57So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is one of the better-known passages in John and is a favorite passage that speaks to the deity of Jesus. And yet it is perhaps one of the more enigmatic passages as well. After all, what kind of a name is “I Am”?
As many of you have already recognized, this passage is connected to account when God revealed His name to Moses. When Moses asks God what he should call Him, God says, Yahweh. “I Am.” In a not-very-subtle way Jesus here appropriates for himself the very name by which God identifies himself. This is why the Jews accused him of blasphemy and were ready to kill Him on the spot. “I Am” was incredibly shocking and appalling to the Jews. God’s name was so special, so sacred, that even when it was written on the page it was still not allowed to be read out loud. The word Lord was said in its place. To hear it then on the lips of the rabbi Jesus and in reference to HIMSELF, was a scandal beyond comprehension. One they could not tolerate.
Much like our world still cannot tolerate the divine claims of Jesus to this day. They will call Him all sorts of things, to varying levels of good and bad repute. But God? Never. Why? Because a man may e ignored or contradicted but God … not so much. And yet, before we cast this sin on others let us be honest and admit that while our lips may confess His Lordship today, so much of our heart and actions in the rest of our lives says otherwise. When you get right down to it even we Christians still treat Jesus as no better than a kind grandfather or a wise uncle. Someone who has his place, and who should stay there until called for. But God isn’t in the business of promising to be ready when you want Him and conveniently out of the way when you don’t. He is not the great “I will be if you ever need me”. He is the “I Am”
But what does it mean for God to say “I Am”? As I said, this is often translated as Lord. And rightly so. He is the one who rules over all things. There is none who is like Him. But why? And why does He have the right to rule over all things (even those pesky Egyptians who worshiped false gods and enslaved His people)? Is it because He is a more powerful god than all the others? Well … Yes! But lets step back and connect the dots.
Why is God Lord, the great “I Am”? Because He is the Creator! The title “God” is not a reference to an abstract deity or a philosophical concept of ultimate being or anything like that. It is always rooted in a narrative. And what defines God in that narrative of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is that He is the Creator. God’s name literally means “I was”, “I am”, “I will always be” and “I cause all things to be”. To put it bluntly, “if you created everything . . . you are God.” If you did not create everything . . . you are not God.”
Now let’s come back to Jesus. When He says He is the I am He is saying He is the Creator. Consider how the very Gospel of John opens (verses 1–4). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. So to confess that Jesus is God is to confess that He is the Creator of all things. And for this reason by right He rules all things.
That brings us back to John 8. Here we confront the Creator who became a human creature. 50I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52The Jews said to him, “ … Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
How is it possible that this young man is the eternal “I Am,” and the creator of the entire universe? Everyone knew that He was only in His fourth decade of life on earth. He had been born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. And so we encounter the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus can say that he is “I Am,” the Creator, because it is the person of the Son of God who took on a human nature. The one who speaks is the second person of the Trinity. Yet he speaks through his human nature, He speaks as a man.
And so the one who created us now redeems us. Or put the other way, the one who has redeemed us is also the one who had created us. Thus we confess that Jesus is our Lord, that is, he is both our Creator and our Redeemer. He is one and the same. And that is truly comforting indeed! We are so loved that we are His special creation – not once, but twice over. Our Savior, the humble and despised Jesus of Nazareth, is the eternal God. That is our comfort, to know that in our redemption the suffering and death of the eternal God is lying in the balance. It is the eternal God that delivered us from eternal damnation. That the eternal God suffered on the cross, that has taken away the power of hell and damnation.
That is why Abraham himself rejoiced to see the coming of Christ by faith. And it is why we can rejoice in Him today. He is the great I Am, your Creator and Redeemer. Let the scoffers scoff all they like. He is the one who brings blessings to the nations and a way-ward people back to God. He is God in the flesh, Man and the Divine together for our salvation.
- Liberally (and humbly) borrowed from the work of Charles Arand, Concordia Journal vol 42 num 2 2016