Who Is Jesus?
The Great I am
When we think about the many names used for Jesus in Scripture, we certainly get a fuller understanding of who Jesus is. King of kings, Lord of lords, Mighty God, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Living God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend; all these names give us a fuller understanding of who Jesus is. But these names are not just about knowing more intellectually about Jesus, it is about how our life in Him is changed!
The song the choir just sang talks about the response of knowing Jesus in this way. When we know that Jesus is Lord, Redeemer, and Friend, we will give our lives to Him, we will live for Him, we will worship Him, and love Him for all of our days. As we get to know who Jesus is, our lives will be changed as we accept Him into our lives.
In Jesus’ day, many looked for the coming Messiah. The woman of Samaria who talked to Jesus at the well even said that in John 4:25-26:
The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."
Many looked for the promised Messiah and received Jesus as such, but many were skeptical and doubted that Jesus could be the promised One that the Old Testament Scriptures talked about. So, the religious leaders continually questioned Jesus about who He claimed to be. Jesus was always truthful with them. But when He was truthful with them, they often accused Jesus of blasphemy, which is claiming to be someone He was not especially as it related to being God.
In John chapters 7 and 8, Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths. During this feast there are two important ceremonies involving light and water. Jesus uses this celebration to proclaim that He is the Light of the world and that He is the source of living water (7:37-38, 8:12). The Jewish religious leaders did not like Jesus making these claims and in turn made they some pretty heavy accusations against Him.
It was true then, as it is today, that those who hear the words of Jesus are either stirred to believe and accept Him as the promised Messiah, or they refuse and turn against Jesus. This is what is taking place in John chapters 7 and 8. I want us to read just a part of the dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders and specifically on who Jesus claims to be.
The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."
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.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"
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.' 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. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."
So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
This morning I want to focus on Jesus’ claim of “I am” in verse 58. Such a simple claim, “I am.”
I Am (John 8:58)
In the interchange of words between the religious leaders and Jesus, Abraham’s name was brought up. All Jews identify with Abraham as the father of the nation of Israel. He was not only their father in physical lineage, but they saw the faith of Abraham as their faith. So, you might say that Abraham was their spiritual father as well.
Abraham believed God, trusted in God’s promises to him, and followed God’s leading in his life. Abraham was considered a great man of faith, thus, when the Jesus says in verse 51 that “anyone who keeps my word, he will never see death,” they immediately bring up a man of great faith, who always obeyed God, and yet physically experienced death. This becomes a great bone of contention for them in verse 52:
Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"
They did not understand that what Jesus was referring to was not physical death, but spiritual death. Spiritual death is eternity separated from God in a place of eternal death and torment. I like how John MacArthur says it, “Heeding Jesus’ teaching and following Him results in eternal life (6:63, 68). Physical death cannot extinguish such life” (ESV MacArthur Study Bible). In verse 56, Jesus says that:
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."
In other words, Abraham, through his faith in God, saw the day of Christ and was glad. Think about this for a moment. Abraham’s faith was rock solid upon the promise of God. Though he was childless, Abraham believed the promise of a son and a family as numerous as the stars of heaven. Abraham believed the promise that God would bring blessing to all peoples on the earth through his lineage. Abraham, by faith, physically died having seen the day of Christ from afar off (Hebrews 11:13) and was glad. Abraham knew that God had big plans coming for a nation that would be born from him.
Of course, the religious leaders say that Jesus cannot know that about Abraham in verse 57 because Jesus is not even fifty years old and yet talks as if He has seen Abraham personally. Jesus’ response to this is so powerful that they try to kill Jesus by stoning right after He responded to them. What did He say that was so powerful?
"Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
This was a claim to full deity. He was claiming to be eternally existent even before Abraham. He was claiming to know Abraham in a personal way, as if He has talked and walked with Abraham. If there was uncertainty about Jesus’ other “I am” claims of being the “Light of the World” or the source of “Living Water,” there was no uncertainty now. Jesus is claiming to be alive before Abraham was alive.
The religious leaders immediately understood Jesus’ claim perfectly and they perceived it as blasphemy against God Himself! Thus, they pick up stones to try and stone Jesus to death.
I believe these men, these religious leaders, who studied the Old Testament also recognized something even more powerful in Jesus statement, “I am.” In the Greek it is ἐγώ εἰμί (ego i-mee). It means I exist. It is in the present form that not only indicates that Jesus existed that day, but that Jesus has always existed and will continue to exist. It is the same exact word form from an Old Testament passage that any of these religious leaders would be very familiar with, Exodus 3:14.
I Am Who I Am (Exodus 3:14)
In Exodus chapter 3, we find Moses shepherding his sheep at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses sees a bush that is burning up on the mountain, but the bush is never consumed. Moses goes up the mountain to see this great sight. When Moses get to the bush, God calls out from the bush and Moses listens. God tells Moses that He has heard the cry of His people because of their suffering in Egypt at the hands of their taskmasters. God tells Moses that He will send Moses to the Pharaoh of Egypt to deliver Israel from their bondage.
Immediately Moses questions his qualifications to deliver Israel from Egypt and if Pharaoh will even listen to him. God told Moses that he will be with Moses and that He will deliver them. Moses asks God what he is supposed to say to Israel if they ask about God’s name. Look at God’s reply in Exodus 3:13-14:
Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
Three times in verse 14 God uses the words “I Am.” The first two times it is separated by a proposition in Hebrew which could be translated as “I Am the I Am” or “I Am that I Am” or “I Am who I Am.” The third time, “I Am” is simply used as a simple name. “I Am has sent me to you.” When the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was translated in Greek, the Septuagint, the same Greek words Jesus used for Himself in John 8:57, is used, ἐγώ εἰμί (ego i-mee). I have no doubt that these religious leaders quickly picked up the fact that Jesus was using the same terminology that God used for Himself when He met Moses on Sinai.
At first you might be thinking, so what? What difference should that make to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day? The Hebrew word that is translated “I Am” is הָיָה (hayah) and means the same as the Greek ἐγώ εἰμί (ego i-mee) meaning to exist or be in existence. But what is so different is that הָיָה (hayah) became the very sacred name we know of as Yahweh, or Jehovah. Whenever you see LORD in your Bible in small capital letters, it is being translated from the Hebrew word Jehovah. This word יְהֹוָה Yehovah means the existing One.
Do you see what is happening? When Jesus uses the term “I Am,” Jesus is claiming not just that He knew Abraham, was in existence before Abraham, but that he is eternal and is the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning burn on Mount Sinai. In other words, Jesus is claiming in no uncertain terms that He is God! That is why they pick up stones in order to kill Jesus. Jesus was claiming to be the Great I Am, eternal God.
How can this be? Well, if you are a student of the New Testament, this is a little hard to miss.
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 any thing made that was made.
So, Jesus was in the beginning, was with God, was God, all things were made through Him.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Jesus is the image of God, created all things and holds all things together.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
This is Jesus: The Great I Am. Jesus is God. This is clear and simple. Jesus is a part of the Triunity of the Godhead. Jesus is God and that is where the religious leaders of Jesus’ day struggled. They couldn’t except that Jesus is the promised Messiah from God and that He is in fact a human manifestation of God. He is God in flesh.
God the Son, took on flesh and became Son of Man. Lived a sinless life but died a sinner’s death and was separated from the God the Father. Whether we accept it or reject is determines our standing with God the Father because Jesus and God are One.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
Let me ask you this morning, what does it mean to you that Jesus is “The Great I Am?” There are many in our world that see Jesus as a good person who died a horrific death. They don’t understand that Jesus is God. His love for us was so tremendous that he did not count His position as being God something He couldn’t let go of to save us from our sin.
Jesus was no ordinary man, He is God who became flesh and dwelt among us. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the King of kings, He is Lord of lords, He is almighty God. Yet, He personally identified with us as Son of Man.
Is this the Jesus you claim to know? If it is, then your whole life is lived for a different reason. You will love and adore Him, you will bow down and worship Him, and you will live your life for Him. Is this the Jesus you know? He is the Great I Am!
How great is our God, let me tell you how great is our God.