The I AM Statements in John

God’s plan for four hundred years of sojourning and slavery for Israel has been fulfilled (Gen 15:13). Now, in raising up a deliverer for His people, Jehovah is about to manifest His character as a covenant-keeping, just yet merciful God. Through almighty intervention, Pharaoh’s slaves will be freed and placed on new ground by power and the shedding of blood. Without question, this will be the realization of the words of the patriarch Joseph, “God will surely visit you” (Gen 50:24).

On the eve of this mighty redemption, we witness an intimate scene, as the man Moses takes off his shoes to stand on holy ground in conversation with the God of his fathers. Here Moses gets to understand God’s plan and appreciate the promises about to be fulfilled. But before the character of God is revealed in power, it is declared in plain language, as Moses asks the simple question that he knows will be on everybody’s mind when they are told of the God who has sent him: “What is His name?” From the crackling flames of a bush that burned but was not consumed came the response (Exo 3:14), “I AM THAT I AM.”  “Tell them I AM has sent you.”

Many, trying to plumb the depths of this great name, find that it remains as simple as it is profound – “I CONTINUE TO BE WHAT I ALWAYS WAS AND EVER WILL BE; The Ever Existing One.”[1] The mention of it alone would inspire confidence in Moses and strengthen God’s people, knowing that the One who was now visiting them continued to be what He always was.  The God who delivered Abraham’s son, using a perfectly placed ram, could surely deliver their firstborn ones from wrath in Egypt. He who saw Noah through to the other side of the great flood could easily get them across the comparatively tiny Red Sea. And the Almighty One who guarded and guided Rebekah from Mesopotamia through the desert into the land of Canaan would undoubtedly lead them into that same land of promise. The revelation of Jehovah through this awe-inspiring moniker proclaimed His nature and generated confidence even before His marvelous acts.

Jump forward almost fifteen hundred years. It’s been just over four hundred years since Israel last heard from God through the prophet Malachi. We are about to witness the raising up of another Deliverer who, through power and blood, will redeem, not now from Egyptian servitude but from the bondage of sin. This Redeemer will fulfill all of the Scriptures’ prophecies and promises concerning the Messiah, and as we follow the steps of Jesus of Nazareth, we once again hear the words of Joseph whispered to our hearts, “God will surely visit you.”

From Bethlehem to Golgotha, the very nature of the Almighty was being told out in the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ (Joh 1:18). Knowing that the ultimate manifestation of God’s character will be seen at the cross, we marvel as within months of this glorious redemptive work the Lord Jesus began to speak with words reminiscent of Exodus chapter three when He took to Himself that transcendent name, “I AM.”

In this series, we will be looking at seven metaphorical “I AM” statements of the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel. We’ll search out the theological significance and practical applications of the phrases:

  • I AM the bread of life (6:35)
  • I AM the light of the world (8:12)
  • I AM the door (10:9)
  • I AM the good shepherd (10:11)
  • I AM the resurrection and the life (11:25)
  • I AM the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
  • I AM the true vine (15:1)

At the outset, we should address some other “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel that are not metaphorical. While we do concede that “the expression bears no necessary theological baggage,”[2] there are times when the Lord Jesus utters this phrase in which it clearly carries overtones of the burning bush.

Upon the Samaritan woman’s confession that she knew the Messiah was coming, and to cut through the confusion in her mind surrounding the “living water,” the Lord carefully chose the words “I AM is speaking to you” (4:26). Thus, she became confident that the One who gave water from the rock in the wilderness had now provided her with “that living water.”

When the disciples were toiling in rowing and full of fear as the Lord approached them on the stormy sea, He calmed them with words that surpassed mere encouragement. The literal phrase, “I AM, stop being afraid” (6:20), reminded them of the Object of praise in the 107th Psalm of whom it is written, “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still” (v29 KJV).

The use of the phrase authoritatively in response to those who sought to take Him in the garden (18:5) caused all of them to fall to the ground in obeisance, initiating echoes of Isaiah 45:23.

And then there is John 8:58. In conversation with certain Jews, the Lord tried to show them their bondage. Proclaiming freedom through truth and the Son only produced confusion because they saw themselves as a generation that had never been in bondage. The Lord cut through their charade with the powerfully succinct phrase, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (8:34). They had become content in their slavery and couldn’t see that God’s promised Deliverer was before their very eyes! As the argument intensified, they tried to justify themselves as descendants of Abraham, attacking the Lord’s claims and character until He uttered the mouth-stopping phrase, which would literally read, “Before Abraham sprang into existence, I AM.” The grammar is not a mistake, and the meaning would not be mistaken. The Man in their midst had just intentionally invoked the Divine Title, laying claim to deity and angering them even further. There could be no misunderstanding His claim. The bondage was real, the Redeemer had come, and today He continues to be the I AM of Moses’ time.

Setting our course to touch on these expressions of sacred importance, having put our faith in the One who has proven faithful throughout history, our lips are moved to sing the simplest of childhood hymns:

The God that lived in Moses’ time is just the same today.

[1] Thomas Newberry, The Englishman’s Bible (notes on Exodus 3:14).

[2] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 275.