Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This verse from John has perhaps been the most misinterpreted verse in the Bible. Words taken out of context can be used to say just about anything. When a college boasts that its motto is “Veritas vos Liberabit” (The truth will set you free) it is taking those words directly from the Bible upon which its founding fathers based the purpose of education. Today, education becomes the steady advancement of knowledge based upon that which this world deems important.
These words from the gospel of John come from Jesus. And to understand the meaning in verse 32 one needs to begin by reading the entire chapter of John 8 which I would encourage you to do. It’s a chapter recording the encounter between a group of people who refused to accept Christ for who He is and Christ’s desire to be known for who He is.
In the first verse of this chapter Jesus pardons an adulterous woman whom the people were going to stone to death.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Those who opposed him were well-versed in Mosaic Law, people who observed rituals to atone for their sins and remain pleasing in the sight of God. In verse 12 Jesus tells them who He is. “I am the light of the world.” Other places in John Jesus tells people that He brings light into the darkness. In John 9:5, during the miracle of healing someone blind from birth, Jesus tries to explain to them “When I am in the world, I am the Light of the World. Metaphorically, in John 9:39, Jesus explains that he came into this world so that the blind may see.
Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate and explained to Pilate that He was a king. Jesus said,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Most people remember Pilate’s retort, “What is truth?” John 18:38a. This is the truth Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He is not a political king nor did He ever desire to have any earthly power. If He had, His servants would have fought to prevent Him from being killed. But His kingdom did not come into being through worldly principles nor was it established by any physical energies, material wealth or power. His is the power that gives life to a dying world. It does so through spiritually inspiring the hearts and souls of people to accept Him for who He is.
Jesus told Pilate that the reason why He came into the world was to testify to the truth. Here again, if one looks to the Word of God, one will be bathed in blessings far beyond one’s expectations. Christ came into the world to exhibit the glory of truth–reality.
Alétheia is the Greek noun for truth. It means reality. This is a reality the world cannot bring—a glory that is being exhibited to the world. It is difficult to understand due to the limits of the human mind. How can one separate Jesus as a witness to the truth from Jesus who says He is the truth? Add to this the witness of God who sent Jesus into the world to bear witness to the truth. The answer lies in the grace and mercies of God. How can a God who created us be spurned by us through the influence of Satan, then return again to us and bear the penalty for our sins that we might be reconciled unto Him? The answers lie within the glories of who God is.
He calls Himself a jealous God to contrast His love for His people with those who set themselves up as their own gods. The power to do so is in the nature of His love for His people. His love draws people to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the truth (reality) to which He calls us in His Word, through the hearing of His word, by participating in the sacraments, offering daily confessions of our sins, daily accepting the forgiveness of ours sins, and by faith allowing God to finish the work that He has begun in us. This is what I believe Jesus meant when He said
“the truth will set you free.”