“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill Me because My word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”” (John 8:31–38, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
The great news of verse 30 is that many believed in Him. In the midst of being challenged by the Jews, some of whom wanted Him put to death and were seeking every opportunity to discredit Him, these believers’ eyes were opened and their hearts were changed. It is these believers who were given the life that Jesus promised, and now Jesus was telling them what to do next. ““If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” His words to them as we read in Psalm 119 were that if there were truly His disciples then they would hide His word in them and live according to it. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9, ESV) It is the truth that would direct them and give them true freedom from their enslavement to sin. We don’t know what else He said or what He might have gone on to say because John says that it was after saying this that He was interrupted by those who “answered Him.”
The words from Verse 30 which ended the last post along with verse 31 point to those who believed in Jesus. Verse 30 said that “many believed in Him,” and verse 31 tells us that Jesus then began to speak directly to those who had believed. The assumption might be that somehow He separated them and spoke only to them, but the context indicates otherwise. Based upon the context, it appears that there were those listening in on His conversation which was directed to the believers. It seems that as Jesus spoke to the believers that the unbelieving Jews were still in the audience, and as He spoke they interrupted Him with another argument to which Jesus responds.
This interruption was a bit confusing, especially as I read it through the verses that follow. On the surface it seemed like the believers turned on Him with their questioning, and some commentators indicate that this is what might have truly happened. They indicate that they weren’t true believers in the first place, and when called upon to change they showed their true colors. While I may not have had a clear answer, I sensed that this understanding didn’t seem right for a couple of reasons. So, I continued to consider the passage and read from other commentators on the passage. As I did this I settled in my mind and heart that we are reading here of two different groups The first and foremost reason for this conclusion is that Jesus knew the hearts of men, and He clearly knew which people believed in Him and which ones did not. He would not be fooled, even temporarily. This is not a mistake that He would have made. Secondly, John wrote this passage later in time and the passage of time would have given Him a clearer perspective from which to write about their belief, and possibly even to refer to them as false believers or something else.
There is only one answer that settled for me how this passage would be consistent with the entirety of Scripture, and that is that the “they” of verse 33 refers to the unbelieving Jews. First of all, “they” is an added word pointing to the fact that the word “answered” refers to a party responding to something that was said or done. For this to happen someone had to respond, and “they” is likely as good a word for the translators to use as any. The only question then would be, “Who are the “they”?” When we look to the greater context of chapter 8, the majority of Jesus’ words were directed in response to those who were unbelieving and challenging Him. It would fit that “they” would continue to challenge Him and He would respond in kind. Being consistent seems to dictate that as Jesus began to speak to the believers He was challenged by the unbelievers and then proceeded to deal with their arguments.
Jesus having said that “the truth will set you free,” the antagonists in the crowd responded by stating that as descendants of Abraham they had never been enslaved to anyone, and as such they had no need to be set free. This, of course, was a false claim as Israel had been taken captive numerous times and was even then living under the thumb of Rome. They were not a free people, and this lack of freedom according to Scripture was a direct result of their rebellion against God and their enslavement to sin. Jesus knew exactly what He was talking about, and He knew exactly where He was going in His response. He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” He redirected their assertion about being descendants of Abraham toward focusing on their imperfect lives. God had made many promises concerning Abraham and his descendants, but the persistent rebellion of the Jews led to many destructive consequences in the fulfillment of those yet to be fully fulfilled promises. God did not abandon them though they regularly turned their backs of Him, and at the heart of that rebellion was their being enslaved to sin.
Jesus went on to say, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.” There is a huge difference between a son and a slave. The slave is not a part of the family and is not entitled to all of the benefits of the family. A slave to sin is already judged guilty and will one day suffer the consequences of their sin resulting in eternal separation from God. While they may have lived as descendants of Abraham, when the end comes their allegiance to sin will result in them being separated from the God of Abraham. But those who believe are adopted into God’s eternal family and with that comes an eternal home in the presence of our eternal God with eternal blessings. They might have prided themselves in their Judaism and ancestry, but these are worthless apart from belief.
Next He said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” This is true freedom and it will not fail. Jesus drew a clear distinction between the believers in the crowd who have been eternally set free and those who remain enslaved. “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill Me because My word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” He acknowledged that they were indeed descendants of Abraham, but He also confronted them with how little they really knew of God’s promises made even to Abraham. Jesus had been faithful in speaking the words of the Father, and these unbelievers had continued to hold onto the lies which had shaped their lives. Jesus spoke of their father who they saw as Abraham, but in the next passage Jesus will tell them who their father really is. One thing we are certain of is that their Father was not God nor was it even Abraham to whom they claimed their allegiance. There was a huge gap between the words of their lips and the attitude of their hearts. These individuals to whom Jesus responded while speaking to the believers were slaves to sin and there was nothing on their own that they could do to break free from their slavery.
“For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:5–11, ESV)