Does “I am” mean just the first person being verb as we may use it of ourselves (“I am a human”)? Or does it have reference to the Old Testament and the great ‘I AM’??
If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Exodus 3:14 describes a holy scene. Moses asks God, appearing in the burning bush, who he is. God replies, “I am who I am.” The third person form of “I am” is “he is,” and it is from this third person clause that the divine name YHWH (Yahweh) is derived.
Further, God says about himself in Isaiah such truths as these about his self-existing Being: “I am the Lord” or “I am your God” or “I am the first and the last” (41:10; 43:3, 11; 43:15; 44:6; 48:12; 51:12 cf. Jer. 32:27).
With the Old Testament clearly in the background, Jesus uses this “I am” subject pronoun and verb combination in special ways in the Gospel of John. The Greek is ego eimi (ego = I and eimi = am or even “I am” as the pronoun is implied).
“I am the bread of life” (6:35);
“I am the light of the world” (8:12);
“I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7);
“I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 13);
“I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25);
“I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6).
This theme of “I am” is so dominant and built up in such a deliberate way in the Gospel of John that we should not reduced them to a mere expression that all of us use, like “I am a man” or “I am a human.”
Which average Jew in first-century Israel walked around the countryside proclaiming, “I am the way and the truth” or “I am the light of the world”? The truth? The light? These are stunning claims by Jesus in his context.
But these “I am” expressions are not the strongest and clearest examples of the parallels between the Old Testament and the Gospel of John. In the following passages, Jesus clearly identifies himself with the God who spoke in the burning bush.
First, Jesus says that he existed before Abraham.
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! [ego eimi]” (John 8:57-58).
That is, Jesus existed before Abraham was born, and surely in the mind even of ordinary first-century Jews, Abraham was considered an early patriarch in Genesis, before God revealed himself as the “I am” to Moses. Thus, Jesus is the self-existing Being that God is, even as he said in the burning bush. This is a remarkable statement by Jesus, for which Jews picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy (v. 59).
Second, Jesus speaks out his true nature, and wicked men fall backwards. Jesus is getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the dark. He asks the mob who they want. After they answer, his reply was not ordinary, though the words are used everyday.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” [ego eimi] . . . 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” [ego eimi] they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:4-7).
This passage fits perfectly into the “I am” theme in the entire Gospel. His answer, in words we all use everyday in our own language, sends the arresters falling backwards. Thus, John’s purpose is to elevate this ordinary subject pronoun and verb, ego eimi, beyond the natural and into a supernatural, divine meaning that echoes the Old Testament’s designation of God.
Third, Matthew also records an “I am” declaration. In the previous section it was noted that Jesus walked on water and that Peter asked permission to do this as well. Before Peter asked, however, the disciples dimly saw a figure walking towards them in the storm, and they thought it was a ghost. Jesus reassures them with an expression that literally says “I am” or “ego eimi.”
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I [ego eimi]. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:26-27)
This claim to divine status fits in with the disciples worshiping Christ as the Son of God in the same passage (v. 33).
Fourth and finally, to go outside of the Four Gospels, Jesus says in the Revelation, “I am the first and the last” (1:17, 22:13). The Revelation was written by John, and he has in mind the verses in Isaiah, where God speaks of himself as “the first and the last” (44:6; 48:12). I am the first before creation, and I will be the last after creation.
How much clearer does Christ’s identity with God Almighty have to get?
So how do I get to know Jesus more intimately?
Jesus is the God-man, fully divine and fully man. In this post you can see him in the fulness of his deity, particularly in John 8:58. How many of us would walk around our neighborhood sating those “I am” statements? We would be taken away in a hospital ambulance. Only Jesus could say those things because he backed all of them up with his resurrection and ascension. We now understand his character and who he really is much more clearly. This changes everything—how we pray to him and worship him. If you are a songwriter, then base your lyrics on these truths.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE “TITLES OF JESUS” SERIES
8. Titles of Jesus: The ‘I Am’