What Did Christ Mean?
When He Said Before Abraham was I AM
Jesus the Christ (Gk. Christos: the Anointed One, the Messiah), the Son of God (i.e., God manifested in the flesh), made a number of exceedingly significant statements during His ministry prior to being crucified on Calvary.
Early one morning, having descended from the Mount of Olives and entering the temple (vs. 2), Christ made the following statement to the Jews.
Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.
This declaration by Christ emerges from the context of the book as introduced in its first verse and from the repeated accusations and confrontations by the Jews, particularly the Pharisees (religious leaders), in which they repeatedly challenged Him as to His origin, His assertions, and His Person. In both, the affirmation is strongly put forth that He is from God, that He is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:1-3), and in fact, He is God.
John 1:1 clearly certifies that the Word who was in the beginning . . . with God and who became flesh and dwelt among us (vs. 14) was God.
(And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory [1 Timothy 3:16].
Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ [Titus 2:13].
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us [1 John 1:1, 2]).
And in several other places within the book this assertion is established. Examples follow:
. . . If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. (John 8:19b)
I and My Father are one. (John 10:30)
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him. (John 10:37, 38)
And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. (John 12:45; cf. Hebrews 1:3)
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also . . . . (John 14:7a)
. . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, Show us the Father? (John 14:9b)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. (John 14:10)
Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me . . . . (John 14:11a)
At that day you will know that I am in My Father . . . . (John 14:20a)
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me . . . . (John 17:21-23a)
And there was no doubt in the mind of the Jews as to Christs claim to be God, as seen in the following passage:
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me? The Jews answered Him, saying, For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God. (John 10:31-33)
But nowhere is Scripture is the Deity of Jesus Christ more pronounced than when He stated in the subject verse of this study that Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58). By this, Christ was specifically referring to Moses encounter with God just prior to his return to Egypt.
It was God who spoke to Moses at Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1) when the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush (vs. 2), saying I am the God of your father the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (vs.6). Gods purpose for contacting Moses was to appoint and direct him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. During this encounter:
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. Moreover God said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations. (Exodus 3:13-15)
And what Jesus Christ specifically meant in John 8:58 to convey to the Jews is that it was He who appeared and spoke to Moses from the burning bush in that day that to Israel, He is indeed the LORD God of [their] fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And to all of humanity, it is Jesus Christ who is the I AM, the Self-Existing One, the Living God, the Creator of all that exists, both living and non-living in nature (Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-3, 10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:10).
And this fact and it alone is what makes the sacrifice by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary to pay for the sins of mankind beyond human comprehension. For it was God Himself who out of an immense love for His creation paid the price required by Him for their sin, who alone was indeed able to pay such a price a price that otherwise any human would need an eternity to pay.