TITLE: THE GREAT "I AM"
Subtitle: Did Jesus Christ Actively Proclaim His Deity?
Back in the early days of my Christian walk, I remember reading about the Lord’s confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees—where they continually hounded Him and demanded signs from Him to prove that He was indeed the Messiah—and wondering to myself why He did not just tell them very plainly that He was God in the flesh! It seemed to me at the time that He caused Himself a lot of unnecessary trouble by "talking around" the issue. It took several years of study before I learned that He had emphatically declared His deity, and done so in terms that the Jews could not possibly miss.
The point I did not understand was that because His earthly ministry was to the Jewish people His answers to their questions were couched in the terminology of the Old Testament Law of Moses. To properly see and understand these statements of deity, we must start with the revelation of Jehovah God to Moses.
In the Book of Exodus, chapter three, we find God revealing Himself to Moses by speaking to him from "the burning bush". At that point Moses had been tending sheep in the wilderness for forty years. Remember that he spent the first forty years of his life in the house of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, as his adopted son—enjoying all of the privileges of his exalted position. Then he killed an Egyptian man as he tried to defend one of his Hebrew brethren and had to flee for his life. Now that Moses is eighty years old and humbled by his circumstances, God is ready to use him! As he is walking along tending the herd of sheep, he sees some sort of desert bush on fire. That in itself was unusual, but stranger still was the fact that the bush just kept on burning without being completely consumed. This, of course, got his attention—and that is precisely what God intended. When he walked up to the bush God spoke to him in an audible voice, told him not to come any closer, and to take his sandals off because he was standing on "holy ground". God then continued by telling Moses that He was the God of his father (Amram), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was terrified by all of this and hid his face because he believed (as many other Old Testament saints did) that one would die if they looked upon God. But God continues to speak with him and then made it known to him that he had been chosen to go and lead God’s people—the children of Israel—out of bondage in Egypt. Moses then begins to try to make excuses. His first excuse had to do with his own lowly estate: "Who am I to go to Pharaoh?" God’s reply was that He would be with him.
Then Moses tries to make his second excuse by implying that the people would not listen to him because they would ask, "What is His name?" In other words, what is the name of this God we are supposed to serve? These people had been in slavery for over 400 years and had forgotten all about God, but He had not forgotten them! He then told Moses in verse 14: "And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM and WHAT I AM and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE; and He said, You shall say this to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you!" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary)
This puzzling name of "I AM" in the Hebrew is expressed by the consonants YHWH (which the Jews call the "Tetragrammaton"—the great and inexpressible name of God). We get the name Jehovah from this designation. The Jews feel that this name is so holy that they will not attempt to pronounce it. But God commanded Moses to authoritatively use His name in approaching the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Today we know, by virtue of New Testament teaching, that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus Christ of the New. So with this understanding, let us look at the Gospel of John to see how the Lord made His deity known to any and to all who would receive it.
In the fifth chapter of John we find the Lord healing a certain man from among "a great multitude" of infirm folk. They were waiting (out of what appears to be superstition) for an angel "to trouble the waters" of the pool of Bethesda. As the story goes, the first one into the water after the angel acted upon it, would be miraculously healed. The Lord simply walked upon the scene and selected one from among the many and told him to "Rise, take up thy bed and walk". The man stood up, picked up his bed (or pallet), and walked away after having been sick for 38 years! Naturally this drew the attention of several people and since it was the Sabbath day the "religious fanatics" in the crowd criticized him for carrying his bed. No matter that a notable miracle had just occurred—they were more concerned with their man-made rules and regulations than they were with recognizing the Messiah of Israel! We must always remember that the miracles Jesus Christ performed were specific, selective and designed to demonstrate and authenticate His credentials as their long-awaited Messiah. This miraculous act of healing—on the Sabbath—was the beginning of the active resistance by both the religious and political leadership of Israel against Christ. The Law of Moses forbade any work on the Sabbath day, but Rabbinical Tradition over hundreds of years had narrowed the definition of work down to ridiculous extremes. The instruction of the Lord to the man to take up his bed, was in no way a violation of the original law!
After this incident, the Lord continued to heal the sick and to cast out demons and do all kinds of miracles that demonstrated for all to see that He was truly the Son of God—the Messiah. Thousands were fed from five loaves of bread and two fishes, Christ walked on the water to reach His disciples out in the Sea of Galilee, and then great crowds of people began thronging His every step, in what became almost a carnival atmosphere. Most of them were looking for Him to "do some more tricks" to amuse and amaze them, but He used every opportunity to teach and present the principles and precepts of His kingdom. More and more questions were asked of Him and more and more demands made of Him that He show some "sign" that He was the Messiah. In verse 30 of chapter six this sign is demanded. And then in verse 31 they mentioned their fathers (the children of Israel after coming out of Egypt) eating manna in the wilderness—"bread from heaven"—strongly hinting that He miraculously provide manna for them as the acceptable sign.
Rather than give in to their wishes, the Lord then makes a comment in verse 35 in which He says, "I am the bread of life…" If we are not careful, we will casually read this and totally miss what He actually said! This is the first of 14 "I AM" declarations made by the Lord which are recorded in the gospel of John! We might miss it, but the Jews certainly didn’t! Notice verse 41 where we are told that the Jews "murmured at him because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven." Notice also verse 42 where they discuss among themselves their disdain for Him based upon their familiarity with Him and His family. In other words, "We know him and there is no way this guy can be the Messiah!" Then in verse 51 He changes His statement slightly and says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven…"
In chapter eight we find an interesting account of how the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Christ in a brazen attempt to "tempt" or test Him. According to their accusation, this woman had been caught in the very act of adultery and they pompously reminded the Lord that the Law of Moses called for death by stoning for this offense. Then they want to know what He would have to say about it—hoping to find some cause whereby they could accuse Him. The Lord knew what was in their hearts and quickly "turned the tables on them". Rather than debate the legality of the situation, He merely challenged them that if there was anyone among them without sin, they were to cast the first stone! The Law of Moses required that the accuser cast the first stone, so this was the Lord’s way of blunting the situation. He knew that the consciences’ of these men would not allow them to go through with the deed, plus Roman law forbade it.
To show how hypocritical the whole thing was, the man with whom the woman supposedly committed adultery was not even brought along. After the Lord dismissed the embarrassed and humiliated woman, He then makes the statement, "I am the light of the world…", to which the Pharisees reply, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true." During the ensuing exchange between Christ and the Pharisees, He makes one of His most scathing pronouncements concerning them in verse 44:
"You are of your father the devil; and it is your will to practice the lusts and gratify the desires [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a falsehood, he speaks what is natural to him; for he is a liar [himself] and the father of lies and of all that is false" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Stung by this pointed assessment of their spiritual condition and position, the Pharisees continue to assail the Lord and in doing so make a passing reference to "our father Abraham" (vs.53). Then in verse 56 and following, alluding to the mention of Abraham, Jesus said:
"Your forefather Abraham was extremely happy at the hope and prospect of seeing My day [my incarnation]. And he did see it and was delighted. Then the Jews said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? Jesus replied, I assure you, I most solemnly tell you, before Abraham was born, I AM. So they took up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus by mixing with the crowd concealed Himself and went out of the temple enclosure" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, John chapter 8, verses 56-59).
This declaration of deity was considered by the Pharisees to be blasphemy and they were so enraged by the assertion that they "lost it" and attempted to stone Christ on the spot! Their action was a violation of Roman law and would probably have resulted in severe punishment for them if they had been successful in putting Him to death. And we can see from this that they plainly were not at all willing to consider the overwhelming evidence supporting His claim of deity.
Then in chapter nine we find the Lord passing by a blind man—blind from birth—and His disciples asked Him who had sinned and was responsible for his blindness, himself or his parents. (The Jews believed that sin was the cause of such illnesses.) The Lord replied that sin was not the cause, and in effect he was actually blind because of the sovereignty of God! He was in the right place at exactly the right time for Jesus Christ to heal him and thereby demonstrate once again His Messianic credentials.
In verse 5 the Lord says, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." He then spat on the ground and made clay with which He anointed the eyes of the blind man. (The Jews thought that spittle aided in ailments of the eye.) The man was then told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam—which he did and received his sight. When word got around that Jesus had performed another miracle (also on the Sabbath), the Pharisees made it their business once again to learn all of the details.
When the man explained that his eyes had been anointed with clay, immediately the Pharisees objected that making clay on the Sabbath was a violation of the Law of Moses. Déjà vu all over again! This instigated a flurry of claims and counter-claims among the people, but none could deny the fact that a miracle had once again taken place. The Pharisees continued to question the formerly blind man as well as his parents, trying their best to find some concrete reason whereby they could accuse Christ of blasphemy and get rid of Him. The man’s parents were obviously evasive in their answers, because as verse 22 of chapter 9 tells us, the Pharisees had already agreed among themselves the punishment they would use against anyone claiming that Jesus was actually the Messiah. Those who dared to do so would be put out of the synagogue—which would result in them being shunned by society and effectively disowned and disinherited. To his eternal credit, the formerly blind man stood up to the Pharisees and sarcastically told them that the miracle spoke for itself! They could argue and quibble all they wanted to, but they could not deny the fact that only God could do such a thing! In retaliation, they promptly "cast him out" of the synagogue.
When the Lord found out that this action had taken place he immediately found the man, brought him to a saving knowledge of Himself, and received worship from him. Then the Pharisees began to directly confront the Lord with their animosity and He answered them by way of parables—illustrations designed to teach spiritual truths. Since the Pharisees were anything but spiritual, the parables only had meaning for those to whom God revealed it. This fact is brought out in chapter 10 and verse 6, after the Lord used the parable of the "Good Shepherd and His Sheep":
"Jesus used this parable (illustration) with them, but they did not understand what He was talking about" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Then in rapid succession—in verses 7, 9, 11, and 14, the Lord makes these declarations:
Verse 7—"Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Verse 9—"I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Verse 11—"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Verse 14—"I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Then in verses 19 through 21 we see the consternation these declarations caused among the people: "There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" (KJV).
The next instance where Christ declares His deity is in chapter 11, at the funeral of his friend Lazarus. Word had been sent to Him that Lazarus was sick and his sisters wanted Him to come. Rather than leaving immediately, the Lord intentionally waited two days before doing so—knowing that Lazarus would be dead and in the grave before He arrived. When He did arrive, Lazarus’ sister Martha chided Him for not coming sooner and indicated that if He had come, Lazarus would not have died. Speaking to her understandable grief and puzzlement at His actions, the Lord says in verses 25 and 26:
"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (KJV, emphasis mine).
In chapter 14, verses 1 through 6, the Lord comforts his disciples with these words:
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Then in chapter fifteen, verses 1 and 5, the Lord makes two final declarations in His parable about the vine and branches:
Verse 1—"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Verse 5—"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (KJV, emphasis mine).
Thus we see that the Lord Jesus Christ openly and forcefully declared His deity upon many separate occasions. He not only claimed to be Israel’s promised Messiah, but He authenticated His ministry and mission in each and every way prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. One of my former pastors taught that 333 modifying prophecies were fulfilled to the very letter in Christ’s first coming.
The term "modifying" means that some of the individual prophecies contained more than one element. For instance, Isaiah 7:14 tells us: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (KJV).
Depending upon how you look at it, there are at least three (and possibly four) modifying prophecies contained in this one verse: #1—A virgin shall conceive, #2—A son shall be born, and #3—His name shall be called Immanuel. (#4—The fact that the Lord would give them this sign.) Another interesting thing is that the odds of these things happening precisely as prophesied are compounded proportionately by the number of modifications. In other words, the odds go up dramatically.
Think of the odds against 333 modifying prophecies being fulfilled to the very letter! They are truly astronomical! Yet, each and every one was fulfilled as predicted.
The Pharisees of Christ’s day were the religious elite of the Jewish people. They were educated men, rich, and socially prominent. They were so familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures that it is claimed they could open the various scrolls with eyes closed, point to a section with their finger, and then quote from that point onward! For anyone to believe that these men were ignorant of the arrival of Messiah, is to ignore plain facts! These Pharisees knew that Jesus Christ was the Messiah for whom the Jews had long been waiting! [Read CE1077, "Secret Societies Killed Jesus Christ, Part 1", and CE1078, "Secret Societies Created The Unpardonable Sin", to fully understand the mindset and spiritual condition of these Pharisees, who killed Jesus Christ even though they knew - beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that He was their Messiah!]
Jesus of Nazareth presented Himself to Israel at the outset of His public ministry, after John the Baptist (himself and his personal ministry another prophetic fulfillment) proclaimed that He was coming. The Lord identified with His own ministry by submitting to baptism by John and then set out to offer Himself to His people. He worked miracle after miracle up and down and throughout the land—making it crystal clear to anyone with half a brain that He was, without doubt, the Messiah. In the third chapter of John we find Nicodemus (a Pharisee) coming to Christ and admitting that no man could do the miracles that the Lord was doing, unless God was with him. In light of the obvious fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, the scribes and Pharisees had to have recognized Him as actually being their Messiah.
I personally believe that this is revealed in their words and actions recorded in John 11:47-48: "So the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting of the council [the Sanhedrin] and said, What are we to do? For this Man performs many signs (evidences, miracles). If we let Him alone to go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and adhere to Him, and the Romans will come and suppress and destroy and take away our [holy] place and our nation [our temple and city, and our civil organization]" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
They were afraid that the Lord was going to set up His kingdom and thereby incur the wrath of Rome upon them and their nation as rebels! They were firmly entrenched as the "spiritual and political leaders" of the nation and were benefiting financially from their positions, so they certainly did not want anything to ruin their "good deal"! I believe that there is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that they knew who He was, and this made their rejection of Him even more damning. We must understand that the Lord Jesus Christ did not just "tiptoe" onto the stage of Israel’s history—He came with trumpets blaring, as it were, and made sure that both His credentials and intentions were recognized as fulfilling Bible prophecy. His "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem riding upon the foal of an ass was particularly noteworthy and could not have been missed as being a major prophetic event.
Yes, Jesus Christ made His deity known in every conceivable way: He proclaimed it throughout the land and backed it up with irrefutable miracles, but the hearts of sinful men were not inclined to receive Him (John 1:11). How about you—has God revealed Jesus Christ to your heart yet?
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but have come to realize His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to accept His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can also do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you accept Him as Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
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