“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
“Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied.
… So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (verses 24-25, 28)
“Who are you?” It’s a key question, for anyone.
Jesus might well have asked his interrogators the same question. Indeed, in these few verses he’s actually already answered for them, two times over.
(1) Firstly, he’s told them they are sinners. “I told you that you would die in your sins” (verse 24). This is fairly “in-your-face”, especially since the recipients are Pharisees who prided themselves on keeping all the finer details of the Law. They viewed themselves as being God-honouring. To be told they carried enough sin to kill them, would be hard to hear. But true.
(2) Secondly, he’s implied they are unbelieving. “If you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (verse 24). This, presumably, would be less hard for these Pharisees to affirm. They had no interest in believing in Jesus whatsoever. Indeed, John has already told us they were actually conspiring to kill Jesus, which is pretty much the opposite of belief. But Jesus implies this stance of unbelief is central to their identity, a stance that will result in spiritual death. Again, an important issue to comprehend.
So he puts his finger on key elements of their own identity. But he doesn’t ignore the weight of the question they’ve directed toward him. “Who are you?” they ask. Jesus gives several responses:
(1) His basic answer is pretty straightforward. “Just what I have been telling you all along” (verse 25). Which would force them backward through their encounters with Jesus to take seriously what he’d been saying. Woven through it all has been the ongoing implication that Jesus is one who has a unique relationship with God – indeed that he is the beloved, obedient Son of the Father, an identity these Pharisees find difficult to embrace.
(2) He’s dependent on the Father. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (verse 28). His identity, at every point, is wrapped up in his relationship with Almighty God. Again, not what these Pharisees want to hear.
(3) He’s the one whose purpose is to be “lifted up” (verse 28). The word has a double-barrelled meaning. On the one hand it means “exalted” – the Pharisees wouldn’t embrace this. On the other hand it means “lifted up,” plain and simple, in a completely physical way. It’s a foreshadowing of the cross, central to Jesus’ identity. But they didn’t get it.
(4) Finally, throughout this conversation, Jesus embeds references to the Divine name (“I AM THAT I AM”). Each time he says “I am he” (verses 24 & 28), he’s using two words which no Pharisee would ever string together, since they sound like the name of the LORD. It’s subtle, but it rings out. In fact, these same two words finally provoke a violent response in verse 58 when he plainly says, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” This is the phrase he’s been using all along. They just can’t hear it.
The identity of Jesus and that of the Pharisees are linked. Unless the Pharisees embrace Jesus’ identity (“I am he”), their own identity as sinners will kill them.
It was true for them. It’s true for us.
Lord Jesus, apart from you I would die in my sin. You are the obedient Son, the great I AM, the one who came to be lifted up in sacrifice for me. Praise your name.
Reflect: Choose one aspect of Jesus’ identity reflected in this passage and meditate on it.
Reflect on all it means. Give him thanks. Voice his praise.