The world uses a lot of excuses to avoid dealing with the issue of Jesus as the Son of God. This passage of John has been ignored, twisted, and sometimes cut out of the Bible on the flimsiest grounds because here Jesus flatly declares Himself the Son of God, and that He existed before Creation. If you cannot accept His own declaration on this, everything else He said and did falls apart. Either He was the Son of God, or He was a madman, or He was a horrific deceiver.
Jesus didn’t dance around the issue, but He did give His audience time to think through what He was saying. He also gave them every chance to repent. A critical element in His ministry was to polarize people. Either they knew in their hearts He was the Living Word of God, or they rejected God’s Word altogether. He was careful to point out their rejection.
As He finished telling them they were not following God’s revelation, they said He was no better than a demonized Samaritan. He denied having a demon; demons weren’t permitted to glorify God the way Jesus did. Their influence always led people away from the Lord. But He stuck with the point that they were slandering Him. This recalls the theme that Satan is a Hebrew name meaning “slanderer” among other things. Jesus wasn’t working for the Devil; those who accused Him were.
Then Jesus explains that He doesn’t seek His own glory, either. His claims weren’t meant to elevate Himself in their eyes. He was merely stating the facts. But His Father in Heaven was surely seeking to glorify His Son, the One who sifts the hearts of men. That was a warning that they were being judged by their own mouths.
So to push them closer to that moment of committing themselves to one side or the other, He stated flatly that His teaching was the key to eternal life. His choice of words wasn’t meant literally, but this was a critical point in all of His teaching in the first place. The ultimate truth from God cannot be stated in dry literal terms. A major flaw in the Pharisees’ approach was the insistence on literalism and semantic wrangling to make Scripture say what they wanted it to say.
These Pharisees then demonstrated just how obtuse they were. They insisted on the literal meaning of His words. If everyone in the Scripture up to now was dead, how could Jesus insist His teaching about the Scripture would mean not dying? Was He claiming to be greater than Abraham or the prophets? They kept goading Him to say something that they had already made technically illegal. Despite the Scripture being loaded with promises of God sending His own Son, they insisted that anyone claiming to fulfill the prophecy had to be one of their guys. God Himself wasn’t allowed to argue with them. Just who did this Jesus think He was?
I take issue with the typical English translation of verse 54. The word is not “honor” but “glory.” What Jesus said here was that any glory He gave Himself wouldn’t matter. He understood that, and so wasn’t trying to inflate His image before them. Rather, He was relying on His Father to glorify Him. Hint: God speaks to hearts in terms of convictions, not to brains in terms of facts. And by the way, this was the same Father they claimed as their God. So it was obvious they didn’t know God, because they refused to recognize His Son. They could wrangle over the precise words and would never comprehend the real issue at stake here.
Jesus had a clear moral vision of His Father (“know”) because He was the Son. It would be utterly silly to say otherwise, just as silly as their claims to know the Father. Not once had they engaged in the Father’s business; not once had they exercised divine power. Jesus healed countless lost sheep of Israel, but the Pharisees only scattered them through oppression. They weren’t even like their literal ancestor Abraham. The Patriarch rejoiced at the vision of redemption in the coming Messiah.
Again, the Pharisees were being obtuse, insisting that only literal meanings were valid in this debate. Jesus wasn’t even fifty yet, and He was claiming that Abraham saw Him? At this point, the silly charade was over. Jesus struck them between the eyes with something they couldn’t pervert. He said flat out that before there was an Abraham, He was One with the Father, using the Hebrew expression that was the covenant name of God, which can be translated into English as “I AM.”
At this, they began picking up stones to strike Him, but He simply walked away and they were unable to harm Him. So hardened were their hearts that they couldn’t even realize the power that protected Him from their murderous hatred. The die was cast; there was no turning back for them.