"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." On the surface, this is a transparent statement by our Lord. The more one examines it, the less transparent it becomes. Several key words need examination before the fullness of the meaning can be perceived.
KNOW I shall illustrate this point from personal experience. My employer is a doctor whose competence and knowledge I highly respect. Not long after my hiring, he made a categorical statement in my presence relating to normal medical expectation. From my own experience, I knew that the statement was not always true, and told him so. His reply was, "I think I know medicine. Each of us knows, in the fullest sense of the word, only that which he has experienced, and then only to the extent that he understands it. His statement would normally have been true; my knowledge from experience told me it was not always true.
"1 know that my Redeemer lives" was true in the fullest sense only to those who experienced the Lord both pre-burial and post-resurrection, and only a very limited number of them. Only those who, like Thomas, touched him after His resurrection could vouch for his physical presence. Thomas believed because he had tactile proof; he knew.
We also know, but not in the same sense, for our senses have not made that determination, only our intellect. Because we believe the testimony of those who actually had that experience, we know, in the sense of a strong belief which accepts the testimony of others. This is the source of most of what we know. This knowledge is contingent upon the accuracy of the information presented to us in that testimony, and our acceptance of it hinges on our confidence in the one who supplies the information. Many who claim to know have based that on the unproven hypotheses of those in whom they have confidence; this confidence does not, of itself, prove the hypotheses of their mentor. Faulty "knowledge" is based on confidence in those who have not truly experienced that which they dispense as knowledge. "If the blind lead the blind, ..." You know the quotation.
Much of so-called scientific knowledge is based on this kind of unproven conjecture, but its proponents will not confess their ignorance or the unproven nature of their theses. And, if they also happen to be teachers in an educational institution, they become even more culpable for the results of their misinformation. It is therefore incumbent upon the knowledge-seeker to question the qualifications of the teacher, and then the accuracy of his information. First-hand knowledge, actual experience, "eye-witnessing" become important as qualifications required of a teacher, before we accept his statements as facts.
YE The "ye" of the context refers to whom? To those who were actually present, who were in a position to actually experience the proofs and evidence to back up the claims made. To them it was possible to know in the fullest sense of the word. But is the Lord saying it only to those present, or is there a broader application? Is this perhaps one of those classic truisms relating to all knowledge of all types to all people for all time? I believe it is; it seems to say that only knowledge can make you truly free: free from tyranny, free from sin, free from self-righteousness, free from greed, free from hate, free from covetousness, free from all varieties of misconceptions and misunderstandings and ignorances.
The paradox of our Lord's statement can be seen in the progression of knowledge suggested by one wise person, who summed up the theses of Aristotle as "know thyself", those of Plato as "control thyself", and those of Jesus as "deny thyself". This is a progression away from total freedom and toward total bondage (in the world's sense). For, only in the self-negation of following Jesus as a bond-slave is there true freedom, only when one ceases to be the center of one's own universe and devotes himself to the good of all.
SHALL The "shall" used in this context indicates future occurrence; therefore, it was not possible at that time for the hearer to know what was encompassed by "the truth", or to be "free". What, then, is the nature of "the truth" as used here and the "freedom" which would result? Those who try to oversimplify claim that it is the truth about sin and being set free from it; and that is at least part of its meaning. But the truth about the nature and consequences of sin was already known to these Jewish hearers, although they did not yet understand freedom from it. It must be something more than that simplistic summation.
"Truth" is accurate understanding concerning any matter, somewhat shaky ground in most cases, since most of our knowledge is only confidence in someone else's experience. In this sense, the Savior's words have been partially fulfilled, because our knowledge about many things has been upgraded due to research into the nature and operation of these things. But, the more we come to know, the more we are aware of how limited is our knowledge. Hence, he surely is not talking exclusively in this sense. Since he was talking to religious people, perhaps his mean, lng lies primarily in that area. There were many "mysteries" about the nature of God that had puzzled his people for a long time, mysteries that were revealed m "the last days" by the Son and the Spirit, and even by the Father Himself. Some had already been revealed by the Son during his personal service (ministry means service) on the earth. Others remained to be revealed or explained by him; still others by the Spirit through the apostles. To be sure, many other "mysteries concerning God have been reserved for eternity, and cannot be known by mortals. The more we know about God, the freer we become; therefore, knowledge is a relative term, not absolute. We shall continue to become freer and freer, as we add more knowledge.
TRUTH This affirmation statement is a refutation of those who claim that there is no absolute truth, only situational (or relative) truth., Our Lord says that there is absolute truth. Most "truth" is absolute, but frequently our understanding of it is much less than absolute. We are inclined to think that truth is summed up in what we understand (or believe we understand). "Thy word, oh God, is truth", but not necessarily what we believe the word teaches. Also, since Jesus is spoken of as the Word (LOGOS) of God, and claims 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life", this statement could be construed as a statement about Jesus, rather than the book that is written about him. Jesus is the embodiment of truth, since truth is of God, and He is God. As we progress in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus, we progress in our apprehension of truth. We, like Paul, "press on toward the mark of the prize of the high-calling". Like moths, we are drawn to the light of understanding of God's mysteries through our increasing understanding and knowledge of Jesus, His Word. We search the written word, not to seek out laws and restrictions and prohibitions, but to understand Jesus the Christ who is the subject of the book, the one about whom it was written.
FREE This is also a relative term and subject to a profound paradox. Total freedom is unrestricted by any consideration other than the spur of the moment. This is described as anarchy (without-rule), and the greatest trap of all, because it makes man a slave to his impulses and emotions, and nullifies his intellect and his spirit. At the opposite pole is slavery or bond-servanthood. If it is not voluntary, it also is bad, because all decisions are taken away, and one becomes a thing, to be used at someone else's discretion. When it is voluntary, it becomes the most liberating of all circumstances, especially if one is a bond-servant to God. Then one is liberated from the slavery of serving ones own ill-informed ego, and chooses to serve the Creator, who knows better than His creation what is the true source of serenity and joy. To the extent that one has been liberated from his own ego, to that extent is one capable of the highest victory of love, AGAPE. When one rejects selfishness, he then becomes the type of disciple Jesus described: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if we have love for one another". This love is the essence of God, and love and freedom go hand-in-hand. To those who fulfill Jesus' description, law is unnecessary because they go beyond the law without violating it. This is a distinction which is very difficult for a legalist to grasp or admit, for the legalist is searching for a formula to follow in order to avoid committing his life; he is searching for a minimum rather than a maximum involvement. Then he wonders why his religious life is so drab and joyless. He thinks that Jesus was talking about martyrdom when he said, "He that loses his life for my sake, shall find it". He cannot grasp that Jesus was talking about joy in this life, as a result of total personal commitment, of ego-abandonment. This is the freedom referred to in the passage; it is not the freedom of license, but the dedication. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free".