Before Abraham Was, I AM
John 8:42-59, Holy Gospel Reading for Judica, The Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
When Jesus was on trial, He refused to answer the false charges against Him, but finally the high priest asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). (This was another way of asking, “Are You the Son of God?”). Now that Jesus had received a question that got to the heart of the matter, the central truth of the Gospel, He would answer with the words “I AM” (Mark 14:62). This is far more significant than simply saying, “Yes.”
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “I AM” (ἐγώ εἰμι) is how the Lord of Israel identifies Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Likewise, these are the same words Jesus speaks to the Jews who wondered how He could have “seen Abraham” (John 8:51): “Before Abraham was, I AM” (v. 58). The same Lord who created the world, who had called Abraham, who had preserved Israel in Egypt and then saved them by the Exodus was now standing before the high priest in the flesh! Now, just as the Jews had sought to kill Jesus for blasphemy in response to his claims about seeing Abraham (John 8:59), so also would the high priest seek to kill Him.
Jesus calling Himself “I AM” was not the only thing that the high priest considered blasphemous. Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man” (Mark 14:62), which is a reference to Daniel 7:13–14, where a heavenly “son of man” is given an everlasting kingdom—clearly a prophecy of Jesus Christ. The high priest’s reaction—tearing his garments (Mark 14:63)—tells us that he understood exactly what Jesus was claiming about Himself: that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Son of Man, the great I AM who will come from the right hand of the Father as judge on the Last Day.
St. John records Jesus using the words I AM more than twenty times (John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 24, 28, 58; 9:9; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5–6, 8; also see excellent discussion of this theme in The Lutheran Study Bible, pp. 1784-5). Enjoy this sample, and take comfort in Jesus, the I AM who promises that you are saved!
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
- “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
- "I am the door of the sheep…If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9).
- “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:11, 14).
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
- “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser… I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:1, 5).
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us Your gifts of faith, hope, and love that we may receive the forgiveness You have promised and love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer requests: Lynn Cottle, hospitalized; Alma Gause and Bessie Mahaffey under hospice care.