Initially, many of the Jews who heard Jesus proclaim Himself the light of the world seemed to respond positively. “Many believed in him,” John tells us (John 8:12–30). But as our Lord continued speaking to them, it soon became clear that they did not have true saving faith but a fleeting trust based on their own ideas of what Jesus meant and not on His actual teaching. They did not understand the depth of their sin. Believing themselves to be children of Abraham and children of God, they could not accept their bondage to sin and that their true father was the devil (vv. 31–47).
In today’s passage, we see how these same Jews accused Jesus of being a Samaritan and of having a devil Himself (v. 48). The reason behind their calling Him a Samaritan seems to be the common Jewish view that the Samaritans were unclean and ignorant of true religion. Their thought would be something like this: “Only a demon-possessed Samaritan would have the nerve to accuse Jews, the true children of God, of not being the children of God.” In any case, Jesus rejected their accusation, saying that He could not have a demon because He honored God. And in honoring God, He was not seeking His own glory. Jesus was not seeking to advance Himself. He was concerned only for the truth and for His Father’s will, and His Father’s will is to glorify the Son (vv. 49–50). The Jews were rejecting Him at their peril.
Yet, as the Son of God came into the world to save the world (3:17), Jesus once again extended to His opponents the offer of salvation. Those who hear and keep—believe—His teaching will never taste death (8:51). This was not a statement referring primarily to physical death, as if those who follow Jesus will never experience the death of the body. After all, He later told Mary and Martha that those who believe in Him, though they die, yet shall live (11:25–26). Jesus was referring to the gift of eternal life, the truth that He breaks the power of death and will raise to life all who trust in Him. The death of the body for the Christian is only temporary. John Calvin comments, “When faith quickens the soul of a man, death already has its sting extracted and its venom removed, and so cannot inflict a deadly wound.”
Our Lord’s teaching astonished the Jews, for it meant that He viewed Himself as greater than Abraham and the prophets. After all, they died and their words could not prevent other Jews from dying (8:53). Jesus, however, is far different, and the Jews would soon learn just how different from the old covenant saints He is.