Jesus had given further revelation to those who believed him. They were hard truths to hear, let alone accept. Among them were still the Pharisees and those who had tried to arrest Jesus, and it was now with this group that Jesus was speaking. He had just finished reassuring them what he said had come straight from Almighty God, and it would be good for them to observe and apply his word.
They gave an answer and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you are children of Abraham, you would be doing the deeds of Abraham, and now you seek after me to kill—a person who has spoken the truth to you, that he heard from God. This Abraham did not do.”Pharisees and Jesus, John 8:39-40
I imagine Jesus pausing at this point, allowing that to sink in. Children of Abraham would have been as attentive and obedient to God’s word now as Abraham was then. They would have taken the risk of faith Abraham took, and believed God—believed Jesus—though it would mean the complete upending of their lives, just as it had meant for Abraham.
Did they really hear what Jesus was saying?
I imagine Jesus now leaning towards them, looking meaningfully at each one, and saying in a voice heavy with implication,
“You are doing the deeds of your father.”Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:41
It was like poking a stick into a beehive!
You see, Abraham had had two sons.
God had promised Abraham a son, but both Abraham and his wife Sarah were approaching a hundred years old. The chances of them having a child at this point were less than zero. So, Sarah offered one of her servants as a surrogate, and Ishmael was born to Abraham.
But God had always intended the prophesied child would come through Abraham’s wife, and so it was, a few years later, the ancient Sarah brought forth Isaac, son of the promise.
Though God had a great destiny in mind for Ishmael, it was to Isaac God’s covenant with Abraham would go. But now there were two nations who looked to Abraham as their patriarch. Is it possible the Pharisees thought Jesus was hinting they were not of Isaac? Not sons of the covenant?
They immediately took umbrage.
Reading these words in a Bible might leave the impression of a quiet debate, images of scholars in their jackets and conference name tags, politely discussing the merits of this interpretation, or that argument. But the more I “listen” to the words exchanged between Jesus and the Pharisees in this passage, the more I picture shouting, shoving, fingers being jabbed this way and that as points were made with angry emphasis.
Actually, I had started to translate the Pharisees’ retort to Jesus, and found myself typing the word “fornication.”
This is surely going to offend someone, I thought. One way or the other, it is politically and morally repugnant to translate their answer.
So, instead, I am not going to. But I am going to say, it was not pretty.
I think the implication they threw in Jesus’ face was his own questioned parentage vis a vis Mary’s unusual conception (i.e. an unwed pregnancy), and they were also casting aspersion on those descended from Ishmael.
Finally, they were heatedly reclaiming Abraham’s heritage, including—and most importantly—his exclusive covenant with God.
Their crowning argument, the veritable apex of their unassailable logic?
We have one father: God.Pharisees to Jesus, John 8:41
And now it was Jesus’ turn to grow impassioned.
Jesus explained that if God were their spiritual Father then they would love Jesus because he is from God, and he was standing right there, before them.
If you decide to read the whole account, you will find out that Sarah’s servant—Ishmael’s mother—had grown to hate Sarah, and Ishmael had come to hate Isaac. Hating Jesus was proof they were, indeed, children of the other son. Since the Pharisees instead wanted to kill Jesus, since they could not bear Jesus’ teaching, since they refused to accept or believe the truth, they proved who their father really was.
And this is where it really got ugly.
You are from the father the devil and the desires of your father you want to do. This murderer was from the beginning, and is not being in the truth, because truth is not in him. Whenever he speaks lies, out of their own [nature] he speaks, because he is a liar and the father of them.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:44
This was quite an indictment.
Pharisees forsworn to uphold God’s word in every way, to teach God’s word to the people, having dedicated their lives to purifying the people for God. Perhaps they fancied themselves modern-day Nehemiahs and Ezras.
But, now they stood accused of being the very blackguards they denigrated.
Slanderers. (For that is what the word devil or “diabolos” means in Greek: slanderer, backbiter)
Doers of evil.
Not sons of God. Not by any metric.
Jesus continued his ardent deposition. Because the Pharisees were actually the offspring of the father of lies, truth would not make a dent with them, truth would get no traction, they were genetically incapable of accepting truth. Therefore, when Jesus spoke truth, their only response would be to reject it.
Could they convict Jesus of any sin? Any sin at all? No.
But still they refused to hear the truth from him
Jesus delivered his summary statement.
And I picture Jesus now addressing everyone surrounding him, the Pharisees and temple guard, the rest of the temple authorities who might have gathered there at this point, his own disciples and followers, those worshippers who had stopped to listen and then come to believe in Jesus. I see him thrusting his hands in the air, indicating Almighty God in the Heavens, then pointing straight at the Pharisees with his final words.
Who is from God hears the words of God: because of this, you do not hear, because you are not from God.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:47
Imagine someone lining up all the famous Christian leaders and theologians you can think of. Think of people you really respect, people of impeccable character and reputation, people whose teaching and theology is absolutely untouchable.
Then imagine hearing this said to them.
All I want you to do is to hang onto that feeling. That is all. I am not saying your heroes of faith are not heroes. I am saying the vicarious appalling shock you feel, that sense of high dudgeon, that horror at such bold dishonor, that rush to protect and defend, that feeling is akin to what Jesus’ audience must have been feeling two thousand years ago.
The Pharisees were flummoxed, but only for a moment. Tomorrow, their rejoinder.
By the way
Jesus interchanged the word “rhema” which means “words” and the word “Logos” which carried much more weight and symbolism, several times in this chapter. Interestingly, when referring to his own word, Jesus said “Logos,” but in this last sentence, Jesus used “rhema” for God’s words.
Let us hang onto the truth that
Who is from God hears the words of God
[Naag / serpent | Suraj Belbase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]