Before Abraham was, I AM!

There has been a passage of scripture that keeps entering my mind over the past few weeks…so much so that I felt I needed to dive in a little deeper to what was being said.  The passage is found in John 8:48-59…

“The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.  Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”  Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  But you have not known him.  I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

— John 8:48-59 (ESV)

Breaking it down we see a couple of things here that are key to the message that Jesus was trying to convey to the Pharisees…Jesus wanted them to see who he was, in hopes that they would grasp his message…a message that we later see in John 14:6 where Jesus made the claim, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus also wanted to establish the authority that had been given him by his Father…and show them the reach of his ministry.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to grasp his identity…They asked him about his identity, and he answered them in saying he didn’t have a demon, but that he honors his Father.  He then made it personal with them by stating that they were dishonoring him saying he had a demon.  He then clarified his statement by saying, “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.”  He stated this to establish the authority of God…and then, knowing that his ministry was God-centered, explained that if anyone keeps his word…he would never die.

This is where you have to stop and think about the group that Jesus was speaking with; you have to realize that they were a law based people…this kind of thinking wasn’t something that they grasped very easily.  They had a belief that Jesus was foolish in his claims, and didn’t seem at times to want to understand what he was trying to say…to them it was an extreme way of thinking…to Him it was the only way of thinking.  They revered Abraham…looked to him as an icon of the faith…so it almost seems that they take it personally when Jesus says that those who keep his word would not die.

With this thinking in mind, it is clear why the Pharisees responded in the way that they did, telling Jesus that he was clearly demon possessed.  In their eyes Abraham was the greatest, but he had passed on…as had the other prophets with whom they were familiar…sparking them to directly ask Christ…”Who do you make yourself out to be?”  This was important to them for the simple reason that in their eyes Jesus could not be who he claimed.  In their eyes, Jesus was just another man…a man who made “outrageous” claims…a man they didn’t understand.

Many of us daily face similar confrontations when we claim the name of Christ…people ask how we can believe in something that we can’t see…how we can base our lives on something that is “unproven”.  This is where we can take a lesson from Christ in how we handle a situation of this sort.  We are to be like Christ…so why not look to him for the answers?

Jesus responds to their question by saying something that hit them right in the face…Jesus hits them to the core with his next statement, saying, “If I glorify myself, then my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  But you have not known him. I know him.  If I were to say I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”

Why did Jesus feel that he needed to explain it in this way?  The Pharisees were a group of people who constantly looked down on others based on their beliefs…they constantly attacked the faith of those they came in contact with by simply glorifying themselves to “show how holy” they really were.  Their attitudes were similar to the attitudes of many within the church today…many who constantly look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, looking at everyone there and judging them, thinking, ‘I’m glad they’re here…they need this,’ or, ‘I can’t believe that person would even think they could come through the doors of this church.’  This is an attitude that can be detrimental to the health of a church…an attitude that can crush a new believer or a sinner looking for an answer.

Jesus felt that he needed to explain himself because they still didn’t get it…he knew the impact of that type of attitude on his ministry.  Jesus lived a God-centered life…he never wanted his name glorified because he wanted to bring the glory to his Father.  He offended the Pharisees because he then made a statement that would hit them at the heart of their message…”It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But YOU HAVE NOT KNOWN HIM.  I KNOW HIM.  If I were to say I did not know Him, I would be a LIAR LIKE YOU, but I DO know Him and I keep His word.” The problem they had with Jesus’ response is the same one that we have daily if someone seems to attack our faith when we think we have it all figured out.  Jesus said something to them that they did not want to hear…he told them that they did not know God.  The holy rollers had their skates ripped out from under them.

They responded with an even greater rejection of the authority of Christ…to them, he was just a man…a crazy extremist who was looking to cause a riot…a hypocrite…a liar…a blasphemer…a crook.  Jesus was all this and more in the eyes of those who found that he was detrimental to their message…just as we all are at times in our lives.  Or do you find yourself on the other side?  Putting down those who don’t share the same view as you?  Thinking that you have it all figured out…thinking that you have it all together…

We can all take a lesson from this section…that lesson?  God is the authority and he is the one to be glorified.  If we seek for our own glory, all that we will find is that our plans will fall apart, because God will not glorify that which does not bring glory to Him.  Jesus established God’s authority, while establishing his own in the final statement he makes.  He continued saying that “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad.”  This was met with even greater opposition from the Pharisees because of the claim of Jesus that he had seen Abraham.  In their minds they could not grasp the fact that a man in his thirties would dare say that he had met Abraham…because they couldn’t grasp the idea that Jesus was God…but Jesus didn’t let that phase him, as he responded with, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

The Pharisees knew well the story of Moses and the burning bush, where God first spoke His name, when He told Moses, “I Am, that, I Am.”  So why did Jesus feel this was a proper response to their question?  Because Jesus knew Abraham, he knew Moses, he knew God…He was there.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

— John 1:1,14 (ESV)

John established that when opening his book because Jesus established that in his ministry.  This was Jesus way of saying…”not only am I the son of God…I am God.  I was there in the beginning and I’ll be there in the end…I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life…I AM!”  Jesus had met Abraham…He had walked with Abraham…He knew Abraham…personally.  The Pharisees only knew about them…they only knew what they had heard.  So with one sentence Jesus had established every authority which had been granted to him by his Father, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

— Revelation 22:12-13 (ESV)