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"Verily, verily" (9)

P Coulson, Forres

JOHN 8.2-59

The next three occasions on which the Lord Jesus uttered the words "Verily, verily" are all in the section of John 8 where He was subjected to some of the most intense verbal abuse ever levelled at Him by the Jews. Verses 21-59 record a dispute that was as heated on the part of the Jews as it was dignified on the part of the Saviour.

The woman taken in adultery

The prime cause of this fresh attempt to kill the Lord Jesus was His handling of the incident at the commencement of ch.8 where the scribes and Pharisees had brought before Him the woman taken in adultery. This latest clumsy and coarse effort to tempt Him "that they might have to accuse him" (v.6) led to them trailing out of the temple one after the other, convicted of their sin, while their hapless victim was left with her sin forgiven and joy in her heart. Students of the Scriptures have long discussed the matter of the Saviour writing with His finger on the floor of the temple. Perhaps one of the most appealing views is that He wrote in the dust the names of each of the woman’s accusers, each of whom would have been familiar with the words of Jeremiah the prophet: "O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters" (Jer 17.13). Had these men not freshly "forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters" when "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7.37-38)? They had forsaken Him, and now in ch.8 their names are "written in the earth". Exposure of error and sin always produces anger in the unrepentant heart, and the anger of the Jews was so intense that, if they could, they would have killed Him then and there.

The accusers depart

It is remarkable that the normally crowded court of the women, in which the scene with the accused woman would have taken place, became deserted apart from the Lord Jesus and the woman (v.9). Here is evidence that "there was a division among the people because of him" (7.43). The convicted but unrepentant accusers shrank from the penetrating gaze and unutterably holy presence of the Lord Jesus, but the repentant woman had her fear turned to marvellous joy as she experienced the merciful look and tender words of her new-found Saviour. Was it not like that when we were saved? Did we not feel as though we were left alone with the blessed man of Calvary as the claims of the gospel were impressed upon our convicted souls by the Spirit of God? While others with equal need turned their backs upon God’s mercy and the saving power of the Lord Jesus, divine grace reached us in all our individual distress and brought us into personal saving dealings with the only Saviour of sinners. That dear woman has eternal cause to thank God for the second writing on the ground by the Saviour’s hand (8.8). The first writing of the finger of God codified in stone the law which condemned her. But the second writing (Deut 10.1-5) was laid up in "the ark of shittim wood", beautifully typical of the law enshrined and preserved in the heart of the perfect man. Note that in Deuteronomy 10 there is no mention of the overlaying gold of the ark. The perfect man glorified in heaven is not in view, but the man who moved down here for God in all the moral glory of an impeccable, unstained and perfectly holy life. The Saviour did not liberally dismiss the woman’s sin that day; He lovingly died for it on another.

The accusers return

Soon the temple courts were buzzing again and, like a pack of dogs that have realised their intended prey is far stronger than they had supposed, the Jews started to warily and carefully encircle the Lord again. What a clear precursor to the day when the words of the psalmist would be fulfilled: "For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me" (Ps 22.16)! The initiative is not theirs, however, and the Lord speaks first, beginning with the second of the seven great "I am" statements recorded by John: "I am the light of the world" (8.12). As the Lord testified of the truth of His own witness, He acknowledged that the law required the testimony of at least two men to establish a case (v.17). He could easily have called His accusers as witnesses, for they had amply demonstrated the truth of His earlier words: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (Jn 3.17-21). Faced with the "Light of the world" these wretched hypocrites had scuttled back into the dark corners of their plotting and treachery as surely as roaches scatter when surprised by a bright light. How patiently the Saviour bore with their wicked ways! The Lord did not call on their witness, however, He called on the witness of the Father, thus bringing forth the question, "Where is thy Father?" (v.19). The scene is now set for the Lord Jesus to claim three times (the number of perfect witness) the divine title "I am". He does so in vv.24, 28 and 58.

"I am"

John Phillips writes, "It is worth remembering that I AM was the greatest name for God known to the Jews and was treated with utmost reverence by them. It was known as the ineffable name. They would not speak it. It is said that when a scribe was copying the Scriptures and came to this name for God he would take a new pen just to write that name. It is said that when a reader in the synagogue came to this name in the sacred text, he would not read it; he would bow his head in worship, and the congregation, knowing he was thinking the ineffable name, would bow in worship too". We can perhaps imagine, then, the impact upon the Jews when the Nazarene, not once, but thrice in a few moments not only uttered the sacred name but claimed it for Himself! These statements, however, were not indicative of a man who was deluded and demented as the Jews would later accuse (v.48). Alongside these statements of deity the Lord Jesus also asserted His dependent humanity with such words as, "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (vv.28-29). If some were horrified by His words, others "believed on him", and to them the Saviour now turned to speak.

"Many believed on him"

Some expositors differentiate between those who "believed on him" in v.30 and those who in v.31 (they suggest) only "believed him". The one group, they say, were true believers but the other group gave only mental assent. Space does not allow for a fuller examination of that idea, but it may suffice to say that "believing" here does not necessarily imply the exercise of saving faith. The Lord is addressing a company characterised by being "of this world" (v.23) and with minds closed to divine revelation. He would later say to them, "Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word" (v.43). The overall message of His ministry ("my word") had been rejected, so the very means of explaining it ("my speech") was unintelligible. In any event, there seems to be no distinction in the crowd who ultimately took up "stones to cast at him" (v.59).

To those who even temporarily believed, the Lord stated that "the truth shall make you free" (v.32).

With that, His hearers were swift to reply indignantly that they were Abraham’s seed and had never been in bondage to any man (v.33). This from a people whose entire history had been punctuated with such captivities as that in Egypt, another in Babylon, and all the others described in the book of Judges! Evidently, through their eyes of arrogant, unbelieving national and spiritual pride, they saw these events as minor episodes of inconvenience in the history of a nation that was divinely assured of superiority in the world, a condition based upon unequivocal divine promise to Abraham their father. Such is something of the background to the three statements of "Verily, verily" in John 8.

To be continued.


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