Editor’s note: The following article was originally delivered as a Discover Emmaus chapel message on the campus of Emmaus Bible College. The sermonic tone and style are here intentionally retained.
Significantly, out of these insults in John 8 (see pt. 1), come three amazing claims that reveal the greatness of Jesus Christ. The first great claim is:
The Father Seeks the Glory of Christ
“Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge,” (John 8:50).
“Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’” (John 8:54).
Do you see the significance of these statements? God seeks the glory of Christ! The Father glorifies Jesus! God is no idolater. He says in Isaiah 42:8 “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Again in 48:11 he declares, “My glory I will not give to another.” But here in John 8, Jesus says the Father seeks his glory! For God to seek Jesus’ glory is to say that Jesus is God.
But there is more. The second great claim comes in verse 51.
Jesus Delivers from Death
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death,” (John 8:51).
This is a remarkable statement. But what does it mean? We have probably all been to Christian funerals. What Jesus is speaking of here is life that physical death cannot extinguish. He is claiming to be able to impart eternal life to those who trust in him.
Jesus will say in 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believers in me shall never die.”
The deepest fear and greatest threat and strongest enemy to every human life is death. For many, it is a terrifying prospect. Francis Bacon acknowledged that “men fear death as children fear the dark.”
But Jesus says, “Trust in me; keep my word, and you will never see death. I will give you eternal life—life in the presence of God forever. So even when your physical body is racked with pain and full of cancer, and you breathe your last, you will not truly die; you will pass from this mortal life into the presence of God, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And if you believe in me and keep my word, one day I will even raise the body they put in the ground, and transform it into a glorious new body that will live forever and will know the glory of God.”
No mere man can make such a claim. Jesus is saying that eternal life and deliverance from death come only through him. The amazing fact is that this salvation was accomplished by Christ on the cross, where he took our sin and paid their wages. He died for us; he died in our place. What good news that all who accept his word and trust in him enter into eternal life!
Jesus’ Jewish opponents rejected his words. It was too much for them. “Now we know you have a demon!”, they say. After all, even Abraham died. Who do you think you are, Jesus?
Jesus’ response brings us to the third great claim:
Jesus is Yahweh
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8:56-58).
It is not precisely clear what Abraham saw, but he certainly believed and rejoiced in God’s promise that his offspring would bring blessing. But Jesus does not say that Abraham rejoiced to see ‘the messianic age.’ Jesus says Abraham rejoiced to see my day. As D. A. Carson puts it, “Jesus identifies the ultimate fulfilment of all Abraham’s hopes and joys with his own person and work.”
The Jews hear this as complete lunacy. But it is mild compared to what Jesus says next. In verse 58 we have probably his most explicit and profound and powerful claim to deity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
This magnificent affirmation claims that Jesus existed before Abraham. But it does more than that. Jesus does not say, “before Abraham was, I was.” He says, “before Abraham was, I am.” This is a claim to eternal existence; it is nothing less than a claim to deity.
Jesus is identifying with the most sacred of divine names. He is identifying with God’s own self-identification to Moses in Exodus 3. In that passage, Moses says to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you,’” (Exodus 3:13-14).
This is where we get the sacred name, Yahweh. And here in John 8 we learn Jesus is Yahweh; he is the great I AM. The Jews understand what Jesus is claiming, because as soon as they hear him say it, they picked up stones to stone him. Stoning was the punishment for blasphemy, and they heard Jesus saying things that only God should say. He was speaking the truth to them, but they could not bear to hear it.
What staggering claims Jesus makes in this passage. He claims that God the Father seeks his glory. He claims that if anyone keeps his word, they’ll never see death. And he claims that he is nothing less than the Eternal God, Yahweh.
The implication for our lives is staggering. There is no way any of us should walk away indifferent or apathetic toward Jesus Christ. We either reject him as a lunatic or we must bow before him as the Son of God and give our lives to him.
This is why Emmaus is unapologetically a Christ-centered college. The Father seeks the glory of Christ, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we seek Christ’s glory in the way we approach higher education and learning and study and preparation for life and for careers? Yes, in all these things, Christ is at the center, and therefore, there is eternal significance to what we do.
Christ should be the center because he is the one who delivers from death. And when we do our work and studies for him, our lives have significance even now in line with the purpose for which we were created: to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
Christ should be at the center because, as we see in this passage, in Him we come face to face with the Eternal God. Our hearts and minds and lives were made for him. What a joy to study in community where we want to honor Christ in all we do as the Eternal One—the King of kings and Lord of lords.
“The things concerning himself…” Whether you come to study at Emmaus or not (and we hope you will), let this be the theme of your life. And current Emmaus students and faculty and staff let’s remember why we exist. Let’s not just have it as a statement on the wall or as a slogan on our seal – let’s pursue “the things concerning himself” as the daily goal and joy of being at Emmaus Bible College.
2 Cited in James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: Volume 2: John 5:1–8:59 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 376.
3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 356.
4 Carson, The Gospel according to John, 358.
5 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 56.
Mark Stevenson (PhD, University of Wales) has been teaching in the Bible and Theology Department at Emmaus since 1999. He is the author of the book "The Doctrines of Grace in an Unexpected Place." He and his wife Tonya have 4 children and live in Dubuque, IA.