“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.” So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” So they said to Him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 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.” 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. 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.” As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.” (John 8:21–30, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
Among everything else we see in these interactions between Jesus and the crowds we see that He is persistent, that He truly continued to present to them their need to make a decision to believe. Speaking to them again he told them that He was going away and when that happens no matter how hard they seek Him they will not be able to find Him. It won’t be like when He fed the 5,000 after they had followed Him, or even the next day when they went back down to the sea and then found Him on the other side. This time they will not be able to find Him no matter how hard they look. There will be a day when He will no longer be with them and they will no longer see Him perform signs and wonders, heal their sick, fill their bellies, or anything else. He will not be there to reason with them and challenge them to make a decision for life. There will be a time that all of those who do not believe will die in their sin.
Evidently they missed the last words of His statement about their own death. Instead they focused on His leaving them in such a way that they could not find Him, and the only answer they had for this was Him taking His own life. Their reasoning was, “Will He kill Himself, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” Suicide was on their minds. They took His words as a warning that He was soon going to take some form of action to end His own life. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, He had come to lay down His life and then to take it up again. But what laid ahead for Jesus was far from a deranged or depressed person taking His own life. They were right in the sense that He expected to die and leave them, but what they were missing was the most important fact that in His death He would live, returning to the Father from whom He came. And the reason they would not find Him is not because His presence was inaccessible to anyone, but because it was ultimately accessible only to those who believe and receive eternal life.
Jesus went on to say, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” Their origins were flesh and blood, all being born fully man. Jesus was, always has been, and always will be God who at a point in time took on the form of man to become fully man as well without being any less fully God. By their very nature the crowd’s place of origin is different. They were (as are we) of the world and He wasn’t. They were all guilty of sin and would die in those sins. The only thing that would change that was to believe that Jesus had been sent by God to give them life and to place their trust in Him. Notice that twice Jesus says here, “in your sins.” This was an already condition that they could not change. They were all lost in their sins in which they were born and also committed, and they were already judged guilty. Only belief would move remove that judgment and move them from death into life.
Things began to sink in a little. Their curiosity was perked, and they asked, “Who are you?” Of course Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to once again tell them who He was, who sent Him, and why He had come. He said, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 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.” The passage gives us some information of the disconnect between Jesus’ words and the people’s understanding. We read, “They did not understand that He had been speaking to them about the Father.” There is no indication that the people had responded to His previous comment with a question, but probably more likely that Jesus knew their minds and He continued His words by addressing this understanding gap saying, “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. 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.”
It was when He said these words that light bulbs went on in people’s minds. Jesus had told them at the time they “lifted Him up” that they would recognize Him. Jesus knew why He came and He even knew His manner of death such that He would be lifted up on a cross to be crucified. He told them at that time it would become obvious that He indeed was the Son of Man. In the Old Testament the term “son of man” was used to refer to man and his earthly origin. Daniel wrote about his night visions and referred to one like the son of men who was different. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, ESV)
The Son of Man spoken of by Daniel was the Messiah who the Jews were waiting to appear. Jesus plainly told them that He was the One they had been awaiting. But He also told them that He was going to have to die before this vision could be fulfilled. This would not compute with many who had set their hopes of a present ruler over all nations and for all time. These two pieces of information did not equate with some of them. But Jesus told them that He indeed would be lifted up not on a throne before which they would bow, but on a cross in order to die for their sins. In doing this He was doing exactly as the Father had intended. Him going to the cross would not represent a failure of God to fulfill His plan and to dash their hope, but rather to fulfill His plan and bring them life. The Father was not going to abandon Him and leave Him to His own ends. He was continually present with Jesus and would be continually faithful through every step. The Father was absolutely pleased with Jesus’ obedience. This would be an important assurance when that day came and the people who had believed were tempted to turn away disappointed that they might have followed an impostor. Jesus was not an impostor. He was the real deal sent by the Father in whom the Father was well-pleased, and Jesus was going to please Him in all that He did.
Having spoken to the crowd and assuring them of His truly being sent by the Father in order to fulfill the will of the Father that through Him people might be saved, we read, “As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.” Jesus had answered their questions, filled in the blanks in their hearts and minds, and many of them had their eyes opened such that they believed. They had moved from being those who were chasing after the magic show to becoming disciples of the Christ.