Who are You? (Part 1)
Instead of providing a few verses to establish context, I want to look at just one verse. Not only that, but let’s look at just the first part of the verse.
Then they said to Him, “Who are You?” John 8:25 (NKJV)
Those who know me, are very possibly tired of hearing me pound on the notion of keeping Bible passages in context, and yet what I’m about to ask you to do will make it seem I am abandoning the concept altogether. That being said, please resist the temptation to crack open your Bible to gain context for the verse fragment I’ve listed above. Don’t read the whole verse. Don’t read the verses above it nor the verses below it. Don’t consider the chapters preceding the text. Don’t make an effort to put the sentence in its literal context.
Normally I would caution you to be extremely wary of an expositor who doesn’t keep a given passage of scripture in context. Regardless of our intentions, it is just too easy to misinterpret scripture when we reach conclusions after pulling it out of context. It’s also very easy to make scripture mean what you want it to mean, if you ignore how it fits with the surrounding text. But you can relax. I’m not trying to sneak some heretical doctrine past you. I actually intend to underscore (yet again) the importance of context, by demonstrating what could happen if you don’t pay attention to the surrounding scripture.
As a starting point, let’s assume we have had no previous contact with our chosen passage. We’ve happened upon this verse fragment, and seek to understand it. How do we begin? We begin by making observations, which includes asking questions about the text.
Our first observation is that the sentence starts with the word then, which indicates that an action or event has occurred before the one that is about to be stated. Next we see the pronoun they and need to discover the antecedent, or in other words, who are they? Continuing on we see that “They said to Him”. Who is Him? I wonder why the translators (or maybe it was the publisher or printer) chose to capitalize the words Him and You? Maybe a just printing mistake? Through our observations thus far, we know that a group of people asked an individual the question, “Who are You?”
At this point we’ve made the significant observations about the passage, and are ready to reach our conclusions, right? Let’s try it. So this stranger, guy or gal, shows up where this group of people are gathered. The group, in an attempt to be warm and welcoming, take the initiative, and ask, “who are you?” How nice of them, but really there’s nothing significant here, right? I realize my example is an exaggerated one, but you get the point. Our conclusion is not only premature, it is also incorrect as we will soon discover.
Now we are ready to go on a hunt for the answers to our observational questions. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the answers to the first few questions, found by examining previous verses. You can verify my answers on your own. The word then indicates a continuation of a conversational encounter between two parties. The word they is referring to the Pharisees. The words Who and You are both pronouns for Jesus, which incidentally is why the translators chose to capitalize the words.
Now we come to the part that I would like to focus on. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Who are You?” The question that comes to my mind is, why are the Pharisees asking Jesus who He is, what sparked the question?
Let’s see if we can find out by backing up a verse.
In John 8:24,Jesus said,
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (NKJV)
Jesus is telling them something like:
You cannot depend on the sacrifices in the law of Moses. Keeping your man made laws won’t rescue you. Your education, status, wealth – none of it can save you. You will die not justified, but guilty before God, you will die in your sin. Why? Simple because you do not believe that I am He!
Their response was something like:
Wait. What? Who are you? How does whether or not we believe that you are him determine our eternal destiny? Who are you again? He who?
Continuing past the initial sentence of verse 25 sheds more light on it for us.
John 8:25 says,
“Then they said to Him, ‘Who are You?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.’” (NKJV)
To paraphrase Jesus He is saying, I’ve been telling you all along who I am.
Next time we will take a look at what Jesus had been telling the people about Himself.
Studying this passage raises the question. Do we know who Jesus is, I mean really know? Are we paying attention to what He has told us about himself, or are we like the Pharisees? Are we all wrapped up in religious self justification, trying to win religious debates, and prove ourselves to God through our good works? If we need to ask “Jesus who are you?” maybe that’s ok, but let’s really listen for His answer. We will be truly blessed if we consider what Jesus tells us about Himself.