A Meditation on John 8:21-30
Prophet, Priest, and King are the three Old Testament offices which converge in Jesus. The prophetic office of Christ is highlighted in John 8:21-30. Two basic functions are associated with prophets. First, prophets were forth-tellers. The prophets delivered a message from God: “Thus saith the LORD…” This was not always an easy assignment, since many prophecies didn’t fall under the rubric of “positive and uplifting.” For example, Jonah’s message to Nineveh was: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Nevertheless, Jonah’s blunt warning resulted in national repentance and revival. While all prophets were forth-tellers, not all prophets also doubled as fore-tellers—predicting what would take place in the future. Our text will present Jesus as a prophet in both senses: forth-telling (Jn. 8:21-26) and fore-telling (vv. 28-29).
The massive theological overtones in Jesus’ words “you will die in your sin” (vs. 21, 24) would not have eluded the Jews. Haunting echoes from Ezekiel would have come through loud and clear. The LORD told Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die, and give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (Eze. 3:17-19). Jesus is the watchman, prophet, par excellence, and He warns rebellious Israel of the coming judgment. Their only way of escape is belief in Jesus as the great “I AM” (Jn. 8:24). “I AM” is the literal translation (cf. vs. 58).
Jesus operates as a prophetic fore-teller in verse 28: “So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM’” (author’s translation). When will the Jews know that Jesus is indeed God incarnate? When they crucify Him; the cross will reveal—with utter certainty—that Jesus is the Son of God.
This prophecy by Jesus actually contains two prophecies in one. Jesus began by saying, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man…” If we pause here momentarily, we see that Jesus is declaring that these Jews will have Him crucified. This is the meaning of “lifted up” (cf. Jn. 3:14). Jesus goes on to state that when He is executed “then you will know that I AM.” In other words, Jesus’ death will remove all doubt as to His deity. Is there any biblical proof that this happened? There is, and it’s utterly fascinating.
Before considering the Jews response to Jesus’ death, let’s look at the centurion’s reaction. We read in Luke 23:46: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” On the heels of this description of Jesus’ death, Luke notes, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!” (vs. 47). As an eyewitness to the death of Christ, the centurion concludes that He was really innocent. But there is more.
In Mark’s Gospel the same centurion is mentioned, yet a different conclusion is presented. “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mk. 15:39). The manner of Jesus’ death somehow communicated a clear and compelling message to the centurion: Jesus was an innocent man, and God’s Son.
Turning our attention to the Jews who surrounded the cross, we observe some interesting responses that often get glossed over. Immediately after Jesus dies there is an earthquake, and many tombs of the saints were opened (Matt. 27:51-53). Matthew comments, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe (lit. feared exceedingly) and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’” (vs. 54). They are terrified, because they just had the Son of God killed. Luke adds, “And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts” (Lk. 23:48). There is no quiet relief or shouts of victory. Rather they went back to their homes beating their breasts out of agonizing guilt. Just as Jesus had said, “Then you will know that I AM.” This is the only remaining question: Will they repent? After being confronted with this colossal sin on the Day of Pentecost about 3,000 repented and were saved—saved by the very death they instigated (Acts 2:22-41).
Pastor Wayne Christensen