August 28 – Jesus and the I AM title

August 28, 2021 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

The emotional reactions of characters in the biblical narrative is often difficult for 21st century readers to understand.

After all, we are observing from a cultural vantage-point of 2000 years and 9000 kms away.

Why, when Jesus uttered the enigmatic statement above, did His opponents begin to collect rocks for the purpose of violently, impulsively killing Him – there and then?

The reason – not obvious to most English readers of the text – is that Jesus had in their minds committed a gross blasphemy.

He had uttered something extremely disrespectful against the God of Israel.

Jesus had claimed Himself to be God!

If we miss that, it is because we don’t fully grasp the use of the I AM title.

It is a little technical, but its worth the deep dive.

In the centuries leading up to the time of Christ, more Jews were living outside of Israel and throughout the Mediterranean world. As a result, many were using their Hebrew heart language less and koine Greek – the lingua franca of the Roman world for daily and business conversation – more.

As a result, it was decided that a Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament would be useful. This massive undertaking was the task of roughly 70 Jewish scholars in the period between the end of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ.

It’s name: the Septuagint often symbolized by the Roman numeral LXX for the seventy language experts who completed the project.

When translating the Torah (first 5 books of Moses), the scene of Moses approaching the burning bush in Exodus 3 presented a unique challenge.

In that text, God spoke to Moses from the bush advising that the Lord would liberate the Israelite slaves from oppressive captivity in Egypt.

The narrative continues:

v13  Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

v14  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

How were the Greek translators to accurately convey the Name that God used in this incident: I AM WHO I AM?

The Greek language has 2 common terms for the verb “to be”: ego and eimi.

The decision was taken to use both terms together. I AM WHO I AM from Hebrew would be translated into Greek as ego eimi – somewhat repetitive, but it captured the essence of God’s Name.

And that’s what triggered the emotional – and sometimes violent – reaction from the adversaries of the Lord Jesus.

They clearly understood His use of the term was a claim to Him being God.

He used this double term frequently in John’s Gospel, including these 7 well-known statements:

I am the bread of life (John 6:48).

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (John 10:9).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25).

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

But what is hidden from our eyes when reading in English, is that Jesus used this term in over 30 other texts, including this scene from Sunday’s sermon:

…but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:49,50).

Jesus’ declaration it is I is a translation of the words eimi ego, a clear proclamation of His assertion that He is God.

Takeaway: it is often questioned whether Jesus really thought of Himself as God. After all, wasn’t that a later fabrication of his over-zealous apostolic followers in the early church?

Emphatically NOT!

It is not recorded that he ever said in so many words, “I am God”. In the Greco-Roman world of His era, that would have been a meaningless assertion to many. Greek and Roman mythology named a plethora of gods and deities.

Jesus was specific and intentional: He is the God of Israel – YAHWEH.

I AM.

Jesus stood in the role of God when He received worship and when He forgave sin.

But the clearest evidence of His claim to being God was the use of the I AM title.

He claimed to be what He was: the eternal, self-existent, omniscient, omnipotent, omni-present One.

 

~graphic from freebibleimages.org