Jesus was not seeking to present Himself as a great teacher, messenger of peace, or conveyer of wisdom. These things are a part of who Jesus is, but they are not the primary purpose of His appearance on earth. God was coming to the world in person and in vivid color.
The disciples and those who were closest to Jesus were perplexed by several statements He made, which were clear references to His assertion that He is the Eternal God. In this essay, we see the declarations Jesus made about Himself and learn His true identity.
The scriptures define the Messiah as the Great I AM. God told Moses that I AM is His name. Jesus told the Pharisees that He is I AM.
In Exodus Chapter 3, Moses asks the Lord what His name is. His reply? “I AM.”
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”1
When we examine the New Testament, we see that Jesus told the Pharisees that He existed, before Abraham was born, as “I AM.”
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.2
Jesus answers the question put forth by the Jews as to His identity, but not in a way that they expected. He also tells them that He existed before Abraham. Jesus uses the Greek past tense, γενέσθαι (πρίν with the infinitive after a positive verb, R. 977, 1091), which marks a historical point in time when Abraham came into existence against the time before Abraham existed.3 The past tense (aorist) use of the word εἰμί; which Jesus uses to establish His own existence, ἐγώ), is a finite Greek verb, and not the same connecting verb, ἤμην, He used to set a point of time for the existence of Abraham.
When Jesus said “I AM,” this establishes that Jesus’ existence had no point of beginning. If Jesus had used the imperfect verb, ἤμην, “I was”; He would be saying that He existed in time, before Abraham, who lived 2,000 years before. Jesus is making it clear that He existed independent of time, transcendent the universe, earth, or any person; He has always existed.
What Jesus is saying is that His earthly life began less than fifty years before, at Bethlehem, but His true existence as a person, ἐγώ, was independent of time, space, and matter, not dependent upon a fixed moment of time when He came into existence.
Jesus is making it clear in this statement that unlike Abraham who came into existence 2,000 years before, Jesus did not have a beginning. No matter how far back we might venture in our mind, Jesus existed. This is what the Greek demands in Jesus’ statement, “I AM.”
Who could have imagined that a tiny baby born in Bethlehem is the Great I AM of the Old Testament? In this prophecy from the Book of Exodus, we learn that Jesus is the voice from the burning bush that spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.4
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”5
The words I AM are the eternal name for God, as established by the Old Testament. In the Hebrew language, I AM is Ehyeh asher ehyeh. This term is usually translated into English as I am that I am, but it can also be translated as I shall be that I shall be. The idea behind this name is that the Lord will become whatever you need. “I AM whatever you need in your life. I will become whatever you need in your life.”
In the name I AM, God is stating that He has no beginning and no end; He simply exists and always has existed. All other things in the universe have a first cause in that they had a beginning at some point in time. Because God is eternal, He does not require a first cause.
When we think of an eternal Being who is described as having no beginning, this concept seems impossible to us. Everything that exists in our world had a beginning. Someone conceived an idea, assembled the components, and made the things that exist all around us. The universe had a beginning; the earth had a beginning; the stars, planets, and galaxies, all had a point in time when they began. If God exists, where did He come from? How did He come into being? When did He begin?
These are all valid questions, and they demand credible answers.
The Bible describes God as everlasting. There was no point in time when God came into existence. He has always existed and always will. God is the only self-existent, transcendent, sentient Being in existence. He is perfect and complete in every way. His intelligence and knowledge are unlimited. He is perfect in righteousness and can never do anything wrong. His very nature is Love; and all that flows out from Him are goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and extreme patience. God is also Just and will not permit evil to continue forever. God is firm in establishing a set time to punish evil, unrighteousness, and rebellion against His laws. God is transcendent of time, space, and matter. He is the Creator of all that exists, and He made the universe by simply speaking.
There is no conceivable way in which any earthbound creature, though they be extremely intelligent, could ever fully comprehend this magnificent Being. In our limited knowledge, we cannot understand how God could exist apart from and independent of all the laws of physics, gravity, and nature. The reason why the Bible was given to us by God is so that we might know Him and understand His nature and existence.
God revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM.” In other words, God is Transcendent all other things.
The word transcendent is defined as incomparable, matchless, unrivaled, unparalleled, unequaled, unsurpassable, unique, perfect, rare, surpassing, or magnificent.”
If God exists, He must be a Being of incalculable complexity. If He can be known at all, our knowledge of Him will depend upon our ability to receive Him as He presents Himself. We may have our ideas about what we imagine God would be like, but we will be wrong. He is eternal, we are transient. He knows everything, we know very little. Unless we read the Bible and learn who God is, it is not possible for anyone to understand who He is.
When Solomon was nearing the completion of the first Temple, he realized that the God to whom he was dedicating this structure was beyond his ability to comprehend.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!6
An eternal and infinitely intelligent Being would choose a manner to make Himself known that is very likely divergent from our suppositions of such a Being.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.7
If God exists, there would be evidence of His Being. We could observe Him by the things He has made. His character and nature could be perceived by His creation so that any thinking person could understand what He is like.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.8
The Being we are seeking is antecedent to all other things. “In the beginning, God.” Matter did not exist first, because matter cannot cause itself. The physical laws of the universe did not exist first; they are simply the course that all other things must follow. This course was planned by the One who came before all other things. He is the uncaused cause of everything.
The mistake many people make in regards to God—whether they will believe that He exists or is the creation of men—depends largely upon the mind that begins the search. By the time a person reaches a certain age, they have already determined the conclusions for many matters in life. If a person will know whether or not God exists, or more importantly know Him, they must begin with a mind that is open and sincerely seeking.
To follow the evidence where it may lead in any search for truth is an essential prerequisite to discovering truth. It is impossible to know for certain whether anything is valid when we begin with a mindset that has already determined what the outcome will be.
In matters of God, it would be wise to forget everything we have already heard from people and take a fresh journey for ourselves. The facts are, God has made Himself known, but people do not perceive Him. The reason, God does not come to us in ways we would expect to find Him. If He were to simply poke His head through the clouds and announce that He is God, there would be no faith involved in our decision to believe in Him. God has chosen a less obvious manner to reveal Himself—a subtle approach to make Himself known that requires a certain amount of faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.9
It is clear that God places a special value on those who believe in Him and seek to know Him, apart from seeing Him.
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”10
There are three primary ways in which God has revealed Himself to man:
- Through Nature, by the things He has made.
- Through His Word, by the Bible—the revelation of Himself and His plan for man.
- Through His Son to whom He has revealed His entire purpose for mankind.
Because God is transcendent of time, He has the ability to pierce the linear time in which we are all living and reveal Himself in various ways. Throughout the Old Testament scriptures, we see different places where God has revealed Himself to certain individuals.
We see examples of the capacity of God to countermand the laws of physics, and pierce time, in His appearance before Abraham and Moses.
In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills this prophecy of Exodus, in John Chapter 8, where He informs the Pharisees that before Abraham existed, He existed as the Great “I AM.” In actuality, as was previously stated, Jesus is claiming to be the Great I AM who also spoke to Moses at the burning bush and the one who spoke to Abraham, in Genesis 15.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”11
When God appeared to Abraham, in chapter 15 of Genesis, He made certain promises to him based on whether Abraham would believe in the coming salvation made possible by the Messiah. God had promised Abraham that it would be through his descendants—beginning with Isaac and continuing through David, all the way to Jesus—that this Messiah would come. Although Abraham did not know that Jesus would be the name of the coming Savior, he understood and believed that a Messiah was coming; and this was the basis for God to account him as righteous.
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one (Ishmael) shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body (Isaac) shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.12
But God said to Abraham, … for in Isaac your seed (future Messiah) shall be called.13
This verse from Genesis 15:4-6 is the likely place Jesus was referring to, when He said to the Pharisees, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” When God asked Abraham if he understood the plan of salvation through a coming Savior, Abraham confirmed that he believed; and God accounted this belief in the coming Messiah as righteousness.
When you place your trust in Jesus today, you are really placing your confidence in the Great I AM of the Old Testament. Jesus is the One who spoke the universe into existence, in Genesis 1:1, and the One to whom all judgment for all human beings has been committed by the Father.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.14
For by Jesus all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.15
For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.16
1 Exodus 3:13-14
2 John 8:58-59 (NLT)
3 Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament for John 8:58
4 Exodus 3:1-2
5 Exodus 3:13-14
6 1 Kings 8:27
7 Isaiah 55:8-9
8 Romans 1:20
9 Hebrews 11:1
10 John 20:29
11 John 8:56-58
12 Genesis 15:4-6
13 Genesis 21:12
14 Genesis 1:1
15 Colossians 1:16-17
16 Colossians 1:16-17
Categories: Jesus born to die, Jesus is God, New Testament Criticism, One Way to Heaven, Religion vs. Relationship, Robert Clifton Robinson, Salvation is a free gift, Salvation through Jesus, The Claims of Jesus, The Existence of God, The Four Gospels, The Historical Jesus, The Historical Jesus