Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus makes some very explicit statements about who he is. He uses word pictures here to help us understand different aspects of his character. There are seven times where Jesus explicitly declares, “I am…” But there is more going on here than meets the eye. Because even in these two little words, “I am”, Jesus is making a grand statement about who he is.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.” (John8:12)
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
“I am the true vine” (John 15:1)
We get a clue about the kind of claim Jesus is making in John 8. Jesus and the religious leaders are in the heat of conflict. Jesus has just said that Abraham himself looked forward to the day Jesus would come, and yet the religious leaders, who call Abraham their father and claim to worship God, are rejecting Jesus. They think he’s out of his mind. How could Abraham, who lived thousands of years ago, know Jesus? Then Jesus says something surprising, “Very truly I tell you…before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:52) After this the Jew pick up stones to kill him. Why are they trying to kill him? Are they out of their mind? Why does Jesus say, “I am”?
Jesus’ declaration, “I am” is heavily emphasised in the original. It’s roughly equivalent to putting it in capitals and exclamation marks. The phrase takes us back to the story of Moses in Exodus where God spoke to him out of the burning bush. God revealed himself to Moses, and when Moses asks for a name God responds, ““I am who I am.This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) The name God reveals here is very similar to the Hebrew word, “YHWH”, which is translated, “LORD”, in our Bibles. To the Jews, this word was sacred. They treated the command to “not misuse the name of the Lord” very seriously. The Jews so feared God’s judgment if they should misuse God’s holy name that they replaced the name with another word, translated “Lord”.
This gives us a bit of an idea about how seriously they treated the name of God, and what it meant when Jesus applied that same divine name to himself. When Jesus called himself, “I AM”, the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming. They didn’t miss a beat. He was calling himself God – the same God who revealed himself to Moses out of the burning bush. And that’s why they wanted to kill him. Jesus was claiming he was equal with God, which is blasphemy if it isn’t true. But if it is true, and if Jesus really is the one he claimed to be, then he is the one who deserves all worship and praise.
One more thing. In John 11 when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”, it’s interesting that this declaration comes just before the last of Jesus’ signs – his divine miracles which John records to show us who Jesus is – where he raises Lazarus from the dead. This reminds us of Moses taking God’s name to the Jewish people and declaring that God will visit Egypt with many signs and wonders. The combination of Jesus’ use of the divine name and his miraculous sign in John 11 tells us that God is on the move once again, and is accomplishing his saving purposes among the Jews, just like God did back in Exodus. In Exodus we’re told that when Moses performed the signs to the people of Israel, they believed. But what about the people of Israel in Jesus’ day? “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37)
Head: Why would John include these “I AM” statements in his gospel? What purpose do they serve?
Heart: What does it mean for us that Jesus is God? How does it affect our salvation?
Hands: Check out the seven I AM statements listed above. What do each have to say about Jesus’ character?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you that you are our God, three in one. All my worship belongs to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thank you for your wonderful plan of salvation which was foretold in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New Testament. Thank you Jesus that you are my Lord and God, and that your blood I stand forgiven. By the power of your Spirit, help me to keep growing deeper in understanding your word, so that I might live a life that pleases you. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Grace Alone