Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
“If anyone keeps my word he will not see death.” So Jesus says to the Jews who are picking a fight with him and trying to provoke him. They already think Jesus thinks too much of himself, and then Jesus adds this. “If anyone keeps my word he will not see death.” This is too much for them, who hasn’t tasted death they say? Abraham and the prophets have all died, are you greater than them? Yeah. And then Jesus drops it on them Abraham wanted to see this day, he saw it and was glad. Abraham, in other words, is not dead, Abraham has not seen death. But just to bring the main point home Jesus gives them his word, the word they are supposed to keep. Before Abraham was, I am. He sends it home with a punch that infuriates. He makes the claim that he is God. It is his word that is eternal life.
Yes there are a couple questions that come to mind when contemplating the words of Christ. What is his word? And how does one keep it? But let’s start with a different one, what does Jesus mean by death?
This is the main one. To see death, to taste death, they are phrases that mean to die. And that is perhaps a hard one to swallow. It would seem either no one has kept his word, or he lied, because aside from Abraham and the prophets we have known quite a few to die, and all expect to do so ourselves. But then Jesus knew Abraham had died this earthly death that we all expect. Even Jesus will die that death. He will. And then he will be raised again. And because he was raised again we can trust that what he says is true.
Yes, I often hear people these days talking about how you couldn’t possibly know unless someone came back you can’t know. Comedians say this as if it was something profound. And yet the whole point of Christianity is that someone came back, and he knows. Keep his word and you will not die.
What Jesus means here, is something that John has recorded earlier in the same chapter, to die in your sins, to die not only the physical death we all expect but also to die the second death, the spiritual death wear the worm never dies. It is this death that Jesus would save us from, as he says in John 11:25. Whoever believes in me, he shall live, though he die.
And that really brings us to the next question also, what it means to keep his word. It means to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. It means as he says earlier in the 8th chapter to believe that Jesus is “he”, by which he means the messiah, the Christ, the savior of the world.
It is actually quite that simple. We die in our sins if we do not believe Jesus is who he says he is, that he is God who has come from above, come down for us men and for our salvation. We die in our sins if we do not believe that Jesus Christ has done what he says he has done died for our sins. And that is what it means to keep his word. It means to take him seriously, to listen to him, to grow in the faith he has given you, and not cast it aside. To keep his word means to trust that he has forgiven your sins and given you eternal life, and from this then, that he is the only one we need to concern ourselves with listening to.