J.I. Packer writes that “…so many make faith harder than it need be, by finding difficulties in the wrong places…the real difficulty…lies, not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man…Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this [atonement, resurrection, etc.]…The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains (45-47, emphasis added).
John wrote his Gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, emphasis added). One of the primary messages that John wished to convey was Christ’s personal deity. Perhaps this is why he recorded so many quotes of Christ simply saying, “I AM.” You see, Jesus had a simple way of communicating this profound truth that He was God made man. He said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58, emphasis added).
The Jews were offended by Christ. He had pointed out that they were sinners (Jn. 8:7) who did not know God, His Father (Jn. 8: 19). He had stated that they were of this world (Jn. 8:23) and of their father the devil and did the devil’s will (Jn. 8:44). Subsequently, the Jews dishonored Christ and asked him “Who do you make yourself out to be” (Jn. 8:53)? It is to this question that Christ provides the very succinct answer: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn. 8:58, emphasis added) to which the Jews responded by picking up “stones to throw at him” (Jn. 8:59).
“The Jewish leaders recognized at once that he [Jesus] was not speaking in riddles or uttering nonsense: when he said, “I am,” he was repeating the very words God used when he identified himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Jesus was claiming for himself the title “I AM,” by which God designates himself as the eternal existing One, the God who is the source of his own existence and who always has been and always will be. When the Jews heard this unusual, emphatic, solemn statement, they knew that he was claiming to be God. “So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59) (Grudem, pg. 545-546).
Why was this seemingly simple phrase, “I am”, so infuriating to the Jews? It was because Christ was making a claim to deity. J.I. Packer explains: “The Gospel [of John] is punctuated with ‘I am’ statements that have special significance because I am (Greek: ego eimi) was used to render God’s name in the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14; whenever John reports Jesus as saying ego eimi, a claim to deity is implicit” (pg. 106).
James White notes that John uses this phrase (ego eimi) to refer to Christ twenty-three times. In seven of these references, ego eimi is absolute. Many of our Bibles have added the pronoun he with the words I AM, however, the original Greek merely says, I AM. (If this information interests you, you may find the rest of Mr. White’s article insightful.)
“The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God” (pg. 49), the great I AM. “The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was — God (pg. 50).
So we return to our opening discussion of faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (emphasis added). Wendy Alsup wisely notes that, “He exists’ alludes to a special name of God used to reveal himself, ‘I AM.’ ‘The Hebrew word translated ‘LORD’ in the Old Testament is ‘YHWH,’ meaning ‘the existing one. It is based on the same word, Hayah, that is translated ‘I AM’ in Exodus 3:14″ (pg. 32).
“God’s existence alone makes the rest of life’s inconveniences and struggles fade in comparison…Many Christians in today’s churches seem much more convinced of the reality of their problems than the reality of their God” (Alsup, pg. 32-33).
“Whether we are single or married, stay-at-home moms or working women, we tend to get so tied up in the minutiae of life that we miss the biggest truth, the ultimate reality. God must be big in our minds. God needs to be at the forefront of our thought processes. He needs to be the first consideration in all of our daily circumstances, not the last resort that we consider after exhausting all other options. Believing in his existence–focusing with trust on this reality–is fundamental to a faith that pleases God” (Alsup, pg. 33).
My friends, know this God become man. Study passages such as Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 that show us exactly what and who He is. “These passages present Jesus as God who came to live among us to show us his glory firsthand…If you want to know God, you must know Jesus Christ” (Alsup, pg. 34). Christ said to the Jews, “…unless you believe that I AM he you will die in your sins” (John 8: 24). Matthew Henry writes: “Note, There are many who claim-kindred to God yet have no acquaintance with him. It is only the name of God which they have learned to talk of, and to hector with; but for the nature of God, his attributes and perfections, and relations to his creatures, they know nothing of the matter, we speak this to their shame, 1 Co. 15:34. Multitudes satisfy themselves, but deceive themselves, with a titular relation to an unknown God” (1575). Henry goes on to say:“How he [Christ] proves his knowledge of his Father; I know him and keep his sayings, or his word…Note, The best proof of our acquaintance with God is our obedience to him. Those only know God aright that keep his word…Hereby we know that we know him (and do not only fancy it), if we keep his commandments” (pg. 1576).
God knew that we would not perfectly obey, thus, God became man in Christ, the Great I AM. This is what we celebrate this Christmas: “The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God” (pg. 49), the great I AM. “The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact that the child in the manger was — God (Packer, pg. 50).” “The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe” (Grudem, pg. 563).
“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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-4, 14).
Alsup, Wendy Horger. Practical Theology for Women. Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. England: Inter-Varsity Press with Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary On the Whole Bible. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973.
White, James. “Purpose and Meaning of “Ego Eimi” in the Gospel of John
In Reference to the Deity of Christ.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. 12 Dec. 2011. http://vintage.aomin.org/EGO.html.
About the author: Elizabeth is a sinner saved by the grace of God. By His grace, she serves as a helpmate to her godly husband, and they seek to reflect Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church, through their marriage. By His grace, they attempt to mirror the Father as they train five precious blessings to fear the Lord and walk in His ways. They chose to home educate so that they will have more time for this training. Elizabeth loves to grow in the knowledge of my Savior and seeks to read books that will help her to that end. Her goal is to apply the things that she is learning by the strength that God supplies. You can find her blogging at The Hankins Family.
They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.
Psalm 9: 10
The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
You are most welcomed to read a complementary series on The Names of God. Part one here,
Part 2, Taking Refuge in the Name of the Lord, here.
Part three, The Fullness of the Name of Jesus Christ is here.