“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
“You are not yet fifty years old” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham?”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (verses 56-59)
People will often say that Jesus never claimed to be God. If they mean he never uttered the words, “I am God,” they are right – he didn’t. But if they mean he never communicated his own self-understanding that he was God, they are clearly wrong. This passage is one of the clear instances.
We only have to look at the response of the Jewish religious leaders as they interacted with him that day. They understood his claim, completely. So much so, they were ready to stone him for blasphemy.
When someone makes the statement “I am”, we expect them to follow it with a description of their circumstance or position. “I am tired.” “I am a doctor.” But to make the statement absolutely, as here in verse 58, with no description following (simply “I am”), sets off echoes of a burning bush and the self-revelation of the Lord God Almighty to Moses, and hence the people of Israel. “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Further, it echoes the Lord’s words to the prophet in Isaiah 40-50, as he again and again uses the same phrase to indicate his own unique person and position and power. “That you may know and believe me and understand that I am he” (Isaiah 43:10). “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions” (Isaiah 43:25). “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you” (Isaiah 46:4).
There is no doubt that Jesus uses this absolute statement in verse 58 to lay down the marker and communicate his identity. He’s been building to it through this whole conversation. When, in verse 24, he says, “If you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins”, the listeners may well have given a double-take. Again, in verse 28, when he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he”, they likely thought, "Did he really mean to say it that way?” But when Jesus claims that Abraham himself looked forward to his day with anticipation and joy, and then boldly states, “Before Abraham was born, I am”, there can be no doubt.
The burning bush crackles again. Divine revelation breaks into human hearts. The Lord himself is here.
Lord Jesus, I hear your words. I acknowledge the reverberating echo of the divine voice.
In that future day every knee will bow, every tongue confess. I say it now.
“Jesus, you are Lord.”
Reflect: Words are one thing, actions another. What step could you take today to give expression to your belief that Jesus is Lord?