I have seen several Facebook memes similar to the one shown here, all with the identical Christian message. Maybe you’ve run across them, too. They display what are called the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus:
• I am the bread of life.
• I am the light of the world.
• I am the door (or gate).
• I am the good shepherd.
• I am the resurrection and the life.
• I am the way, the truth, and the life.
• I am the true vine.
Each of the seven “I AMs” may be found in the Gospel of John, and of course — inescapably and profoundly — Jesus is most certainly each and every one of them. That knowledge is vital in our attempts to more completely understand Him, His earthly Mission, and His plan for our salvation.
But I can’t help it. Every time I see one of the “Seven I AMs of Christ” memes, my response is always the same: Yes, you’re right! Jesus is all of that. But you’ve left out His most astounding, and perhaps the most important, “I AM” claim of all.
That greatest “I AM” is also found in the book of John. In Chapter 8, Jesus is responding to increasingly virulent verbal questioning and accusations from a group of Pharisees (or “the Jews,” as John refers to them). As the replies from Jesus hit closer and closer to home, the Pharisees finally (metaphorically) throw down on the table their ancestral trump card: “We are the descendants of Abraham!” they cried. The implication was clear: “We are Abraham’s offspring! As such we are God’s chosen — and therefore we cannot possibly be guilty of the accusations You are making against us!”
It all comes to a head when Christ tells them that they are far from acting like God’s Chosen People. You are instead, Jesus tells them, “of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” Their response to this is the classic playground bully retort, used by those who have no rational, legal, or (in this case) spiritual arguments to fall back on — “Yeah, well if we’re bad, you’re worse!”
The Jews responded to Him, “Aren’t we right in saying that You’re a Samaritan and have a demon?”
“I do not have a demon,” Jesus answered. “On the contrary, I honor My Father and you dishonor Me. I do not seek My glory; the One who seeks it also judges. I assure you: If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death — ever!”
Then the Jews said, “Now we know You have a demon. Abraham died and so did the prophets. You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste death — ever!’ Are You greater than our father Abraham who died? Even the prophets died. Who do You pretend to be?”
“If I glorify Myself,” Jesus answered, “My glory is nothing. My Father — you say about Him, ‘He is our God’ — He is the One who glorifies Me. You’ve never known Him, but I know Him. If I were to say I don’t know Him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know Him, and I keep His word. Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced.”
The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.”
At that, they picked up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus was hidden and went out of the temple complex. [John 8:48-59]
I truly believe a strong case can be made that, of all the things Christ is quoted as saying in the Bible, this one statement packs the biggest explosive power. The Pharisees understood perfectly well what He was telling them. They needed no sages, commentaries, or apologists to explain it. But just in case the full meaning is not yet completely clear today, 2000 years later, here is what two highly respected New Testament Commentaries say about Christ’s “I am” statement and its profound message:
Jesus gave one of the most important answers to any question posed to Him in the entire Gospel of John. “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” What was Jesus saying? That He was God Himself! The only other time the phrase “I am” was used to describe someone was in Exodus 3:14, where God used that very phrase as His name. Here Jesus claimed that name for Himself. No identity statement could be clearer. Jesus claimed to be God Himself in human form.
[Holman Concise Bible Commentary]
The words rendered “was” and “am” are quite different. The one clause means, “Abraham was brought into being”; the other, “I exist.” The statement therefore is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did, but that He never came into being at all, but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally [John 1:1]. In that sense the Jews plainly understood Him, since “then took they up stones to cast at Him,” just as they had before done when they saw that He made Himself equal with God [John 5:18].
[Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible]
Now, don’t panic.
I know you’re eyeing this chart with all the Greek writing in it with trepidation, bordering on fear and loathing. Don’t let your eyes (or your brain) glaze over. Breathe in; breathe out.
Understanding Greek is not in any way a prerequisite for continuing to read this article! I’ve only included this graphic because I want us to fully share and savor the meaning and import of every single word and phrase in Christ’s momentous declaration. Read through the English on the bottom line, and when you are finished, we’ll walk together on a journey through Christ’s amazing declaration.
On first reading, Jesus’ “I AM” statement (in brownish-orange on the chart) might seem simple. But then you notice that, strictly speaking, it doesn’t make grammatical sense. (Past tense and present tense, in the same sentence?) By the time we’re finished, however, I hope you’ll agree that Jesus said it perfectly correctly and it contains an infinitely powerful truth.
Jesus almost certainly spoke this sentence in the Aramaic language, and John’s translation of His statement into Greek comprises only 9 words. In order to understand the profundity inherent in the message of those few words, let’s take them word by word (or phrase by phrase) and see how Christ’s one-sentence reply to the Pharisees answered the one largest question about who Jesus was — and at the same time raised a huge number of other questions.
A Walk Through John 8:58. Each of the five large text blocks below tackles one word or phrase from Christ’s sentence. In a box in the upper left of each text block, I have mirrored the Interlinear graphic above, putting John’s actual Greek word(s) on the middle line, the English transliteration on the top line, and the English literal translation at the bottom in red type. *
My commentary, inside each larger text block, attempts to reflect the thoughts that might have rapidly gone through the mind of someone present at the time Jesus had this confrontation with the Pharisees. As such, the phrases and sentences are often fragmented and jump quickly to new considerations. They are also repetitive, as one might go back to a previous thought in order to add a new insight gained and see if total meaning is emerging.
Just read the following in a flow, and with luck and God’s guidance, we’ll trust that His meaning will become clear.
Did you know that every time Jesus began a sentence “Truly” or “Verily, verily,” He was using the Hebrew word “Amen”? It’s true. It means “Truth.” (The English equivalents most often given by NT Greek Lexicons for “amen” (pronounced “ahm-AIN”) include truly, verily, surely, certainly, of a truth, it is the truth, and so be it.) Using it to precede a statement of fact or an announcement was a common idiom at the time, indicating not only its veracity but also that it was of some significance. We do a similar thing in English when we start a sentence like this: “I’ll tell you the truth, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!” or “In all honesty, I think his new haircut looks silly.” [We even have a way of doing that in the vernacular (slang) when we start a sentence with “Seriously.” “Seriously, dude, where’s my car?” However, I don’t think I would use it to translate a statement made by Jesus!] That Christ used the word “Amen” twice to begin this sentence signified emphasis. He was calling attention to the fact that what He was about to say was not only true, but also important. When we get to the end of Christ’s sentence, that will seem like an understatement.
Time is important and will play a large role in the meaning of this sentence. We’ve already gotten the message that the sentence is true and important, and now this single simple word communicates both subject and verb — “I say” (or “I am saying”). We can read a clear subtext in this one word: We start with “Truth. Very important.” and we add “Now. In the present. At this moment. As I look at you and you look at me, I SAY this to you. We are locked together in this time of the now. This is not something you heard in the past, and no prophecy of the future has revealed it to you.” Also by this, Jesus takes full responsibility for the unbelievable magnitude of what He is about to tell them.
With the addition of this word, Christ’s hearers have been given this introduction: “Truth. Important. Present tense. I am saying… to you.” Still locked eyeball to eyeball, Jesus and the Pharisees have been engaged in a “knock-down, drag-out” verbal battle, and He has just heard the Pharisees play their ancestral “trump card” — “We are the descendants of Abraham! We are the spiritual Leaders of God’s Chosen People! And who are you? You are one of the hated, heretical Samaritans and are clearly demon-possessed!” The carpenter’s son from Nazareth, the Creator of the Universe, looks at them calmly and assures them that this “truth,” this “important truth,” is specifically for them. They will have to deal with its ramifications.
|prin Abraam genesthai
πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι
Before Abraham was [born]
Jesus now makes time move within a single sentence. He started with the present tense: “Truth. Important. I am saying this now to you.” But He immediately reverses gear and casts them back to the ancient past: “What I am saying to you, the message I have for you, carries implications about and derives its authority from — the past.” In telling the Pharisees just before this that “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced,” He was giving one huge hint of what He was going to tell them. But as we’ll see, the Pharisees never saw it coming. Jesus had picked this day, this time, this “now” to reveal His own “trump card” — His identity. And the Pharisees took the offered bait and ran with it. One can imagine the sneers on their faces and the revulsion in their hearts as they snapped back at Him: “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?” They knew that Abraham’s day was estimated as much as 1800 years (!!) before this conversation. Preposterous, they were thinking! He’s mad and he has a demon! But now, the end of the sentence is almost here. Christ tells them “The important truth that I am saying to you now requires you to cast your mind back to the time ‘before Abraham was born’… ”
Wait, what did He say?
It hits our modern ears as incorrect, because He has switched back to the present tense. Or has He?
tick… tick… tick…
2, maybe 3 seconds of complete silence, as the universe-sized import and unbelievable meaning of what Jesus of Nazareth just said hits each of the Pharisees. There would have been no one present in the Temple that day who did not understand the clear reference just made to “I AM.”
Boom! Explosion. “Kill him! Stone him!! He is claiming to be God!” Actually, that last sentence may well have been the truest thing the Pharisees said the whole day.
I AM. The burning bush. “I am that I am.” “I am the one Who said, ‘Let there be light!'” “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” And then, the climactic truth becomes clear…
Jesus of Nazareth, staring at the Pharisees,
with the unmistakable message to the Pharisees hanging in the air…
“I AM your God“
So now, with all of the above, the following three quotes have merged into one major, astounding, earth- and human-changing TRUTH: The eternal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the Creator of the Universe — emptied Himself into a human form for the benefit of each individual one of us, and He told us His Name as a sign, a token, and an unalterable proof of that fact.
Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.
— Exodus 3:13–15 (HCSB)
“Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced.”
The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.”
— John 8:56-58 (HCSB)
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM !
— Mark Lowry
A Parting Gift.
To close out this study of Christ as the great “I AM” and of John 8:58, I have a gift for you. Noted teacher (rabbi) and Christian author (The Harbinger
) Jonathan Cahn
has some startling and uplifting conclusions about “I AM” as the name of God, and the fact that Jesus revealed that He was “I AM.”
Describing the facts he has uncovered as “cool” and “amazing,” Cahn makes the strong point that the study of God’s name is not just some dry, boring historical or theological stuff. Rather, he says, this has “everything to do with your life. The name of God actually applies to your life! In an amazing way, this can change your life.”
Below, you will find a video of a message he delivered titled YHVH: The I AM Mysteries, and I strongly urge you to set aside 33 minutes of quiet time to watch it. Once you get to the 8-minute mark, put your mental roller skates on, because he’ll be taking you for a wind-in-your-hair, joyful, inspiring, and amazing ride!
To whet your appetite, but without spoilers, here are some of the truths Cahn talks about in the video. (Yes, including Moses’s socks.) I predict you’ll find it fascinating and uplifting.
- Topic: Moses’s Socks — The dramatic way Yahweh revealed his name as “I AM.” (Exodus 3:13-15)
- Topic: The Name — Does God have more than one name?
- Topic: The Name — “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “It’s me.”
- Topic: Goodness — We have the order of “doing good” and “being good” backward.
- Topic: Love — “If people sin against you and give you no cause to love them, that’s the cause! Love them.” and “The person in your life who has given you no reason whatsoever to love them, that’s the one you have to love.”
- Topic: Biblical Grammar — In Genesis 1:1, “God” is plural and “created” is singular. It’s not a mistake, and it reveals huge Truths.
- Topic: Your Identity — “Who are you?” “I am Grover.”
- Topic: Living Your Life — Joining your “I am” to His “I AM.”
Jonathan Cahn — YHVH: The I AM Mysteries (33:10)
These are questions you might want to prayerfully ponder, and perhaps take back to Scriptures for help in answering.
- What would you consider the most valuable meaning of God’s name “I AM” to your own personal life?
- How important is it for you to know that Jesus was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? And why?
- If you, knowing everything you know living in the 21st century, could be transported back to the moment that Jesus made the “I AM” statement — and if language were no barrier — what would be the very next question your mind would want to ask Him? What would your heart want to ask Him?
- How did you feel when you read the things that the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of and that they wanted to stone Him? How do you think they would have justified their words and actions?
- The song Mary Did You Know was mentioned above. How do you think Mary would have felt when she heard that her son Jesus revealed Himself to be “the Great I AM” ? How do you think this would have changed her already very special life?
Extra question for those who watched Jonathan Cahn’s video:
- What do you feel is the most valuable meaning to your life after hearing Rabbi Cahn talk about living one’s life “in God” — that everything you do, you do with God doing it with you? How might this insight change your ideas about God? How might this insight change your feelings about God?
In honor of my mentor and dear friend Dr. Leonard Kaplan (1935-2013).
* The word “transliteration” seems to give some Christian teachers great problems. I’ve seen it often confused with “translation” or “paraphrase.” Here’s what it really means. Merriam-Webster defines “to transliterate” as “to represent or spell in the characters of another alphabet.” Greek to English is a perfect example. Because the Greek alphabet is different from the English alphabet, it is often helpful to substitute the letter in English that makes the same sounds as each Greek letter in a word. Take the word Λόγος. In English its translation is “Word” and its transliteration is “Logos.” Here’s how we got that transliteration:
Λ = L, ό = o, γ = g, ο = o, ς = s and that gives us the transliteration of Λόγος, which is Logos.
It can even be done with languages that have no alphabet, such as Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese). The Chinese call this transliteration pinyin (pronounced peen-yeen). Since there is no Chinese alphabet, the transliteration is done just using the sound of each word. The capital of China is pronounced BAY-JING (with the “j” sounding like the j in “jingle,” not the sound of “prime rib au jus” or “Zsa Zsa Gabor”). So the people who created the transliteration pinyin for Mandarin used the Western alphabet letters “Beijing” to create that word’s pinyin.
- Brannan, Rick; Harwood, Theodore; Curtis, Andrew. English-Greek Reverse Interlinear Holman Christian Standard Bible: New Testament. Lexham Press, 2017.
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 145). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Kaplan, Leonard. Asking the Next Question. Tichenor Publishing, (1986).
- Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA. 2015.
- Nestle, Eberhard. Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ, Text with Critical Apparatus. British and Foreign Bible Society, 1904.
- Van Der Pool, Charles. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot. Apostolic Press, 2006.
- White, J. E. (1998). “John”. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman Concise Bible Commentary (p. 477). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
|ARTICLE © 2018, DR. GROVER B. PROCTOR, JR. — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED