John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
This section keeps on coming back to Jesus' relationship as the eternal Son of God to the Father. The topic was introduced in 5:17-26, but there is much more to say, and Jesus needs to explain the relationship from many different angles. In 47 verses there are at least fifteen direct and indirect references to God as Father. Obviously John want us to see that the heart of faith is believing that Jesus is the Son of God (see his conclusion in 20:31).
Once it is clear that there are at least two eternal Persons united in the eternal love of the godhead, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as the third Person follows naturally. The three Persons are introduced in 1:33-34, and we will see how the parable of the Vine pictures their interrelationship (15:1-11, see 14:17, 26, 15:26, 16:7, 12)
8:12 In the Prologue Jesus was defined as "the light of all people" (1:4), who enlightens every single person in the world (1:9), and who had kept "coming into the world" (1:9). Now Jesus says of himself "I am the light of the world." And then adds that there is no need for anyone to walk in darkness (not seeing the way ahead). When John heard Jesus use the words "I am" about himself he knew they could only refer to the God that called Moses to lead the Exodus (see the comments on 6:35, 8:56-58).
8:13 The Pharisee believed that at least two witnesses were required to establish any statement of fact (based on Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15). This originally applied to criminal law, but they used the principle to reject Jesus' claim about himself.
8:14 Jesus' first answer is that the need for two human witnesses in matters of fact is needed because humans are unreliable. But when he speaks he is not just speaking as an ordinary individual. He has come from the Father and will return to the Father (as in 7:33), and the Pharisees cannot grasp this.
8:15-18 The problem is that his hearers want a human proof of something which can only be known by and revealed by God. Though the Messiah is not in the judging business (3:17), his judgment as to matters of fact is certainly valid. And if they still insist on a second witness, they could listen to the voice of the Father speaking about the Son (as heard by eyewitnesses Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). Or they could hear the voice of the Father so obviously speaking through him (see 8:47).
8:19 The Pharisees now want to know the location of the one Jesus refers to as Father. Jesus obviously rejects the idea of a location for God. If they had known who he was, they would have known the one he spoke of as Father.
8:20 For God's time see notes on 2:4, 7:6, 30.
8:21- 23 Jesus now indicates the temporary nature of his coming to earth. He will return to his place with the Father, but they imagine this must mean he will commit suicide. So Jesus again has to make clear he does not ultimately belong to this world.
8:24 Humans belong to a world system which is permeated and infected by human sin. There is no way out except through the Messiah. The words "I am he" are just the two Greek words "I am" (see comments on 6:35, 8:12), and these are rightly taken to be a claim to deity by the religious leaders ( 8:58-59).
8:25-29 The source of all that Jesus speaks on earth is the Father. But they will only really understand who he is when they crucify the Son of God and know his resurrection. Meanwhile he only speaks what he has been given, and he does nothing but what pleases the Father. Included in the words "you will realize that I am" are the two Greek words "I am" which we have already seen were the words spoken to Moses by the Son of God at the burning bush (see comments on 6:35, 8:12, 24, and later in 18:5, 8).
8:30-32 To some these extreme statements about his divinity could only be blasphemous (as in 8:58-59). But some were convinced they must be true. But such faith was only ephemeral unless they continued in his teaching. And the evidence would be that they would know the truth about God and his plan for us, and that truth would free them from the grip of the sin-system of this world (see 8:24).
8:33-36 That again raised their hackles. Since the time of Abraham they had viewed themselves as a free people in bondage to no one. Jesus then explains that sin (see 8:24, 31-32) enslaves us. It is only the Son of God who can give us genuine freedom (see 8:32, 2 Peter 2:19).
After his conversion Paul saw that only "those who believe are the descendants of Abraham" (Galatians 3:6-7). This means that the third part of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12: 3) was fulfilled when the nations were put right (here dikaioo means make free or pure) by faith (Galatians 3:8). "In order that in the Messiah Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the nations (gentiles), so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14). This shows that for Paul faith is evidenced by being made free or purified by the Holy Spirit.
8:37-41 If they had been genuine spiritual children of Abraham they would not be wanting to kill the Messiah. They claim they are not illegitimate but the true children of God. But as Paul would later explain, only "those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed" (Galatians 3:9).
8:42-43 Jesus' response is that if they were genuine spiritual children of God they would love him because he came from God, and God had sent him into the world (3:16). Their failure to understand was not intellectual but moral - a stubborn refusal to believe (see comments on 5:35, 44, which is picked up again in 8:47).
8:44-45 Instead of being spiritual children of God, they demonstrate the opposite. Their heart belongs to the darkness (as in 3:19), and Jesus is not afraid to name the source of their darkness as satanic. Here Satan is described as murderous (1 Peter 5:8, not in the sense of killing the body, but destroying the person's freedom, 8:31, 36, Ephesians 2:1-2). He is also the enemy of truth (2 Corinthians 4:4), the liar who falsely accuses us and fills us with guilt (Revelation 12:9-10). But his power will soon be broken by the death and resurrection of the Messiah (John 12:31, 16:11).
8:46-47 Jesus' opponents cannot pin any fault on him, but they are unable to believe in the Messiah because they do not belong to God.
8:48-50 Again the opponents take refuge in an ad hominem argument (by attacking the person, as in 6:42, 7:20). He must be a Samaritan and demon possessed. And (as throughout this section) Jesus' answer is always based on his relationship to the Father.
8:51 Never seeing death does not mean that the person will not die physically - all the apostles and early Christians died. Eternal death is the final ending of personality away from the love of God. And its opposite is eternal life through the death and resurrection of the Messiah (3:16, 5:24, 29, 40, 6:40, 51, 58).
8:52-53 Missing the point, Jesus' opponents pointed out that Abraham and all the prophets died physically, which was true.
8:54-55 Again Jesus goes back to his relationship with the Father ( 8:16-18, 27-28, 48-50). As opposed to the danger of self-glorification, it is only the Father's seal of approval that ultimately counts. As the Father had said at Jesus' baptism, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17), and he repeated this on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).
8:56-58 Jesus turns the conversation back to Abraham (as in 8:33-40). He had talked to the Son of God face to face (Genesis 17:17-18, 18:22-32), and was called "the friend of God" (James 2:23).. Later Moses had encountered the Son of God in the desert by the burning bush when he named himself "I am" (Exodus 3:14). So by using the same words "I am" (see comment on 8:24) Jesus makes clear that he was already there with Abraham and Moses, and no doubt many others.
8:59 That was unanswerable, but it was the last straw for the religious leaders who immediately tried to stone him to death. As on previous occasions he slipped away from them (Luke 8:30, 7:30, 45-46, 8:20).