In his commentary on the Gospel of John, the late Leon Morris described the fourth gospel as being 'a pool shallow enough for a child to paddle in, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in' (i) The newest Christian can enter the gospel and come away enriched, as can the most seasoned believers.
In this eight part series, we will be taking a brief look at the seven I AM sayings of Jesus. We are going to explore what each of these sayings means for us as 21st century Christians, with the aim of helping us to 'swim'. This first post shall serve as something of an introduction into these wonderful, rich passages of scripture.
On a superficial reading of these I AM sayings, it can be easy to miss Jesus' main point. Indeed, when I first read these sayings as a 15 year old, I completely missed the significance of what Jesus was claiming about himself.
When Jesus refers to himself as I AM, he is drawing upon Exodus 3:14, 'God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. And he said, “I AM has sent me to you”. He is using the name of God, YHWH (Probably pronounced something like Yahweh), for himself. Throughout your English Old Testaments, the name of God does not get translated. Instead, it is usually replaced with 'LORD'. This is probably because Jews who read the scriptures, would have come to this name, and through fear of taking it in vain, instead used the word 'adonai' meaning lord. However, the word LORD does not convey to us the personal approach that God comes to his people with. His name is used 6,828 times throughout the Old Testament and when compared to the Hebrew word 'elohim', meaning 'God', used 2,600 times we start to see that YHWH wants his people to know his name. He wants us to know him personally. (ii)
The significance of Jesus taking on this name for himself is huge. It is his self declaration that he is indeed I AM, the God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Moses. This declaration was what got him in so much trouble with his fellow Jews. In chapter 8:58 Jesus says to the Jews, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” What was their response to this saying? Verse 59 tells us that they picked up stones to throw at him. It was preposterous for a man to call himself God, it was blasphemy...unless he was telling the truth.
Throughout these I AM sayings, Jesus declares himself as God. The same God of the Old Testament. He is the Word of God (1:1). The God who took it upon himself to come into the world and dwell with us (1:14). The God who reveals himself to his people, and can be personally known by those who receive him (1:9-13). In Jesus, we see the revelation of the unseen God (1:18). When we come to him, we need not fear his name, but can know him intimately.
By Joe Nolan
(i) L. Morris, The Gospel of John (London: Marshall, 1971), p. 7. (ii)http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/i-am-who-i-am