21. Jesus therefore spake again to them, I go, and you shall seek me, and you shall die in your sin. Whither I go, you cannot come. 22. The Jews therefore said, Will he kill himself? Because he saith, Whither I go, you cannot come. 23. Then he said to them, You are from beneath, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24. Therefore I said to you, that you shall die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am, you shall die in your sins.
21. I go. Perceiving that he is doing no good among these obstinate men, he threatens their destruction; and this is the end of all those who reject the Gospel. For it is not thrown uselessly into the air, but must breathe the odour either of life or of death, (2 Corinthians 2:16.) The meaning of these words amounts to this. "The wicked will at length feel how great loss they have suffered by rejecting Christ, when he freely offers himself to them. They will feel it, but it will be too late, for there will be no more room for repentance." And to alarm them still more by showing them that their judgment is near at hand, in the first place, he says that he will soon go away, by which he means that the Gospel is preached to them only for a short time, and that if they allow this opportunity to pass away, the accepted time and the days appointed for salvation (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2) will not always last. Thus also, in the present day, when Christ knocks at our door, we ought to go immediately to meet him, lest he be wearied by our slothfulness and withdraw from us. And indeed we have learned, by many experiments in all ages, how greatly this departure of Christ is to be dreaded.
And you shall seek me. We must first ascertain in what manner the persons now spoken of sought Christ; for if they had been truly converted, they would not have sought him in vain; because he has not falsely promised that, as soon as a sinner groans, he will be ready to assist him. Christ does not mean, therefore, that they sought him by the right way of faith, but that they sought him, as men, overwhelmed by the extremity of anguish, look for deliverance on every hand. For unbelievers would desire to have God reconciled to them, but yet they do not cease to fly from him. God calls them; the approach consists in faith and repentance; but they oppose God by hardness of heart, and, overwhelmed with despair, they exclaim against him. In short, they are so far from desiring to enjoy the favor of God, that they do not give him permission to assist them, unless he deny himself, which he will never do.
In this manner, however wicked the scribes were, they would willingly have applied to themselves the redemption which had been promised by the hand of the Messiah, provided that Christ would transform himself, to suit their natural disposition. Wherefore, by these words Christ threatens and denounces to all unbelievers, that, after having despised the doctrine of the Gospel, they will be seized with such anguish, that they shall be constrained to cry to God, but their howling will be of no avail; because, as we have already said, seeking, they do not seek. And this is still more plainly expressed in the next clause, when he says, you shall die in your sin; for he shows that the cause of their destruction will be, that they were disobedient and rebellious to the very last. What is the nature of their sin we shall presently see.
22. Will he kill himself? The scribes persevere not only in fearless scorn, but likewise in effrontery; for they ridicule what he had said, that they cannot follow whither he shall go; as if they had said, "If he kill himself, we acknowledge that we cannot accompany him, because we do not choose to do so." They regarded Christ's absence as a matter of no moment, and thought that in all respects they would gain a victory over him; and so they bid him begone wherever he pleases. Shocking stupidity! But thus does Satan infatuate the reprobate, that, intoxicated with more than brutal indifference, 1 they may throw themselves into the midst of the flame of the wrath of God. Do we not in the present day behold the same rage in many who, having stupified their consciences, insolently play off their jests and buffoonery on every thing that they hear about the dreadful judgment of God? Yet it is certain that this is an affected or sardonic smile, for they are pierced inwardly with unseen wounds; but all on a sudden, like men bereft of their senses, they burst out into furious laughter.
23. You are from beneath, I am from above. As they did not deserve that he should teach them, he wished only to strike them with reproofs conveyed in few words, as in this passage he declares that they do not receive his doctrine, because they have an utter dislike of the kingdom of God. Under the words, world and beneath, he includes all that men naturally possess, and thus points out the disagreement which exists between his Gospel and the ingenuity and sagacity of the human mind; for the Gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our mind grovels on the earth. No man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by his Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom he elevates by the special grace of his Holy Spirit.
24. You shall die in your sins. Having formerly employed the singular number, in your sin, he now resorts to the plural number, in your sins; but the meaning is the same, except that in the former passage he intended to point out that unbelief is the source and cause of all evils. Not that there are no other sins but unbelief, 2 or that it is unbelief alone which subjects us to the condemnation of eternal death before God, as some men too extravagantly talk; but because it drives us away from Christ, and deprives us of his grace, from which we ought to expect deliverance from all our sins. That the Jews reject the medicine with obstinate malice, is their mortal disease; and hence it arises that the slaves of Satan do not cease to heap up sins on sins, and continually to bring down upon themselves fresh condemnations. And, therefore, he immediately adds, --
If you do not believe that I am. For there is no other way for lost men to recover salvation, but to betake themselves to Christ. The phrase, that I am, is emphatic; for, in order to make the meaning complete, we must supply all that the Scripture ascribes to the Messiah, and all that it bids us expect from him. But the sum and substance is -- the restoration of the Church, the commencement of which is the light of faith, from which proceed righteousness and a new life. Some of the ancient writers have deduced from this passage the Divine essence of Christ; but that is a mistake, for he speaks of his office towards us. This statement is worthy of observation; for men never consider sufficiently the evils in which they are plunged; and though they are constrained to acknowledge their destruction, yet they neglect Christ, and look around them, in every direction, for useless remedies. Wherefore we ought to believe that, until the grace of Christ be manifested to deliver us, nothing but a boundless mass of all evils reigns perpetually in us. 3