John 8:51-53 51Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” 52At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
John 8:54-59 54Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
When you think of Christmas, you think of a baby being born. When you think of the birth of a baby you think of a beginning. The baby born in Bethlehem was a beginning, the beginning of the incarnate God in human flesh, the God/Man Jesus Christ. But here, Jesus makes that in one of the most shocking statements “Before Abraham was born, I AM”?
They rightly concluded that if Abraham saw Jesus, it isn’t because Abraham is alive now; it’s because Jesus was claiming to be alive then. That shock registers their response, “You’re not even 50 years now. How could You ever say that You saw Abraham who has been dead for centuries?”
And the Lord’s responding statement is monumental: John 8:58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” What it means is there was a definite point in time when Abraham began, a point in past history when the man who did not exist came into existence. Jesus says, “Before that, I AM.” That’s the eternal present that indicates no beginning.
It is a statement about eternality. It is a statement about everlasting life, no beginning, no end. In the life of God there is no before and there is no after. Thus is Jesus claiming to be the eternal God.
To give us understanding of the greatness and the vastness of this name, we need to go back to Exodus 3. God has made Himself manifest to Moses in a most startling in a burning bush, and God commissioned Moses to lead 2 million or so Jews out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” There were many false gods. They all had names. Moses said, “Now when I go to them and say, ‘I’m coming from the God of your fathers, and God has sent me to lead you out,’ and they say to me, ‘Well, what God? What is His name?’ what do I tell them?”
Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Now, what is bound up in that name?
1. Jesus is the eternal present.
Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
But when Jesus said, “Before Abraham began, I AM,” in that little two-word phrase, “I AM,” Jesus opened up vast understanding for us about who He is. I am is Yahweh in the Old Testament used 6,800 times. The Jews knew the name of God to be “I AM.” When Jesus said, “I AM,” they knew He was claiming to be God.
Certainly eternal existence. God has no before and no after and no past and no future. But that’s not all. Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: Now, we learn a second thing about I AM. I AM is the eternal One who is present with His people – I AM, not in the distance sense; I AM in a near sense.
2. Jesus is present with His people.
What does it matter to me if God is the eternal present if He is not present with me? God says, “I AM the I AM. I am the eternal living One who is present with His people. I will be with you,” present with His people.
Exodus 3:17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Here is a third element in the name I AM, and He says, “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt. I am not only the ever-present One, I am not only the ever-present One who is near His people, but I am the ever-present One near His people who delivers them, who redeems them.”
3. Jesus is the Redeemer.
And now the richness of His name starts to become visible. He is present permanently. He is not only present in the vast sense but He is near to His people, and He is near with a particular desire to redeem and deliver them.
Come to Exodus 6. Here we have one of the most remarkable of conversations between God and Moses. Moses is still trying to figure out what the name of God fully means.
Exodus 6:2 God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. In the OT, I AM is Yahweh. Lord is Adonai, the word for master.
Exodus 6:3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty…Stop right there. He says, “Abraham knows Me. Isaac knows Me. Jacob knows Me – because I appeared to them but I appeared to them as Yahweh, God Almighty, that’s El Shaddai, God the Almighty One. I appeared to them in strength, in power, and in might.”
I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. Isn’t that interesting? “They knew Me as El Shaddai, Almighty. They knew Me as powerful and as I AM.” Yes, they knew He was the eternal God. Yes, they knew He was near, and they drew near to Him, and He to them. But what they didn’t know was God the Redeemer. They didn’t know that God was the Rescuer of His people.
God had revealed Himself to the patriarchs in supernatural control over nature, supernatural control over history, supernatural control over people, supernatural control over events. They saw God as El Shaddai the powerful One, but they never really knew Him as the saving God, redeeming God of the Covenant.
Exodus 6:4-6 4I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. (That is the promise to give them the land.) 6“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
God had never done anything like this before. “Now, you will not only know that I Am the eternal One, that I AM eternally powerful, that I AM eternally near My people, but now you’re about to see My great strong arm of redemption.”
7I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”
And you see, God is defining what it means. Who is the I AM? The eternal One, the eternal One who comes near to His people, the eternal One who redeems them, and then, according to verse 7, who takes them for His own people, becomes their God – verse 8 – does all that that He might pour out blessing upon them. That’s the redeeming, saving God.
So when you hear God called the I AM, you’re not just talking about His eternality. You’re not just talking about the fact that He is everlastingly existing – much more than that. He is ever near to redeem, to form a people, and to be their God for the sake of their blessedness. He is the I AM, the Savior, the Deliverer, the Redeemer. That is the essence of His name because that is His person.
The whole saving enterprise of God is wrapped up in the name I AM. The whole redemption that God has worked out from the beginning until now is bound up in the name I AM.
And so when Jesus comes into the world as the Savior, He must, then, be the I AM, the saving God. “I AM the eternal transcendent God who has come to rescue His people from sin’s bondage and to bring them in to an eternal relationship with Himself. I AM.”
The Jews knew it, and when Jesus said “I AM,” they picked up rocks to kill Him because the blasphemy overwhelmed them because they knew exactly what He was claiming. And as I noted earlier, they had a choice – either fall on your face and acknowledge the God of creation and redemption, or stone this blasphemer who has the audacity to come into the temple and do this.
They made the wrong choice. John captures the essence of the I AM. Jesus said, “I AM the bread of life,” one who feed the hungry soul. “I AM the light of the world.” Jesus is the One who lead the sinner out of darkness into light. Jesus said, “I AM the door.” Jesus is the one who opens the way to the Kingdom. I AM the Good Shepherd. Jesus protects, guards, and feeds His flock. I AM the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life. I AM the true vine. He is the true vine through whom we can produce fruit unto the glory of God. That’s who the I AM is.
When Jesus said He is the I Am, the Jews should have made the right choice. They made the wrong one. Look at the consequences of it:
If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God..
Deuteronomy 28:63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. God says, “If you don’t honor the name I AM in its fullness, I’ll destroy you.” When Jesus came into the world said “I AM” and they would not fear this honored and awesome name, but they crucified Him on a cross, God destroyed them. A few years later, in 70 A.D., Romans destroyed Jerusalem and some 1,100,000 Jews were killed. And in succeeding months, 985 towns in Palestine were destroyed by the Romans acting as the arm of the judgment of God. You must fear God.
When Jesus said, “I AM,” He was saying, “I Am the child born at Bethlehem, but before Bethlehem I AM. Before Abraham, I AM.” I came into the world as the I AM to redeem.
To accomplish this redemptive purpose, as the sovereign over salvation, our Lord exercised his majestic power of everything.
The Majesty of the great I AM.
1. Jesus exercised power over sin.
In Mark 2 four men brought a paralytic to Jesus. The place was so crowded they couldn’t get him in the door so they tore the roof off and lowered him down the roof in front of where Jesus was standing. And do you remember when the man finally landed at the feet of Jesus on his bed what Jesus said? Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This is shocking for anyone to say, “I forgive you your sins.”
Mark 2:5-7 6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And here, again, they’re faced with the same choice. He is either God who can forgive sins, or He is the worst blasphemer.
Jesus read their minds: Mark 2:8 8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? That must have been a shock. Mark 2:9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
Your sins are forgiven.
“Which is easier?” I’ll tell you which is easier. It’s a lot easier to say your sins are forgiven. Well it’s impossible to do, but it’s easy to say. Priests all over the place say it every day, “Oh, my son, your sins are forgiven. You do your confession; your sins are forgiven.” It’s easy to say. I could say it: “Your sins are forgiven,” easy to say. That’s what Jesus said, “Which is easier to say?”
Mark 2:10-11 10But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (I’ll say the hard thing.) “So he said to the man, 11“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” It’s easy to say your sins are forgiven because it can’t be verified. So Jesus said, “I just forgave the man his sins because of his faith, and just to show you that I really forgave his sin, I’ll do the hard part: ‘Get up and walk,’”
Mark 2:12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
2. Jesus exercised power over evil spirit.
If Jesus has to be the I AM, he has to deliver people from evil spirits that destroy them.
Luke 4:31-33 31Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. 33In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34“Go away! (That means demons have emotion, feeling. This is panic.) What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
This is a demon talking. They all have an absolutely accurate theology about Christ. This demon is in fear. “Is this the time? Is it now we have to go to the pit forever?”
Luke 4:35 35“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. This is amazing. And Jesus was saying, “The final doom isn’t yet, but, for now, get out of that man,” and the demon’s gone.
Luke 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!”
Jesus has the power over sin that binds people and power over the demons over this world that hold them captive. He is sovereign over sin. He is sovereign over demons. Yes, this is the I AM.
3. Jesus exercised His power over satan.
In the last supper of the evening that He was going to be taken captive in John 14, Jesus starts to feel the arrival of Satan. Satan is approaching. He can feel it.
John 14:30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He’d seen him before. Satan had been around trying to destroy the Messianic line so no Messiah could be born, trying to destroy the Jews altogether so there would be no nation to redeem. He was there when Jesus was born, killing all the rest of the babies trying to kill this one. Satan had been there trying to tempt Christ in the wilderness. Here he came again, Jesus can feel it this night.
John 14:30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me. “Satan has no hold over me. I’ve lived 33 years, and Satan does not have one single valid accusation against Me of any wrong thought, word, or deed whatsoever. He has nothing on Me.” What a statement. “He is powerless over Me. I feel him coming. He has no power.”
Jesus said He’s coming.
Luke 22:52-53 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” “Why are you here now? Because it’s time for Satan, the power of darkness, to act. Let him come. He’s got nothing on Me.”
No sin, no place for Satan to strike a fatal blow, so Jesus says end of : John 14:31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave. And where was He going? To the cross. “Let’s go. I’m not afraid. Satan’s got nothing on Me. He can kill Me there, but he can’t keep Me dead because I’m without sin.”
When Jesus went to the cross, this great thing happened. Hebrews 2:14 …that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.
If He is the I AM, the Redeemer God, He must have power over sin, power over spirits, and exhibit that; power over Satan.
4. Jesus exercised power over death.
Hebrews 2:14-15 14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. The power of death had to be conquered.
John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Pharisees said, “It took 46 years to build this temple, and you’re going to raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. “You kill it, it will come out of the grave because Satan can’t hold Me. He has nothing on Me.”
John 10:17-18 17…..I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
Jesus died and rose again on the third day. He defeated grave and death.
So here is the great I AM: The Redeemer God. He saves his people from their sins, has power over evil spirits. He has power over satan. Jesus has power over death.
When Jesus said, “Before Abraham became I AM,” they knew He was claiming to be the God of redemption. They had enough evidence that this was the I AM. They should have made the right choice. You know what they did? They took stones to kill him. You say, “Well what should be the proper response?”
Response to the great I AM.
I’ll give you an illustration from John 18. Jesus is in the garden. Here comes the Roman officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they got their lanterns and torches and weapons. And they don’t know whether there’s going to be a riot or whatever is going to happen, so they’re armed. Jesus takes the initiative. He’s not hiding.
John 18:4-6 4Jesus, 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,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
When Jesus said that he is the great, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground,” as a result, the whole entourage collapsed in a heap. That’s power. Just saying His name, “I AM,” crash goes the whole crowd into the ground.
John 18:7 7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
What is the proper response? To fall down. The proper response to the I AM is to fall down in worship. They took Jesus prisoner, killed the I AM, and did not honor the awesome name.
How will you respond this Christmas to who it is that we remember and worship? You can cast stones at Him and call Him a blasphemer, or you can worship Him as God, the God who saves His people from their sins.