One way of getting to know a person is to listen to what they say about themselves. Do you remember the boxer Mohamed Ali's boastful comment? “I am the greatest!” But did you know that Jesus used similar language 2,000 years before? In John's gospel there is not just one, but several astounding “I AM” declarations made by Jesus?
The gospels are written so that not only can we get to know what Jesus did, but also what he said. In John's gospel, there are some incredible comments which are said by Jesus concerning himself, which when they are really understood are equally up there with Mohammed Ali, being quite controversial, mind-blowing, outrageous! Some may even say boastful, arrogant!
Truly, no-one has ever made such bold claims concerning themselves as Jesus! The question is, what did Jesus say about himself, and are they true or not? Is he mad, or in his right mind?
While Jesus was here on earth, He said many things that challenged and provoked his listeners. For instance, he often spoke in parables, or, as we will see with the “I am” statements, in metaphors. By using parables and metaphors, Jesus used figurative language to relate everyday objects and circumstances that the Jews could understand, and compare them with himself and his Kingdom. The reason was so that the people would be able to grasp heavenly concepts using earthly examples.
However, before each “I AM” statement Jesus spoke are given and explained in more detail (note, each one is discussed in a separate topic), we have to understand that these simple two words of introduction are also full of meaning, especially to the original Jewish hearers. Jesus could have easily used other words, but he deliberately chose to use this opening format – I am. Why? Because Jesus was actively saying and identifying himself as God. When God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, God revealed his name to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:14b) God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15)
This name of God we know as Yahweh in Hebrew, or in our English Bibles is translated as “LORD” in capital letters.
How do we know that Jesus claimed to be God? Well, Jesus himself said this to the crowds “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) This was a shocking statement to the Jews, that a mere man would dare to claim to be God! Their quick response proved they clearly understood what he said: “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Jesus was declaring to them in terms that are crystal clear that He is God, and that's what made them try to kill Him. They knew full well the punishment for using the name of God in a blasphemous way was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:11-14)
Jesus says, I am the Christ (John 4:26)
Bearing this in mind, the first “I AM” uttered by Jesus in John's gospel clearly revealed his identity as the Christ, the Messiah. The Jewish people were looking for God to send his Messiah, an anointed or chosen one. They had read the Old Testament prophecies (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1-3; Psalm 16, 22, Daniel 9, etc.) that promised God would send a deliverer to save His people.
Here in John chapter 4, Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman at a well. A conversation then ensues, and at the end of that conversation she says to Jesus “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” This is more literally translated into English from the Greek as “I am he who speaks to you” (John 4:25-26), which of course does not read well to our ears.
Jesus openly confesses to this Samaritan woman that he is the Christ. This in itself is quite amazing, as he did not openly let this be known to the Jews. They had the scriptures, and saw Jesus' works. They had to work it out for themselves, but here, Jesus confesses to a lowly Samaritan woman that he was the Christ.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well shows us that it is only through believing that Jesus is the Christ that we can receive eternal life. “Jesus said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The story teaches us that God loves us in spite of our bankrupt lives. God values us enough to actively seek us out, to enter a dialogue with us and teach us concerning himself and the kingdom, and receive all sinners who repent and believe in him.
We also learn as believing Christians that our own personal testimony can have a real impact on bringing others to Jesus. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world." (John 4:39-42)
Seven times in John's gospel, Jesus uses the same expression, “I am.”, each in a metaphorical context to aid understanding. Each one is significant, and had special meaning which the Jews could grasp. They prove that Jesus is God and was the God of the Old Testament.
- I am the bread of life (John 6:35, 48, 51)
- I am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5)
- I am the door of the sheep (John 10:7-9)
- I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
- I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
- I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
- I am the true vine (John 15:1)
By considering each of these statements, you will come to understand for yourself why a personal encounter with Jesus will change your life.
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