““We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?””
(John 8:32–33 HCSB)
What exactly is going on with this claim from the Jews who were interacting with Jesus. They had been enslaved by practically everyone! They had been enslaved to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Syrians, and were currently under the yoke of Rome. What are they claiming?
Plummer quotes Josephus on the Jews: “They have an immovable love of liberty, and maintain that God is their only ruler and master” (Josephus, Ant. xviii. i. 6).
It would appear that Don Carson gets closest to what the Jews meant: “It is much more probable that the Jews are talking about spiritual, inward freedom and privilege. Thus, Rabbi Akiba is credited with saying that all Israelites are kings’ sons, i.e. the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (B. Shabbath 128a)”
If that is what they meant, were they correct? Um…no. Jesus promptly tells them that they are slaves to sin, and if they are slaves to sin, they cannot be sons of God [which they certainly thought that they were]. I’m guessing that they were a bit, oh, offended at this statement. Jesus does not seem to care that they take offense at his words. It appears that he is more interested in communicating truth, and the truth was that these Jews were hopelessly incorrect in their assumption of their standing with God.
They thought they were sons. They were, in fact, slaves to sin.