At first glance the "I AM" statements of Jesus don"t seem to be anything of consequence. They seem to be simple statements of Jesus providing sustenance, light, protection, a path. It is not until we look deeper into these statements, the reactions they received, the context and the original language that their true theological weight begins to shine through. In order to begin our descent into the deeper meaning of this phrase "I AM" we need to start with the root of it. This goes back to the second book of the Old Testament; Exodus. In Exodus 3:14 God, so far unnamed, tells Moses to go to the Israelites with a message. Moses wonders whom he shall say sent them if questioned. To this God responds tell them "I AM has sent me to you." There it is, I AM, the name of God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14. This one line was a very loaded statement made by God in the time of Moses. Their God now had a name, an identity. Not only that, but His name means: to be, to exist (crosswalk.com hyh), in other words I AM, I have always been. God"s name is so venerated in the Jewish religion that Jews will not even say the name Yahweh (YHWH); instead they will say Adonai or Elohim which means Lord or God. However, neither of these words are actually the name of God. This name is never to be spoken or written (Goldwasser). So in this first Instance when Jesus stands up and says "I AM" for the first time, not only is He speaking the unspoken name of God, but He is claiming to be "I AM." He has committed blasphemy.
Now that we have an understanding of the weight of the term "I AM" let"s get into these statements and try to understand what Jesus is saying, and what it tells us about Him.
I AM the bread of LIfe
The context of this statement shocks me. Jesus has just finished feeding the 5,000 people. They ask "what must we do to do the works God requires" John 6:28. "Believe in the one He (God) has sent" is Jesus" reply. These people still with a full stomach have the audacity to say "what miraculous sign will you give us"" v.30 they then bring up Moses in the desert calling down manna from the heavens. Jesus corrects a misconception they have "it is My Father who gives you the true bread of Heaven." V. 32. This is where Jesus lays the bomb shell "I AM the Bread of Life. V. 35. By this He is stating that I am the bread that fell from heaven on your ancestors in the desert. I am the one who provides for your nourishment, I am your sustenance, your power, your provision. Jesus" claim may not seem obvious but their reaction brings it to light. "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph" v. 41 They realize that Jesus has just claimed to come down from Heaven. He is claiming not to be a mere man, but to be their way to the Father. Jesus" claim: I AM (YHWH) your provision, your spiritual food, your sustenance, your source of strength
I AM the Light of the World
Under the backdrop of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus" statement seems especially poignant. During this feast two symbolic rituals occurred (1) The outpouring of water on the west side of the alter (2) the second was the lighting of several large candles in the temple (El Naggar). It is at the moment they were lowered that Jesus stood up and made His proclamation. "I AM the light of the world." (Christie) Throughout the bible light is used in reference to God, or truth. In the Old Testament the Israelites were led through the desert by a Pillar of Fire which gave light to their path and protection from their enemies. Israelites even sang "the LORD is my light and my salvation" (El Naggar). In the context of the Feast Jesus" claim is a powerful one. Again He sets Himself in the place of God, He is the light that guided them in the desert, and He protected them against the armies of the Pharaoh. An interesting thing is the term "world." Jesus is not just a light to the Jews, but a light to all who would receive Him. This obviously would not be welcome news to the Jews who saw themselves as better than the gentiles. Again the Pharisees are quick to jump on Him and His claims and authority. By the end of their verbal exchange they claimed that Jesus is "demon-possessed" v. 52 and they gathered together to stone Him v. 59. Here Jesus" claim: I AM (YHWH), the light to your path, I am your defense.
I AM the Gate
After the healing of the blind man, questioning of His authority / teaching, and statements about their hearts Jesus" third statement came. "I am the Gate" v. 7 & 9. The gate He is speaking of is the gate of a sheep"s pen v. 3. We are likened to sheep who know the voice of their shepherd, we go where He goes. Many Jews, however, could not here their shepherds voice. The shepherd was the only means of protection for the sheep. Left alone sheep would not know where to go and would walk off a cliff following each others tail (Christie). It is the shepherd"s job to protect them. Often this would require creating a sheepfold, a pen for the sheep (dictionary.com), when the trip back to town was impossible for the day. In this instance sticks and shrubbery would act as walls and the shepherd himself would act as the gate. No sheep could go in our out without going past him. Likewise, no enemy could attack without going through him (Christie). Jesus has just claimed that only by going through Him "the Gate" can we find pasture or salvation. His claims are becoming more narrowed and focused on His saving power. Jesus" claim: I AM (YHWH) your bridge to God, your protector.
I AM the Good Shepherd
Building on his previous statement about the shepherd Jesus claims "I AM the GOOD shepherd." Jesus is setting Himself apart from the Pharisees the "NOT GOOD shepherds." This is an obvious statement against the Pharisees and their ill-treatment of the blind man in Ch. 9. Within this image the Pharisees are the hired hand who does not care for the sheep but allows them to be slaughtered. V.13 (El Naggar). A Shepherds job was to protect and care for their sheep. There is even a story of a shepherd who fought off three robbers to protect the sheep he loved, only to be hacked to death (Christie). This is the image Jesus portrays when He says "I lay down my life for the sheep." Jesus" willingness to lay down His life presents Jesus as the Lamb of God; this also correlates with the Old Testament & the significance of the Passover in Egypt. Jesus" claims: I AM (YHWH) I will love you, I will fight for You, I will Guide you, I will lay my life down for you.
I AM the Resurrection and the LIFE
The context in which this statement occurs shows a stark double meaning. While conversing with Martha about the death of her brother Lazarus Jesus states "I AM the resurrection and Life" Do you believe this"" Martha understood the resurrection of the last day, but this is not exactly what Jesus is speaking of. Here Jesus is implying that though we will die, death is not the end for those who believe in Him. He is the power which opens every grave, gives life to the sleepers, and calls them forth to a new existence; that the life that endows men with eternal being is in Him and proceeds from Him. In Him humanity has won the victory over death (Johnson 373). No longer do we need to fear death 1 Corinthians 15 states it has lost its sting. This statement sets Jesus apart; no sane man would make these claims (Johnson 373). As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity Jesus is either a Lord, Liar or Lunatic there are no other options. Jesus Claims: I AM (YHWH) I have the power over life and death.
I AM The WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE
On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus drop"s one of the most controversial of His I AM statements. This statement is three-fold and all express a different aspect of Christ and His claims (El Naggar). (1) The Way: Many argue that by saying "I AM the way" implies a way of moral and ethical living. Jesus is a true example of a perfect life, however, the phrase "no one comes to the father except through Me." Leaves no room to believe this is what He is speaking of. "He is the way of salvation itself by His obedience and sacrifice; nor is there any other." (Gill) (2) The Truth: In reference to His teaching"s Jesus taught in all truth. In fact Jesus is truth, He embodies it, it is His very nature. "He is the true God, and eternal life; truly and really man; as a prophet he taught the way of God in truth; as a priest, he is a faithful" (Gill) Jesus" words are true and able to be relied upon, He is God"s gracious self-disclosure, his "Word", made flesh (El Naggar). (3) The Life: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men." John 1:4. Through Jesus all things were created and all things receive their life. Without Him there is no Life. Jesus" Claim: I AM (YHWH) the only way, your source of truth, your source of life without me there is only death.
I AM the true Vine
Fruit in the New Testament is a word that generally implies the qualities of Christian character (El Naggar). In this section however it also seems to put some emphasis on the outcome this Christian character produces. There is the warning, however, that we can not produce these outcomes on our own. If we do not have a "nutrition source" our fruit will not be good. When Jesus says "I am the Vine;" He is making a statement that we grow on Him. We are to abide in Him. Apart from Him we will go bad and be "thrown into the fire" v. 6. Here He makes an amazing statement of His friendship. If we remain on His vine we are no longer servants but friends John 15:15. This image of the vine invokes a very intimate image between savior and the saved (El Naggar). Jesus Claim: I AM (YHWH) Your nourishment, your source of strength & fruit, your friend, your everything, without me you can do nothing.
I AM without Predicate
The above are not the only I AM statement"s attributed to Jesus as claims to His divinity. We must remember that John states his purpose in writing the gospel in chapter 20. He writes so that we would "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." For this reason we know that when He uses this term ego eimi (translated I AM) he uses it for a specific reason. Let us look at a few of the instances. (1) The woman at the well: directly after being asked of the coming Messiah replies "I who am speaking AM He" it this same word eimi (crosswalk.com eimi). (2) Shortly after saying He is the light of the world Jesus states. "I AM the one I claim to be." If they do not believe He is who He says He is they will die in their sins. This leaves no room for believing He is claiming anything other than divinity. (3) "I AM He" Jesus just claims to be the one the Father has sent, anyone who accepts Him accepts the Father. (4) "Before Abraham, I AM" Harkening back to God"s pre-existent nature (El Naggar). If we are not convinced of these claims the reactions of the people give them away. These include: Immediate questioning, grumbling, confusion, and attempts to kill Jesus. It is illogical to think Jesus is claiming anything but His divinity.
Each of these claims overlap in someway and form a strong understanding as to who Jesus claimed to be and what this means for us. Each claim made here builds on top of each other. Put side by side they could read in this way. I AM the bread who feeds you and gives you strength so you will never hunger again. I AM the light that will guide you and I will protect you from evil. I AM the gate to the father, you will come in and find rest and comfort and protection. I AM the Good Shepherd who loves you so much that I will lay my life down for you. I AM the resurrection and Life only through me do you have power over life and death. I AM the only Way, Truth and Life there is no other way to God. I AM the vine without me you can do nothing. When the statements are put side by side there is no room for interpretation. It cannot be argued that Jesus never claimed to be God. These are only eleven instances looked at but there are many others. Each one leaves little to no room for interpretation any other way. This "I AM theology" I would pose then would be as follows.
Jesus is God. He is our: provision, our source of life and strength, our bridge and mediator, our protector, and lover. He will guide us through our dark times and gives us power over life in death. He laid His life down for us in order to be our way to the father. We know His way and teachings are true and that we only have life through Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing.
John's use of the "I AM" statements fit perfectly in with the theme of His book John 20:30-31. He wants us to believe that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." These statements made by Jesus leave no room for any other conclusion. When we see how unbelievers reacted to Jesus" claims "calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18);
There can be no other conclusion. They heard Him say it; they knew exactly what He said and were willing to kill Him for doing so. Though they were not convinced Jesus was who He said He was, they knew who He claimed to be. Jesus did not want to leave any room for interpretation. He did not want to give anyone an excuse not to believe He is exactly who He claims. Again to reference C.S. Lewis Jesus left us with three options He is either: a Lord, a Lunatic, or a Liar. Jesus knew the right answer and knew that His claims could be backed up.
1. Goldwasser, Rabbi Jeffrey W. . "Ask a Rabbi." Why do some Jews spell God, "G-d"". about.com. 10 Oct 2006
2. El Naggar, Adel Mohammed . "The "I AM" sayings of Jesus." "The I AM sayings prove Jesus to be Divine". answering-islam.org. 10 Oct 2006
3. Johnson, B. W. . People's New Testament Vol. 1. St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1891.
4. Les Christie "The Gosple of John: Class Notes"
5. Gill, John. "Commentary on Mark 15:". "John Gill's Exposition of the Bible".
6. Crosswalk, "Crosswalk.com." The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon . Crosswalk.com. 10 Oct 2006
7. Dictionary, "Dictionary.com." Sheepfold " Defintions from Dictionary.com Dictionary.com. 11 Oct 2006. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sheepfold