In John 8:30, it says that “As He (Jesus) spoke these words, many believed in Him.” This is one of those places where many people use the phrase we often hear. That phrase is, “They didn’t really believe.” The reason some say that these people didn’t really believe when John says they did is because of what John writes a few verses later.
In v 33, John writes that some in the crowd rebuke the Lord. Jesus responds to them and tells them that they are doing the work of their father, Satan (v 44). There are many, many commentators who take the view that the people in v 30 who believe are the same people in v 33 who rebuke the Lord and are said by the Lord to be doing the work of their father Satan.
Of course, the answer is very simple. In John 8, there was a large crowd of Jews present when the Lord was teaching. Some believed in Him (v 30), and some didn’t (vv 33, 44). Those who are said to have believed really believed (whatever that means!). Those who did not believe are the ones who attack the Lord.
Even though it is not said, there is another unspoken reason why many commentators do not believe that those who believed in v 30 really believed. (That last sentence was hard to type since it sounds so silly, but many people do believe that is what v 30 means!) The unspoken reason is that it is just too simple.
However, Jesus was claiming to be the Christ, sent by the Father (v 29). As such, He could give eternal life. Some in the crowd believed that. It really is that simple.
Unfortunately, many today feel people need to do more. They need to repent of their sins. They need to confess their sins. They need to be willing to follow Jesus and pay the price to do so. Some would say they even need to be baptized. It seems “cheap” and anti-climactic to simply say: they believed.
It is interesting, however, that there is another place in the NT where very similar language is used to describe unbelievers who come to faith. In Acts 10:44, Peter is speaking to a household of unbelievers in the home of Cornelius. It says that, “while Peter was still speaking these words,” the Holy Spirit fell on those unbelievers and they began to speak in tongues. All agree that these people had believed in Jesus. They all received the Holy Spirit in that moment.
But notice the similarities between John 8:30 and Acts 10:44. You have a messenger in each case (Jesus and Peter) who are speaking. The verb “speaking” is in the exact same form and tense in both verses (a present participle). The object in Greek is similar as well (“these things,” “these words”). In other words, it was while Jesus and Peter were speaking that those who were formerly unbelievers believed and became believers. They received eternal life.
The folks in the home of Cornelius did not have to do anything else. They did not confess their sins. They did not cry out in repentance. They did not have to promise to follow Christ. They were not baptized until later. They received the Holy Spirit without saying a word, while the message was being proclaimed. They believed what Peter was saying about Christ. It was really that simple.
If all agree that in Acts 10:44 the people really believed, why do we question that the people who heard Jesus speak in John 8:30 did as well? Why do we want to make the simple complicated?