"Never See Death"
Why did they want to kill Jesus? Because He was telling them things that didn’t fit into what they thought their religion was. Earlier He told them they were from below, but He was from above. He told them they were of this world, but He was not of this world (John 8:23). Earlier He told them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31).
They replied by saying that they were descendants of Abraham, that they had never not been free, that they had never been enslaved to anyone. I guess they conveniently forgot the facts of their past and their present—slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, and then occupation by Rome. They misunderstood what Jesus was telling them. He meant that they were slaves to sin and death. He meant that He, the Son, had come to set them free. But they would not recognize or admit their slavery. And thus they would not accept Jesus’ Word. So they remained enslaved in their sin.
Then in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Another word of Jesus that they have difficulty hearing and accepting. Who does this Jesus think He is? Our Father Abraham died. The prophets died. Everyone dies. So Jesus has to tell them yet another word: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Who is this Man? This is the Son of God, the eternal Son of the Father, the One who was with the Father before all things were made. This is the One who became incarnate, who came into our world, who took on our flesh and bone and body. He is the timeless One, the One who existed before Abraham, and yet He also became Abraham’s descendant. He is the One—the only One—who can say, ”If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Scripture gives no record of these exact words being spoken to Abraham, but it is the Word that Abraham believed, kept, and held onto. Remember how he saddled his donkey and took his only son, whom he loved, to the mountain as the Lord directed him. Remember how he took the wood and laid it on the back of his beloved son. Remember how he built the altar, most likely with the help of his son, and then tied up his son and laid him on top of the altar. Abraham held onto the Word of the Lord as “he considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19). Yes, Abraham believed and kept the Word of the Lord, and that day his son Isaac did not see death.
Genesis says that God did this to test Abraham. But it was more than a test; it was also a type, a picture, a forecast of another Son of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus is the promised Son who carries the wood of His cross upon His back, and He goes back up Calvary’s mountain to make the great sacrifice to save us from our sin. He is the beloved Son who is bound—willingly—and laid upon the altar of the cross to rescue us from death. He is the Lamb whom God provides for Himself for a burnt offering. He is the Lamb who is offered for us, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin and wears the crown of thorns upon His head. Yes, on that Mount of the Lord, Jesus provided our deliverance from sin and death.
So, yes, Jesus can say, if anyone keeps His Word, that person will never see death. Because Jesus came to see death for us. He came to drink the cup of suffering in order that we may be released from death’s power. He came to be our High Priest who entered into the Holy Place of Heaven and with His own blood gained everlasting redemption for His people, that we might receive the promised eternal inheritance. He came to offer Himself without blemish to God and spill His innocent blood to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As we keep and hold onto His Word, we are rescued from death’s sting and its eternal judgment.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” You also have His Word. If you keep it and hold onto it, you gain a share in that life which is stronger than death. Martin Luther proclaimed it this way: “Whoever, therefore, heeds God’s Word has both its glory and benefit: glory, in that he is of God and is God’s child; benefit, in that the Word which he believes saves him. And though he will still become ill, be assailed somewhat by the devil, and experience physical death, yet at the moment his soul is released he will, as it were, fall asleep and come into Christ’s bosom, with the angels ministering to him and bearing him up, so that his foot is not dashed against a stone, as promised in Psalm 91:12” (House Postils, 1:364).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” You have His Word. Keep it and hold onto it for dear life. Jesus is the One who promises: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). If you believe in Jesus, you already have eternal life. And nothing can take that away from you.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” You have His Word. Keep it and hold onto it for dear life. He is the One who promises: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-55). If you are united to Jesus in His Holy Supper, you already have the victory over death, because His risen and glorified Body and Blood give you His life, now and forever. Amen.