Jesus’ “I Am” Statements – 03 (“Before Abraham, I Am”)

 (Message by Kobus van der Walt, Three Rivers Baptist Church – Sunday, 17 February 2019)

  1. INTRODUCTION:

There was much confusion among the Jews at the time that Jesus was teaching at the Temple,about His identity. Some rejected Jesus’ claims outright. Up to now we’ve heard Him saying that He was the “Bread of Life”and the “Light of the World.”Others wondered if He was a prophet of some sort or perhaps the prophet spoken of in Deut.18. Some were considering His claim to be the Messiah to be true. As Jesus continued to teach in the temple after the conclusion of the Feast of the Tabernacles, John 8:30 states that… ~ “…many came to believe in Him.”It is to these Jews that Jesus began a discussion in John 8:31.

Some of these Jews however, became agitated and responded with an accusation and assertion in verse 41, saying ~“We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, [even] God.” Jesus again responded directly and bluntly in vss.42-47 ~ “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? [It is] because you cannot hear My word. 44“You are of [your] father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature;] for he is a liar, and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear [them,] because you are not of God.” Their claim to be children of God was more ludicrous than their claim to be following the spiritual example of Abraham.

These Jews had been listening to Jesus teach and began to believe He was the Messiah as He was claiming. But when they found out that Jesus’ concept of being the Messiah differed from their own about what the Messiah was to be, they rejected Him and became antagonists. 

As the passage continues in John 8:48-51, we find that these Jews become even more antagonistic. They are incensed at what Jesus’ says about them, yet they do not make any denial of His charges. Instead, they respond as evil people often do when caught in their sin by making wild accusations against the one who exposed their wickedness. Jesus will respond directly to their false accusation, and He will do what He so often did to His enemies. He offers them hope if they change.

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

​Joh.8:48-59 (ESV) ~ “The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 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.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 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.’ 55 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. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

  • BACKGROUND:

In today’s message, we will look at the topic of Jesus’ third “I Am” statement, namely “Before Abraham, I Am” and we will be doing it according to the following three main points:

  • The 1stAccusation (vss.48-52).
  • The 2ndAccusation (vss.53-56).
  • The 3rdAccusation (vss.57-58).

The third “I am”statement is found here in John 8:58, it is most probably the most profound of the “I Am statements.”Here, Jesus makes two improbable claims that rocked the world of the Jews and it should make us pause:

  • He said that He existed before Abraham who had died perhaps 2000 years prior to Jesus of Nazareth.
  • He also equated Himself to God, taking the holy name that God revealed to Moses in the burning bush (Ex.3:14), and which was so holy that the people of Jesus’ day would not even utter it out loud.

Their reaction? They pick up stones to throw at Jesus, but are thwarted in that attempt for Jesus’ time had not yet come (John 7:6). Instead, Jesus hid Himself and left the temple. 

Why did the Jews throw stones at Him? Because they did not recognise Him as the Messiah and Jesus, according to them, was arrogant and a liar to claim that He was older than Abraham. 

At this stage, Jesus left the temple. The Son of God, through whom the whole universe was made, the One who should have been the object of their worship. He came to fulfil the whole Law. He came to be among God’s people, but He has no place in the Temple dedicated to the God who sent Him.

But Jesus is the eternal “I AM.”He was and is and is to come. He did leave the temple, but He will be eternally present with His people – those who call upon Him in faith. In spite of the fact that He had to leave the temple, He had now, through this third “I am”statement, established Himself as our Lord and God. He is our Redeemer and Friend, the source and centre of all truth.

  • THE 1stACCUSATION (vss.48-52):

In vs.47 Jesus told the Jews… ~ “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God”The Jews answered Him with a rhetorical question, which was used as a direct accusation that they considered Jesus to be a Samaritan and demon possessed- they responded as follows in vs.48 ~ “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  Their belief that Jesus was the Messiah was very short livedand they now accuse Him of being a Samaritan who is demon possessed. How ironic that after He said their father was the devil (8:44), they said He was demon-possessed!

This was not a small accusation, because to be a Samaritan in the eyes of the Jews were similar to be called a dog, or half-bread who worshipped idols. We read in 1 Kings 12 about the nation Israel which was divided into two nations in the days of Rehoboam. Israel was composed of the ten tribes to the north, and Judah was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south. The animosity between the Jews (inhabitants of the Judah, the southern kingdom) and Israelites (in the north) began immediately after the division, as Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom (with Jeroboam as her first king), Jeroboam changed the worship of the Israelites in 1 Kings 12:25-33. No longer did the inhabitants of the north travel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and worship (Deut.12:5-14). Instead, Jeroboam set up idols in Dan and Bethel.

Later, after Israel’s fall to the Assyrians, they began to intermarry with the Assyrians, contrary to Deut.7:3-5, becoming a mixed race. This is why the Jews hated the Samaritans as “dogs,” or “half-breeds.” 

In response to the Jews remark that Jesus was a Samaritan and demon possessed, He ignores the charge of being a Samaritan and continued to claim divine authority and told them that they were living apart from God (vs.49), in fact He told them that Hehonours His Father. He taught the doctrines that tended to exalt God. He taught that He was holy and true. He sought that men should love Him and obey Him. All His teaching proved this. An evil spirit would not do this, and this was sufficient proof that He was not influenced by such a spirit.

In vs.50 Jesus tells them that He is not seeking His own glory. In all His teaching this was true. He did not seek to exalt or to vindicate Himself. He has the happiness of the world, the salvation and life of men, and the glory of the Father as His consuming passion. 

In vs.51 Jesus added that if anyone kept His word, “…he will never see death.”At this the Jews were outraged. Of course, Jesus speaks again of spiritual death, but once more, His enemies take His words to refer to physical death (vss.52-53).

  • THE 2ndACCUSATION (vss.53-56):

Again, for a second time the Jews confronted Jesus in vs.53, by asking whether He claims that He is greater than their father Abraham, and they immediately reminded Him of the fact that all the prophets have already died and therefore He cannot and may not claim that He speaks the Truth and that He is the Truth. They also sarcastically added ~ “Who do you make yourself out to be?”

In Greek their question in vs.53 expected a negative answer ~“You are not greater than our father Abrahamwho died, are You?”The irony is that, of course He is. But He had not come to proclaim His greatness. If He honoured Himself, His glory would have no value, in fact, the Father is the One who will do the work of vindication (Afrikaans: “regverdiging”). Yet the hostile Jews claimed a relationship to God. It is obvious that they were in error. Jesus’ Father is God; their father was Satan.

In vs.55 Jesus tells them that they don’t have a relationship with the Father, because they don’t even know the Father, whilst He has a deep and intimate relationship with the Father. The reason why He said this to them, was because there is no right knowledge of God without Christ, neither is there any right knowledge of Christ without His Word.

Jesus then proceeds in vs.56 to the allegation that He was greater than Abraham, and exclaims… ~ Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.” The unbelieving Jews were not Abraham’s descendants spiritually (vs.39). But when Jesus referred to your father Abraham”in vs.56,He meant they were physically related to him, but the difference between them and Abraham, was that… ~ “Abraham rejoiced to see (Jesus’) day.”That means, that Abraham believed in the Messianic salvation which God promised in Gen.12:3 ~ “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”Abraham knew of the coming salvation and he rejoiced in knowing about it and expecting it, but these descendents of Abraham did not recognise the fact that the Messiah has come and was standing right in front of them.

  • THE 3rdACCUSATION (vss.57-58):

The poor Jews yet again could not see and understand what Jesus meant by saying that “Abraham rejoiced to see (Jesus’) day” (vs.56). How could it be possible that a 33 year old man can claim that Abraham saw Him, whilst Abraham was dead for almost 2000 years already?

Jesus’ response to that remark must have been even more incomprehensible to the Jews (Afrikaans: “onverstaanbaar”), because He replied by saying ~ “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”(vs.58). With these words, Jesus affirmed His superiority over the prophets and Abraham. Abraham came into being; but when he (Abraham) was born, Jesus was already existing – He existed from all eternity ~ “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made”(John 1:1-3).

If Jesus just wished to imply that he existed before Abraham, He should have said,“Before Abraham was, I was.”But“I am”was a title for God – a title of Deity ~ “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no saviour” (Ex.3:14), and by saying this, Jesus is claiming more than that He merely existed before Abraham. This title of God may have been fresh on the minds of Jesus’ hearers at the feast, because during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests were said to utter God’s words in Isaiah ~“I am the Lord, I am He”(Is 43:10, 13). 

Because of what Jesus just told His listeners, they understood Him as blaspheming, and proceeded, even without a form of trial, to stone Him as such, because this was the punishment prescribed in the law for blasphemy ~ “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him…”(Lev.24:16).  

We see in the second part of vs.59 that Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. Many people read all sorts of miraculous disappearing acts in these words (which was obviously not at all impossible), but we cannot read something into the text or context which is not there and therefore, we must accept that Jesus somehow manages to hide Himself and escaped from the temple.

  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

From this part of Scripture, we must take note that ifour belief in Jesus does not match Jesus’ claims about Himself, then we have a different Jesus, and our Jesus cannot save us from our sins. We must always take the Word for what it is and never change the implication or the meaning or the message of the Word, to excuse our sins, or to suit our lifestyle or customs or beliefs, because then we are not worshiping the God of the Bible, but the god of our imagination.

We also saw in our message today, that Jesus never backed away. He stood for the Truth and He defended it with His life – are you prepared to stand up for the real Jesus, or are you compromising when you find yourself in a difficult situation?

What was even more amazing in our passage for today, is that even with the vile accusations being made against Jesus, He still offers them hope (vs.51)~ “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” If Jesus wanted to condemn them, He could have stated this from the negative with a personal application – i.e.“If anyone fails to keep my word, which you are doing, he shall see death.” But Jesus states this from the positive. Is this also our attitude when we are involved inconfrontations or arguments with unbelievers? Are we offering them hope, or are we backing off, because we don’t like their attitude or their difference of opinion? 

Who is Jesus according to you? Do you really know the Jesus of the Bible? It is of the utmost importance that you should make sure that you are following and serving the true Jesus Christ, for only He can save you from your sins. If you do believe in the true Jesus, then it should be expected that your life will be different from those that do not share that belief. The true Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. He is the Creator of all things. He is the “I AM.”.

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