8:21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
In the 7th chapter John records that Jesus said something very similar:
Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” (John 7:33-34)
There are similar elements, but in 8:21 Jesus is more explicit by what he means by “where I am you cannot come” (7:34), because in 8:21 he says this but it’s preceded by the words “you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.”
Can there be any more stinging indictment from the lips of Christ? In fact, its less of an indictment than a grizzly prophecy. These are the kinds of words that ought to give us chills and fill us full of urgency. The lives of those who are so full of themselves, so sure that they are going to go to heaven, and yet they are not saved…those lives are in peril. Unless one has humbled himself to repentance and place their faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ they risk their souls – what Jesus says plainly enough here is that these Pharisees were going to die without coming to peace with God.
When the Son of God makes a remark like this, its wise for us to take note, and fearfully realize the stark realities of Hell. These are the kinds of comments that ought to be burning every man’s conscience who has read this gospel but not yet yielded to the Lordship of Christ. If that is where you stand today, then surely the Lord Jesus’ words have just a full a consequence for you as they did for his hearers then.
Furthermore, it is not as though He is telling them that they will seek him correctly. For we know that all who seek Christ in faith are given the opportunity to become sons of God. But such is not the case here, as Calvin remarks:
Christ does not mean, therefore, that they sought him by the right way of faith, but that they sought him, as men, overwhelmed by the extremity of anguish, look for deliverance on every hand. For unbelievers would desire to have God reconciled to them, but yet they do not cease to fly from him. God calls them; the approach consists in faith and repentance; but they oppose God by hardness of heart, and, overwhelmed with despair, they exclaim against him.
8:22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”
Ferguson talks about how ironic it is that these Pharisees think He’s going to kill himself, when they are the ones who will kill Him. He will indeed offer up His life, but it will be voluntarily for the sins of man.
Calvin remarks, “Shocking stupidity! But thus does Satan infatuate the reprobate, that, intoxicated with more than brutal indifference, they may throw themselves into the midst of the flame of the wrath of God.”
8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Here Christ delivers the gospel message plainly. Under a potential “double meaning” of the Greek words for “I AM” (ego eimi), there is also the instruction of what is needed for eternal life: believe in who He is. They must have faith in Jesus Christ.
Here is what the ESV notes say:
At one level may simply mean “I am the Messiah” or the one “sent” by the Father (or, in view of v. 12, “I am the light of the world”). The Greek phrase egō eimi simply means “I am” and is used in an ordinary sense in 9:9 by a man Jesus healed. However, John is fond of using words with a double meaning (see notes on 3:14; 4:10; 11:50–51;19:19; cf. also 3:7–8) and this verse is one of several that hint at a connection with God’s statement to Moses in Ex. 3:14, “I am [Gk. Septuagint: Egō eimi] who I am.” See notes on John 6:20; 8:58.
It is not clear, however, that Jesus is making a veiled statement about His deity here. There is some disagreement about this. Calvin disagrees with it being a direct statement of deity, but rather says that it makes more sense that He is pointing to His office of Messiah for mankind, and that all men ought to look to Him for salvation. I think this is splitting hairs a bit myself, being as it is that all men look to the Messiah who, as it turns out, is from heaven. I think though that Calvin means to say that the Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to be the Son of God, and so that when Jesus refers to “I am” in this context and in the previous verses just prior, He is saying specifically that He has come to fulfill the office of the Messiah, the role expected to be fulfilled by a man sent from God – though no one knew that the man sent from God would actually be God Himself incarnate!
But let me move to the heart of the verse at hand…the thing we need to note here is how Christ says that He is from above and they are from below. And so the Pharisaical concept of the Messiah was about to be reinterpreted (correctly) in Christ. Calvin’s commentary on the matter is simply full of wisdom that it is worth quoting in length here:
Under the words, world and beneath, he includes all that men naturally possess, and thus points out the disagreement which exists between his Gospel and the ingenuity and sagacity of the human mind; for the Gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our mind grovels on the earth. No man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by his Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom he elevates by the special grace of his Holy Spirit.
Thus the natural man is opposed to the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) – we are naturally at enmity with God and will not submit to Him (Romans 8:7).
I can think of no more plane indication of deity than for Him to indicate that He came down from heaven and was not of this earth. “You are of this world; I am not of this world” – this statement was so bold, so direct, and so amazing that it could lead to nothing more than the bewildering question they asked of Him next…
8:25-26 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.  I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
Now we come to it. These religious leaders are starting to get the idea that He is either crazy, or who He said He is…but since the latter never entered their minds, the former is creeping up on them as a possibility.
Their question reveals all: “Who are you?” – in direct reaction to Him saying “I am not of this world.”
The next thing Jesus says is that He has a lot of say and judge about these people, “but”, He isn’t doing that right now, it’s not His primary mission. His primary mission is to “Declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
So once again Jesus enumerates His mission – right now He is not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The “him” in this case is the Father – which we’ll see in the next verse…
8:27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.
Why wouldn’t they be able to understand what it is that Jesus was talking about? Well we’ve talked about this in the past. Their minds were darkened, and they were “blind guides” and therefore they couldn’t see what it was that He was speaking of here.
It’s so vital to understand this truth: before the magnificent and gracious work of the Holy Spirit we are all dead in our sins. That means that we cannot perceive divine truth. We can’t understand it – just as these men here couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying.
John repeats this over and over and over again – obviously it’s an important principle!
8:28-29 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.  And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
There’s just so much to unpack here…
First Jesus eludes to being “lifted up”, and in this case it’s a similar reference as He made in 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is a reference to Him being lifted up on the cross.
Jesus had to die – that was the only way for men to be reconciled to God. That was the only way for the gracious plan of God, that He had foreordained to occur, to be fulfilled. James Boice says that not only was it necessary for Him to die because of God’s plan and because His was the only life that would be able to really atone for sin, but that His was the only death that would truly draw men to God:
Moreover, it was necessary for Christ to die also because nothing but a crucified Christ will draw men to God. Nothing but this will eve draw men to hear preaching. Liberalism does not draw men. The cults do not draw men in great quantities. Men and women will not long attend a man-centered religion. But preach Christ crucified – preach him in the power of the Holy Spirit – ad men and women will begin to come to him. They begin to leave their comfortable homes in the suburbs and come to city churches, where they would have come for no other reason. They begin to take weeks of their vacation time to attend seminars or attend Bible conferences. At time they will even mass in the millions as they did in Korea for the Billy Graham crusades in that country.
Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ, and you will not draw men for long. But preach the gospel of a Savior who atones for the sins of men and women by dying for them, and you will have hearers. Moreover, as Christ is lifted up, many of those who hear will believe.
The second thing is that He said to them that only then will they know that “I am he” – and this reference to being “he” Jesus uses in other areas to denote false Messianic claims (Mark 13:6l Luke 21:8), and here is using to indicate His own proper and correct fulfillment as the Messiah.
The third thing is that Jesus reiterates to them that He doesn’t speak of His own authority, but rather His authority has been given Him (all of His message have been given to Him) by God the Father. Thus, His words are truthful and full of authority and must therefore be listened to.
The fourth thing is that Jesus says something so magnificent and so significant that it would be wise to spend time looking closely at it. He says, “he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” What an amazing thing. I think it is easy to slip into a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ. Sometimes we forget His deity, and His humanity and they work together and yet are not mixed together. He is fully God and fully man. And as God, He shares communion with the Father – they are One. Just because He was walking the earth as a man doesn’t mean that He somehow broke communion with the Holy Father. And that is what we see here. Furthermore, these words echo a promise that Christ left for us, namely that wherever we go, He will be with us. We often take solace in this fact – and rightfully so. For if Jesus Christ treasured this reality, so much more ought we to do so.
Fifthly, and lastly, we see Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father described here. He says of His own righteousness, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Surely Christ is the perfect man, the righteous fulfillment of the law, and what Paul called the “second Adam.”
What an amazing unfolding of truth! Let’s look at this closer in summary as it relates to how the early church – particularly Peter – understood His words. First, He starts by foretelling their sin and what they would do to Him, and in so doing He point forward in time to the crucifixion. In Acts 2 in his speech at Pentecost, Peter looks back and recounts what the people did to Jesus by murdering the “Lord of Glory”, and then goes on to share the resurrection, and then the gospel which is that if we believe in this Jesus and trust him for life then he will indeed give us that life! In this instance, we see that Jesus preaches a gospel going forward instead of backward as Peter did.
Jesus says in affect that “you will crucify me, then and only then will you realize what you have done.” How will they realize? Because Peter and his other apostles will tell them. How? By the power of the Holy Spirit. How can they do that? Because God is with them just as Jesus promised at the conclusion of Matthew’s 28th chapter. Not coincidently, we read here that the Father also never left Jesus (cf. vs. 29), and so it is that Christ Jesus will never leave us! Furthermore all things that he is speaking here are from the Father – just as all things that Peter and the apostles spoke were given them from Jesus through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus spoke on authority from God the Father, so the apostles spoke not of their own authority but with authority of Christ by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, just as Christ’s mission was to reveal the plan of the Father, so our mission is to reveal (by preaching) the plan of the Son in the Gospel. The two are One, and their plans are one in the same. We are instruments of righteousness to share this plan to all ends of the earth (Romans 6, Acts 1).
8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
The result of this powerful testimony is that “many” believe in Christ. Not surprising whatsoever given the powerful nature of these words. For the word of the Lord will not return void – Isaiah said this hundred of years before Christ walked the earth. Here is exactly what he said:
“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).”
This is a great promise. The promise is this: God will accomplish exactly what He planned on accomplishing. There is nothing that can thwart His great purposes. What a comfort to us when we preach Christ crucified and many do not believe. Many will believe, but unless they understand what only the Holy Spirit can show them, they’ll never follow Christ. Just as these men would later seek after Christ and not find Him. They’d be seeking for the wrong reason. In their judgment they will reach out like the rich man did in Luke 16, but they will not be saved.
But for those who trust in Christ, for those who put their faith in Him and the glorious gospel of grace, they will indeed be saved for all eternity.