24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
(For better viewing click HERE.) Normally this verse is applied to the Jewish people in particular present with Jesus, and by extension to mankind in general. But I think it is rather clear that a very specific group of people who were opposing the Royal Son of Israel’s God, yet held on to power in Jerusalem, were in mind when Jesus spoke these words and John’s Gospel later presented them to his readers (Read all the arguments from the beginning HERE). It is to them and them alone that Jesus directed his statement: “unless you believe that ‘I am He’”, (later he will also say that before Abraham was I AM.) Let me explain.
Unless they (the Jerusalem rulers) realize that He is the very Logos/Memra of Israel’s God, meaning he is God himself incarnate in full humanity, they would not stop opposing Him. Therefore their acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity was crucial. Otherwise, they would simply die in their sin continuing to oppose Israel’s God Himself and his anointed Messiah.
While I hold that Jesus was God incarnate, I realize that there is much complexity to this view and narrative. This statement (John 8:24) was not meant to apply to anyone and everyone. There are many people who trusted Israel’s God through Jesus’ person, work and teachings and yet struggle with how exactly Jesus’ divinity and humanity work together. Therefore, this is not the verse that should be used (as it is often is) as a litmus test of whether or not the person is a believer. Jesus in the Gospels gives us several litmus tests, and almost none of them have to do with creedal affirmations (though I think they are important and can be very helpful), but with practical living of the follower of Christ. The question is less so about how exactly Jesus’ full humanity and divinity fit together, but more about whether or not we fed the poor and took care of the oppressed and needy around us.
25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 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.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 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. 29 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.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
An outcome of Jesus’ sharp communication here is testified to in vs.30. “As he was saying these things many placed their faith in Him.” In vs. 25 we begin to see that apparently the Pharisees, or at least some of them, had begun to inquire more openly about Jesus. “Who are you?” (vs.25) may have been the very first honest and open question they asked him. Notice also that the religious rulers are portrayed not as vicious hateful enemies, but as ignorant sheep who lost its way. When Jesus speaks to them about the judgment of his Father, they do not understand his reference (vs.26-27). Even though they did not immediately understand, Jesus’ words about his future exaltation, recognition, and his full son-like submission to the authority of Israel’s God that witnessed to Jesus’ closeness to his Father; these words must have produced the greatest miracle of all – faith in the hearts of the hearers.
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