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Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise

John 8: 31-36

THE WORDS of our above text were spoken by Jesus, possibly on either the eighth, or “great day” of the Feast of Tabernacles (“Booths”), or the following day, the ninth day (Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.; 8: 20). It would have been in the autumn, six months before Jesus’ crucifixion. Tradition holds that Jesus spoke near the porch of the Temple, called the Court of the Women. Let us consider each verse in turn:

31a: To those Jews which believed on him . . .

Jesus probably addressed a mixed audience: first, His twelve Apostles and other disciples; second, various Jewish believers, possibly such as Nicodemus; and third, His opposers, such as the Scribes and Pharisees. He seems to focus on the second group, for it was due time to present some advanced truths, to separate out and prepare those who might become His disciples from those who would fall away.

31b: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed . . .

The key word is “if,” for the disciple is a pupil of the Master, one who has become Christ’s by taking the steps of repentance, faith in Christ and consecration to the will of God. Jesus distinguishes between the true followers, “my disciples indeed,” and the hangers-on.

32a: . . . And ye shall know the truth . . .

What does it mean to “know the truth”? The Bible uses several synonymous expressions: “Ye know them, and be established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1: 12); “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3: 15); “Contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). To “know the truth” implies that the disciple of Christ possesses a grasp of God’s Word, believes it and passes it on to others. In the most complete sense it means to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, such as peace, joy, love, meekness, faith and patience (2 Corinthians 9: 10; 2 Peter 1: 5-9).


32b: . . . and the truth shall make you free.”

The Word of God is a liberating power wherever it goes. Its tends to break superstition, dispel ignorance and make people free. We see this, for example, from the history of Great Britain and the United States, which under the influence of Christianity promoted education and religious freedom for their citizenry. On a personal level, God’s Word frees one from the condemnation of sin, from superstition and from anxious fear. It works in the heart to elevate one’s character, cultivating the positive qualities of humility, patience, generosity, and the spirit of joy.

33: They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?”

Prior to Jesus’ assertion that “the truth shall make you free,” the interested Jews were on His side. They “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4: 22). But their response to Him now revealed their national pride. Their feeling of superiority resented the notion that they could be made more free than they already were. Had Jesus said “You who are free, being my disciples, shall bless the heathen and deliver them from the yoke of bondage,” the multitude would have shouted its approval. But the suggestion that they were not now free angered them. Their viewpoint was: How could we ever regard this man as our Messiah when He speaks so slightingly of our nation and tells us we are in bondage? They assumed that they were free because they were descendants of Abraham.

34:Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” 

Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter, declaring that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, and therefore is not really free at all. His words had a good effect on those in the right heart condition, but further angered the majority.

How did the world become slaves to sin? Father Adam’s sin of disobedience broke the covenant he had with his Creator, and God condemned him to death. Adam’s descendants inherited his sin and the dying condition. The “disciples indeed” had the will to do right, but lacked the ability. They wanted to live in harmony with God’s law, but could not, and acknowledged their bondage to sin. When Jesus offered them the Truth they understood it as the way to fulfill the spirit of the Law and become free.

But the majority of Jews rejected Christ as the channel to freedom – the only “name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4: 12). Ironically, Jesus offered them a freedom by faith such as their father Abraham possessed – a faith apart from the Jewish Law – but most of the Jews could not understand this. They hated Him because He spoke the truth (Psalm 69: 4). 

The few who were encouraged by Jesus’ words responded differently. He did not then go into detail as to how they might gain this freedom. He must yet die on the cross as the ransom for Adam and his posterity, be resurrected, ascend to heaven and there to present the merit of His sacrifice to God. Not until Pentecost, when the holy spirit would alight on the waiting disciples, would they gain a deeper understanding of His words and the plan of salvation. 

35:And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.” 

Israel according to the flesh was a house of servants, but those among them who received Jesus would not remain in that condition; through Christ they became part of the free house of sons.

36:If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

Christians may speak of themselves as pupils in the “school of Christ.” Their lives are a preparation for whatever role God has in store for them in His kingdom on earth, yet to come. The natural, sinful mind, is not itself in the school of Christ. It is the new mind – the new will – that benefits from the lessons. We need not be discouraged if we ever feel like failures. Even the Apostle Paul said that though he desired to do the right thing, he was unable to carry it out. Although he hated the evil tendencies of his fallen flesh, nonetheless he often gave in to them, against his better judgment (Romans 7: 14-25). As Paul did, so our new heart, mind and will should strive to keep our sinful desires suppressed – taking even every thought captive (1 Corinthians 9: 27; 2 Corinthians 10: 5).

In Galatians 5: 1, the Apostle Paul warns the Christians at Galatia against false teachers among them who taught that they must follow the Law: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Paul argued that by regressing they denied their relationship to Christ, who had liberated them from the rules and regulations of the Law.

The Apostle James writes (1: 25): “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” The thought is not that we may live without limits. Rather, we are under a liberty tempered by the principles of love. Because of this restraint, the Christian can use his or her liberty in Christ in a wise way.

Again, the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6: 17 says: “Let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” A slave was customarily branded with the mark of his owner. The Apostle Paul was physically scarred from the whippings and beatings he received. These were the evidence of his faithfulness. But more than this, they comprised the figurative brand of his sacrificial love for God and His people. Elsewhere he reminds the brethren what it cost Christ to “buy” them. They should not, therefore, bind themselves to follow the whim of man (1 Corinthians 7: 23).

The Son of God is the great Emancipator. He frees the most pitiable kind of slaves from the most oppressive kind of bondage (Satan’s) at the hands of the most cruel kind of taskmasters (sin, error, selfishness, worldliness, death and hell [the grave]). He gives them the best kind of glorious liberty, that of willing the will of God, exercised from the purest motives, faith, hope, love and obedience unto life everlasting, and all this as a gift of His love, made possible by the most unique sacrifice and ministry recorded in the annals of the world’s history.