On Easter, my wife and I attended our son-in-law’s church. He was beginning a series on the “I AM” sayings of our Lord. Because it was Easter, the message was about Jesus’s saying, “I am the resurrection and the life,” John 11:25.
His message inspired me to begin a similar series here on the blog. However, I’m going to start with what I believe is the “I AM” that validates all the others and makes them true. If it’s not true, then the others don’t matter.
That “I AM” is found in John 8:58.
John 8 records one of the frequent discussions our Lord had with the religious leaders of Israel. This particular episode wound up with a heated exchange, at least on the part of the leaders, because Jesus seemed to be making light of their descent from Abraham, v.33-59. This was something that was very precious to them.
We see this in Matthew 3:9, where John the Baptist told those who were coming to his baptism not to count on their descent from Abraham. He said to them, “…do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
The climax of the discussion in John 8 is in v. 58, where Jesus exclaimed, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
There are those who say that Jesus never claimed to be God. However, those Jews who heard Him on that long ago day recognized what Jesus was saying. No doubt, the verse we know as Exodus 3:14 came to their minds, where Moses was questioning God about being sent to Egypt to bring out the nation of Israel. He finally asked God who he was to say had sent him. God replied, “‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said. ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.”
The Jews recognized that that was precisely, exactly, what Jesus was claiming: that He was God.
He was I AM.
In John 8:59, that’s why they tried to stone Him – and why they couldn’t.
But that’s not the only time or the first time Jesus and the Jews crossed swords, as it were, over Who He was.
John 5:18 is the first record we have of such a discussion. One of the things that really irked the Pharisees was that the Lord Jesus would not pay any attention to their views of how the Sabbath was to be observed. I’m sure that Jesus healed and ministered to people every day of the week, but John seems especially to pick out things Jesus did on the Sabbath.
John 5 is the record of the man healed after 38 years of lying helpless. Unlike modern “healers,” our Lord made no spectacle of His healing. He had no advertising, sought no crowds, allowed no fanfare, but did His work and, in this case, was gone. The man who was healed didn’t even know who Jesus was until Jesus found him later.
As this man was carrying the pallet on which he had lain for so many years, “the Jews,” probably the Pharisees, stopped him because he was “working” on the Sabbath. They seemed unimpressed and uninterested in the man’s healing, but were focused on what they considered an infraction of the Sabbath.
John 5 seems to occur very early in the Lord’s ministry. The Pharisees confronted Him about His own “working” on the Sabbath. In fact, v. 6 says that they wanted to kill Him for doing so. In v. 17, Jesus responds, in effect, that God, His Father, had been working until now, and now it was His turn.
V. 18 shows the Jews’ response to this: Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
The Jews understood quite well what the Lord was saying.
He was God – and they tried to kill Him for it.
John 10:31-39 records yet another time when the Jews tried to kill Jesus for His claims. Without going into all the details, our Lord asked the Jews why they were trying to kill Him. They answered, “…for blasphemy,…because You being a Man make yourself God,” v. 33.
Unlike His modern detractors, these Jews clearly understood that Jesus claimed to be God.
In fact, that ultimately was why He was crucified.
In John 19:7, which records part of the Jews’ skirmish with Pilate over what to do with Jesus, they said, “We have a law, and according to our law, He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”
That is, the Jews were saying to Pilate that Jesus didn’t just claim to be related to God, as believers might say that they are “the children of God,” but that He was God.
The God Who is the I AM.
As He hung on the Cross, the chief priests, along with the scribes and elders, mocked Jesus: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him, because He said, ‘I am the Son of God’,” Matthew 27:43.
Perhaps you’ve seen that movie in which the Hulk confronts Loki. Loki is outraged that the Hulk isn’t giving him the homage that he requires. He shouts at the Hulk, “Enough!! You cannot treat me like this! I am god!” Then he disappears from the screen. The next thing you see, the Hulk has him by the heels and is slamming him into the roof of the building they’re on. He does this a few times, then holds him up and looks at him. Then he slams him a couple of more times, and leaves him crumpled on the roof. As the Hulk stomps off, he mutters, “Puny god!”
Now I am in no way comparing the imagination and special effects of Hollywood with the reality and horror of the Crucifixion. But our Lord’s enemies, in effect, were saying this of Jesus: “Puny God.”
After all, though He had claimed to be God, yet here He was, hanging on a Cross. To their way of thinking, that wasn’t how God would act!
How little they understood of what was going on!
There were some there, though, who did have an inkling of who the Lord was.
In Mark 15:39, after witnessing all that went on, and probably having seen other crucifixions as well as the crucifixion of the two men with Jesus, the centurion, who was possibly in charge of the crucifixion detail, said of Jesus, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
Then there was the repentant thief who called Him, “Lord,” Luke 23:42.
Luke 23:50-54 records Nicodemus coming to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus. We fail to realize the significance of what Nicodemus did. We just see him asking for a body, but the truth of the matter is far different. It was Passover time and those who had been ceremonially defiled by touching a dead body were forbidden to take part in the Passover. To knowingly defile oneself was even worse, Numbers 9:6-14, esp. v. 13. In effect, because Nicodemus – as well as Joseph of Arimathea – knowingly touched the dead body of Jesus, he forever put himself under a curse if Jesus isn’t who He said He was. It was all or nothing as far as Nicodemus was concerned.
Then there’s John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Not “a god,” as false cultists and others teach, but God.
The “I AM” of the Old Testament.
Finally, Paul in Philippians 2:5-11, taught that Christ did not think it robbery to be equal with God. The word translated “robbery” could be translated “selfishly clung to.” This doesn’t mean that Jesus thought equality with God was something to be grabbed, as it were, as cultists teach, as if it weren’t already His, but that it wasn’t something to be held on to. That is, the Word laid aside His dignity and rights as God to come to this earth to die as Man.
It is clear that the New Testament over and over testifies to the deity of the Lord Jesus as well as to His humanity.
If He wasn’t, and isn’t, God, then nothing else about Him matters.