’s disciples surrounding him after he was injured. People were asking if Jesus was the Messiah and He responded that He had already told them and they didn’t listen. He had given them proof with His words and actions but this wasn’t about lack of proof. It was about their unwillingness to believe. And in verse 30 Jesus could not be any clearer about His identity, saying “I and the Father are one.” Some of the people finally realized who Jesus was but their response wasn’t joy. Instead they expressed a desire to kill Him. His miraculous works should help the true believers know and understand that the full reality of God dwells in Jesus.
With His revelation to the leaders complete, Jesus retired to the region beyond the Jordan River where John the Baptist once worked and where Jesus was baptized. Many followed Him. They knew John the Baptist didn’t do any miraculous signs. That was not his calling. But every single thing he said about Jesus had come true. And many of those who followed Jesus to the Jordan believed in Jesus.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W