The Pharisees had found themselves once again cornered in a theological contretemps with Jesus. Hoping to recoup some remnant of their dignity, they tried to get Jesus arrested, but because “his hour had not yet come,” no one apprehended him.
The sovereignty of God is embedded in a phrase like that. God was overseeing these events, and they would play out on God’s timetable.
What the Pharisees did not realize, Jesus pointed out, saying,
I am going away and you all will seek after me, but in your sins you all will die: where I am going you all are not able to come.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:21
The word Jesus used for “seek after” is “zeteo,” which according to Strong’s Concordance means to seek or strive after, desire, especially as a Hebraism meaning to desire to worship God.
To seek for in a plot to kill.
Jesus was saying quite a bit with that one sentence. There would come a time, not to far from that moment, when the Pharisees would join with their rivals the Sadducees and Herodians, in a successful plot to kill Jesus. But, Jesus would not stay dead. They would, in the end, fail, for Jesus would rise as the firstborn of eternally alive human beings.
Jesus was also saying they would seek after him thinking they were doing right by God, earning a place by God’s side in heaven, but instead they would die in their sins, unable to follow Jesus into heaven, and into eternal life.
These men were under the condemnation of God. In their pride they thought they were superior to all others because of their very religious lifestyle. They were confident they were far superior to Jesus. But in reality, they were in darkness.
It was not often someone suggested Pharisees were in the wrong, let alone be irredeemable sinners!
In their day, Pharisees were among the most respected of the Judeans, for their adherence to God’s word, for their obvious religious and spiritual fervor, for the intensity of their desire to purify Israel and restore the people to righteousness before God.
It seems they did not even hear Jesus saying they would die in their sins! All they responded to was Jesus’ cryptic remark about departing. Would he kill himself? Is that what he was saying?
Jesus spelled it out for them.
You all are from below, I am from above; you all are from this world, I am not from this world.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:23
That had to have raised the hair on their heads!
Hair prickles all up and down their arms, eyes wide with something between alarm and disbelief.
But that was not all Jesus said.
Therefore, I said that you all will die in your sins, for if you all do not believe that I AM, you all will die in your sins.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:24
You recognize that phrase!
Most translations do not put Jesus’ words that way, but in fact that is how the Greek is written—actually, emphatically so. In Greek, the verb parse carries the pronoun, too. So to make sure we know that is what Jesus said, it is carefully spelled out with an (otherwise) unnecessary “I” “AM.”
Jaws drop, breath stops, hands still, all heads turn. “Who. Are. You?”
“What from the beginning I am saying to you. I have much to say and to judge concerning you all, indeed, the one who sent me is genuine, real, and true, so also what I heard from [this one] these things I say to the world.”
Jesus was not bringing judgment against them.
Jesus was warning them of what would happen if they did not put their faith in Him. Look up through the verses I have quoted so far in this post. Three times in verses 21 and 24, Jesus warned the Pharisees they would die in their sinful state.
From the beginning God was clear about what sin would bring. Rejecting God’s wisdom, guidance, care, and instruction would bring death, “surely you will die,” God had told Adam. Later, the apostle Paul would echo those words, writing “The wages of sin is death.”
Humankind was plunged under this penalty in the early mists of human history, but God has always had a plan to redeem God’s people and to reconcile us to God.
No one there, least of all the Pharisees, understood Jesus was speaking of the Father in that moment. The reader of hearts, and discerner of souls gave them a mystery to solve.
When you all elevate the Son of Humanity, then you will know that I AM, and [that] from myself I do not one thing, but rather as the Father teaches me these things I say.
And the one who sent me is with me, not left me alone, because I always do the things that please [that one] [do the things that fit].Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:28
Again, Jesus used a word that had more than one meaning. “Hupsoo” in Greek means “lift up” but it also means “exalt.” The Pharisees, along with the religious authorities, would engineer a crucifixion in which Jesus would be lifted up in death. But, through that death, Jesus would also rise again, lifted up from the grave, and then be lifted up into heaven, where Jesus was and is exalted as Lord of all.
Jesus’ disciples were also hearing these things, looking around them to see how this teaching was landing on the onlookers as well as the group of Bible scholars Jesus was addressing. I picture them watching in wonder as the lights came on in one face after another, and many—even as Jesus was saying all this—put their faith in him.
To believe Jesus is God the Son, lifted up and exalted, is to follow him into eternity.
The Pharisees were so inured to their own wrong understanding of the scriptures, their wrong view of God, their mistaken view of Jesus, they completely ignored Jesus’ very plain statement they were in danger of dying under God’s condemnation.
It did not even register.
I wonder what does not register with me, sometimes?
What do I completely ignore because I think I am way beyond that?
That I am so solidly right, any suggestion I am not does not even register?
[Transfiguration } Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot / Public domain]