Christianity 201

February 13, 2013

“Before Abraham Was Born, I Am”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” —John 8:58

Today we look at the “I am” passage in John 8.  To Jesus’ hearers, the statement would be reminiscent of these words in Exodus 13:

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the 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,    the name you shall call me    from generation to generation.

Dr. Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada wrote on this recently:

It is no wonder many people in Jesus’ day had difficulty with him. Statements like this were so outlandish and ridiculous to the human ear, and blasphemous to the Jewish ear.

Of course, anyone can make bizarre claims, so the question is: Are the claims of Jesus true or false? If the claims are false, they are false for one of two reasons. Either because He knew they were false – which would make Him bad, or He didn’t know they were false, which would make Him mad. If, however, they were true, He was God. These are the only three options open to us, if the record of His words is true. It is not an option to say He was merely a ‘good man’, for a good man who was not divine, would not make the statements Jesus made about ‘coming from above’, or being in existence before Abraham!

If Jesus was a bad man, deliberately deceiving people, then He is the biggest confidence trickster in history. Today there are almost two billion people who claim, in some measure, an allegiance to Jesus Christ. If He was mad, He would join the ranks of many mad men in history, like Rasputin for instance, but for whom time would confirm their insanity.

From the logic of the situation alone, Jesus’ claims to be pre-existent and sent from His Father carry strong claim to be true. One of the things He said was that He would be crucified and then rise again after three days. That happened exactly as He said it would.

Don’t make the mistake of saying that in some way Jesus became the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. No, He was eternally the Son of God, but, “He was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.” It is His resurrection from the dead – the fulfillment of one of His naturally impossible claims – which declares and affirms who He is, the Son of God.

And that is why the gospel is much more than the teaching of Jesus. It’s about the person of Jesus Himself – the One who is alive!

Matthew Henry writes:

…[H]e does not say, I was, but I am, for he is the first and the last, immutably the same (Rev. 1:8); thus he was not only before Abraham, but before all worlds, John 1:1; Prov. 8:23As Mediator. He was the appointed Messiah, long before Abraham; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the channel of conveyance of light, life, and love from God to man. This supposes his divine nature, that he is the same in himself from eternity (Heb. 13:8), and that he is the same to man ever since the fall; he was made of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, to Adam, and Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Shem, and all the patriarchs that lived and died by faith in him before Abraham was born.

Abraham was the root of the Jewish nation, the rock out of which they were hewn. If Christ was before Abraham, his doctrine and religion were no novelty, but were, in the substance of them, prior to Judaism, and ought to take place of it.

This verse is central to the deity of Christ, and because of this you need to exercise extreme caution and discernment when encountering opinions about its interpretation online, especially if you don’t know the author or organization behind a particular blog or website.  Many of the websites claim that the passage was understood differently than we read it today, because they don’t teach the absolute deity of Jesus.

To that, I would simply suggest that one turn to John 10, and see what the reaction was to one of Jesus’ other statements about his divinity:

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

The “oneness” Jesus claimed is not something rooted in mysticism. He was claiming equality with God, and his words were understood by his hearers to mean that he was claiming equality with God.

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