Normally, there are seven “I Am” passages that are listed. But there should be eight.
I Am the Bread of Life. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
I Am the Light of the World. “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
I Am before Abraham. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
I Am the Door. “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).
I Am the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
I Am the Resurrection and the Life. “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).
I Am the Way. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
I Am the Vine. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Seven of the eight I Am statements have the construction, “ergo ami”, reflecting the Greek text of Exodus 3:14. “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”
In John 8:58, the words are at the end of the statement. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” What provoked the Lord’s statement about Abraham is provided in the context. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31).
The word for, shall make, is eleuthero (el-yoo-ther–o –o), meaning, to liberate, i.e. (figuratively) to exempt (from moral, ceremonial or mortal liability. It can be translated, deliver.
To continue, to abide in the Word of Jesus, brings knowledge of the truth, and after that, deliverance. For those who did not believe in Jesus, His words were insulting, and inflammatory. “They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (John 8:33).
The Jews did not like to hear the word free, as if they were slaves. They viewed themselves as the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, and therefore, in bondage to no one, not even Rome.
The practical problem that can immediately be seen is that the Jews were either deliberately misunderstanding Jesus, or they were ignorant of spiritual matters. Jesus was not talking about physical bondage, social bondage, or military bondage. The Lord was talking about spiritual bondage. Those who are in bondage to sin must abide in Him, and His teachings, if they want to know the truth, and find deliverance from the power and pollution of sin.
Since the Jews appealed to Abraham to deny they had any need of liberation, Jesus said something amazing. Jesus said He knew Abraham. In fact, before Abraham existed, Jesus existed. “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
In response to His critics, the Lord redirects their attention to the spiritual message He would have them hear. The Lord would teach that those who practice sin become the slaves of sin. Sin is personified, and presented as a severe taskmaster who keeps subjects in bondage. There is an irony in the dialogue of Jesus with the Jews of His day. It is possible for people to be in a form of slavery, and not even realize it. That is a problem in theology. People can be in a form of bondage in the sight of God, and not even know it.
For example, Pelagius taught the free will of man. However, his definition of freedom was very expansive. Pelagius taught that a person was free to be greater than they were by nature. Pelagius believed that a person is free to be different by an exercise of their will. Pelagius would give an affirmative answer to Jeremiah’s question about change, despite the divine interpretation. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).
Augustine taught that man had a free will too, but it was very restricted. Augustine taught that a person can only act consistently with their will, but not contrary to it. Since the will of the natural man is bound to sin, a person is free to sin, but not free to please God. “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Both Pelagius and Augustine believed in free will.
No one can argue that people make choices, which is why there is trouble with God. We make choices that reflect our sinful passions and desires. At the same time we exercise our free will, we are also enslaved, according to Scripture. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
What Augustine correctly pointed out is that people do not have royal liberty. People are not free from themselves. People are not free from their own sinfulness. People are slaves to sinful impulses. People are not free to act contrary to their nature. They need a new nature. They need to be born again. The Humanist view of free will is that man is free from coercion, and man’s will is indifferent. It has no predisposition, or inclination, bias, or bent toward sin. What is denied is the radical character of the Fall. The Jewish leaders did not want to hear about slavery, especially about slavery to sin. Sin reigns in the mortal body.
Here is the good news. A slave does not have to remain in a house forever. A slave can be made free. Jesus promises He can make individuals free from the reigning power of sin. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
“Lord, when?” “When will you make a slave free?” The answer is, “When a slave abides in my word, He becomes My disciple, and, if he continues in My word, then I shall make Him free.” “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
“There’s a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away;
Though the trials of life may surround like a cloud,
I’ve a peace that has come here to stay!
Constantly abiding, Jesus is mine;
Constantly abiding, rapture divine;
He never leaves me lonely, whispers, O so kind:
“I will never leave thee,” Jesus is mine.
All the world seemed to sing of a Savior and King,
When peace sweetly came to my heart;
Troubles all fled away and my night turned to day,
Blessèd Jesus, how glorious Thou art!
This treasure I have in a temple of clay,
While here on His footstool I roam;
But He’s coming to take me some glorious day,
Over there to my heavenly home!”
Anne S. Murphy
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
Jesus knew that His words to the Jewish leaders was not going to be received. In fact, Jesus knew they would seek to kill him. “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. 38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (John 8:37).
Notice that Jesus refers to the father of the Jewish leaders as being distinct from His Father. Again, the Jewish leaders did not understand. They did not discern that Jesus was saying that the devil was their father. So they said, “Abraham is our father.” “They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham” (John 8:39).
Once more Jesus had to clarify a spiritual truth to the Jewish leaders. If they were really the children of Abraham, they would do the works of Abraham. Specifically, they would receive the teachings of Jesus, and become His disciples. They would love Christ. “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43 Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. 44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:42).
One reason why the natural men, represented by the Jewish leaders, do not understand the words of Jesus, is because they do not take the time to listen. The natural man will not listen to Christ, because the natural man has the nature of his spiritual father, the devil. Because the natural man has the nature of his spiritual father, the devil, all of the natural desires of the devil will be performed.
By nature we are children of wrath. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3).
By nature we are children of disobedience. “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
By nature we are children of the enemy of God. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
The only way to become a child of God is through the new birth, and placed in a state of adoption. “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-3). “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
Secular society believes, that, as long as a person believes in God the Father, it does not matter what you believe. That is not true. To reject the Son, is to reject the Father who sent Him, who declared Him, and who vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
There is a motif throughout Scripture, that Sonship is not measured by biology exclusively, but by faith, and obedience.
Children by faith. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26).
Children by obedience. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2).
Listening to Christ, faith in Christ, and gospel obedience, will produce love in the heart for Jesus. Part of the judgment God gives to sinful people is to plug their ears, and to put scales over their eyes.
“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. 13:15).
“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:40).
“For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:27).
Only when God, in His grace, removes the spiritual obstacles will people hear, see, believe, understand, and will to obey. If the world is correct, and the will must be indifferent, and unbiased, then as a Christian, it must be said, that no one is free, for the will of the natural man is not unbiased, it is not indifferent, it is inclined to evil. The passionate desire of the natural man is to do the will of their father, the devil.
The devil does not force, or compel a person to do the will of Satan. It is deeper than that. People want to do the will of the devil. Most frightening of all, Jesus said, “ye will do” the work of the devil. People want to do evil, and they will do evil. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not” (John 8:44).
Having told the Jewish leaders they were not of their father Abraham, but of their father the devil, having told them they want to sin, and will do evil, Jesus challenged them to step forward, and convict Him of sin. They have sin, but where is the charge of sin, that is valid, against Him? “Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?” (John 8:46).
The Jewish leaders could not accuse Jesus of sin. Nor could they believe in Jesus, because they are not of God. Jesus does not say the people could not hear, because they were stupid, or uninformed. They could not hear, because they are not of God. “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47).
Upon hearing such plain charges against them, the Jews exploded in anger. “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” (John 8:48-53).
Jesus denied He had a demon, and offered eternal life to those who believe in Him. “Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:49).
The woman of Samaria asked Jesus if He was greater than Jacob, who gave the well. Here, the Jews ask if Jesus was greater than Abraham.
Greater than Jacob. “The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?” (John 4:11).
Greater than Abraham. “Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? And the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” (John 8:52).
To a sarcastic question, Jesus answered honestly. “Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:54-58).
Jesus did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Rather, Jesus spoke of His eternal existence. Jesus is the eternal, “I Am.” He was before Abraham.
When Abraham was promised to be the father of the seed of the Messiah, the patriarch believed God and was justified. Abraham was being told about Christ. Since he rejoiced about Christ, the Jews to whom Jesus spoke should be rejoicing that He was in ther midst. Jesus is the Logos, the pre-existent, eternal One.
The Jews did not miss what Jesus was saying. They understood His claim to deity. They wanted to kill Him for such a claim. “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59).
Their opposition was to no avail. Jesus remained the great, I Am.