John 8:21 – So he said to them again, “I am going away and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Jesus is still discoursing with the Jews in the temple. He has adamantly told them he is the light of the world and God is his Father, but they continue to mock and reject him. They judge according to the flesh and refuse to accept Jesus as Messiah because he does not fit their preconceived notions.
This is a situation that calls for bluntness, and Jesus supplies it! He plainly tells the Jews that they will continue to seek a Messiah and desire his coming, but the Messiah they expect will never arrive. Since they have rejected him (Jesus) and there is no other Savior, they will end up dying in their sin.
Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.
Because they will die in sin, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven where Jesus will be. They will find themselves in outer darkness, a place without the presence (mercy, favor, life) of God. Existence apart from God is the very definition of hell; once there all sinners will exist in a state of torment forever and ever.
Jesus has painted a rather disturbing yet true picture for the Jews (and for us). Yet this harsh truth does not come without an equal dose of mercy – while the day of their visitation is almost over, there is still time to repent.
In fact, no one should EVER delay in accepting the grace of God. When the bible speaks about salvation, it is always a ‘right now’ gift for TODAY. If you think about it, it never could be a ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow’ gift, because ‘later’ and ‘tomorrow’ never come!
2 Corinthians 6:2 — (For he says, I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
If the Jews continue to reject Jesus, they will be completely unprepared for the day of trouble when it comes upon them – and it will come. This is an extremely harsh reality. It means that at some future point, both as individuals and as a nation, the Jews will find themselves embroiled in a calamity. It could be a foreign power threatening their nation. It could be a famine or a drought. It could be a plague. Regardless of what the trouble is, the Jews will seek deliverance, assistance and relief by crying out to God for the Messiah. They will howl, wail and fast with great intensity, but they will not find him, because he has already come (John 7:34)!
This already happened to the Jews at least once – during the war with Rome in 70AD. At that time, the Christians escaped Jerusalem, but the Jews who were left experienced horrible suffering and abuse. There can be no doubt that they called upon God to send them the Messiah, but they received nothing new from him because the Messiah had already been sent. Sadly, they had missed him due to their unbelief.
Jesus also warns that anyone who rejects him as Messiah opens themselves up to being deluded/deceived by the antichrist when he comes at the end of time (Matthew 24:5-8).
John 8:22 – So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”
Instead of trembling at the thought of eternity without God, the Jews ridiculed the warning Jesus gave them.
In their opinion, Jesus was a deceiver and a false prophet who broke the Law of Moses. They believed he was out of his mind, and it would not surprise them if he did kill himself.
The thought process of the Jewish religious leaders went something like this: Jesus is referring to his own death as being imminent. They only way that someone could know the date of their own death is if they plan to kill themselves (suicide). Those who end their own lives will go straight to Hades, the place of torment. Since this is where Jesus is going, he is absolutely right that we cannot (and will not) go there with him!
When we eventually die, we will wind up in Abraham’s bosom/paradise, because we are children of Abraham. Once there, we can look across the great impassable gulf that exists between paradise and Hades and see Jesus again (Luke 16:22-26). If he is going to kill himself, we hope he does it soon so we can put him in the history books and go back to our ordinary way of life.
Although the Jews exhibited many sins (pride, greed, envy, deception, etc) their greatest sin was unbelief. This one sin will cause them to miss eternity with God. It is the reason they cannot go where Jesus is going.
John 8:23 – He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
There is indeed a great gulf between Jesus and the religious leaders, but it isn’t the one in Abraham’s bosom. It is the gulf between the flesh and the spirit.
The Jews are ‘from below’. In other words, they have no real interest in the kingdom of God. They are earthly/fleshly minded; their greatest desires are for wealth, ease and the praise of other men. They are slaves to the earth (all of their thoughts are centered on the things of earth and how to obtain them) and heirs of hell. They are full of pride, envy, slander and malice. In fact, many of them were seeking to murder an innocent man – Jesus. They are unspiritual men who refuse to walk in the light of God. In addition to all of this, they are unbelievers. Unbelief is the main sin being referred to in this particular passage.
By contrast, Jesus is ‘from above’. He was actively involved in the creation of this world and everything on it; he breathed the breath of life into mankind. He continues to sustain this planet and all the life that lives on it. He descended from heaven to reveal Father God to mankind and to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin. Everything about Jesus – his attitude, his choices, his teaching, his upbringing, his mission, his actions, his purpose –is focused on the eternal world. He is truly from above and his thoughts and ways are immeasurably above the thoughts and ways of the Pharisees (Isaiah 55:8-9).
As Christians we know and understand this difference. Before we accepted Christ we too were concerned and interested solely in earthly things. It took the illumination of Holy Spirit to quicken our understanding so we could perceive the eternal world.
John 8:24 – “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Let’s look at this statement of Jesus another way. Suppose two different people started feeling ill and went to the same doctor. She gives these patients bad news and good news. The bad news is that they have a disease which is 100% fatal if not treated. The good news is that there is one single medicine that will fully restore them back to health and preserve their lives, as long as they continue to use it.
One of her patients believes in the cure and accepts it. One scoffs at the idea and rejects it.
Six months later, as we would expect, the patient who believed in the cure and took the medicine is alive and well. In fact, they testify that they never felt better. But the one who refused to take the medicine because they did not believe it would work has died.
Each of us face the same life or death choice in the spiritual realm.
As we know, sin is 100% spiritually fatal. The only cure is belief in Jesus as our Redeemer. Those who believe and accept this remedy will have everlasting life. Those who persist in unbelief and reject the remedy will die in sin and fall under the wrath and condemnation of God:
Mark 16:16 – He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned.
Now, if you are a Christian reading this blog post, none of this is news to you. You have already believed and accepted the blood of Christ which brings eternal life.
But did you know that even as Christians we can still retain elements of unbelief in our lives, and that these can seriously dim our light for Christ? Let’s examine the case for unbelief.
- God is not pleased with unbelief:
Do you remember when God delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery and took them to the Promised Land? They failed to take possession of the land on the first opportunity because they did not believe that God would give them the victory. The penalty for their unbelief was wandering in the desert for 40 years and the death of an entire generation:
Hebrews 3:17-19 – But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Have you considered that unbelief is actually distrust of God? When you do not believe a promise or truth he has revealed, you are either saying that he can’t or won’t keep his promise. These are very serious charges to bring against the God of the universe! No wonder God is angry with the sin of unbelief! It not only smears his good name, but it prevents you and me from fulfilling the good works he has ordained for us to accomplish.
Besides that, what kind of testimony are we giving for the gospel when we don’t believe God will keep his word? If he can’t be trusted, they how can sinners rely on him for salvation? (For that matter, how can we?) Do you see how unbelief can dim your light for Christ?
2. Unbelief will limit the flow of God’s supernatural power:
Consider the case of the disciples who could not cast a demon out of a Jewish boy:
Matthew 17:15-16 – Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is epileptic, and is very ill: for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him.
As you recall, Jesus walked into this situation as he came down the mountain after the transfiguration. Apparently, the other disciples were praying for people while Jesus was up on the mountain with Peter, James and John. They prayed for the demon to depart from this boy, but it would not.
However, after a word from Christ, the demon fled and the boy was restored. Later the disciples asked Jesus why they were not able to cast out the demon. Do you remember Jesus’ answer? The cause was their unbelief:
Matthew 17:19-20 – Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief…
Consider this: God still wants to touch a lost and dying world with the miraculous, and he plans to do that through us (John 14:12). But if we ourselves harbor unbelief, how can God work through us?
Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions:
- Do we believe that God answers prayer? Don’t answer that question with your intellect – answer it with your actions. In other words, examine your prayer life. If you have a robust, active prayer life, then you definitely believe God answers prayer. If you rarely pray and/or pray for only about two minutes at a time, then in reality, you don’t believe prayer works. You have some unbelief in your life.
- Do you believe that God heals people? Again, examine your actions for the answer. If you believe it, then when you encounter a sick person, you will tell them about the power of God, lay your hands on them, and approach God on their behalf for healing. However, if your reaction is to just murmur some words of sympathy, then you don’t believe God heals. You have some unbelief in your life.
- Do you believe God still speaks to believers today by his word, dreams, visions, an audible voice or an inward confirmation? If so, then you will be listening to him throughout the day, asking and receiving guidance and instruction. If you don’t, then you don’t believe God speaks to his children today. You have some unbelief in your life!
Get the picture? You can stand around all day claiming you believe in a God who is actively at work in the world today, but does your Christian walk reflect that?
Perhaps our situation can best be described like the father in the gospel of Mark:
Mark 9:24 – And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
3. There are practical steps we can take to remove unbelief from our lives.
The first step is to realize that the opposite of unbelief is belief or what we normally call faith. By building up our faith, we can reduce the amount of unbelief in our lives.
One way to increase our faith is by meditating on the scriptures:
Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Another way is by remembering God’s past faithfulness to us:
Psalm 22:4 – Our fathers trusted in you: they trusted, and you did deliver them.
You can also build up your faith by praying in your heavenly language:
Jude 20 – But you, beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,…
One of the keys to increased faith is this: Don’t give up, no matter what you don’t see!
You may pray for someone to get healed and nothing happens at that moment. That does not mean that God did not hear your prayer. In fact, you can be sure that he is working behind the scenes to not only heal that person, but to bring the healing about in such a way that it has an eternal benefit to them. Since we will all eventually die, physical healing is temporary at best. God wants people to be healed because it draws them to him spiritually. A delay in the answer to your prayer could mean that God is doing an eternal work hasn’t yet come into its moment of manifestation.
So whatever you do, keep on praying, binding/loosing, laying hands on the sick, etc. Don’t assume that God isn’t taking action because the situation did not turn out like YOU thought it would or because it didn’t happen instantly.
This is a lesson that Abraham learned long ago. Remember when God promised to give him a son and form a great and mighty nation from his offspring? Abraham had to wait on that promise for years and years and years and years….
To his credit, he refused to allow unbelief to take root in his life. Even though he was close to 100 years old and Sarah was 90, he still had the faith to believe that God would give him a son.
Romans 4:20-21 – He (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
And sure enough, God gave him Isaac. What great and mighty things does God want to do in and through your life? Heal people? Cast out demons? Give words of knowledge or wisdom? Set addicts free? Restore order to our world? God can do all of these amazing things through us, if we just have the faith to believe!
So just to summarize:
- Unbelief is an issue that affects everyone.
- Sinners (like the ones Jesus was addressing in the gospel of John) who persist in unbelief reject the grace of God which takes away sin. As a result, they will die in their sin and be eternally separated from God.
- Christians are often referred to as ‘believers’ because we believe in Jesus and we trust in his atoning sacrifice for our sin. But even as Christians, we must guard against unbelief. The opposite of unbelief is faith and as Christians we have ways to increase our faith.
John 8:25 – So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.”
The Pharisees are outraged when they hear Jesus say that they would die in their sin. In their opinion, Jesus is less than nothing and he has no authority over them. With that in mind they exclaim with contempt, ‘Who do you think you are’ or ‘What right do you have to speak to us about sin and judgment’?
Jesus is exactly who he has been telling them from the beginning of his ministry. He is the bread of heaven and the light of the world and the one sent by Father God to fulfill the law. But his beginning goes back even further.
He is the Messiah whose coming was predicted from the beginning of sin. The first promise of Messiah was given to Eve back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). The promises of the coming Messiah continued unabated for hundreds of years, all throughout the history of Israel.
The religious leaders claimed to be students of the Law and the Prophets but they rejected the fulfillment of the promises who now stood before them!
John 8:26-27 – “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
Jesus goes on to say that he has many, many things which he might say to expose their iniquities which include pride, ambition, hypocrisy, hatred for the light, malice against the truth, obstinate unbelief and rejection of the Messiah.
But he will not openly discuss or judge those things now, because he has not come to judge the world, but to save it. His mission is to declare only what the Father has sent him to say.
And whether they like it or not, the Father is true, or in other words, whatever he has spoken shall surely come to pass for his word never fails.
John 8:27-28 – They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Here is even more evidence of the mercy of God. Even though the Pharisees are, for the moment, spiritually blind to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the day is coming when they will understand.
Just after his crucifixion, the day was turned to night and an immense earthquake shook the world. These were the first proofs that Jesus was the Messiah, but the ultimate proof came three days later, when Jesus was resurrected from the dead. By that point, there could be no doubt in their minds – Jesus was the Messiah.
And if he is indeed the Messiah, then everything he taught MUST be accepted as truth from God.
John 8:29 – “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence that is shortly to come, many of the religious leaders will still reject Jesus as the Messiah. However, Jesus can rest assured that his labor is not in vain. He has faithfully and fully said/done everything that the Father asked of him (Psalms 40:6-8). The Spirit will make his word alive in the hearts of countless numbers of people, who will all willingly and gratefully accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Jesus also has the assurance that he is never alone. It may have seemed like he was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane when he took the sin of the world upon himself, but he was not for Father God was with him. It may have seemed like he was alone when all of the disciples fled, but God was still with him. As he died on the cross, Father God looked down upon him with pleasure and joy has he fulfilled the work that was given him to do.
Jesus was in perpetual communion with the Father because he was always in obedience to his commands. Like Jesus, we must be diligent to hear the voice of God, to obey all of his commands and to be wholly devoted to his service (John 15:10).
John 8:30 – As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
Scholars have different view points on this verse. These views center on the word ‘believe’.
Some interpret ‘believed’ to mean that the words of Jesus (which were anointed by Holy Spirit) took root in the hearts of some people. This faith resulted in acceptance of the gospel and subsequent salvation.
Others interpret ‘believed’ to mean that some of the Jews began to believe or have faith that Jesus was actually the true Messiah sent from God. Although this did not result in immediate salvation, it paved the way for them to accept the gospel once Jesus died and rose again.
Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:
Unbelief – we all have some of it, and we all need to get rid of it! While it takes time and diligence to rid ourselves of unbelief, the end result is certainly worthwhile. Jesus says that if we have faith like a grain of mustard seed, we can speak to the mountains in our lives and cast them into the sea (Mark 11:22-24).
Most of the spiritual growth that takes place in your life (after salvation) is not instantaneous. The majority mimics growth in the natural realm – it is a process that occurs little-by-little over time. Replacing unbelief with faith will probably occur by this process.
So don’t be frustrated if you are still experiencing some unbelief in your Christian walk. Just continue to lean on Holy Spirit and do your best. Eventually, you will conquer unbelief and your faith will rise to the level of Abraham, who ‘staggered not’ at the seemingly impossible promises of God!
Fueled by this kind of faith, our lights will burn brightly for Christ!
Let me offer you some strength:
Jesus gave the Jews some harsh truth. It was, no doubt, difficult for them to accept. It probably stung their pride. But he didn’t do it out of spite. He did it out of love. They were on the road leading to hell and only the truth could cause them to change course.
Has God revealed any harsh truth to you lately, perhaps related to the level of true belief in your life? If the truth was a little hard to bear, I encourage you to stand strong; don’t reject what the Spirit is saying to you! God did not reveal that truth to embarrass or punish you. He revealed it so that he could heal it!
If you want to be a person of faith, then begin to take God at his word during every waking moment of your life. Live like the scriptures are true, even if you don’t see immediate results. I assure you, God watches over his word to perform it, so your results are not far away!