Jesus’ Life and Ministry
The Question of Fatherhood
DURING the Festival of Tabernacles 32 C.E., Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leaders grows more intense. “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring,” Jesus acknowledges, “but you are seeking to kill me, because my word makes no progress among you. What things I have seen with my Father I speak; and you, therefore, do the things you have heard from your father.”
Although not identifying their father, Jesus makes clear that their father is different from his. Unaware of whom Jesus has in mind, the Jewish leaders respond: “Our father is Abraham.” They feel that they have the same faith as Abraham, who was God’s friend.
However, Jesus shocks them with the reply: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham.” Indeed, a real son imitates his father. “But now you are seeking to kill me,” Jesus says, “a man that has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.” So Jesus again says: “You do the works of your father.”
Still they do not comprehend whom Jesus is talking about. They maintain that they are legitimate sons of Abraham, saying: “We were not born from fornication.” Hence, claiming to be true worshipers like Abraham, they assert: “We have one Father, God.”
But is God really their Father? “If God were your Father,” Jesus responds, “you would love me, for from God I came forth and am here. Neither have I come of my own initiative at all, but that One sent me forth. Why is it you do not know what I am speaking?”
Jesus has tried to show these religious leaders the consequences of their rejection of him. But now he pointedly says: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father.” What kind of father is the Devil? Jesus identified him as a manslayer and also said: “He is a liar and the father of the lie.” So Jesus concludes: “He that is from God listens to the sayings of God. This is why you do not listen, because you are not from God.”
Angered by Jesus’ condemnation, the Jews answer: “Do we not rightly say, You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The term “Samaritan” is used as an expression of contempt and reproach, the Samaritans being a people hated by the Jews.
Ignoring the contemptuous slur about being a Samaritan, Jesus responds: “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” Going on, Jesus makes the startling promise: “If anyone observes my word, he will never see death at all.” Of course, Jesus does not mean that all those who follow him will literally never see death. Rather, he means that they will never see eternal destruction, or “second death,” from which there is no resurrection.
However, the Jews take Jesus’ words literally. Hence, they say: “Now we do know you have a demon. Abraham died, also the prophets; but you say, ‘If anyone observes my word, he will never taste death at all.’ You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died, are you? Also, the prophets died. Who do you claim to be?”
In this whole discussion, it is obvious that Jesus is pointing these men to the fact that he is the promised Messiah. But rather than directly answering their question as to his identity, Jesus says: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifies me, he who you say is your God; and yet you have not known him. But I know him. And if I said I do not know him I should be like you, a liar.”
Going on, Jesus refers again to faithful Abraham, saying: “Abraham your father rejoiced greatly in the prospect of seeing my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.” Yes, with eyes of faith, Abraham looked forward to the arrival of the promised Messiah. In disbelief, the Jews respond: “You are not yet fifty years old, and still you have seen Abraham?”
“Most truly I say to you,” Jesus answers, “before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” Jesus is, of course, referring to his prehuman existence as a mighty spirit person in heaven.
◆ How does Jesus show that he and his enemies have different fathers?
◆ What is the significance of the Jews’ calling Jesus a Samaritan?
◆ In what sense does Jesus mean that his followers will never see death?