The controversy over the Son of God (8:12–10:42)

A. “The Light of the world”: the accusation of Jesus the Judge (John 8:12–59);
B. The Fifth Sign: the testimony of the blind man (9:1–41);
C. The Shepherd and the sheep (10:1–21);
D. The Son of the Father (10:22–42).

“The Light of the world”: the accusation of Jesus the Judge (John 8:12–59)

As the Judge of humanity, Jesus serves as the plaintiff who charges the world guilty of sin and declares it convicted to death. Yet, as the Savior of the world, Jesus takes the sin of the world upon himself and fulfils in his body the death that the world deserves. True discipleship is the transfer from darkness to the “light of life”, from enslavement to freedom, and from slave to sons and daughters.


Whether “again” connects it with John 7:53 is not that obvious. The adversaries in this chapter are religious authorities and not the crowds that were present in chapter 7.

“I am the light of the world” - is a 2nd of the seven “I am” saying.

The metaphor of light has a strong biblical heritage (Ex 13:21–22; 14:19–25; Pss 27:1; 119:105; Prov 6:23; Ezek 1:4, 13, 26–28; Is 49:6; 60:19–22; Hab 3:3–4).

The light was already introduced in the prologue of this Gospel (1:4–5) and it will be mentioned again in 9:5. Jesus is the Light in the context of the mission of God to the world.

The two realms, of darkness and of light, are clearly distinguished (cf. 3:19,21). The sons of light come to the light and follow the light; those who will not do this must remain in the darkness. Without Jesus all activity (“walking”) is helplessly shrouded in darkness. Thus, his opponents are in darkness.

8:13 (cf. 5:31)

The Pharisees for the first time confront Jesus directly. Up to this moment they were plotting against Jesus silently (cf. 5:16, 18; 7:30, 32), spoken about him to each other (7:11, 45–49), or even spoken about him in his presence (6:41–42; 52; 7:15, 35–36).

They bring a legal challenge against Jesus based on Deut 17:6; 19:5.


In 5:31, it was already stated that Jesus is so dependent on the Father that he is unable to provide a witness for himself. Here, Jesus makes this same point. Jesus comes from the Father (cf. 5:36–37; 16:28) and is going to the Father (cf. 13:1; 16:28). At the same time he is in the Father and the Father is in him (cf. 14:11).

Jesus already declared that his truth is founded upon the fact that “the one who sent [him] is true” (7:28). But the Pharisees are not aware of Jesus’ real identity. For them he is at best “a teacher come from God” (3:1). They could only judge by outward appearance (7:24).


Even though he has already stated that he is the Judge (5:22–27; see 8:16), here he says something that seems to be contradictory: “I am not judging anyone”.

The explanation must be found in the statement: judgement according to the flesh. Such judgement is a referent to the limited perspective of the person who judges. The judgement of Jesus is of totally different kind.


The proper judgement can only be made by Jesus because his judgement is “true” and because it is rooted in the Father. The Father is the eternal standard of rightness beyond which there is no appeal.

While the Pharisee were judging him and his claims and reaching an adverse verdict, in reality Jesus was judging them. Moreover his judgement was correct because he was not alone - he was one with the Father.

“I am not alone” defines the entire ministry of Jesus. The activity of the Son is defined by his relation to the Father, just as the activity of the Father is made know by his relation to the Son (1:18).


Jesus reverts to the argument of John 5:37 (cf. Deut 19:15; 17:6).

The law is called “your law” (cf. 7:19) to establish the distance between Jesus and the Pharisees and also to show that they acknowledge its authority and so they were bound to admit the force of an argument based on it. Jesus will show that even their law supports his words - it could not be otherwise because after all he is the author of the law.


Now, Jesus reveals that there are two witnesses to his statements: he is one - “I am” - and the Father.


“Where is your father?” Do they ask about the father according to the flesh? (Cf. Luke 2:48–49). They might claim to know where Jesus came from, thinking on an earthly level (7:27), but they were incapable of knowing his eternal origin.

Jesus’ answer remind us of John 5:37.


The ‘treasury’ was the part of the Court of the Women where 13 trumpet shaped containers were place for the reception of various dues, six of them being for voluntary offerings (cf. Mk 12:41–44).

Again, we are told that despite teaching in such populated area he was not arrested - the hour still has not yet come. But, when this hour shall come it will be the last stage of his return to the Father (8:14).


The incarnate Word is to be on earth in a visible form for a limited time only. This limited time is their opportunity. If they grasp it, they will gain eternal life, if not they will die in their sin. When the time of his visible presence with them will pass, they will seek him after that in vain. They will not be able to come where Jesus is going - Jesus is the only way to the Father (14:6).

The “sin” (singular) is their rejection of Jesus - failure to believe in him (16:9), their refusal to come to the light while it is available (3:19–21).


See 7:35

According to Josephus , suicide in Judaism was abhorred and considered to be the act of an insane person. Their question demands a negative answer, but the question itself is meant to slander Jesus. Apparently, the question was never intended to be realistic but to make a rhetorical statement regarding Jesus’ sanity.

But there is irony in the question. Jesus will indeed meet a violent death, by the hands of his enemies, not at his own hands.


Jesus and the Jews belong to two different worlds. The origin of Jesus is rooted in the identity of God, whereas the origin of his opponents is rooted in the identity of darkness, sin, and death (8:21; cf. 1:5).

The reader continues to learn the significance of rebirth “from above” (3:1–11); such renewal of origin is needed to overcome our natural state of darkness “from below”.

“This world” is the cosmos of John 1:10 which gave the divine Word no recognition when he came to it; the cosmos which hates Jesus, because Jesus bears witness concerning their sins (7:7).

Jesus has described himself as ‘the light of the cosmos’, but only those who follow him have the ‘light of life’ and avoid walking in darkness (8:12).


The plural “sins” is used here - in 8:21 is used singular. If the singular expresses the root sin of unbelief, the plural expresses those particular attitudes, words and actions which make up its fruit. The unbelief is the fountain and the cause of all evils.

The only escape from sin and its consequence of death is belief in Jesus, who is “I am” (Ex 3:14 LXX; Is 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12 LXX).


“Who are you?” Is rooted in Jesus’ statement in 8:24 and which the Jews did not grasp. They might have recognised the language from Ex 3 but they could not make sense of it.

Jesus’ answers: “[I am] what I said to you at the beginning”.

This verse is translated differently: (1) “Why should I speak to you at all?” (2) “what I said to you at the beginning”.

The problem with the first option - although preferred by the Greek fathers - is that it does not fit the context, because Jesus says that he has still much to say.

The term “the beginning” does not refer merely to the “beginning” of Jesus’ ministry but to “the beginning” in John 1:1.

The words spoken to them can refer then to the entire Scriptures (cf. Heb 1:1–2).

The eternal Son who became man stands in front of them and revealing to them his divine identity.


The judgment here consists in declaring their lack of faith.

God is true and he sent his Son to declare to the world the things that the Son heard from the Father (cf. 3:34; 5:19).


The Evangelist explains that the Jews did not understand that Jesus was speaking about the Father. And yet, they should realise it (cf. 5:37).


See 3:14.

Jesus ‘prophesies’ that the cross will be the complete revelation of Jesus’ true identity and mission. Paradoxically, the Jews who do not believe in him will provide this evidence.

The term “lifted up” has a double meaning. On the historical level, the verb speaks of Jesus’ suffering and death. But, in the context of the Gospel it speaks of exaltation in majesty and glorification (John 12:23, 31–33; Mk 15:38–39; Acts 2:33).

By combining the most humiliating and cruel act the ancient world could devise (crucifixion) with a title the “Son of Man” that incorporates all the power, glory, and authority of God himself (Daniel 7:13–14), this statement is indeed a paradox and at the same time the heart of Christianity.

The Judge has decided to receive upon himself the guilt of the guilty.

By the cross, they will know both Jesus’ true divine identity of “I am” and his relationship to the Father (cf. 3:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:18).


Jesus declares that the Father is with him. Thus, even in his humanity Jesus never ceased to be “in the beginning with God” (1:2). And also the Father never leaves the Son (cf. John 16:32).

The Son always does what pleases the Father (see Mk 1:11).

The relationship between the Father and the Son is expressed by means of presence and action.

The cross will also be the revelation of the Father (cf. 25:9).

Of course, even the cross and the resurrection would not convince them all that the crucified one was the revealer of the Father, but if that would not convince them, nothing would.


Whether the faith of those who believed in him after what he said was genuine is again problematic as the further dialogue will reveal.


To those Jews, who impressed by his words, believed in him.

The term “remain” communicates the sense of “presence”, a permanent residing in a specific location. Just as the Father “remains” in the Son (14:10) and the Spirit “remains” upon Jesus (1:32–33), so also must the believers “remain” in the Son and he in them (6:56; 15:4). It describe an intimate relationship.

“To remain” in Jesus’ word means to adhere to his teaching - to direct one’s own life by it. True discipleship is the way of life. The “word” is not just Jesus’ message but also his person and his work.

So there is a condition: only if those Jews who believed in him remain in him they will be truly his disciples (contrast those disciples of Jesus from 6:66).


Jesus offers a wonderful guarantee for his true disciples: (1) they will know the truth and (2) the truth will set them free.

In 1:17 states that grace and truth became through the Son.

False belief holds the minds of people in bondage. “Truth” is not only a philosophical concept but also relational - true knowledge of God. Moreover, in this Gospel “truth” finds embodiment in Jesus.

The truth to be known is that Jesus is the saving mission of God, the one through whom grace and truth have come, the image of the Father and the expression of God’s love for the world.

To know the truth means to be united with Jesus who is the truth.

“Truth” liberates; Jesus liberates.

If we contrast “freedom” with “sin”, then the meaning of the phrase “the truth will set you free” equals salvation.

But, what kind of freedom is it? Certainly neither philosophical nor political. It is freedom that only God can give that comes from faith and baptismal experience (3:3–5).


Those who heard Jesus’ last statement want clarification.

People who need to be set free are bound or enslaved, but the speakers have no consciousness of bondage. They do not accept Jesus’ suggestion. They consider themselves Abraham’s free born descendants (cf. Gal 4:22–26, 28) and have never been held in slavery.

They are of course aware that their ancestors were enslaved in Egypt and in Babylon and now they were enslaved by the Romans. But, they probably have in mind their inward freedom - despite their political situation they have not abandoned their faith in one God.

So, they challenge Jesus: “how can you see, ”you will become free?"


Freedom is not defined by person’s religious tradition - monotheistic Judaism in this case - but by person’s sinful action. While Jewish people are distinct from the world according to their Abrahamic nature, they are identical to the world according to their human nature. They too are enslaved to sin.

This statement can remind us that there is another kind of slavery than social or economic slavery. Sin is a slave-master, and it is possible even for people who think of themselves as free to be enslaved to sin (cf. 6:12–23).

What is puzzling is the fact that the law did not help them to become "conscious of [their] sins (Rom 3:20).


In the form of a parable or an illustration Jesus explains the difference between a “slave” and a ’son".

The “son” in the Gospel of John who “remains” permanently in the house is Jesus Christ (20:31). Thus, the term “son” does not refer collectively to the Jews. It is further clarified in next verse.


Now, the Son is clearly Jesus - who alone can set free. The statement also reveals the fact that there is a freedom that does not yet belong to those who listen to him and even already believed in him.

It is a freedom that belongs to the Son and that only he can give. It is a freedom that is unknown not only to the world but even to the descendants of Abraham - a freedom from the tyranny of sin. Jesus offers liberation from enslavement to self-interest and the devil; it is a freedom that turns slaves into sons and daughters of the Father (1:12).


Jesus already acknowledged the uniqueness of the Jewish people in the plan of God (see 4:22). Now he also acknowledges that they are indeed the descendants of Abraham. But, it does not change the fact that they are enslaved to sin like the rest of humanity and in need of “new birth” (cf. 3:3–5), like the rest of humanity.

This fact is visible by the action of the Jews - their attempts to kill Jesus prove the point. Why? Because Jesus’ word has no place in them. It means that Jesus’ opponents want nothing to do with Jesus - his person and mission.


Jesus contrasts two fathers - his Father and their father. “Like the father so the son”. The character and actions of the son reveals the nature of the father.

The reader already knows about Jesus’ Father and their intimate relationship (6:46). But what about the father of Jesus’ opponents?


The answer comes immediately - they consider Abraham as their father (8:37).

But Jesus questions this assumption. If they were truly Abraham’s children, they would do what he did. Abraham welcomed the word of God and obeyed his commandments (Gen 26:5). They cherish murderous intentions against the one who came from God.

In 8:37, Jesus acknowledged that they are the descendants of Abraham, but their very action reveals something totally different. While they are “naturally” Abraham’s offspring, their action denies it.

Thus, the one whose works they perform is a very different person from Abraham.


Their father is not named until 8:44. But, they sense that Jesus undermines their claim of being Abraham’s children. So they protest.

The Jews always stressed the purity of their linage. Others - for example the Samaritans - could be born of fornication but not them. Moreover, from Abraham they go all the way to God - stating that he is their Father (Ex 4:22; Jer 31:9).

Did they sense that by challenging their statement that Abraham is the father, Jesus is also challenging that God is their father? And yet, that is what Jesus is going to do in the next verse.


Jesus insists on using the terms ‘father’ and ‘children’ in moral sense. Their actions indicate their separation not only from Abraham but also from God. The evidence is their treatment of Jesus - instead of loving him they try to kill him (cf. 1 John 5:1).

The term “love” should be taken as more than just emotions. It points to allegiance, commitment and even obedience to Jesus.

“I came from God and am now present” - points to Jesus’ divinity, his origin in the Father and to his incarnation - the Word became flesh.

Jesus was sent by the Father (1:9–10), but they remain blind to that reality.


This verse contains two words - “language - λαλιὰν” and “word - λόγος”.

“Language” refers to the way someone speaks, as in their dialect or accent (cf. Mt 26:73) and “word” to the content of what someone says. Thus, it is a contrast between the way one speaks (their style) and what one speaks (their subject matter).

Jesus is arguing that his opponents cannot make sense of his style of speech because they are unable “to hear” its subject matter.

The term “hear” refers to an act of belief in which one responds to God (5:24).


Now, Jesus delivers a shocking verdict - “you belong to your father, the devil”.

Jesus’ enemies had tried to bring about his death; they showed themselves incapable of accepting the truth which he brought. In both respects they made it plain that they were children not of God but of the devil.

God is the life-giver and the fountain of truth; the devil is the life-destroyer and the father of lies.

There are three descriptions of the devil.

  1. He is described as a murder “from the beginning” (see Wisdom 2:24).
  2. He does not stand in the truth - there is no truth in him.
  3. He speaks lies, has his own supply of lies, and bears the title “the father of lies” (cf. Gen 2:17 with 3:4).

What God said in Gen 2:17 was the truth (cf. Heb 6:18); what the devil said was ’the lie".

St. Paul speaks of idolatries as “exchanging the truth of God for the lie” (Rom 1:25; see also 2 These 2:11).


In contrast to the devil, Jesus speaks the truth. And their response to his message proves their affiliation with this father of lies.

The point is even more evident with the word “because”. It is “because” Jesus tells the truth, they do not believe him.


Then, Jesus challenges his opponents with two questions.

  1. Can they prove him wrong - “of sin”? In their view Jesus was guilty of a double sin: sabbath-breaking and blasphemy (5:18). But, was it a valid accusation? No, the reader knows it was not.

But here, we have a statement pointing to the sinlessness of Jesus (cf. Heb 4:15).

  1. Why they do not believe him? The sinless truth is right in front of them and yet they reject him. Why?

8:47 - (cf. 3:34; 18:37).

Here, Jesus gives an answer. They claimed that they were Abraham’s offsprings but, the reader knows that the true “children of God” (1:12) find their origin not in ancestral linage but “from God” (1:13).

They consider God as their Father, but Jesus - the true Son of God - tells them that they are not of God. That is why they need salvation - that is why Jesus came into this world - to save them (3:16). But again they do not realise it.


It seems that for a Jew, to speak like this about his fellow-Jews was sheer madness, a token of demon-possession (7:20).

Now, the Jews ask a rhetorical question to which they have an answer already. It seems that this was a common opinion concerning Jesus among the Jewish authorities.

Jesus declared “the Jews” to be outsiders of God (cf. 8:23, 47) and the Jews reciprocate by declaring Jesus to be an outsider to Judaism. By claiming Jesus is both a Samaritan and possessed by a demon, the Jews are effectively calling him a heretic, “accusing him of straying from the one true God”.


Jesus only answers the charge of demonic oppression and not of being a Samaritan. Why?

Jesus has an identity that is rooted in God as the Son of God and he proclaims a message that fits neither the Jewish nor Samaritan mode of worship (cf. 4:23). Besides, the reader and his opponents know that Jesus is not a Samaritan.

The second charge, however, needs to be answered. Jesus contrasts his behaviour with theirs: He honours God - “my Father” - and yet they dishonour him. This honouring of his Father clearly proves that Jesus is neither heretic nor demon- possessed.

Moreover, based on 5:23, we can draw a clear conclusion that the one who dishonours Jesus, dishonours the Father as well.


By seeking the “honour” of his Father, Jesus explicitly denied himself his “glory”. But the statement also indicates that there is actually glory that belongs to Jesus and is due to him (cf. 5:44).

The Father will glorify Jesus and disapprove the charges made against him by his opponents.

The one who “judges” here is the Father; but in John’s Gospel the judge is also the Son (5:22–27).

8:51 - cf. 6:63

So far we know that the Jews do not keep Jesus’ word. But if they keep it, they will never die - a message of hope.

“Keep my word” and “remain in my word” (8:31) are synonymous (cf. 6:68).

“To see death” is to experience death. To “never” see death, then, is to experience eternal life.


The Jews offer a theological criticism of Jesus’ statement.

Abraham heard the word of God and obeyed it; yet he died. The same with the prophets. So, if the word of God did not preserve from dying those who heard it and kept it, how can the word of this man serve as medicine against death? In their opinion Jesus’ own words proves their charges against him.

To “taste death” (Mk 9:1; Heb 2:9), like to “see death” (8:51) is to experience death.

The Jews continue to prove their point by asking a question that expects a negative answer: Jesus is not greater than Abraham (cf. 4:12 ).

“Whom do you make yourself?” In 5:18, the charge was that Jesus was making himself equal with God. There, they wanted to kill him.


Jesus again repeats what he said - He does not seek his own glory.

The reader already knows that Jesus’ knowledge of the Father as the Son surpasses the knowledge the Jews can have based on the Scripture.

Their God is the Father of Jesus (1:2, 18), but the Jews are not aware of it.


Here, Jesus again reveals something unacceptable to the Jews - they do not know their own God (cf. 1:10). Only Jesus knows the Father and came to reveal Him. Jesus speaks the truth and He is the truth (14:6).

Jesus offers simple proof: he kept the Father’s word. That is also expected from a true disciple - to keep Jesus’ word (8:31).


This is a powerful statement. Jesus declares that Abraham was purposefully looking forward to the time of Jesus with triumphant joy.

Some rabbis based on Gen 24:1 suggested that Abraham foresaw the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the law, and the age to come. But, whether this meaning is intended here is doubtful.

There are two interpretative questions.

  1. What does Jesus mean by “my day”? It probably refers to the incarnation - the Word became flesh - and embraces the entire activity of Jesus.
    Some scholars indicate here connection with Gen 22:8 - which would point to the mystery of the cross.

  2. When did Abraham’s rejoicing take place? Here some scholars see connection between Isaac and Jesus - as new Isaac. Thus, Gen 17:19; 21:6 would indicate that there is going to be “another Isaac” that will bring true joy to Abraham.


For “fifty” see the comments on John 2:20.

It is interesting to notice that some version read here “has Abraham seen you?”

The question is again meant to ridicule Jesus’ claims. But, they did not expect Jesus’ answer


Jesus answers with powerful “I AM” (8:24, 28; Exodus 3:14; Is 41:4).

Someone who is only “fifty years old” cannot speak like that. Only the Word that had been with God in the beginning and was now incarnate on earth can speak this way (1:1–3).

Jesus’ statement “I AM” can be finished with “… the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”.


Cf. 8:20 and 5:13 - They could not do him any harm yet because his hour has not yet come.

Either Jesus was who he said he was or his words were blasphemous. For them it was the second option so they attempt to stone him (cf. Lev 24:16).

But the reader knows already that Jesus is not just an ordinary man - He is God’s Son.

The verb “was hidden” or “was concealed” indicates that something mysterious took place here. Perhaps, the author again reminds us that Jesus’ hour has not yet come.

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