While teaching in the temple, Jesus famously said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV). This prompted a discussion in which Christ answered criticisms from the Pharisees (vs. 13-29). As the crowds in the temple heard the answers he gave his enemies, “many believed in him” (v. 30). Recognizing their faith, our Lord “said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (vs. 31-32).
“You will know the truth.” “Know” comes from the Greek term ginosko, which Thayer defines as “to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel,” and “to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of.” Ginosko is in the future tense (which is why English Bibles translate it as “will know”), and is in the indicative mood (meaning that it is a simple statement of fact). By saying we will know the truth if we abide in his word, Jesus is guaranteeing — making a simple statement of fact — that the result of abiding in his word will be “learning to know” the truth, “coming to know” the truth, “getting a knowledge of” the truth, “perceiving” the truth, “feeling” the truth, “knowing” the truth, “understanding” the truth, and “having knowledge of” the truth.
It is no accident that our Lord correlated the guarantee of coming to know, perceive, and understand the truth with abiding in his word. On the night before he died, he acknowledged in his prayer to his Father in heaven that “your word is truth” while asking that God “sanctify” his disciples in that same truth (John 17:17). The psalmist also stated that “the sum of your word is truth” (Ps. 119:160a), after having pleaded that God “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules” (v. 43).
The apostle John would later relate abiding in God’s word with coming to know (ginosko, perceive, understand, learning to know) Christ. He wrote, “And by this we know (ginosko) that we have come to know (ginosko) him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know (ginosko) him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfect. By this we know (ginosko) that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-6). Keeping his commandments, abiding in him, walking in the same way in which he walked…all of this is how we come to know, understand, perceive, and understand our Lord and that we are in him, just as it is also how we come to know the truth. This should not surprise us since Jesus said that he is the truth (John 14:6). Yet claiming to understand, know, and perceive the Lord and his truth while not abiding in his word proves one to be nothing more than a liar.
Consider again the context in which Jesus said that abiding in his word is how one comes to know the truth which sets them free. The Pharisees had accused his testimony of being false because he was bearing witness about himself (John 8:13). Jesus responded that his testimony is true even if he did bear witness about himself because “I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14). “I know” comes from oida, a Greek term similar to ginosko which likewise means “to know, i.e., get knowledge of, understand, perceive.” Jesus perceived and understood his Deity, that he had been with God before his human birth and that he would go back to sit at God’s right hand once his work was complete (John 1:1, 14; Mk. 16:19). Note the confidence behind his reply to the Pharisees. That confidence was based on his knowledge, understanding, and perception of who he was, where he had been, and where he was going.
Take note of what he then said to them: “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:15-18). The Pharisees did not realize their judgments and criticisms were directed against Deity; in that way their judgments were “according to the flesh,” superficial, human, worldly. Jesus’ judgments, on the other hand, were different. His judgments are “true,” based on truth backed up by the corroborating witness of his heavenly Father (Matt. 3:17). His miracles were proof that God was with him and his message was from God (Matt. 12:28; John 3:2; 5:36; 9:33; Acts 2:22; 10:38).
After his enemies insincerely asked about his Father, Jesus did not hesitate to state of them: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He again uses oida here, stating that the Pharisees had no knowledge, perception, or understanding of him or his Father. He likewise did not hesitate to warn them, “…you will die in your sin” (v. 21). Seeing that they again misunderstood and thought he was talking of suicide when he spoke of leaving them (vs. 21-22), he again confidently told them the facts about himself and their spiritual state: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (vs. 23-24). Again he affirmed his Deity and warned them of spiritual death if they did not believe that he is Deity. This prompted them to ask him again about his identity, to which he replied that he was “just what I have been telling you from the beginning” (v. 25). After again bringing up how his Father had sent him and was the originator of his message and seeing that they still did not understand his relationship with his Father (vs. 26-27), he pointed to his death and resurrection as the final proofs of his deity (v. 28a; cf. Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:20).
His next words are very telling: “…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28b-29). Jesus knew that he spoke nothing but his Father’s message. He was confident that God was with him. He had no doubt that he always did what pleased his Father. These statements are what prompted many who were listening to believe in him (v. 30), which in turn prompted him to urge them to abide in his word in order to truly be his disciples and know the truth which would set them free (vs. 31-32).
Christians, each of us can have the same confidence our Lord has. The whole purpose of being his disciple is to become like him (Lk. 6:40). We can in fact know, understand, and perceive the truth of Scripture. Having come to know, understand, and perceive it, we can be confident that we have done so. The key is to abide in his word by keeping his commandments and speaking nothing but the entirety of the word of God.
Preachers, we especially must do this. In recent years I’ve observed a hesitancy among some of us to state some biblical precepts with confidence. I’ve increasingly heard, “We’ve all been wrong before,” and “No one has everything figured out.” The charges of arrogance and dogmatism are easily and increasingly made against those who speak biblical truths authoritatively. Less attention is given to Scripture and more is given to theologians both within and outside of the Lord’s church. Doctrinal differences are increasing downplayed as “matters of opinion” and “not salvation issues,” even though we are commanded to “speak the truth in love” and unrepentant failure to do so would result in spiritual death (Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:23). Speaking “with all authority” (Tit. 2:14) seems to be decreasing, while uncertainty seems to increase.
Yet we CAN know, understand, and perceive truth if we abide in his word which is truth. Will mistakes be made? Of course, but progress can and will be made continually by those with honest hearts if study of and adherence to the Bible is the highest priority (Lk. 8:15; 1 Tim. 4:15-16). As a result, those mistakes will decrease. We can know and understand that our message and judgments are not our own but God’s. We can confidently assert that our teachings are not from man but from God and he has our back! We can know we are “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We can be humble and yet confident and authoritative too. We can truly be his disciples. We CAN KNOW the truth and rejoice that it has set us free! — Jon