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.” (John 8:21-24)
My wife and I recently had a conversation with some close friends. In the course of the discussion, which addressed such issues as work, politics and God’s existence, we shared the Gospel. It was not the first time we have done so with this couple. Hopefully it will not be the last time because you see, these two people do not know the Lord as their Savior. Consequently, the Bible says that if and when they die without Christ, they will die in their sins and therefore be condemned to a Christ-less eternity in Hell.
Do you ever find yourselves frustrated when you share the Gospel to the same people and they continue to reject? Do you wonder if you said something different, or if you shared the same message in a different way, that your acquaintances would be more receptive? I wonder?
In today’s passage, we witness Jesus sharing the same message of salvation in Him to the same people, the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus’ audience remained steadfast in their rejection of Him and refused to receive Him as Messiah. An undisclosed amount of time has passed between Jesus’ proclamation of Himself as the light of the world (John 8:12–20) and the dialogue between our Lord and the Pharisees contained in today’s passage.
He instructed the chief priests and the Pharisees again of His impending death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. It was the same announcement to the same people the Apostle John records Jesus proclaiming in John 7:33-34.
Once again, initially like Nicodemas (John 3) and the Woman at the Well (John 4), the religious leaders thought in literal terms. They thought Jesus was saying that He was going to kill Himself. They did not, and could not, understand what His words truly meant (I Corinthians 2:14). That same can be said of my friends.
Why? The answer is because my friends and I, along with Jesus and the religious leaders of His day, belong to two different realms of authority. Two different kingdoms, if you will.
One kingdom Jesus said is “from below.” It is a kingdom “of this world.” Those who belong to this kingdom will “die in their sins.” The religious leaders, and my friends, belong to this kingdom.
The other kingdom is “from above.” It is a kingdom “not of this world.” Those who belong to this kingdom will be saved from the penalty, power and presence of their sins. This is the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom whose entrance is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The contrast here is between the realm of God and that of the fallen, sinful world (i.e., “from below”). The world in this context is the invisible spiritual system of evil dominated by Satan and all that it offers in opposition to God, his word, and his people (see notes on 1:9; 1 John 5:19). Jesus declared that his opponents’ true kinship was with Satan and his realm. By this domination, they were spiritually blinded (see 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1–3).”
Verse 24 is an especially critical one to understand. Jesus once again identifies Himself as the One, True God when He says “for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” His use of the phrase “I AM” is once again a reference to the most personal name for God. It means to be the self-existent One. (John 4:26).
Dr. MacArthur explains that, “The reference may be to both Exodus 3:14 where the Lord declared his name as “I AM” and to Isaiah 40–55 where the phrase “I am” occurs repeatedly (especially Isaiah 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). In this, Jesus referred to himself as the God (Yahweh—the Lord) of the OT, and directly claimed full deity for himself, prompting the Jews’ question of John 8:25.”
What is the pivotal, or crucial truth, separating these two people groups and kingdoms? It is their relationship of faith to Jesus Christ. To have faith in Christ alone as Savior and Lord is to become a citizen of the kingdom of God. Otherwise, failure to believe in Jesus as God in the flesh is to remain condemned in trespasses and sin.
Which kingdom do you belong? Remember, it is a matter of life and death. If there is even a hint of doubt as to which kingdom you are a part of, repent of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (John 1:12-13).
Soli deo Gloria!