John’s Gospel cites the phrase “I am” together with seven sets of names to record metaphors for Christ. Jesus says “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 48), “the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), “the gate” (10:7, 9), “the good shepherd” (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), “the way, and the truth and the life” (14:6), and “the vine” (15:1, 5). These are often called The Seven I Am Statements. Some however, speak of The Eight I Am statements of Jesus and include John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am.” Others include Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman in John 4:26 where, in response to her talking about the Messiah, Jesus says: “I am he.” Still others go beyond John’s Gospel and look to Revelation 1:8 for another I am statement: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” which is repeated in 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
All these pictures are expanded in ways that teach us more thoroughly about the Triune Grace that rescues, restores, establishes, nourishes, indwells, enlightens, guides, protects, saves, and raises us. Yet almost all of the portraits also lead to conflict with enemies who misunderstood what Jesus is saying and who He is.
John reveals several divisions of the people over who Jesus is. The same is still true today. Some want to make Him simply a good man, model, teacher, prophet or preacher. But the “I am” statements continually force us to ask, “Is Jesus who He says He is?” Is He the bread of my life? Do I live by His light? Do I enter through Him as the Gate of salvation, or do I keep trying to rescue myself? Do I trust Him to Shepherd me? Do I depend on His resurrection, or do I keep trying to lift myself up? Do I let Him be the Way for me or do I keep asking for directions? Is He the Truth by which I judge all lesser truths? Is He my Life, or do I employ entertainments to bring me life? Do I abide in Him, cling to Him as a branch to a Vine, and draw all my spiritual nourishment from Him?
Several times in the original Greek of the New Testament John records Jesus’ words with the simple phrase “I am” without subsequent nouns or pronouns. In response to Moses at the burning bush God had named Himself “I am” (Exodus 3:14), and the Hebrew word for which we substitute “LORD” means “I am.” (Please see the very first sermon I preached at Meadow Way, in July 2015, for a more detailed teaching on this: http://dentalmethodist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/intimacy-with-god.html ) Since “I am” is God’s name, Jesus is stating His divinity clearly whenever He says “I am.” He says it to the woman at the well (4:26), to the frightened disciples in a storm (6:20), to Pharisees in reply to their challenge, “Who are you?” (8:24, 28), to Jewish opponents in response to their cynicism, “Have you seen Abraham?” (8:58), to the disciples so they might derive comfort from His divinity when they see His prophecy of betrayal fulfilled (13:19), and to those who arrested Him to inform them that He was indeed the one for whom they searched (18:17, 25).
The last two instances especially hint at John’s purposes in recording Jesus’ answer, “I am.” Anyone reading the Gospel in the original language would be struck by the irony that those who think they are looking merely for “Jesus of Nazareth” are actually finding God Himself. The irony is made more poignant by the fact that in the same chapter Peter denies Jesus by saying “I am not” one of His followers (18:17, 25).
Like the Samaritan woman, do we let ourselves be set free by the fullness of Jesus’ divinity? Wouldn’t it calm our fears more thoroughly in the storms of our lives if we thought about the profound union of Jesus our friend with all the power of the Godhead? Do we sometimes look for much less, and yet God appears to us?
Mohamed Ali, the boxer who died during the preparation of this booklet, was fond of saying, “I am the greatest”. For a very brief period of time, in the very limited context of professional boxing, that may have been true. If he was claiming to be the greatest person who ever lived, in all contexts, we immediately recognize his delusion. As we work through the book of John and Revelation, we encounter different conversations in which Jesus makes very specific, far reaching, outrageous statements about himself. Jesus does not just claim to know these things, or explain these things. He blatantly claims that He is these things. If true (and my position is unashamedly that each of these statements is true), the implications, and impact are tremendous. The implications reach deep into our real, daily lives. The impact involves life-changing transformation with everlasting consequence.
In this series I am hoping that the “I am” sayings of Jesus will cease to appear as theological statements set on the lips of Jesus; rather that you will experience them as divine answers to human (your) need and also as Gospel invitations born in the soul of Him of whom it is said that “God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). They are the language of divinity, but they are also the language of one in whom God humbled Himself to share people’s needs and carry their sorrows. They appeal to the hearts of all who know what it means to hunger and thirst in their souls, to walk in the dark, to be outside, wandering, and subject to the fear of death.
May you be blessed and God be glorified as you use this material.