THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
“A BAND OF FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS
For some time Jesus had been instructing His Apostles and disciples, seeking to lead them to a proper understanding of His own identity and of the nature of His mission and kingdom. Although His compassionate heart had induced Him to heal the sick when the occasion presented itself, still for the most part He had been living in Galilee as quietly as possible. Knowing already that His people, as a whole, were to reject Him, He had been content to spend His chief effort in the task of building up for Himself a band of faithful followers.
‘NO ONE DOES A THING IN SECRET IF HE WANTS TO BE PUBLICLY KNOWN’
But the Feast of Tabernacles was approaching and many pious Jews were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Some of the relatives of Jesus – cousins perhaps – urged him to go to Jerusalem. Having seen or heard of His miracles, they were in some doubt about His true identity. Perhaps He was the Messias, they reasoned, but if He were, He should go up to Jerusalem, the very centre of Judaism, and there make some magnificent display of His power and so draw men to Himself.
‘Leave here,’ they said to Him, ‘and go into Judea that Thy disciples also may see the works that Thou dost; for no one does a thing in secret if he wants to be publicly known. If thou dost these things, manifest thyself to the world.’ (John 7:3-4)
This reasoned request shows that even some of the relatives of Jesus had no true understanding of His mission in this world. They were somewhat impressed by the magnificence of His powers, but they failed to grasp the meaning of His doctrine of repentance and of the spiritual nature of His kingdom.
JESUS REFUSED TO CATER TO THIS MISUNDERSTANDING OF HIS ROLE IN HUMAN HISTORY
Jesus refused to cater to this misunderstanding of His role in human history.
‘My time has not yet come,’ He replied to His relatives, ‘but your time is always at hand. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are evil. As for you, go up to the feast, but I do not go up to this feast, for my time is not yet fulfilled’ (John 7:6-8).
He did not mean that He would not go to Jerusalem for the feast. He meant that He would not go up to Jerusalem in the manner requested by them. He would not go up to Jerusalem to score a political triumph or start a political movement to make the Jews a great nation politically. But He did go to Jerusalem privately, in His own way, to proclaim once again His message of deliverance from sin.
HIS MESSAGE OF DELIVERANCE FROM SIN
His appearance at the feast did not go unnoticed. Opinion about Him was divided. Some thought Him a good man, but others considered Him a seducer of the people. It was still remembered that on His last visit to Jerusalem He had been attacked by the leaders of the people because He had healed a man on the Sabbath day. For this reason – because He seemed to them to be advocating the destruction of the Law of Moses – the leaders had determined to have Him put to death.
THE LEADERS HAD DETERMINED TO HAVE HIM PUT TO DEATH
One day, about the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the Temple to teach. In His discussion with the crowd He brought up again this old grievance which the leaders held against Him. The Law of Moses, He reminded them, required them to circumcise a man even on the Sabbath. Why then did they object when He cured a man on the Sabbath? They should judge, not by appearances but by truth.
JUDGE NOT BY APPEARANCES BUT BY TRUTH
The crowd still remained divided in its opinion of Jesus. Some still regarded Him as a seducer; others thought He might be the Christ, the Messias. Word of His teaching reached the Pharisees and they sent attendants to seize Him.
‘RIVERS OF LIVING WATER’
On the last day of the feast Jesus, addressing the crowd, said, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, ‘From within him there shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).
These words also, which Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, caused the people to dispute with one another about His identity. The turmoil was so great and the uncertainty so extreme that the attendants sent by the Pharisees dared not arrest Jesus.
‘I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’
In spite of the opposition which His teaching aroused, Jesus continued to make His claim.
‘I am the light of the world,’ He said, “He who follows me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).
The Pharisees objected that His claim was unsubstantiated. He offered nothing but His own word about Himself. Jesus replied that His witness to Himself was acceptable because He knew the truth, He knew from whence He came and whither He would go. He meant that He knew that He had come forth from God the Father and would return to God the Father. And so He said to them that His word was not alone, but was reinforced by the word of His Father in Heaven. To which word of His Father does He refer? To His Father’s word at His baptism or transfiguration? To the prophetic words spoken through the Father’s inspiration and found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Chosen People? To the miracles which He Himself worked through the power of His Father? Jesus does not say, but He has already pointed to these indications of His Father’s testimony to Himself.
‘YOU KNOW NEITHER ME NOR MY FATHER’
The Pharisees refused to accept the staggering truth that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and therefore equal to God. ‘Where is thy father?’ they asked, meaning no doubt, where is Thy human father. Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would then know my Father also’ (Kohn 8:19).
In spite of the opposition of the Pharisees Jesus continued to make His claim to be the Son of God, the equal of God in divinity. ‘I go,’ He said to them, meaning that He would return to His Father in Heaven, ‘and you will seek me, and in your sin you will die. Where I go you cannot come’ (John 8:21).
The Jews misunderstood Him – or at least pretended to misunderstand Him – and asked did he mean to commit suicide. Jesus told them that they did not understand Him because they were blinded by their sins and their worldliness. ‘You are from below,’ He said, ‘I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:23-24).
‘I AM HE’
Now in the Aramaic tongue which Jesus was speaking, the words ‘I am he’ would mean to the Jews that Jesus was claiming to be God. Since He appeared to be a man this claim seemed to many of them to be blasphemous. They asked Him, ‘Who art thou?’ Jesus was discouraged by their lack of belief, but He condescended to reiterate His claim.
‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that of myself I do nothing; but even as the Father has taught me, I speak these things. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, because I do always the things that are pleasing to him’ (John 8:28-29).
‘THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE’
Some of the crowd believed in Him and to them He said, ‘If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8:31-32).
To abide in the word of Jesus is not simply to believe in His divinity; it is also to keep His word, that is, to live by the message of repentance and deliverance which Jesus brings to all men, to live according to the light and the life which Jesus gives to men. To live by the light and the life which Jesus gives is to be freed from sin, and thus, through living the truth, to be free.
FREEDOM THROUGH LIVING THE TRUTH
But some of those listening refused to accept the truth of Jesus and so they objected that they were children of Abraham and, as such, they were not slaves to anyone, that is, they worshipped the one true God and were not enslaved to any false gods.
Jesus pointed out to them that the freedom of which He spoke was freedom from sin.
‘Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. But the slave does not abide in the house forever; the son abides there forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are the children of Abraham; but you seek to kill me because my word takes no hold among you. I speak what I have seen with the Father; and you do what you have seen with your father’ (John 8:34-38).
THE JEWS MUST ACCEPT JESUS, THE SON OF GOD, AS THEIR SALVATION
The freedom of which Jesus speaks is freedom from sin. As children of Abraham, and Jesus recognises that the Jews are physically children of Abraham – perhaps even spiritually his children because they believe in the God of Abraham and reject false gods – and hence they ought to be free. But they are slaves to sin, and hence not really free. Because they are sinners they refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God. But only the Son of God, Who resides in the bosom of God forever, can give true freedom from sin. To be truly free from sin the Jews must accept Jesus, the Son of God, as their salvation. By refusing to accept Him they remain slaves to sin and their true father is not Abraham but the devil.
CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM?
The Jews reply that they have but one father, God. Jesus replies that they do not understand His words because they are children of the devil, who was a liar from the beginning. If God were really the Father of these unbelieving Jews – that is, if they really acknowledged God as their Father, if they really sought the holiness of God – then they would love Jesus and they would accept Him and His word. But because they are sinners and so slaves to the devil, the father of lies, they will not accept the truth which Jesus brings to them. Jesus then appeals to His own holiness, His own sinlessness, as a testimony of the truth of which He speaks.
‘Which of you can convict me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?’ Then He gives the reason for their unbelief: ‘He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear is that you are not of God’ (John 8:46-47).
AT THIS MOMENT JESUS IS OFFERING TO ALL MEN LIGHT AND LIFE AND FREEDOM FROM SIN
This discussion of Jesus with the Jews is of vital importance, not only to His immediate hearers but to all men. At this moment Jesus is offering to all men light and life and freedom from sin. In a word, He is offering men eternal salvation. This salvation can be grasped by accepting Jesus as the Messias, nay, even more than the Messias, as the very Son of God the Father, equal to God, in fact, God Himself. To those who accept Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, there will be given light and life and freedom from sin; they will have the power to abide in the word of Jesus, to live by the light and life which He will give them. But to accept Him they must be of God, that is, they must be men of good will, men ready to give up sin, to live as children, not of the devil but of God. Salvation is freely offered to men by Jesus, but it must be accepted freely, in love.
OF VITAL IMPORTANCE
Those who were unwilling to acccept Jesus retorted that He was a Samaritan and possessed by a devil. Calmly Jesus rejected their accusation: ‘I have not a devil, but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks and who judges. Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keep my word, he will never see death’ (John 8:49-50).
ABRAHAM AND THE GREAT PROPHETS ARE DEAD – HOW THEN CAN JESUS GIVE ETERNAL LIFE?
Unwilling to see that Jesus spoke of eternal spiritual life, the unbelievers in the audience took His words in a purely material sense. Abraham and the great prophets are dead, they remarked. If this great men of God died, how can Jesus give eternal life. Whom does He make Himself? Jesus answered:
‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. And you do not know him, but I know him. And if I say that I do not know him, I shall be like you, a liar. But I know him, and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ The Jews therefore said to Him, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am’ (John 8:54-58).
In the face of their unbelief and, almost, of their derision Jesus quietly claims to be God, for He claims to be eternal; before Abraham existed, Jesus was and is, for He is God. In prophetic vision Abraham saw that Jesus was to come to fulfil God’s promises and so he rejoiced.
The people understood the nature of the claim of Jesus. They saw that He was claiming to be God. Unable because of the worldliness and sinfulness of their hearts to accept Him as their God, they chose to regard Him as a blasphemer, and so they took up stones to stone Him to death for the sin of blasphemy. But Jesus his Himself from them and left the Temple.
“I BELIEVE, LORD”
Some time after this Jesus cured a man who had been blind from birth. When the news of this cure reached the Pharisees they investigated the fact thoroughly. They examined the man who had been cured; they questioned his parents; they re-examined the man himself. But they could not disprove the story. They were angry because Jesus had worked this miracle also on the Sabbath day. After their failure to shake the story of the cured man, they turned him out as a sinner.
Later Jesus met him again and said to him, ‘Dost thou believe in the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Thou hast both seen him, and he it is who speaks with thee.’ And he said, ‘I believe, Lord.’ And falling down, he worshipped him (John 9:35-38). (Martin J. Healy, to be continued)