8:48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
They often used the Samaritans as a derisive term to indicate an evil or sinful person – because that’s how they viewed the Samaritans.
At this point I think its fair to say that these religious leaders are furious and getting more and more angry by the minute. But think of what they do in their anger; they slander the very Son of God who has come to save them from their sins. They verbally excoriate Him for His teaching, and here we see them even excuse Him of being possessed by a “demon.” Can there be any more stark antithesis than the Son of God and a demon? Jesus is the very radiance of the Father (Heb. 1:1-3; 1 John 1:5) and yet He is being accused of having fellowship with a creature of the darkness – a creature that He created, and rebelled against His reign.
We casually look at this and perceive (rightly) that these folks are past the point of being granted the oft-used metaphor of walking on thin ice, for I think that at this point they’re walking over open flames!
Nonetheless, while we analyze this, let us not forget what it is that they are doing here that is so repugnant. They are blaspheming Jesus. Yet how many times have you personally taken His holy name in vain? How many times have you heard His glorious saving name used as a by-word in open derision and have not come to His defense and gently cautioned those who have slandered again their evil words? It is something worth asking ourselves if we are as anxious to defend His name and reputation, as we are our own. I wager this is a painful look inside…
8:49-51 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.  Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
First He says that they do not honor Him. This might have been an odd thing to say at the moment, but it’s a sort of warning shot across the bow. There are several things like this He says throughout the conversation that would have served as strong hints to the Pharisees had they been paying closer attention. For if He is saying they don’t honor Him, surely it means that they ought to honor Him. Therefore He is saying that He is worthy of such honor. This may have gone over their heads, but not everything He said was ignored..
The next thing here is that He isn’t seeking His own glory. It is as if He is saying “you aren’t giving me the honor I am due, but no matter, God is going to judge things at the end of the day and He is the One who ought to be honored in the end.”
We read in Philippians 2 about the utter humility of Christ and how He emptied Himself. This is yet another example of that fact displayed in His theology.
Lastly, He gives the spectacular promise that those who “keep His word” will never see death. The means, undoubtedly, that all who follow Christ will never see spiritual death – the only real death that one need fear.
This is the gospel message. By saying those who “keep my word” He is saying those who obey me and make me the Lord and leader of their lives. It implies obedience and a desire to submit to His rule (and His rules). This is a foreign and offensive idea to many today, and it was no less so to these men here.
8:52-53 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
They have no doubt in their minds now that this man Jesus was either possessed, or crazy. He was a man, yet he was claiming to have the power to keep men from dying. I believe that these men were intelligent, learned men. But they had not the Holy Spirit to offer them discernment or insight into the words of Christ, and here they are engaged in a debate with the Son of God. I’m sure they are flustered, angered, and outraged. In such a mood can one think clearly? In such a mood can one think spiritually?
So they are completely mystified at what Christ is saying, and so will the world be when we declare the truths of the gospel – that is something we must be prepared for.
But what I really like from their response here is when they ask, Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?” Well I’d say they stumbled into something for which we know the resounding answer is: YES.
First, this is something many in the church today don’t seem to understand from a practical standpoint. What I mean by this is that we pay homage to Christ’s preeminence, but we often fall into the trap that the Galatians did who wanted to hang onto the traps of their old covenant legal system.
Brothers and sisters we are under a New Covenant – but not simply a NEW covenant, but a better covenant. A covenant that says that Christ is first and foremost in all things. A covenant that allows us the freedom to come to Him even though we haven’t kept the law, and have been previously rebels against His Father. Nothing in the old covenants came close to offering what we enjoy under this covenant. So YES, Jesus is much much better and much much greater than Abraham! Indeed Abraham himself would agree with that – as we’ll see soon.
Secondly, this reminds me of how just today a group of us men were talking about different theological heroes and perspectives and how there is a great wave of conservative Calvinists in our generation that have taken the church by storm. Someone then rightly pointed out that Calvin himself would have hated the moniker “Calvinist” as if what he believed or preached was anything more or less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would have blushed and been furious to learn that a school of thought has crept up that bears his name. For Calvin understood what these men did not: Jesus is the greatest. He is greater than Calvin, He is greater than Moses, and He is greater than Abraham.
8:54-55 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
He reiterates what He already said in verse 50, namely that it is the Father who will glorify Jesus, and it is the Father who is jealous for the glory and reputation of His Son, and it is the Father who will judge the intentions of all men’s hearts – for He knows and sees all things.
Jesus is finished pulling punches. He tells them outright who they are, what they are, and why they are wrong. He comes right out and names them as liars! This ought not to surprise us, for we have already been studying how being sons of Satan they are simply following the character traits of Satan – Satan is a liar and a murderer.
We talked about this earlier, and John elaborates on this a great deal in his first epistle:
I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.  Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.  And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.  I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.  But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:21-27)
8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Can there be anymore delightful verse in this sting of disputations? There are a few things to note here.
First, the anticipation of Abraham that is described here is emblematic of all past saints who lived before the coming of Christ. They all eagerly looked forward to Christ’s coming – not only when they were on earth, but then especially after they had departed this earth and watched the pages of history unfold in great anticipation of the one whose righteousness would be imputed to their account, though they lived prior to His human life.
This is again what is meant by Paul’s statement, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8).
So scriptures and saints all looked forward to the day the Messiah would dawn the skin and frailty of a man so that He could bare their sins and they would be forever united with Him for all time.
Secondly, we see here something special in the knowledge of Jesus. Something that the Pharisees pickup on. He’s talking from the perspective of someone who has not simply studied Abraham from reading Genesis, but knows him intimately and has even recently seen him! What Jesus is, in fact describing here is the great emotion and celebration that Abraham and those righteous saint who had passed on, felt on the day of the incarnation!
Can you image? Can you make you mind to meditate on this great picture? Oh what a sweet scene! In fact the celebration was so intense that it spilled over into the night sky. In Luke’s gospel we read how the angels can’t help but burst into song at the royal birth:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14 ESV)
8:57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
They continue to be mystified by the words of the Savior, though they can clearly get the idea of what He is claiming. There is no mystery there. He’s being perfectly clear in His remarks, but their minds automatically reject His words:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)
8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
This is perhaps one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture! The deity of Christ is so clearly spelled out. He is so clearly claiming to be God incarnate that one cannot help but read these words with great relish and great awe. The ESV notes are really well done and say this:
If there had been any uncertainty about Jesus’ identity in other passages where he said, “I am” (e.g., 6:35; 9:5; 11:25), there was no confusion here because Jesus is claiming to be the one who was alive before Abraham was, that is, more than 2,000 years earlier. Jesus does not simply say, “Before Abraham was, I was,” which would simply mean that he is more than 2,000 years old. Rather, he uses the present tense “I am” in speaking of existence more than 2,000 years earlier, thus claiming a kind of transcendence over time that could only be true of God. The words “I am” in Greek use the same expression (Egō eimi) found in the Septuagint in the first half of God’s self-identification in Ex. 3:14, “I am who I am.” Jesus is thus claiming not only to be eternal but also to be the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush. His Jewish opponents understood his meaning immediately and they “picked up stones” to stone him to death for blasphemy (see John 8:59).
The Greek is: εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί
Transliterated: Iēsous legō autos amēn amēn legō sy prin Abraam ginomai egō eimi
This is a verse that ought to cause us to worship. It is one of my favorites because it so clearly paints that (accurate) picture in our minds of His reign, His eternality, His knowledge, and on and on. It’s simply a great expression of His deity.
8:59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Can it be doubted that these people knew what Christ was claiming by His above statement? No indeed. They knew perfectly well that He was claiming to be God incarnate, and now all of the threats, anger and plots were all set aside, now they simply picked up stones and took matters into their own hands.
Death was proscribed to anyone who blasphemed God (Lev. 24:16), but as some rightly point out, that was only a sentence carried out after a just trial with two or three witnesses, not a mobbing (Deut. 17:2-7).