The Message of Jesus: Freed From Slavery

Jews celebrate the Passover as a yearly reminder of the time when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. But Christians look to something else. The New Testament Passover is neither a day nor a ritual, but is Jesus himself. We look to Jesus because he is the only way we can be rescued from the slavery of sin.

“If you hold to my teaching,” he said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The Jewish leaders were puzzled at that. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (v. 33). True, the Jews were descendants of Abraham, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t need to be set free. Jesus told them, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (v. 34). People are enslaved by their own tendency to sin—enslaved by their own desires. We all sin, and we all need to be set free.

Freed by Jesus

The truth will set us free, Jesus said, but truth isn’t simply a matter of telling people certain facts. We can spout facts until we are blue in the face, but if people don’t believe the truth, it won’t help them. And what is the truth? Jesus is the truth, and the way, and the life (John 14:6).

We are freed by believing in Jesus, not by learning certain facts. We have to trust in him, not in our own understanding of the facts. We are fallible, but we can trust in Jesus to give us something we cannot earn.

Notice how Jesus, instead of giving his questioners more information, switches to another metaphor: “A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever” (John 8:35). It’s not what you know, he seems to be saying, but whether you are part of the family. Information cannot make us part of God’s family, but Jesus can. We have a right relationship with God only through Jesus, the Son of God.

So Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). He sets us free from sin by placing us into the family of God. We still struggle with sin (some sins more than others), but we are being rescued from its grip, and rescued from its results.

Jesus happened to be talking to some Jewish teachers, but his words could apply to anyone who resists the word of Jesus: “You are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word” (v. 37). They were not willing to listen to what he was saying. They were instead listening to their own religious tradition, which in their case emphasized being in the family of Abraham.

“You do what you have heard from your father,” Jesus told them (v. 38). Jesus was baiting them, just as he had done in several of the conversations that the Gospel of John tells us about. He knew how they would respond, and he planned to use that response as a springboard for more teaching. “Abraham is our father,” they responded (v. 39). No he’s not, Jesus answered. “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did.”

You want to kill me, Jesus said, and Abraham wasn’t like that. So he repeated the accusation: “you are doing the things your own father does” (v. 41). Well then, the Jews thought, if Abraham isn’t a good enough answer, then we will up the ante. “The only Father we have is God himself.” We are not slaves, nor are we illegitimate children, they said—we are already free citizens in the family of God.

Jesus’ response was probably more than they bargained for: “If God were your Father, you would love me…. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (vs. 42-44). I’m telling the truth, he says, but you aren’t able to hear what I say. They heard the words, but they didn’t believe them.

“The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (v. 47). To be free, we need to belong to God—and we can belong to him only if Jesus sets us free.

Getting the devil’s dues

When we sin, we are acting like children of the devil. When we do his works, we are given his wages: death. We need to be freed from this, too. So Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (v. 51). I will rescue them from the penalty of sin. I will rescue them from what the devil can do.

How did Jesus do it? He did it by dying on the cross. He did it by accepting the consequences of sin even though he had never sinned. He accepted the injustice, so that he could bring grace to all his people.

He defeated the devil at his own game, so to speak, deposing the devil, taking away the devil’s authority over us. He didn’t give anything to the devil, but he invalidated the devil’s authority to exact a price from all of us. He came to destroy the work of the devil, 1 John 3:8 says.

Jesus said that he came to judge the world—to pronounce a judgment on the society that had been duped by Satan into rejecting God’s love. But his judgment was not just on the world—it extended to the one who had led them astray: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).

How would Jesus drive out the devil? “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (v. 32). As John comments in v. 33, Jesus was referring to his own crucifixion. By his death on the cross, he freed us from the evil taskmaster, and he is now inviting more people into freedom.

“The prince of this world has no hold on me,” Jesus said (John 14:31). He cannot force me to do his will—he cannot force me to sin. It was a cosmic battle, a test of the will, and Jesus showed that his will was stronger than Satan’s temptations.

As a human, Jesus refused to do the devil’s work, and in his unjust death, he showed that Satan has no right to rule. He did far more than pay the price of our sins—he invalidated Satan’s right to rule.

It’s a question of authority, and God has given it to Jesus: “You granted the Son authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him” (John 17:2). We are freed from the devil’s authority, brought into the kingdom of God, the family of God, where we have freedom and life forever. He rescues us from sin, from self, from Satan, and from the wages of sin.

“Since the children have flesh and blood,” Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us, Jesus “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” And that’s the Truth that sets us free.

Author: Joseph Tkach

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