An Exposition of the Gospel of John [John 8: 21-26]
By ROBERT GOVETT.
…This was the last occasion of the Saviour’s public teaching, as given in John. It probably occurred at the Feast of Tabernacles. They would die in their sins. The Christian in Christ dies to his sins, and is buried in baptism, to rise to a new position beyond them.
Israel was morally, and of set choice, the people of earth refusing the heaven and its Leader; and led by Satan, the god of earth, and of this evil age.
John 8: 21, 22. ‘Therefore Jesus said again to them – “I am going away, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin; where I am going, ye cannot come.” The Jews said, therefore – “Will He kill Himself, that He saith Where I am going, ye cannot come?”’
Jesus warns them, that the time of mercy to their nation and
themselves personally, was during His presence on earth. He was about to withdraw; partly as the
result of the Father’s counsels and His own; partly as the result of their
refusal of Him. Their opportunity of
being saved then was fast closing, and they would one day seek salvation when
it was too late. There is no opening to
find the Saviour after death. ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found: call upon Him while He is near,’ Is. 55: 6.
This then gives Jesus again the place of Jehovah. Is any reader trifling with Christ’s
call? ‘Any day
will do.’ Then he is near to perish. The day is hastening, when God will be afar,
and salvation impossible! ‘Ye die in your sin.’
Not ‘sins.’ The unbeliever’s attitude is always sin. It is not that the un-renewed man sometimes does good, sometimes evil. He
always is, and always does evil, and only evil. This is his constant
standing before God! His heart towards
God is enmity, and unbelief always; and that is constant sin (
During life, there is the opportunity to escape from this place of sin and of danger. To this escape, to this salvation through Himself, Jesus was then calling them. But they were making light of it, and hardening themselves against the Deliverer and His salvation. The opportunity the Saviour here supposes would cease at death. After that comes the eternal separation of the saved and lost. There is no renewal after death among the dead. The awfulness and reality of the threatened lot of God’s foes is seen then, realized too vividly in wrath begun. But there is no deliverance: no escaping by their own prayers, or those of others.
Christ was going away to heaven. They would, at death, go among the lost in Hades. And after their final judgment (Rev. 20: 15) they would be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Here lies the eternal golf between the two. Thenceforward there is no restoration: no struggling out of the place of damnation to the city of the saved: no dwelling with the Saviour when once adjudged to the doom of the lost. A great golf will eternally sever the inhabitants of heaven and of hell (Rev. 21: 8; 22: 15).
Verse 22. ‘Then said the Jews, “Will He kill Himself? because He saith
Whither I go, ye cannot come.’”
The Saviour’s enemies sneer at this terrible threat. ‘What does He mean?’ ‘Will He commit sucide? Then, indeed, we shall be eternally separate. But then, He will go among the lost; and we shall be quite content so to be separate from Him.’ For they imagined themselves to be righteous by Law, and that they would depart at death to Abraham’s bosom.
Like most sinners, when reproved, they turn not their eyes on themselves, but seek to find some inconsistency in their Reprover.
Verse 23. ‘And He said unto them, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.”’
Our Lord will remove from them this pretence; but His words become ever more stern and terrible, as their unbelief more and more shows itself. ‘You cannot come where I am going; because we both return whence we came. I came down out of heaven, and am going back thither again to My Father. You came forth out of the earth, and are returning body and soul to the earth.’
‘Ye are out of this world; I am not out of this world.’ Here is a passage referring to the Saviour’s origin, the same in sense with John 18: 37. Here is supposed our Lord’s pre-existence. He is no mere man. His origin is to be sought, not on earth; but in heaven.
Verse 24. ‘I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am,
ye shall die in your sins.’
The present verse takes up (in that small seeming change from ‘sin’ to ‘sins,’) the altered aspect of salvation, as it regards the forgiveness of certain acts of sin, through faith in Christ. Sins un-forgiven bring perdition. The only way to pardon was, not by obedience to Moses, but by faith in Christ the Son of God. The forgiveness of sins brings in justification. The change from the entire attitude of sin to holiness is the work of the Spirit by faith in Christ ; and is sanctification.
‘If ye believe not that I am.’* I suppose that our Lord, by these words, takes to Himself the name and attributes of God-head. He requires the acceptance of the doctrine. To refuse this is to perish.
[* There is no ‘he,’ which our translators unnecessarily supply.]
To see the matter in its fullest and clearest light we must revert
to Moses’ commission in the desert. Moses beholds God. But he
knows not by what name he is to present Him to
He is the ‘I AM’ that showed Himself in the desert to Moses. Mediator and the Godhead are now One.
‘I am.’ It is God's especial title (Deut. 32: 39-41; Ps. 102: 25 - 27; Is. 41: 4 – 43: 10).
Jesus, then, presents Himself
as the Divine Deliverer. To refuse, in unbelief, God as He reveals Himself, is to perish; especially when it is mercy which is refused, and when justice has
already condemned. The refusal of Christ
the Saviour, through whom alone
forgiveness can come, is hopeless despair. If
This is still the great question between God and many who call themselves Christians. ‘Is Jesus God, the Son of God?’ ‘They can’t accept it. It is too astounding: too incredible!’ The reason of the ‘cannot’ is a spiritual one. They do not believe in the awful and infinite justice of God, as demanding perfection of His subjects, and the utter iniquity of man in heart and life. The incurable depth of the disease, and the Godhead of the Physician go together. And as they deny the intensity and incurableness of man’s disorder, and his inability to deliver himself from the grasp of a broken Law, they refuse the tidings that none but God can heal and deliver. Anyone could carry the tidings of God’s mercy; but who could obey and atone?
To refuse and speak against Moses - the faithful servant - was to Miriam sudden leprosy; and to Aaron, the priest rebuke. To Dathan it was the being swallowed up by the earth, a going alive down into the pit of woe. To Korah it was to be laid low by fire from the tabernacle. If God thus avenged the offences against Moses and Aaron, the servants, what shall be His wrath against the refusers of His Son? (Heb. 10: 28-31).
Verse 25. ‘They said therefore to Him, “Who art Thou?” Jesus said to them, I am in the beginning, that which also I am discoursing of to you.”’
The Saviour’s reply on a mysterious subject is mysterious. It is designedly mysterious. These were not candid enquirers. The One born of the Spirit uses mysterious words. It is difficult, then, to decide what is the proper translation of our Lord’s words. The English version of this passage is not good. Probably it should be – ‘I am in the beginning, that which I am also discoursing to you.’ John seems to be, by these words, sustaining and proving what he said of the Word made flesh being God, and with God from the beginning.
‘I am’ is to be supplied. And in John, specially in relation our Lord, it refers to the beginning of creation. Satan was (v. 44) after the beginning. Jesus was in it, and as the Creator (1: 3).
Others may speak the Word of God in time and in measure; but Christ both is, and speaks the Word of God. He was so from the beginning (Compare Is. 52: 6). He reveals God as the Lord, and also in His essence.
These words are a subdued statement of His Godhead. He who is God, must also be the beginning of all, as Creator. Thus John, in his Gospel, and in the first epistle, introduces Christ as He who was eternally with the Father, and at length manifested to us. 1 John 2: 13, 14, present to us Jesus as ‘I am,’ and ‘He who was at the beginning,’ were the subjects of our Lord’s discourse. He was Himself the ‘I am,’ in the beginning with God, and the cause the existence of all things from the first.
It was foretold in their Scriptures, that the mighty God would at length appear, and that they would not recognize Him when He came, though His words and His deeds of power and grace proved it (Is. 6., 8., 9: 5; Mic. 5: 1-3; Mal. 3: 1). The Godhead of Christ the Son of God: this is the stumbling-block still to many! But to fall over this stone is to perish!
Verse 26. ‘I have many things to say, and to judge concerning you; but He that sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him.’
‘You are bent on judging Me. I have much that I could say in the way of
convicting you of your sinfulness.’ Till the hearer is convicted of sin,
he does not understand the greatness and glory of the Redeemer. When the soul is really oppressed with the
sense of sin, and the terrors of God coming to judge it, then he feels somewhat
of the need of a Saviour greater than itself, or than any son of man. Jesus could have refuted their cavils at
length; but his eye is fixed on accomplishing the errand on which the Father,
who is the Lord of truth, has sent him.
Thus the Saviour passes by that line of argument, to utter to the world
instead, the truth committed to Him by the Father. And this He would declare, not to
In their cavils, then, and resistance to His teaching, they were fighting not against Himself alone, but against the God of their fathers. For Jesus spoke at the dictation of the God of truth.
In thus testifying about Himself He was only carrying out the Father’s mind, who directed Him thus to discourse. It was only the Son who could thus manifest God. This was God’s counsel, that He should be known, and known by the acts and words of the Son.