Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

John 8:21-32

 The Validity of Jesus’ Testimony

     21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”

     22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”

     23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.”

     25 “Who are you?” they asked.

     “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

     27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

 The Children of Abraham

     31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

OK, so this is probably not a passage many people have engraved on a bracelet or embroidered on a pillow. In fact, most of those who follow Jesus probably wouldn’t recognize any of it except the last verse: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

(As you might have heard, that verse is posted in bronze letters on the wall of the lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia.)

But in spite of its obscurity, this passage from Jesus’ teachings definitely has some relevance to the way we live out our faith.

In the passage, Jesus is talking with some of the Jewish leaders, who have challenged his authority to preach and teach in a bold and public way. He had just stepped forward in a public proclamation at the annual Festival of Tabernacles, and maybe not surprisingly, that seems to have aroused the suspicion of the leadership. They questioned his religious authority, and also the way he had seemed to suggest that he was the Messiah.

We’re suspicious of the Pharisees – and with good reason – but from their perspective, it was reasonable to ask questions about the authority of Jesus. In fact, they probably felt a responsibility to ask questions. Jesus wasn’t a priest or an official member of the religious leadership. In any of our churches today, if someone stood up and started preaching, or if someone showed up at a seminary out of the blue and started giving lectures, the people in charge would definitely look into it.

The scholars and historians say that in the Hebrew world of Jesus’ time, religious leaders would establish their credentials by stating what scholar had taught them. But Jesus establishes his authority differently. He tells the Pharisees that he is “not of this world,” that he has been sent into the world to speak with God’s authority.

Jesus also tells the Pharisees that there are some important truths that even his followers will not understand until later. He says that he will be “lifted up,” and in the Gospel of John that refers to the crucifixion. Jesus says that after he is lifted up, people will understand who he is and that he speaks with the authority of God. Then Jesus tells his followers that if they hold on to his teaching, they will know the truth, and it will set them free.

Some Christian leaders insist that all the truth we will ever need has already been revealed. But that seems like it has more to do with defending their authority that with genuine faithfulness to Jesus. It seems obvious that God’s truth has been revealed at different times. The first followers of Jesus – including the apostle Paul – saw no contradiction between being a Christian and owning slaves. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that at some point, the Holy Spirit moved in the hearts of Jesus’ followers and led them to conclude that slavery was an evil that had to be eliminated, even at the cost of a bloody civil war.

It seems to me our challenge is to continue to lift up Jesus in the world, and to devote ourselves to studying his teachings. We should be constantly praying for God to reveal his truth for our lives and for the life of the world. We won’t always agree on what truth is being revealed, and it won’t always be easy and convenient to follow him, but the reward for faithfulness is the freedom that comes from being on God’s side — and from sharing in the eternal life that Jesus’ death and resurrection have offered us.

There’s one other thing that should be noted about this passage: In two places, our NIV Bible quotes Jesus as saying “I am the one I claim to be.” But if you look closely in this text, you’ll see that the words “the one I claim to be” have little brackets around them. That means those words weren’t in the original Greek text – the editors inserted those words because they understand that’s what Jesus meant. But in the text, what Jesus actually is quoted as saying is just “I am.” As you might remember, that’s understood to be the meaning of the ancient name of God given to Moses at the burning bush and represented by the Hebrew consonants ‘YHWH.’ So it seems very possible that in what he’s saying here, Jesus is identifying himself as the God of Israel in human form – which is just what we understand him to be.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for coming into the world in human form, and for speaking to us through Jesus to reveal to us that you have provided a way for us to get out from under the burden of our own sinfulness. We pray that you will empower us to make your truth known to others, so that they will be set free as well. Amen.

Grace and Peace,


(The other readings for today are Psalms 27 and 147:12-20; Jeremiah 10:11-24; and Romans 5:12-21. Our readings come from the NIV Bible, as posted on, the website of the International Bible Society.)