The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the more distinct announcement of Jesus, that he was on the point of taking leave of the Jewish people

(Joh 8:21-30)

The feast was coming to its close; the multitudes were on the point of departing; and so Jesus also meditated soon again leaving this scene of His activity. His sensibility was moved by the thought of His leaving the people and the temple, in which, as His Father’s house, He would once, when a boy, have been fain to make His abode. And on the present occasion, in the constant sense which He had of His approaching death, it would readily occur to Him to feel that this departure was becoming for Him the symbol of His soon having to go away from this temple and from His people; of that great departure of His which was being brought about not only through His death, but also through the great separation which was arising between unbelieving Israel and His Spirit. He therefore now afresh recurred to the words which He had already spoken to the servants of the Sanhedrim.

‘I go My way’ (He said), ‘and ye shall seek Me; but in your sin shall ye die’ (perish). It stood before the soul of our Lord, how often with more or less clearness of consciousness they would seek the Messias who alone could deliver. In the sequel, this ‘seeking’ exhibited itself in the most dreadful distinctness at the moment when Jerusalem was being stormed by the Romans, and the temple was in flames.1 Thus Jesus in spirit sees His people perishing in despair. Then the thought seems to arise in His mind, If ye could only follow Me in death! But with sorrow of heart He was constrained to declare to them, ‘Whither I go, ye cannot come.’ The Jews did indeed understand that He had the other world in His thoughts, and remarked now, with sarcastic malice, ‘He does not mean to kill Himself, does He?’ In this case, according to the popular views current among them, He would go to the lowest hell, and then certainly His word (they thought) would be fulfilled, that they would not be able to reach Him in the other world.2 They had no foreboding how many of them in the Jewish war would be brought by desperation to die by their own hand, and thus to fall under their own sentence of condemnation. Jesus answered them sharply, ‘Ye are from beneath,’ belong to the lower world (this inferior region of worldly sentiment, which stands connected with the abyss of despair and of despairing men, of self-murderers); ‘I am from above,’ belong to the upper world, and to the superior region of life in God, in which no despair is possible-to the realm of the blessed. And why is there such a chasm between them? He explains why, in the words, ‘Ye are of this world, I am not of this world.’ They, with their worldly mind, with their aims all become worldly, were swallowed up and lost deep in the feelings belonging to the finite world; they therefore were liable, in the anguish of this perishable world, to sink into despondency and to despair. He, on the other hand, in His divine consciousness was raised above the finite world; He saw this world itself, not in the form in which it presents itself to the children of the world, as a comfortless conglomeration of finite objects, but as it appears in the Spirit of God, as a holy building of everlasting realities, a building which out of the obscurations of sin and misery is ever emerging brighter and clearer. And inasmuch as, in a spirit of contempt, they had thrown out against Him the reproach, that possibly in despair He would commit suicide, He prophesies to them once again that they would surely die in their sins. He added, indeed, to this solemn asseveration a condition; for there was no dark fate of death controlling their future; but the condition related to just their behaviour towards Himself. It was couched in the words, ‘For if ye believe not that I am,1 ye shall die in your sins.’

Upon this they replied impetuously, and with excited interest, ‘Who art Thou then?’ Perpetually there looked out from the background of their converse with Him the spirit of chiliasm; and gladly would they have heard from His lips the literal announcement that He was the Messias, the Messias in the sense in which they were expecting Him. They now thought themselves near the removal of that long reserve of His which had made them His deadly enemies,-to the solution of that riddle which had so long perplexed them, how it was that He could always be intimating that He was the Promised One of God, whilst He yet would not openly come forward as the Messias.

The tone of excitement which marks their question is made more palpable by the air of extreme composure which marks Jesus’ answer. Who art Thou then? they asked with the most pressing urgency. He answered, ‘To start with, He whom I represent Myself as being.’2 For the present, that is, He would have that only be their concern which He was declaring respecting Himself, namely, that He was the Light of the World, the Fountain of Life. In these purely spiritual attributes must they first receive Him, if they would later learn to know Him as, in the right sense, the Messias.

For the present, therefore, in the revelation of Himself with which He confronts them He abides by that which He has already said in reference to His relation to them. ‘But why so mysterious?’ they might be disposed to ask. The explanation lies in His further statement, that ‘He had still so many things to say concerning them, yea, and so many to judge in them;’ implying that they were as yet not capable of grasping the entire meaning of His personality. But, however, this difficult posture of things (which fundamentally and in general continues, and will continue to the end of the world) must not perplex Him, must not perplex them. For ‘He that had sent Him was true;’ and He, the Sent, on His side was faithful in His mission: ‘He announced to the world only what He in the Spirit had heard from Him who sent Him.’

They needed first to learn to feel and estimate the truth of His mission in the agreement which subsisted between His word and the eternal laws of God implanted in their bosoms, implanted in the very life of the world; this immediate, essential truthfulness of His whole ministry must they first recognize; and then there would be a chance of their seeing clearly His connection with the Old Testament and with their Old Testament expectations. As long as they did not know the Messias in His true ideality, so long He could not venture to announce Himself to them as the historical Messias; because their ideal was a political caricature, into which they would of course be glad to absorb Jesus Himself, and thus seek to gratify the dreams of their political fanaticism.1

At present, however, they were thoroughly set up with all the giddiness of their Messianic delusion; and therefore they did not understand that, in speaking of Him that sent Him, He was speaking of the Father.2 They appear desirous of catching scent of some secret reference in what He said. And now a mysterious word of Jesus was to serve for their trial. It ran thus: ‘When ye shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am He.’

To this He added: ‘I do nothing of My own self; but as My Father hath taught Me, even so I speak; and He who sent Me is with Me. The Father hath not left Me in My doings to Myself, for I do what pleases Him.’

This word had a pure, deep christological sense: it marked the future of Christ as it stood clearly forth to His spirit.

They were about to lift Him up on the cross. But thereby they were destined unwittingly to bring about His lifting up to the right hand of God, and His lifting up to be King of nations and Judge of the world. In this sense He combines the ironical lifting up on the cross, which lies before Him, as the king of the Jews by them proscribed and rejected, with His true lifting up in all its extended meaning.3 When they should so lift Him up (He Said), they should know, they should learn by experience, who He was. That He claimed to be the Messias, this (we cannot doubt) they already knew when they lifted Him up on the cross; for they made those very political designs a matter of charge against Him which they had in vain sought to drive Him to engage in. But yet more were they in the course of the world’s history, as the dispersed among Christians, to be taught the truth that He was the real Prince of nations; and quite clear shall this become to them at the end of days, to their too late amazement and terror, or even to their long-delayed salvation. But if individuals among them understood His intimation, and were disposed to ask, Why dost Thou not prevent a misapprehension of Thy person so fearfully tragical, and which will only be done away by a late acknowledgment brought about in so dreadful a manner? the answer ran thus: ‘I do nothing for Myself.’ Only that which the Father commissioned Him to speak through the Holy Ghost, according to the position assigned to Him, was He able to say to them, and beyond that nothing. That He should make Himself known to them as the Messias, this was made an impossibility for Him through a solemn not yet on the part of the Father Himself, spoken through signs which the Father gave in the light of facts illustrated by His Spirit. Here in the holiest sense it might be said, ‘For mystery my duty is.’ He indeed felt clearly how deep this reserve would plunge Him in suffering,-suffering reaching apparently even to the most horrible ‘being left alone.’ But nevertheless it was certain to His mind that the Father would not, however, leave Him alone;-as certain as it was clear to Him that He did what pleased Him, that He acted in conformity with His direction.

These solemn words of Jesus made a remarkably strong and favourable impression upon the Jews who were around Him. ‘When He spoke these things’ (reports the Evangelist), ‘many believed on Him.’ It was as if the wind of antagonistic feeling had suddenly chopped round in His favour. Many gave to understand that they were minded to pay Him their homage: it seemed as if He had suddenly won a numerous band of new disciples.

How are we to interpret this surprising phenomenon? These ‘believers’ came round Him, no doubt, full of chiliastic excitement, and listening to catch something from His lips which should fall in with their sentiments: they no doubt understood His last words quite in a Jewish sense. ‘When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am He.’ Yes (we may suppose they thought), we must ourselves first begin to act in the way of exalting Him, and then, when He sees that He can reckon upon us, He will forthwith announce and verify His real character to our complete satisfaction. ‘I can do nothing of myself (He had further said); but as the Father has instructed me, so I speak.’ This made it quite clear to them that the best considered policy determined Him in not forestalling the developments of popular feeling, and that in this cautious course He was following secret directions from above. And when He then lastly declared that the Father would not leave Him alone, but at the right time would support Him because He was His favourite, it was not at all unnatural, considering the line which their thoughts were taking, that they should arrive at the conjecture that He was speaking of some powerful help available for the execution of His plans, consisting of heavenly agents, or even of worldly ones, confederate with Him.


There is a difficulty in the circumstance that the Jews who in ver. 30 stand forth as believing on Jesus, are so soon as in ver. 37 again charged by Jesus with murderous thoughts against Him. Some (see Tholuck, p. 230) explain it by the consideration, that the spokesmen sometimes change, and that in ver. 37 the same persons again take up the word who were the speakers from ver. 21. But the representation which John gives does not warrant us in supposing that the believers mentioned in ver. 30 are gone into the background when Christ uttered the reproaches of ver. 37. The whole connection leads us rather to suppose (in the manner proposed above) that the faith of these many who so suddenly became believers was of a kind on which no reliance could be placed.