Christ's audience had literal ears, of course, but that is not what He meant. The people heard the sounds, and the sounds formed into words, and words were comprehended to some degree, but they did not really relate to what He was saying. His words just did not hit the right chords so that they could make the right use of them. Jesus says in some exasperation, "Why do you not understand?" Then He goes on to explain why.
He explains, "You are unable to hear what I say." He is implying that the problem is inherent. It was as if He were speaking in one language, and they were hearing in another, so that what He said was totally incomprehensible to them.
John 8 deals with freedom or liberty. These people were in bondage, a kind of slavery, and they did not even know it. They said, "We have never been in bondage." They had a measure of political liberty, but even then, they were under the heel of the Romans. They had a certain amount of freedom, which they apparently considered enough for what they needed for their lives. Ordinarily, the Roman way was, once a nation was crushed, to give the people certain liberties, as long they behaved themselves.
We can see that Jesus was speaking of one thing, yet they understood it in an entirely different way. He was speaking within spiritual parameters concerning the Kingdom of God. They were hearing within political parameters, and thinking about the here and now. It just did not jive.
They became this way just as we do: They lived and operated in a world of lies. This is why Jesus mentions Satan, that he was a murderer and a liar from the very beginning. All the ways of this world - which seem to be so right carnally - are really nothing but behaviors founded upon deceptions, distortions, and falsehoods. To somebody reared in such a deceived environment, the truth of God comes out as so much gibberish. The mind simply does not relate.
John W. Ritenbaugh
We Are Unique!
Jesus identifies Satan as the spiritual father of those Jews who opposed Him, implying that they had learned how to murder and lie because the Devil was their spiritual father. They were displaying his characteristics, just as children naturally adopt the traits of their parents. Yet was Satan actually responsible for their sins? Notice what the pre-incarnate Christ says earlier through Ezekiel:
Yet you say, “Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?” Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)
God holds the father accountable for his sins, and the children responsible for their sins. The sinning soul bears its own guilt and penalty—death (Romans 6:23). Ezekiel 18 completely nullifies the justification that a child can blame his parents for his faults. Even though parents exert tremendous influence, God's view of parent-child relationships does not allow this shifting of blame.
Following this through, God will not accept this justification with regard to an individual blaming his spiritual father, Satan, even though he also wields considerable influence. According to the repeated principle in Ezekiel 18, Satan cannot bear the guilt of sins committed by a human. He bears the guilt for his own sins, which include deception, but Satan cannot make us sin.
In verses 14-17, God even gives the scenario of a son recognizing the sinfulness of his father and choosing to go a different way. The Jews who opposed Christ in John 8 should have done exactly that—realized that the murder and lies in their hearts did not originate with God, then chosen to act differently from their spiritual father.
In Genesis 3:17, God identifies the trigger of Adam's sin as heeding the voice of his wife. In the same way, our sin may also begin with heeding the voice of another (Satan), but he is not the author of our sin, any more than Eve was the author of Adam's sin. Though Adam and Eve played the blame game, God did not accept their excuses. If we hold to the justification that Satan is the real cause of our sins, we are trying to dodge reality, just as they did.
The apostle Paul declares in Romans 5:12 that sin entered the world through one man, Adam. Notice that God does not put the origin of human sin on Satan, but on Adam, even though Satan sinned long before and overtly lied to Eve (Genesis 3:4). This is how God reckons human sin—as difficult as it may be to accept. The overall point in Romans 5 is that, even though the first man introduced sin to mankind, it is through the Son of Man that humanity will be justified and made righteous. Put simply, humanity has made the choice to sin, and Christ alone provides atonement upon repentance (Acts 4:12; Matthew 1:21; I Timothy 2:5-6).
A few chapters later, in Romans 7, we find Paul's anguish over his struggle with sin. His conclusion is not that Satan is the real cause—the Devil gets only one mention in Romans, where the apostle writes that the God of peace will crush him (Romans 16:20). Instead, Paul concludes that he had indwelling sin. Rather than point the finger at Satan, he mournfully recognizes his sinful state and declares his faith in Christ's work and deliverance (verse 25).
Paul's conclusion suggests that, in addition to Satan being completely unworthy of being represented by a substitutionary sacrifice, it is also wholly incongruous to suggest that the sins of the people belong on Satan's head. Their sins are their own, and Satan's sins are his own.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat—Satan or Christ? (Part Two)
This is the spirit—the attitude, the mind, the heart—that is driving humanity. For anybody whose father is Satan, it is in his or her nature to break the commandments. This is why God says that "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). It is impossible! There has to be a change, a conversion, to the divine nature. Thus, Satan cannot help himself. He gathers things to himself because he is self-centered, and he gathers them for the purpose of killing or abusing them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Importance and Source
Spiritually, Satan has been our father. We already have had his mark placed on us, and in our lifetime we have shown his characteristics. That is exactly what Jesus is talking about here: He knew that Satan was the spiritual father of these people because they carried his mark in the way they reacted to Him and each other.
Abraham had God as his spiritual Father, and Abraham did not attempt to kill the One who became Christ—in fact, He was hospitable to Him and honored Him. He was not hostile to Him in any way, but instead did everything in his power to submit to Him. But here were the people of Jesus' time trying to put Him to death. They were openly hostile to Him.
Our problem is not worrying about taking on Satan's mark—we already have it. Our concern is to control and overcome it because God is now our Father, and He has already enabled us to resist that mark in our lives. It is our worshipful duty to work with God, to strive to break free of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
A quick look at this world reveals that its loyalty is to Satan, who influences and rules it. He lies from the very depths of his character. In contrast, God does not and cannot lie, for truth is a primary attribute of His character (Hebrews 6:17-18; Numbers 23:19).
Martin G. Collins
The Ninth Commandment
Satan was the first one with the attitude of murder, and he has promoted it ever since. A murderer is a child of Satan with the same arrogant pride. Such a person will not enter God's Kingdom (Galatians 5:21; I John 3:15; Matthew 15:18-19).
Martin G. Collins
The Sixth Commandment
Jesus describes Satan as a murderer in addition to being a destroyer. A murderer destroys life. Jesus also calls him a liar. He does not dwell in the truth at all, deceiving all the time.
We are human beings, created in the image of God. We have tremendous capacity and potential, but we have used our powers just as the father of destruction, the father of lies, would have used them.
The Hebrew word ruach (translated as "spirit"), Greek pneuma (also translated as "spirit"), and the English "spirit" all mean basically the same thing. The same general implication underlies all of their applications: that of an often powerful, invisible, immaterial, motivating force. This unseen force inspires or encourages people to do something, good or bad. Its quality is not relevant at this point.
Thus, the Bible will use the Hebrew or Greek word for "spirit" for such invisible, motivating forces as "feelings" and "attitudes"—even "talents." E.W. Bullinger says in his Companion Bible that the Bible gives the word "spirit" eight different applications.
Human spirits are not always invisible—they can be observed on a face or felt by those nearby—but they work as a force to motivate behavior or reaction. For example, if we walk into a room where people are scowling or perhaps even angry, we are affected. We might wonder, "What got into them?" meaning "What inspired their attitude?" "Why the angry spirit?" If we stick around for even a short while—it will not take long—that negative spirit will begin motivating us to react.
Depending on the person with the negative attitude, the motivation to reaction could be swift! If that person happens to be our spouse, we can probably tell immediately that they are in a different spirit, and it will affect us right away. A spirit has flowed from one person to another.
This flow of spirit also works positively. If we are around someone who is really up and happy and congenial, an outgoing person, his or her spirit will affect us in a positive way. We enjoy being around such people because we feel better and their spirits motivate us to be like them.
These may be simple explanations, but that is how a spirit works. A spirit is invisible and immaterial, but it has powerful motivating effects. Because we have a spirit too, we can pick up on the spirit and attitude of other people—and of supernatural beings as well.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Right Use of Power
The fact that these people were not hearing God's Word was proof that they were not of God. That is all Jesus needed to prove that they were not of God. He did not need to see any action. All He needed was to know that they were rejecting the truth of God, because a person who is of God is predisposed to accept it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Three)
Just as surely as a person on drugs eventually wants to take the drug because he is enslaved by it, sin has an addictive quality. Satan knows very well that if he can get us to sin once, there is a strong possibility he can get us to sin again and again and again until we are eventually enslaved by it and cannot help ourselves.
Satan's lies produce death through sin, and they are deliberate attempts to wipe us out. Satan is a cold-blooded life destroyer. We can look at "life" in two ways: in terms of physical life ending in death and quality of life. What is so sad is that he seems to have such an easy time in getting people to swallow the lie that it will somehow be better to disobey God than to obey Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
This is a interesting section of scripture, one that could be expounded for hours. It contains the main point of how we prevent deception. Christ mentions it three times: 1) He says, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32); 2) "You are not able to listen to My word"; and 3) "He who is of God hears God's words." What, then, is the point? The truth, as revealed in God's Word, is the key element to preventing deception. The more and the better we know God's truth the more obvious deception becomes.
It could also be said that the more and the better we know God's truth the more we can avoid what is evil. Evil will not "live" where we live because we are living the truth. If we do the truth, then we will not have time for evil. They are opposite; they repel one another. Like oil and water, they do not mix. It is really that simple. If we know the truth, then we should be free from deception.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Notice that Christ pointedly tells these people that they want to do what their spiritual father does. In addition, he speaks what is natural to him. There is a strong drive in all of us to follow the path of least resistance, that is, to do what comes naturally.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 8:44: