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Freedom in the King
Spring Quarter: God Frees and Redeems
Unit 2: Liberating Gospels
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 24, 2022
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: John 8:31-38
Key Verse: John 8:36
- Identify the two referred to as “Father” and “father.”
- Explain the nature of the freedom available in the Son.
- Create a list of ways to continue abiding in Jesus.
The writer of today’s lesson tells us that freedom “can be looked at from at least four angles: (1) those who have freedom, and they know it; (2) those who lack freedom, and they know it; (3) those who have freedom, but they don’t realize it; and (4) those who lack freedom, but they don’t know it.” Now, various forms of the words “freedom,” “liberty” and their synonyms occur dozens of times in the New Testament, indicating the importance of this topic of freedom. Our need is to know which of the four categories we’re in spiritually.
Today’s scripture passage is a part of a longer discourse that took place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Tabernacles (see John 7:2, 10, 14). The observance was one of Israel’s most important celebrations and dated to the time of Moses (see Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43; Numbers 29:12-34; Deuteronomy 16:13-17, 31:10).
The festival began on the 15th
day of the month of Tishri, which is in late September or early October. Its significance was twofold. First, it celebrated the end of the harvest season. Second, it commemorated God’s provisions during Israel’s wilderness wanderings. After the Israelites left Egypt but before they entered the Promised Land, the people lived in tents. The celebration was to remind Israel of this history. Ultimately the Festive of Tabernacles thanked God for his daily provision.
The festival also provided a backdrop for Jesus to express his divine identity by using terms common in first-century observation: water and lamp light. During the festival, a priest took water from the Pool of Siloam, carried it to the temple, and poured it over the altar. On the festival’s final day, the priest marched around the altar without pouring water. This act demonstrated hopeful expectation that the Messiah would provide water as had been promised centuries before (see Joel 3:18). On the festival’s seventh day, against this backdrop, Jesus stated, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
Additionally, we are informed that on each night of the festival except on the Sabbath, giant oil lamps were lit in the temple’s Court of Women. It was against this backdrop that Jesus proclaimed himself to be “the light of the world” and that whoever followed him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). Jesus proclaimed himself to be the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope, speaking the words of his heavenly Father (see 8:28).
- Jesus Speaks (John 8:31, 32)
The focus of Jesus’ teaching was on “the Jews who had” believed in him. Their belief was due in part to his pointed teaching (7:14, 46) and miraculous healing acts (7:21). However, Jesus questioned whether they had true belief of “he who sent me…you do not know him” (7:28). Did their belief go no deeper than simple amazement at his miraculous healing acts?
In the same verse we are discussing (v.31), Jesus established the way to distinguish proper belief from improper belief. It is only those who continue in his “teaching” that were to be counted among his “disciples.” Simply to be amazed at and respectful of his miraculous acts and brilliant teaching was not enough. The true and lasting belief was to be found in persistently following Jesus’ words, teaching, and commandments (see John 14:15, 21, 29: I John 2:4). Fickle faith in contrast to valid faith is a running theme in John’s Gospel (compare and contrast John 2:23-25; 4:48; 5:24; 6:60; 10:38; also 2 John 9; Revelation 2:26).
The Old Testament described Moses as Israel’s teacher (see Deuteronomy 4:1-2). Therefore, Jesus’ opponents claimed to be disciples of Moses (John 9:28-29). Their claim was appropriate – God spoke through Moses, so to be Moses’ disciple was to be God’s disciple.
But now God had revealed himself more fully through Jesus, so to listen to the teachings of Jesus was to listen to God (see 7:16; 12:49-50).
God said that he would hold Israel accountable for ignoring the teachings of his prophet Moses (Deuteronomy 18:19). To reject or ignore Jesus’ words was the same as rejecting God’s words. And as a result, God would hold people accountable, just as he did with ancient Israel. If God punished Israel for not listening to Moses, how much more will he judge those who don’t listen to the teachings of Jesus?
Now, to “hold” implies the intimate knowledge disciples are to have of Jesus’ teachings. They are to dwell on them and in them.
True discipleship is evidenced by continuing in the Word of God. The implication here is that if we are not continuing the Word, we are not His disciples. So one of the great characteristics of a follower, of a real disciple of the Son of God, is abiding in His Word. How can we know the will of God if we don’t stay or live in the Word of God?
In a day when street preachers were a common sight in New York City, a man named Charlie King could sometimes be seen on a street corner near Times Square. What would he be doing? He would be running around his hat, shouting, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” And when a crowd gathered he would pick up his hat, under which was a Bible, and he would proceed to preach the gospel. “It’s alive! It’s alive, we are talking about the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus. As disciples, we are to continue living in the teachings of Jesus.
It may be one thing to follow a Jesus whom we have engineered in our religious consciousness; it is quite another to stay with Jesus when he discloses who he really is.
Any discussion on the nature of freedom might lead to different interpretations. For some, an expression of freedom implies an unrestrained pursuit of personal desires. For others, an expression of freedom may mean nothing more than the ability to refuse to submit to anger – an attitude of defiance. However, these interpretations do not address the freedom that Jesus implies. The freedom to which Jesus alludes is an eternal freedom, not human expectations of earthly freedom.
As disciples continue to follow Jesus’ teachings, their knowledge of God’s “truth” will expand. We are told that Old Testament Scriptures describe “truth” in terms of God’s faithfulness and salvation (see Exodus 34:6; 2 Samuel 2:6; Psalms 25:5; 119:142, 151, 160; Isaiah 61:8). John’s Gospel continues with this same idea and applies truth to the person and work of Jesus, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6; 1:17; 18:37). As disciples remain in Jesus’ teachings, they will know his truth: a life made “free” through salvation found in Christ Jesus.
Point! The liberating power of the truth is unknowable apart from being Jesus’ disciple, which in turn depends on one’s relationship to Jesus’ word. The truth and freedom that Jesus promises are not abstract principles, but light and life are bound to the Word. The truth is the presence of God in Jesus (see 8:14-19, 27-28).
- Believers React (John 8:33)
Jesus’ reinterpretation of freedom evokes resistance in his listeners. Their response to Jesus acknowledges a particular nationalistic identity but showed disregard for a key part of that identity. Their place as “descendants” of Abraham was a central aspect of Israel’s covenant with God (see Genesis 13:15; 17:8). Their identity as a people centered on the promises made by God to Abraham. Therefore, to align with Abraham was for ethnic identification that related Israel to God by means of covenant.
However, the declaration that “we…have never been slaves of anyone fails to acknowledge previous commands made to Israel. Moses commanded Israel to “remember that you were slaves in Egypt” (examples, Deuteronomy 5:15; 24:18). It was not as if Jesus’ audience suddenly suffered amnesia. It is simply unclear whether they were willfully disregarding their collective history as a people who once lived in bondage or if they were expressing their own personal status having never been in bondage themselves. In either case their declaration showed a failure to follow what Moses had commanded of Israel, but perhaps more significantly, their declaration was a failure to remember their dependence on God.
Here in verse 33, the Jew’s words can be read on two levels. First, they can be read as a statement that the Jew’s descent from Abraham already guarantees their spiritual freedom so they have no need of what Jesus offers. The claim to be “Abraham’s” lineage was true but lacked perspective regarding what was relatively more important – namely the kingdom of God about which Jesus taught.
Second, the Jew’s words can be read as a reflection on Jewish history – a wrong reflection. Israel’s history is characterized by periods of slavery and captivity and the situation in which the Jews currently find themselves, as subjects of the Roman Empire, is yet one more situation of slavery. Thus, in their desire to distance themselves from Jesus, they have already begun the process of distancing themselves from their own history (19:15).
- Jesus Responds (John 8:34-38)
In verse 34, Jesus’ response instantly upends the Jewish audience’s faulty understanding of bondage and freedom. While they are concerned with an earthly sense of bondage, Jesus speaks of a more important form. Jesus applies the bondage metaphor to “everyone who sins.” Such a person is a “slave to sin.” The ironic aspect is that it is one’s own sinful desires that bind a person.
Other New Testament texts continue the bondage theme when discussing the influences of sin. For instance, the Apostle Paul writes that the bondage of sin leads to death (Romans 6:6, 16-17). Therefore, to find freedom, people should seek to become slaves to righteousness” (6:18). And the Apostle Peter warns against false promises of freedom that lead people to become “slaves of depravity” (2 Peter 2:19).
I read of a man whose testimony illustrates what it means to be a slave to sin. He said that at 16 years of age he became bored and his life became too much for him to handle. He had to do something to pass the time. “Why not? What’s the big deal?” he said to himself as he lit his first cigarette. A practice that he intended to pass the time with grew into something larger. As he got older, smoking had a bigger hold on him. He planned his day around each cigarette and each smoke break. When asked, he was quick to dismiss his habit. Everybody smoked, and he thought he could quite at any time.
In reality, he was addicted to cigarettes. Their influence simply took over his life and affected his health, his job, and his relationships. Often, he would rather be late to work than forgo his cigarettes. He was bound captive to a smoking habit he couldn’t drop.
Simply stated, people can be bound by unchecked sin. Enticing sin seems innocent enough. It seduces people into believing it’s not a big deal – when in fact it brings death.
I want to suggest to you 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” Here he is not dealing with us who fail God now and then. He is talking about a life that is dominated by sin, a life controlled by sin. And, there is only One who can actually set us free, and whoever the Son sets free, is free indeed.
Jesus continues his response to his Jewish audience (v.35) through the use of a household metaphor. In a wealthy person’s household, a “slave” would work for the master. However, even as a part of “the family,” a servant’s presence was uncertain, as he or she could be sold or set free at any time.
Thus, because they are slaves, their residence in God’s family can be in jeopardy. Hence, sinners who claim to be sons of Abraham may discover that faith, and claims to blood heritage that brings spiritual privilege always stand in question (Galatians 3:6bb; Romans 9:7). Sin ruptures a relationship with God. The “son” who is secure and permanent is likely Jesus himself. If the son in such a large household sets a slave free, he will be free indeed (8:36). Imagine, then, if the Son of God sets a slave free the freedom enjoyed would be indescribable.
In verse 37, Jesus acknowledges that his audience bears the bloodline of Abraham but because of their desire to kill him and their refusal to accept his word, they betray that their lives are not guided by the Father, whose voice Jesus obeys (8:37, 38). Blood lineage does not guarantee spiritual lineage.
Jesus reminds his audience that “if you are Abraham’s children…you would do what Abraham did” (8:39). True children of Abraham follow in the faith of Abraham (see Romans 4:3, 12). As a result, the people of God expand beyond the scope of an ethnic identification with Abraham (see Romans 9:6-8).
The desire to kill Jesus has been a constant part of the fabric of chapters 7-8 (7:1,25,30,44-45; 8:20), and Jesus now identifies that desire with the absence of any relationship to his word (8:37). The claim to relationship with Abraham must be measured against the relationship with Jesus. True discipleship will always make “room for the word” of Jesus, which bore witness to the Father who sent the Son (John 5:36-40).
Jesus pronounces a contrast in verse 38. On the one hand, Jesus’ word gives witness to his heavenly Father who sent him. On the other hand, Jesus observes that his audience is more concerned with what they “have heard from their father,” the devil (see John 8:44).
In summary, Jesus’ audience thought that their freedom was inevitable because of their ancestry. However, Jesus stated that they were deceived. As long as they refused to listen and adhere to the teaching of Jesus, they would not experience true freedom. They would not really know their heavenly Father. Thus, by failing to heed Jesus, the audience failed to listen to God.
Jesus spoke the truth because he spoke the words of his Father – a declaration of true freedom. Freedom that comes from the Father leads to eternal life with the Son. Consequently, those who desire this freedom seriously will seek Jesus and his Word and become disciples. And as such, they will experience the truth that will set them free.
Resources for this lesson
- What prevents Christians from following Jesus’ teaching and growing as his disciples?
- How does the Son’s freedom differ from worldly ideas of freedom?
- How will you evaluate your habits to make sure you’re living in accordance with God’s truth?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2021-2022 NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 289-296.
- “The New Interpretation Bible IX, Luke John,” pages 636-639.
- “The NIV Application Commentary” by Gary M. Burger, pages 259-261.
- “An Everlasting Love,” by John G. Mitchel, pages 168-170.