Leading up to the verse I want to examine today, Jesus has been engaged in conversation with the religious leaders and scholars among the Jews. The conversation morphed into a discussion of their genealogy. They claimed to be descendants of Abraham, which they believed gave them standing with God. Jesus pointed out to them, that though they were indeed in Abraham’s lineage, their spiritual father was actually the devil, not Abraham, and certainly not God.
“I Am” Claims Made by Jesus
One way Jesus demonstrated His deity throughout the Gospel of John, was to make seven “I AM” claims using metaphoric language. They are:
- “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48; see also 6:41, 51);
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5);
- “I am the door” (John 10:7, 9);
- “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14);
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25);
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6);
- “I am the true vine” (John 15:1; see also 15:5).
We won’t take the time to consider these passages this time. However, if you decide to study these passages on your own I would suggest you take note of the miracles Jesus performed just before, or just after He made one of these claims.
Verse under the microscope
The verse I want us to consider is John 8:58.
John 8:58 (NKJV)
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
By at least the sixth chapter of John, Jesus very clearly communicated He was God to the people. But here in John chapter 8, Jesus could not have stated His divinity any clearer than in verse 58. Let’s take a microscopic look.
Peeking into the Greek language we see the word “amen” (long e) that we easily translate to amen. Jesus is emphasizing the importance of what He is about to tell them. He is also underscoring the unchangeable nature of the truth He is about to proclaim. If Jesus were talking to a modern day audience, and employed a figure of speech, He might say it differently. He might say, “What I am about to tell you is cast in concrete. It is very true, and it is unchangeable.”
Before Abraham was
To understand this phrase in the verse we need to read verses 56 and 57.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” (NKJV)
I can certainly understand the people being perplexed. Here’s a man, not yet fifty (they estimated high – Jesus was in His early thirties), claim something extraordinary. Abraham saw Jesus’ day? Verse 58 is Jesus’ answer, “…before Abraham was…”. How could any of this be true unless Jesus was God?
There is a textual nuance we need to consider here. If Jesus existed before Abraham was born as He was claiming, then it follows that Jesus existed before the Abrahamic covenant. This idea would have significant ramifications in their belief system.
Next, let’s put the phrase “I AM” apart and consider it.
The word “I” is the Greek personal pronoun ego, meaning, you guessed it, “I”. By choosing the word “ego” Jesus removes all doubt, He is talking about Himself and no one else.
The word “AM” is the Greek verb “eimi”. It is present, active, indicative, first person singular. They understood exactly what Jesus was saying. “Before Abraham was I AM”. I AM that same I AM that spoke to Moses. When Moses said who should I say sent me? God responded tell them “I AM that I AM”, the self existent all powerful, one and only God! Jesus said, “I AM” that same I AM! That’s me.
Oh, how they were offended! Consider the next verse.
John 8:59 (NKJV)
59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Claiming to be God was a stoning offense! I often try to imagine what it would have been like to live when Jesus lived. What must it have been like to see Him face to face? How would I have responded to Him? Would I have wanted to stone Jesus, or would I believe, receive, and worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Sobering to wonder. But I do believe in the great “I AM” of both the Old and New testaments. Many still reject Him and it’s our job as believers to proclaim Him.