They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
This portion of John’s gospel both suggests and answers the question, “Is there a personal devil?” Our Lord was still in controversy with the ritualistic and legalistic element of the Jewish people who were opposing His teaching in the courts of the temple, where He was ministering at this time. He had brought truth after truth to bear upon them, but on every occasion they had sought to argue Him down instead of opening their hearts to receive the message. And now in answer to what He had previously said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (v. 32). They replied, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (v. 33).
It is a striking instance of how men will bolster themselves up, even though their entire history proves far different conclusions. Imagine these men in Jewry saying, “We were never in bondage to any man!” Even as they spoke, the Romans had them in subjection, and ever since the captivity of Babylon they had been in bondage to one power after another. They may have meant, “While we have been subject to Gentile governments, yet our spirits are free. Therefore, we have never been in bondage or been subject religiously to any system of man’s devising.”
But the Lord Jesus sought to show them that this is not enough. There must be the impartation of divine life, and works accompanying it. And He knew, and they knew, that they were actually slaves to sin. So He answered and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (v. 34). Whosoever is given to the practice of sin is the slave of sin. “And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (vv. 35-36). That is, He told them that it was not enough that they were literally descended from Abraham, but that they must know that deliverance from the power of sin that Abraham knew if they were to be recognized as the children of God.
In contrast to their own condition, He dares to present Himself as the One who never came under the bondage of sin. He says, “The Son abideth ever.” He was, in very truth, that promised Seed of Abraham through whom all nations were to be blessed. And though the nation as a whole had broken down, and in many cases the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of their sins and failures, yet He remained the one promised Deliverer of Abraham’s lineage who was to bring salvation near. He offers freedom to us today: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
Let me turn aside for the moment from the exposition of the passage to apply this to the many slaves of sin that are all about us—men and women struggling against evil habits, passions, and desires that hold them in absolute bondage. Again and again they have cried out,
Oh, for a man to arise in me,
That the man that I am might cease to be!
My dear friends, it is possible to be saved from sin, not only from the guilt of sin, but it is possible to be saved from the power of sin through regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” The truth of which He spoke is the blessed program of regeneration given us in His holy Word. When men believe this message, they are set at liberty because of the new birth. As they go on in fellowship with God, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are not dominated by the lust of the flesh, but they walk in the freedom of the children of God.
The ritualists and the self-righteous never understand this, but are always looking within for deliverance. But deliverance comes from without.
Now the Lord continues to speak to these controversialists. He says, “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed” (v. 37a). Naturally, they came from that particular line. “But ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you” (v. 37b). And yet He was the One for whom Abraham looked, and all down through the centuries the people of Israel had been waiting for the promised Seed. “And in thy seed shall all the nations… be blessed” (Gen. 22:18; 26:4). He was present, and they knew Him not.
He had proven that He was indeed the promised One by the mighty works that He had wrought. Yet here were these self-righteous hypocrites, and they did not recognize Him and so refused to put their trust in Him, the One who had come according to the promise. “But ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (vv. 37-38). He came down here to earth as the Son of the Father, and day by day the Father opened up His Word to Him to do and say the things which He willed. “The words that I speak are not Mine, but His that sent Me.” “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” Ah, that was rather stinging, that was sharp indeed! He was driving the truth home now—your father: My Father. He puts the two in contrast.
Men speak very glibly today of the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. This Book does not speak that way. Some people perhaps will take exception to that, but read the Book and see if you can find such expressions in it. Here are two families indicated: Jesus says, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” His Father was God; their father was—He will tell them in a moment— not God, but the great enemy of God and man. Here were two families then. His own redeemed ones constitute one family, and those who refuse His grace constitute another family, so we do not have either universal Fatherhood or universal brotherhood. It is perfectly true that one God is the Creator of all men, and God has made all of one blood. But, alas, sin has come in and alienated man from God, and that is why men need to be born again in order that we may be brought into the family of God, that we may look up into His face and say, “Our Father which art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). Do you know the blessedness of this? Do you know what it is to be born of God?
“Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), He said, and oh, how that stirred their indignation! He knew it would, but it was the truth. Sometimes it is necessary to say the thing that will stir the indignation of men and women. Some say we should be very careful never to hurt people’s feelings about their sins. For instance, we should be careful about mentioning divorce, for perhaps some of our listeners have been remarried a half-dozen times, and so their feelings are very easily stirred! We should be very careful not to refer to any differences in doctrine or anything of that kind! There would not be much to mention if one took note of all the prejudices people have.
You have heard of the evangelist who went to a town in Nevada to have some meetings. The minister said to him, “Now, my good man, there are certain sins about which you will have to be very careful here. For instance, it would never do to talk about divorce or anything of that kind, for you know this is the great divorce center. You won’t dare mention the liquor question, for some of our best paying members are in the liquor business. A great many of our people earn their living by furnishing worldly amusements, so be careful about that.” The poor evangelist looked at him and said, “Well, of whose sins may I speak?” “Go for the Piute Indians and their sins,” was the reply. “They never go to church anyway.” It would not do much good, would it, turning loose on people who never hear you? The Lord realized that the people had to be spoken to faithfully about their sins. Some of the greatest Christians I have ever known were first terribly stirred by the messages they heard from the platform, but they came back and heard more until God spoke to them and brought them to Himself.
Jesus said to these objectors, “Ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (vv. 38-39). That is, morally and spiritually, they would do the works of Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith before God and by works before men. They claimed to be the children of Abraham, but were not characterized by righteous living. “Now, ye seek to kill me… Ye do the deeds of your father” (vv. 40-41). That gave them their opportunity. A second time He had spoken in this way. They said to Him, “We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God” (v. 41). What did they mean by that? They meant to imply that He was the illegitimate son of Mary of Nazareth. It was their way of throwing back at Him their vile insinuation because they had heard of the virgin birth, and they used it to taunt Him, God’s holy Son.
People say to me that the doctrine of the virgin birth is not touched on in John. Well, you have it there. They were practically throwing it into His face: “We were not born of fornication.” But the Lord Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, ye would love me” (v. 42a). There is a wonderful test: if men love God, they love His Son, or vice versa. “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word” (vv. 42-43). That is, you cannot hear, in the sense that you will not hear. You are allowing sin to come in, and so you cannot hear.
Then He comes right out and speaks of that which He had previously indicated, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (v. 44).
Now notice how much our Lord has put into one verse in regard to the great doctrine of Satanology. Is there a personal devil, or is the Devil simply the personification of evil? We are often told nowadays that the belief in a personal devil is a relic of the dark ages, and that it is absurd to believe there is such a being. But here is the testimony of Holy Scripture—please carefully consider these verses. He says, “I come forth from God.” He declares Himself to be the Son of God. “Ye are of your father the devil.” But might He not have meant, “Ye are overcome of evil”? Ah, but He goes further. He uses the personal pronoun and says, “He was a murderer.” He is speaking of a person, and of a person who was not always what he is now. In other words, Jesus is telling us that in this universe there is a foul, malevolent spirit who actuates and moves upon those who do not acknowledge the authority of God. And this evil, malevolent spirit was not always such. He was not always what he is now. “He… abode not in the truth.”
People often ask, “If there is a devil, why would a good God create him?” A good God did not create a devil. The being that God created was a pure and innocent angel. In Isaiah 14:12 we read how this angel fell. Who is the one spoken of here? He is called “Lucifer, son of the morning.” Lucifer means “the day star,” a glorious being who dwelt in the presence of God. We read of only one archangel, that is, Michael. Lucifer seems to have had a similar place before he fell. How did he fall? Through self-will. Five times he said, “I will.” “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the most High” (vv. 13-14). This created angel dared to aspire to a place of equality with God, if not to crowd God Himself from His throne. And in answer to that fivefold “I will,” the answer comes ringing down from the skies, “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit” (v. 15). So a glorious angel was changed into the Devil. It all began when he abode not in the truth.
In the book of Ezekiel we have another remarkable Scripture. In chapter 28 God is speaking of the prince of Tyre, but back of the prince of Tyre is one whom He calls the king of Tyre, one who dominated the heart of this earthly prince but who himself was more than man. “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created” (v. 13). “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God.” This was something that never could be said of any earthly ruler. These precious stones were used to represent the various aspects of his character. Here was the leader of the heavenly choir. This glorious being piped in the presence of God until sin came in. “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (vv. 14-15). And what that iniquity is, is told us in verse 17, “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.”
Lucifer fell through pride. Self-will was the first expression of that pride, and so an angel became the Devil. He is called the Devil, and he is called Satan. Devil means “the slanderer” and Satan means “the adversary,” and he combines both in himself. He accuses man to God and God to man. But he is the adversary particularly of God Himself and His blessed Son, and then in a more general way of everything that is of God here on earth. He is not simply here to tempt men. There is that within their own hearts which leads them to sin, but the great work in which he is engaged is in throwing evil reflections upon that which is of God. He is called “the accuser of [the] brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Let us be sure that we are not found in his company. When I hear people making unkind reflections on the people of God, I say to myself, “They are doing the Devil’s work.” That is the work he has been engaged in all down through the centuries. Let us seek to take a definite stand against all such evil behavior.
The Devil then is an apostate. He abode not in the truth. He turned away from it. And he is a murderer from the beginning. The word translated “murderer” here really is “manslayer.” It is not that his malice is directed against men as such, but he knows that God is a lover of men, and it hurts God to see men turned away from Himself.
There is no truth in him, we are told. When he speaks of a lie, he speaks of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it. In the first epistle of Peter we hear the apostle saying, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (5:8-9). If we walk in the truth, we need not fear the power of Satan. If we put on the whole armor of God, we can resist him successfully.
But let us not underestimate the power of the enemy. There is a personal devil, he is the prince of this world, and men and women in their unsaved state are subject to his control. Christians are warned not to listen to his suggestions or to walk in his way. To be delivered from his power means to stand against him, faithfully battling for the truth that God has committed to us. When men and women are awakened about their sins, they realize the power of Satan, but, thank God, our Lord Jesus Christ died that He might destroy him that had the power of death and might deliver those who put their trust in Him from the fear of death. Satan tempted man to sin, and by sin came death. Now Satan uses death to terrify and frighten the victims of his own wiles, who, in their folly, have turned away from the path of obedience to God. But the Lord Jesus Christ has abolished death by going through it and coming up in triumph. Now He delivers those who will trust Him from the fear of death. Does the thought of death strike terror to your heart? Do you say, “Oh, if I only did not have to face that last great ordeal!” Listen to me: if you will put your faith in the One who died and rose again, you will know that death is just the door to life. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (8:12).
A mighty fortress is our God!
A bulwark never-failing:
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe:
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate;
On earth is not his equal.