The list we have been amassing of Jesus’ claims about Himself in John 8 is extraordinary in the truest sense— Light of the world, Supreme and Valid Judge, the Way, Deity, Sinless One, Above All. He is not the mere man some have identified Him as being. And He is neither silent about His identity nor is He one who may safely be ignored.
As Jesus deepens His conversation with the antagonistic Jewish hierarchy of His day we observe a phrase He uses twice in close succession. This is significant because while the phrases are identical, they carry with them two diverging results depending on how individuals respond to Him.
“(I)f you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” asserts Jesus (John 8:24), and moments later, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be” (John 8:28).
In both cases, Jesus explains that the claims He makes about Himself are not merely fantastic: they are authentic and they demand a response—a response from every person in His contemporary culture, but also from each one of us. He recognizes that those who have observed His life, who have listened to His words and have recognized the uniqueness of His claims, must and will make a choice about Him. That choice—like all choices—will be one of personal volition. In other words, it will be considered by God to be a choice each of us has made to believe the evidence Jesus presents or to discount it, to accept its implications or to reject it.
But rejection does not make Jesus go away—that is a blurred view of reality. That is like the perspective of an infant for whom only those within her half-metre range of focused vision exist. Dismissing Jesus and assuming He has therefore disappeared ignores something fundamental about our humanity; it is a denial of the connection between our free will actions and the real effects they have. Part of the value God created within us means that our moral choices have real significance, and that eternity is the stage through which those choices will be displayed. Jesus here gives clues to the ramifications of disbelieving Him.
Of the Pharisees, Jesus describes an unbelief that would become the death of them (“…if you do not believe…you will die…”). This is not the petulant verbal assault of a charlatan who worries his influence is fading. It is the warning of an authentic and reliable expert who sees the ultimate consequences of that disbelief. It is the ringing of an alarm that clarifies an eternal matter; an issue to which every person is accountable.
Jesus is saying that He has made Himself recognizable to each of us—no excuses. He will ultimately be acknowledged as the one who I claim to be by every individual who has ever lived—no exceptions. “For since the creation of the world,” explains the Apostle Paul, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
Jesus’ adds something more. He foreshadows something about the future. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man…” He says. What is this reference to being lifted up? Within that phrase He is layering two ideas. From a historical perspective, He is referring to the impending execution to which He would be subjected—the crucifixion that would lift Him up on a barbaric cross for all to see. He is speaking of His own imminent physical death—not a perishing/spiritual death such as His warning to the Pharisees, but a physical death all the same.
But His second meaning refers to a time much further into the future, a time of which even we have not yet seen the fulfillment. This lifting up of Jesus will be not one of derision but of exaltation. It is described also by Paul who writes as a hymn: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
What is our best response to Jesus’ insistence that He is the One—the Recognizable One? It all comes down to living out our belief in Him—to humbling ourselves and accepting Him; to trusting Him in the sometimes-messy situations of our lives. He power to impact us is not only for eternity but also for today. He wants us to lift up our eyes and recognize Him as the true and worthy One who is who He says He is. He wants us to open our eyes and see Him. Here and now.
Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus – To reach out and touch Him – And say that we love Him – Open our ears, Lord – And help us to listen – Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus. (Hymn by R. Cull).