Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 15 2013 - John 8:21-30 – I am

John’s Gospel has a number of “I am” sayings of Jesus. You may have heard series of sermons on such sayings as “I am the bread of life”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the good shepherd” etc. But there are other occasions when Jesus uses this phrase in even more striking ways – instances often lost in English translations. Later in this chapter we will read that Jesus told the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) – an odd piece of grammar expressing an astonishing truth. In the few verses that we have read this morning we have two other instances of Jesus using this expression. Let’s begin by setting the context.

Jesus has been teaching in the temple and has become engaged in an argument with the Pharisees. They have accused him of self-promotion (8:13), but Jesus insists that he does no more than speak the words that the Father has given him. Everything he says is therefore backed up by the Father (8:18). Since their Law declares that where two witnesses agree, their testimony should be received as true, the Pharisees should acknowledge the truth of what Jesus is saying.

What is this testimony of the Father of which Jesus speaks? It cannot be some inner testimony that assures Jesus that he is obedient to the Father; such testimony would not have been accessible to the Pharisees. Jesus is surely referring to the testimony of Scripture. All that he says and does fulfils Scripture’s self-revelation of the Father. If only they would read “their Law” correctly they would see that Jesus was sent by the Father to fulfil all that had been written beforehand. Their failure to believe will mean that they cannot go where he is going; they will die in their sins (8:21).

In response to their confusion, Jesus clarifies what he has said, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins” (8:24). This is a striking phrase and one that seems to have troubled the Pharisees. Jesus’ words are a clear echo of God’s revelation of himself to Moses at the burning bush. Moses was reluctant to return to Egypt and tell the Israelites that the God of their fathers was going to rescue them unless God first revealed his name. God replied, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ … This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:14, 16). Jesus takes upon himself the divine name as he calls those who hear him to “believe that I am”. He is the ultimate revelation of God and of his saving purposes. To reject him is to reject the salvation of God and to die in one’s sins.

Unsurprisingly, the Pharisees are deeply offended by Jesus words and ask him, “Who do you think you are?” (8:25). Jesus replies with “the most obscure sentence in the Gospel” (Beasley-Murray) – one which has caused much trouble to translators. Jesus is content to speak enigmatically, but assures his hearers, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…” (8:28).

The cross is the ultimate, if equally enigmatic, demonstration that Jesus is the revelation of God. The Pharisees could not see Jesus for who he was because they did not know God. They thought of him as the solemn lawgiver rather than the one revealed to Moses at the burning bush – the God who comes down to save.

Father God, teach me more of your enigmatic character as I learn of Christ. Help me to understand your love that passes understanding and your grace that shatters my self-righteousness and self-assurance. By your Spirit, help me to follow Christ now and to rejoice in the assurance that you have not left me to die in my sins but that I shall follow Christ to glory.

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Peter Misselbrook