"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 8 Jesus at Tabernacles (Jn 7.1- 8.59)

8.6 Further Teaching and Reaction: Jesus' Departure (Jn 8.21-9)


As earlier in this series of scenes (ch7 vv31-6), Jesus' hearers are confused about his statement that he is going somewhere that they cannot follow. In ch7, they concluded that he must be planning to go preach outside Palestine, to the Greeks, ie the Gentiles, of the Diaspora. Here the conclusion is darker, that he is going to a place they can't follow because he is going to commit suicide.

The earlier confusion is not resolved for Jesus' hearers, but here he addresses their confusion in a discourse that is built around two I AM sayings, in vv 24 and 28. The teachings by Jesus in ch8 are in general very dark, far darker than most of the rest of this gospel. Jesus emphasises in particular the relationship between belief or trust and the two different realities to which he and his hearers belong. Those who lack trust belong to the lower reality of this world whereas Jesus and those who trust in him belong to the higher reality of another world. Readers will recognise affinities with the teachings of ch3 here, and it may not be accidental that Nicodemus has been reintroduced between the events of 7.37-44 and those of 8.12-59.

The two I AM sayings belong to the group of seven absolute I AMs, that is, those that recall the divine name of Ex 3. Unlike the previous examples in Jn 4.26 and 6.20, there seems to be very little room for ambiguity in these sayings. The listeners do misunderstand Jn 8.24 and ask Jesus who he is in v25. In v28 Jesus connects a true understanding of his identity with his being lifted up, that is, with the crucifixion. This verse is a second reference to the story of Moses and the brazen serpent in Num 21, the first being in Jn 3.14.

The identity of knowledge and purpose between Jesus and the Father is very important here, and part of what the listeners fail to understand. It is the reason why Jesus does nothing on his own and always does what is pleasing to the Father. It also solves an apparent self-contradiction. Earlier, in v15 Jesus claimed that, unlike the Pharisees, he does not judge: “You judge according to the flesh, I do not judge anyone.” (Although he immediately adds in v 16, “And if I do judge, my judgement is true, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father that sent me.”) Here in vv26-9 Jesus reaffirms that he does indeed have a judgement to give but it is one that is grounded in what he had heard from the Father. In other words, Jesus speaks the judgement that is the Father's as well as his (cp Jn 5.22-30).

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