This booklet is a publication of a study on the Christian doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ which I did for Christians a few years ago. That study has now been slightly revised as this booklet has been produced primarily with the Muslim reader in mind.
It is only a slight revision of the original study and has not been amended to be "acceptable" to Muslims in the manner in which many works have been designed in recent times to promote "dialogue" and "understanding" between Islam and Christianity.
Firstly I am persuaded that the presentation of our doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ will never be able to do full justice to its subject nor glorify him of whom it speaks unless the full facts and proofs are pre sented in the strongest possible manner.
Secondly I am persuaded that the deity of Jesus Christ is an eternal truth. In no way can I compromise in proclaiming this truth, nor can I consider the reaction which may come from that proclamation. Nor can I entertain any considerations as to whether it will be "acceptable" to the reader. Truth is truth and must be pro claimed as such.
In presenting this truth to Muslims I realise that I have embarked on a collision course and know that my declarations strike not at the confession "La ilaha illa 'llah" in itself but rather at the roots of Muslim understanding of the meaning and limits of the Kalima.
However, as a Muslim will proclaim and defend the tenets of his faith, so the Christian likewise is constrained to present that which is fundamental to his faith in its fulness and in the clearest possible terms. I suggest that you read this booklet with a Gospel of John at hand. If you do not possess one, write to us for a copy.
28th September 1976
"Then Moses said to God, 'If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you', and they ask me, 'What is his name?', what shall I say to them?' God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM'. And he said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'.'" (Exodus 3.13-14).
When Moses stood before the burning bush on Mount Horeb centuries ago he asked for the name of God. He did this because, in Hebrew nomenclature, a name revealed something about a person. For example the Hebrew name for Moses was "Mosheh" which came from "mashah" meaning "drawn out" and it was applied to Moses because Pharaoh's daughter drew him out of the bulrushes in the Nile river. The Hebrews knew of the covenant which God had made with Abraham and which had been renewed in Isaac and Jacob, but apart from the existence of the one true God and his favour upon the nation of Israel, they knew no more. After four centuries in Egypt which had seen them brought into dreadful slavery, the Hebrews assuredly wished to know more about their God. For this reason God answered Moses "I AM" so that the Jews would know who God is. The name used throughout the Old Testament for God is YAHWEH from the Hebrew "ehyeh" meaning "I AM".
Now what does "I AM" indicate? Much, to say the least. There is so much revealed in this expression. It indicates that God is unbounded in any way. He is not in any way confined by time. I AM he declares. He neither was in the past nor will be in the future. I AM, he declares. I AM the God of Abraham, he said to Moses. He transcends time and is unaffected by it.
"I AM", God declares. He is not bound by space. The expression denotes omnipresence. He is not limited by anything. There is a sense of eternal completeness in the expression. There is no hint of any 1imitation of power, knowledge or understanding. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. The completeness of the expression beautifully illustrates this. God is.
In his Dictionary of the Bible, Davis describes the expression as indicating "He who in the absolute sense exists and who manifests his existence and his character." "I" indicates absolute personality, "AM" a perfect and absolute existence. The further content and purpose of the expression is further seen in comparison to two other names given by God. "Elohim" is the description of God in his position as the creator, upholder and moral governor of the universe. "E1 Shadday", God Almighty, is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of promise in whom one could hope. But "I AM" reveals God as personally interested in the affairs of his people, revealing the manner and character of his nature. As we turn now to Jesus we will consider his statements in this light, as compared to God who declares and speaks of himself: I AM.
The Gospel of John.
1. Jesus declares absolutely, I AM.
In the Gospel of John there are three ways in which Jesus uses the expression "I AM" with regard to himself. In a few cases, Jesus declares himself absolutely by this expression In other instances he elaborates on a particular content of his deity and work through a statement introduced by the expression and he thirdly veils the expression in the present tense of a sentence where the expression in context nevertheless again declares his deity. We deal firstly with his absolute declarations as recorded in the Gospel of John.
(i). "Jesus says to her, I AM, the one speaking to you." (John 4.26).
This is a direct translation of Jesus' answer to the woman of Samaria who half-questioned Jesus in speaking of the Messiah who was to reveal all things. It is conventionally translated "I who speak to you am he" but we find a direct declaration I AM in the original Greek, the language in which John wrote his Gospel. The words are "ego eimi". The woman had said that the Messiah, who was called Christ, was coming. By this she meant the one who was promised, the Deliverer, the Saviour of the world, the anointed one of God, declared in the prophets to be the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6). Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, in essence, "The One who is even now speaking to you, that I AM".
It must be noted that this is the first occasion in the Gospel that this declaration is made. It is a beautful climax to the narrative which thusfar builds up to it. he Gospel introduces Jesus Christ immediately as the "Word of God", the "Light", the "only Son from the Father". John the Baptist described him as "One whom you do not know" (1.26) and the "Lamb of God" (1.29,36). He declares him to be the Son of God (1.34). Then Andrew describes him is the "Messiah" (1.41), Philip as "Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote" (1.45). Then Nathanel describes him as the "Son of God, the King of Israel" (1.49) and so the glorious descriptions increase. Jesus, however, nowhere describes himself as anything but the "Son of man" (1.51, 3.13,14) until this great declaration where he himself finally declares just who he is and in so doing exceeds all the titles given in claiming deity. "Jesus says to her, I AM". The woman knew the Messiah was coming, he who would be the greatest man who would ever live. Jesus answers her "I AM". Need she ask further?
(ii). "I said therefore to you that you will die in your sins, for if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins " (John 8.24).
This is again a literal translation of the Greek to bring out the full import of what Christ said. Again we find the declaration, EGO EIMI, meaning, I AM. Again we find Jesus Christ absolutely claiming deity and declaring it in the course of a discussion with the Jews about his relationship to their God whom he called his Father. The whole discourse with them wondrously contains the very manifestation of the deity of Christ as linked to the Father as opposed to the fleshly, devil-linked nature of fallen man. He began the discourse "I AM the light of the world" (8.12). This use of the divine name to begin his discourse is an example of the second way in which Jesus declares himself as mentioned above, that is, in reference to a particular quality of his nature or work. We will return to this verse.
Jesus concludes the discussion with the very words he began with: "Before Abraham was, I AM" (8.58). He began with a declaration of deity and so concludes his discussion. In between we have the statement which we are now examining and a further declaration in verse 28. How beautifully the use four times of the divine name clearly distinguishes the nature of the Son of man as one in the Godhead with his Father in contradistinction to the nature of his hearers whose very wills were directed to the nature of their father, the devil. Let us now consider this particular declaration. "You will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM", Jesus declares. In this very declaration of deity he tells them what it is they need to believe. He is not saying that they must believe that he is the Messiah, or that he is the saviour or a prophet; in no way is mental assent to these characteristics sufficient. It must go further than that. "Unless you believe that I AM", Jesus declares. He is saying in essence just this: God made man in his own image. All men have sinned and so have brought condemnation upon themselves, including you, my hearers. I have life in myself, it is I alone who can restore that lost relationship, it is I alone who can restore that life. Unless you therefore receive the life I have by believing on me, in me, through me, indeed partaking of myself as a branch does of its vine, you will remain in your fallen state and will die in it. Everything you hope to receive from God is vested in me. It is I alone who can bring you to the one whom you call your God for as He is, so I am. This is in fact what Jesus is saying.
John 3.36 also illustrates further what Jesus is saying: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him." The contradistinction between Jesus and his hearers was very real, eternally so, but he came for the express purpose of removing it and gaining access to God for men. Hence his warning to them: "You will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM". His warning holds good for all men in all ages.
(iii). "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I AM". (John 8.28).
This follows immediately on his last exclamation and underlines the nature of Jesus as opposed to that of his hearers. He follows up his previous admonition now by saying that as they had rejected him, they would die in their sins and would thereafter come to the terrible awakening that the one they had lifted up on the cross as a criminal, a traitor, an impostor, was in fact the one who reigns on the very throne of God. The cross preceded the crown and they were unwittingly helping him to it. Man's sin would put Jesus on the cross. Their unbelief in him and his saving work would eventually bring them total destruction on the day when they came to know that this man was all that he claimed to be, one with the Father. Jesus himself said "I and the Father are one" (John 10.30) and Jesus was now saying that when they had lifted him up, they would come to know that he indeed is one with the Father. All this was in answer to their question "Who are you?" (v.25). They did not know him now and they could not, being dead in trespasses and sins, but they were to lift him up as an impostor, a false professor, and when they did so they would come to know precisely who he is; indeed the very one who spoke to Moses, Abraham and the prophets on whom they set their hope.
As he stood with them in the flesh he was human like them and to them he appeared to be no more. Having been lifted up he now reigns in heaven. In spirit he now eternally manifests his unity with the Father and says of himself "I AM".
(iv). "Before Abraham was, I AM". (John 8.58).
A closer translation of the above would be "Before Abraham ever came into existence, I AM". This brings a distinction between the eternal existence of Jesus Christ and the creation of the man Abraham. The Greek word is "genesthai", meaning "to become". The translation I have used, however, succintly brings out the depth of his statement. "Abraham was" - he was bound by time. At one time he never existed Then he came into existence and was bound by time in turn. Jesus says in effect, I am not bound by time. what does he say? Before Abraham was, I have been? No, he does not. The statement is quite out tune of with English grammar but we are dealing with Divine grammar! After the aorist infinitive clause "Before Abraham was", properly the perfect clause and tense should follow but does not. Jesus says BEFORE Abraham, I AM. He uses the present tense because he is eternal and always exists in the present as God does! He does not merely claim to have existed before Abraham, he claims to be eternally existent.
Not only does he claim to be eternally existent, he leaves his hearers in no doubt as to who he was claiming to be. They immediately took up stones to stone him for they considered that this was blasphemy. By doing this they showed that they had not failed to grasp the import of Jesus' claim. Have you grasped it?
Through the seed of Abraham God had given a great promise of life. Through his seed came Joseph who saved the other tribe leaders from death through famine, but he was not the Promised One. Moses delivered the whole nation out of bondage and slavery but it was not him either. Joshua led the Israelites victoriously into Canaan and they possessed the land but they were all now dead, as were the people of the time of Joseph and Moses. Despite their great works, none of these was the Saviour. How would he ever be distinguished or recognised?
"Before Abraham was, I AM". Here I am, Jesus declares, yet another of the seed of Abraham, except that I was before him, I exist eternally, and it was I in fact who gave him the promise. I AM. The Jews were told in the very clearest terms that their Deliverer was with them. How could they know him? "I AM", Jesus declares. All other men come from the dust. This man is from God. Could the Deliverer, the Life-Giver ever be greater than this One in their very midst? "We are descendants of Abraham" the Jews said (v.33) but they had to admit that Abraham was dead (v.53). They considered that they were secure because they were physically descended from him, but he was dead. It was one of his descendants who would bring them life, this was the promise of God. It was to this descendant that they should come and seek kinship. He was standing there with them, and they knew him not. Of all the opportunities men have ever missed in all ages, this was assuredly the greatest.
Over against Abraham's short span of life inseparably linked to passing time, Jesus declares his timeless present. Not only has he existed all through time, his existence in fact transcends time! In this statement "Before Abraham was, I AM", we obtain a beautiful illustration of the substance and essence of God's word to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM".
(v). "Jesus says to them, 'Fear not, I AM'." (John 6.20).
Most translations of the original Greek text do not record the literal statement which Jesus made. The immediate statement in its context (Jesus' reply to the terrified disciples who saw him walking on the water) does not appear to make sense so it is usually translated "It is I". But this is not what Jesus said. The Greek words are 'EGO EIMI, me phobeisthe', that is, 'I AM, you fear not'. I am what? we ask. This once again is the whole import of the remark. If Jesus had said "It is I", his disciples might have said "It is Jesus - look at this, a man walking on water!" But this was no ordinary human being performing supernatural nautabatics. "I AM", Jesus declares.
Jesus is in effect saying - Why be afraid? I am the Lord of this water, even the winds and the sea obey me. You, the water, and the boat you are sitting in are only upheld by my word of power.
Matthew's Gospel records that Peter then replied "Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water" (Ch. 14.28). But Peter would not have considered walking himself on the water had he not fully grasped the significance of what Jesus said. If he had just said "It is me, Jesus", Peter might have thought "I wonder how he has managed this" but would not have known how to do it himself. But Jesus said "Be of good cheer, I AM, fear not" (Matt. 14.27 literally translated). Immediately Peter grasped the significance of the words I AM. It is Jesus, yes, but he is claiming to be far more than that he is just a man. He says, I AM. He can walk on water and can control it. He can make me do it!
Peter's faith followed on the declaration I AM and Jesus became the object of Peter's faith when he grasped the significance of it. A similar occurence is recorded in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus said to his disciples "Whom do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16.15). The Greek literally translated is "Whom do men say that I to be"? This is merely the impersonal form of I AM, the Greek word being 'einai', meaning 'to be'. Peter replied "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". Jesus commended him for this statement, saying "My Father in heaven has revealed this to you".
By a similar revelation Peter grasped the significance of the words of Jesus as he walked on the water, I AM. Peter's reply, literally translated, is "Lord, if YOU ARE, command me to come to you on the waters". He did not say "If it is you". The whole impact of the story is lost in that expression. It implies that Peter was saying "If the person coming towards me is you, Jesus, call me to you" and the impact is lost. No, Peter heard Jesus say I AM and replied "IF YOE ARE", that is, if the fulness of deity really dwells in you bodily - Peter knew it was Jesus, he was not enquiring of his identity but of his deity - if you Jesus are the One who spoke to Moses, who divided the waters of the Red Sea, who brought water from a stone and are now walking on water, then command me that I may also walk on it! This is the full import of Peter's question, and once again the full content of the incident is only realised as we consider the declaration of deity, "I AM".
(vi). "I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM". (John 13.19).
This is now, in John's Gospel, the sixth declaration absolutely of the deity of Jesus Christ. Again the words are EGO EIMI. It is usually translated "I am he" but there is no "he" in the original Greek.
Throughout his ministry Jesus had been telling his disciples that he is the Son of God, that is, that the whole fulness of deity dwells in him bodily. Now he is introducing the event that was to follow later that evening. One of the disciples would betray Jesus, resulting in the humiliating death of the disciples' Master as a criminal on a Roman cross. This would most certainly shake their faith in him to the core. How could the Son of God - he who again and again declared I AM - suddenly be cut short and be handed over to men? How could mortal men end his life by crucifying him? Later they would know the answers to these questions but Jesus does not answer them now. He merely reaffirms their faith in him. He states that he knows it is about to happen and in fact this is the very purpose for his coming into the world. He tells them it is to fulfil the scriptures (v.18). He tells them that although one will betray him, it is no surprise to him, for he knows whom he has chosen.
Jesus said "I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM". He was telling them in advance so that when the time came they could remember and say, Oh yes! He said it would happen. Their faith in him as the very Son of God should not be shaken because he had forewarned them. It was no surprise or crushing defeat, it was all part of the working of God's plan, as he said, "that the scripture may be fulfilled". So therefore, they should not doubt in their minds about him.
"That you may believe that I AM", in other words, 'I have said to you before that I AM, I tell you this now hat you may continue to believe that I AM", lest they consider him to be merely a martyred prophet like John the Baptist, Zechariah, and others who were martyred. Jesus emphatically declares his deity again so that their faith in him as all that he claimed to be, the very I AM, the one who spoke to Moses now incarnate, might be sustained unaffected by the tragic and seeming defeat that suddenly interrupted his ministry.
(vii). "Jesus therefore knowing all things that were to befall him came forward and said to them, 'Whom do you seek?' They answered him 'Jesus the Nazarene'. Jesus said to them, 'I AM'. Judas who betrayed him stood with them. When Jesus said to them, 'I AM', they drew back and fell to the ground. Again therefore he questioned them, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said 'Jesus the Nazarene'. Jesus eplied, 'I told you that I AM, if it is me that you seek, let the others go'.". (John 18.4-7).
This is the last occasion in John's Gospel that Jesus declares his deity in this manner and fittingly so for it was from this moment that their hour had come, the hour of darkness. The Son of man was betrayed into the hands of sinners and from now until his expiration on the cross he was voluntarily in the hands of men. This is not he last declaration as such for we shall see that a further occasion is recorded in Luke's Gospel, but as the Gospel of John reveals that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in whom all the fulness of deity dwelt bodily, it is appropriate that there is here the greatest manifestation of his deity just before he handed himself over voluntarily to the Romans and the Jews.
Again there is much contained in the declaration that is born out in the circumstances. Firstly the prohethood of Jesus is born out by the first I AM. Then he declares himself to be the King of kings and they all fall back and thirdly we see the great eternal High Priest lovingly taking care of his own and becoming a sacrifice for them. In all this the nature of the glory of Jesus Christ is shown but the whole source of it is revealed in the words I AM. The soldiers had come to arrest Jesus but without anything more than just two words, Jesus repelled them. "All he said was 'I AM'; but t was fully sufficient to overpower and overawe them. It was the enunciation of the ineffable name of God, by which he was revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3.14). It was a display of his divine majesty. It was a quiet exhibition of his Divine power. It was a signal demonstration that he was the Word (John 1.1)! He did not strike them with his hand - there was no need to; he simply spoke two monosyllables and they were completely overcome." (Arthur Pink - Exposition of the Gospel of John, Volume 3)
They sought "Jesus the Nazarene". They were confronted by the Word of God himself. Jesus deliberately declared his deity at this very moment to show that he could not be touched unless Divine power was given over him from above. He showed that he was offering himself up voluntarily. Secondly it left his persecutors without excuse. Jesus declared his deity to them and offered up himself to them. What did they do? Did they glorify him, worship him, bow down before him, prostrate themselves, abhor themselves, as sinners in his presence? No, they led him away to be crucified. They did to him whatever they would. Therefore they could not say that they were not aware that they were crucifying the Lord of Glory. He exhibited his majesty and immediately they laid their hands upon him. Jesus left them in no doubt, however, as to who he was.
2. Jesus declares the content of his deity.
This is now the second way by which Jesus declares his deity in the expression I AM. The first category consists of those declarations which are absolute. Now Jesus proclaims the various functions in which his deity / humanity performs to unite men to God.
(i). "I AM the Bread of Life; he who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst". (John 6.35).
This is the first declaration in this category. Like many others it is the foundation and the key scripture of the whole passage. It is repeated again in v.48 and is varied in v.41 ("I AM the bread which came down from heaven") and v.51 ("I AM the living bread which came down from heaven").
The emphatic "I AM" by which he introduces himself as the bread of life indicates deity. We have to go back to v.32 to discover the import of his claim.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven." (John 6.32).
Firstly we must consider the comparison the Jews were drawing between Moses and Jesus. For forty years bread came down from heaven to feed the Israelites. Jesus had just performed his miracle of feeding 5000 people with only a few loaves and two fishes. But what did that prove? He had at least had some bread to start with, Moses had none, and he only increased it whereas Moses brought his bread down from heaven! After all, had not Elisha fed one hundred men and to spare from only twenty loaves of barley? (2 Kings 4.42-44).
So the Jews reasoned among themselves but Jesus then brought out one fact that they had overlooked: "it was not Moses who gave you the bread". He was only the instrument but God was the Giver. And Jesus now draws the complete comparison in that, firstly, the bread was only given through Moses as an instrument; and secondly, it was not the true bread but only a type of that to come.
It is here that the second consideration comes. "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven". The first contrast is between Moses as the earthly instrument and Jesus as the heavenly bread. Here comes the second contrast: the bread in the wilderness brought temporary nourishment to the flesh and even then "Your fathers ate the bread in the wilderness and they died" (v.49). But the true bread from heaven "gives life to the world" (v. 33) and that living bread was Jesus Christ himself.
Moses was only a man, his bread only physical and material. Jesus was the true and living bread from heaven - he who feeds on him obtains eternal life - and this is the vital distinction. "If any one eats of this bread he will live for ever" (v. 51).
"As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself". (John 5.26).
Here the inclusion of his deity in the discourse is fully revealed. The fathers in the wilderness were of the flesh. Bread of the flesh sustained their earthly existence. Jesus, however, is the bread which is of God; that which sustains forever those who are of God and have heavenly life. Men of the world need the sustenance of the world to maintain themselves. Men of God need to be sustained by life itself as food. The Father has it in himself obviously. He has granted to the Son, not by imputation or privilege, but to have life in itself within himself. So Jesus could claim "I AM the living bread which came down from heaven".
(ii). "I AM the Light of the World; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8.12).
The statement "I AM the light of the world" is repeated in John 9.5. Initially Jesus declared that he is the bread of life, now he promises the light of life. The first indicates spiritual sustenance, the second moral enlightenment. Jesus, however, does not say "I am the light of life" but says "I AM the light of the world".
The deity of Jesus Christ is exclaimed in this declaration as it was in that of the bread of life for the same reason. Jesus, being deity / humanity, brings men to God. As the true bread he restores life; that is, he brings men right back into the presence and favour of God because he is both the Son of man and the Son of God. It is true that as he gives the light of life he opens the eyes of men so that they may see - "I came into the world that those who do not see may see" (John 9.39) - but now he claims to be the light "of the world" and so he excellently proclaims his deity.
He speaks not simply as one who makes the blind to see, but as he who reveals God in his moral perfection to an immoral and deceitful world lost in its own darkness, content to hide behind it, and refusing to acknowledge its moral blameworthiness.
"The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world". (John 1.9).
The evangelist had said earlier "In him was life, and the life was the light of men". (John 1.4). Does he refer to the enlightenment only of those who believe? Jesus does indeed limit possession of this light to those who truly follow him, but why does he say he is the light "of the world"?
If we read John 1.4 and 1.9 in context we shall see why. "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made". (1.3). John also tells us that "God is light" (1 John 1.5) and looking at John 1.3 above, we see Jesus not in his capacity as the one through whom men are saved but as the one through whom they are created. He is light. The world walks in darkness because it does not know the glory, majesty and moral perfection of God. Through sin the world has become blinded to the eternal glories and goodness of God and the standards which he set for men to follow. Jesus said "I AM the light of the world", that is, I reveal the glorious perfections of God to all men and in so doing I show that men by nature are walking in darkness and their sins are made manifest.
The statement followed on a very clear practical illustration. The Pharisees had just brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. In the law Moses commanded that such should be stoned. Because she was caught in a physical breach of the law she deserved to die. But what of the Pharisees? Were they not also sinners before God? No, they considered themselves fit to be the accusers, judges and executioners of this girl. She had transgressed the law, they had not. Outside of the law they knew no light and their own blameworthiness before God they subtly concealed before men. Jesus said to them "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her". (John 8.7).
We read that when they heard this they went away. Only Jesus and the woman remained. He alone was without sin and he alone could have any say in her fate. They came bringing a sinner under the law. They departed sinners under the light.
Even God's holy laws do not convict some men of their wretched condition but when confronted with the very light of God which exposes every sin, none can stand and this was the very thing that happened in this incident with Jesus.
So Jesus went on to proclaim "I AM the LIGHT of the WORLD". He did not come simply to be a moral guide by whose example men could endeavour to live, nor did he come to merely show men how they should live. He came to manifest the all-holiness and goodness of God so that men could discover and know just how sinful they really are. He showed that men need more than just an example. As the light of the world he showed that what men need is salvation.
If Jesus was merely setting an example for men to follow he would have said "My life is a light to the world" but he said "I AM the light of the world" - he reveals God as he is in whom there is no darkness, and in so doing reveals to them just how wretched their condition is when seen in that light. He did not say "whoever follows my example" or "my life" or "my way", no; he said "whoever follows ME" will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life, the light which is indeed that of God who is light.
The deity of Christ is clear in this incident. He proclaims "I AM", declares himself to be the light, and calls men to follow him. So he indeed is the very manifestation and revelation of the invisible God.
"He who has seen me has seen the Father". (John 14.9).
(iii). "I AM the Door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture". (John 10.9) .
This verse must be read and compared with verse 7 preceding it: "I AM the door of the sheep". I do not propose to go into lengthy expositions to show what the whole of this allegory reveals and means because my purpose is to show as before why the subject is introduced with "I AM".
Of course an explanation must be given of the allegory because we cannot understand the impact of the introduction "I AM" without it. I will merely explain without giving lengthy reasons what it means. An exegetical commentary on this chapter forces comparisons and lengthy investigations as the allegories are complex and not easy to understand, but I am concerned here primarily with the two words "ego eimi" by which Jesus introduces himself as the door of the sheep and just simply as the door.
In v.7 Jesus shows himself as the way out for his followers, his sheep, into the little flock who belong to the True Shepherd. The "sheepfold" of v.1 is undoubtedly Judaism. The Shepherd of the true sheep enters by the door (not to be confused with the claim of Jesus to be "the door" - the "door" in verse 1 is the way opened through the host of passages in the Old Testament which foretell and reveal the True Shepherd. Jesus Christ perfectly fitted every one of those predictions and so entered by the door through which the True Shepherd would be recognised).
"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 10.3).
Here is the import of the allegory. The only way out of the sheepfold (Judaism) for the true sheep (those Jews who believe in Jesus Christ) into the true flock (the body of true Christians) is through Jesus Christ alone. The same applies to non-Jews. "If any one enter" by the door, Jesus Christ, he will be saved.
A small illustration will make this clear. One room may have three doors. All will take a person out of the room but only one leads outside into the open. So there may be many who proclaim to know the way (as the "hirelings", the Pharisees, etc. were doing and as so many religions, e.g. Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam, etc. do in our day). But their doors merely lead into another part of the same house. But for sheep to go and find pasture they must leave the sheepfold. Likewise for men to find eternal life they must go out of the bounds of religion and find the door that leads to eternal life. Jesus said "I AM the door". By him alone men can be saved.
We must now enquire why Jesus declares his deity, "I AM the door". Only God can give life to the world but in John 6 Jesus claimed this power, declaring "I AM the bread of life". Only God is light but in John 8 Jesus declared "I AM the light of the world". In some way, therefore, God himself must be the way to eternal life as opposed to religious performances and works or mystical discoveries. This is made clear in two ways:
Heaven presupposes the very real and personal presence of God. It is no "higher plane", it is the very realm of God's glory and personal presence. To be able to go there, men first need the very real and personal presence of God within them. If Jesus was only human, he could never be the door. Therefore he says "I AM the door". Here in human flesh was the very real manifestation of deity. Indeed he has the keys of heaven, having within himself the very fulness of the one who dwells there. The door to the very kingdom, presence and glory of God is no less than the one who says "I AM the door".
(iv). "I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep". (John l0.ll).
"I AM the Good Shepherd. I know ny own and my own know me". (John 10.14).
Twice Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd. The reason is that he fulfils a dual function. As the Shepherd he knows his own sheep and his own sheep know him. But as the Shepherd he also lays down his life for the sheep. As before I propose merely to look briefly at the meaning of the expression "Good Shepherd" and will then show why Jesus must be indwelt by the fulness of God to fill this office.
The adjective is stressed in this declaration and literally reads "I AM the Shepherd, the Good one". There is an accent on the nature of the shepherd. He is very fine, excellent. As with the door, Jesus draws a comparison with his circumstances. "All who came before me are thieves and robbers" (v.8). The present tense "are" indicates that he is referring not to false professors long dead but to those who were contemporary with him. This cannot be a reference to the many pseudo-Messiahs as the context (John 9 ff.) demands that we accept that he is referring to the Pharisees. Let us see how Jesus describes his office as the Good Shepherd and we will need no further study on the adjective he uses:
The excellence of this Shepherd needs no further proof. Now we must again enquire why he says "I AM the Good Shepherd"? was not Moses also an excellent shepherd of the Israelites? And David? Could not God merely have raised up another prophet to shepherd his people? This question has been answered in part under the discussion about the title "the Door" above. Consider that, with the whole human race in a fallen state, no one could set the standard perfectly or be man's perfect guide or example but the Lord God himself.
It had long been prophesied that God would personally shepherd his own sheep:
"I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice." (Ezekiel 34.15-16).
This passage alone makes it imperative that the title Jesus was now applying to himself should be accompanted by very deity in the One making the claim. Jesus therefore declares "I AM the Good Shepherd", thereby fulfilling the prophecy above that God himself was to become the shepherd of his sheep. As I said about the "Door", so again I must say about the "Shepherd". If Jesus was not indwelt by the fulness of deity, he could not say "I AM" and simultaneously could not claim to be the Good Shepherd. When the Shepherd came, to use an expression, one essential qualification would be that he must be very deity himself.
God is also spoken of in Genesis 49.24 as a shepherd and indeed as "the" shepherd, the Rock of Israel; and in Psalm 23.1 David says "The Lord is my Shepherd."
For Jesus to claim to be the Good Shepherd would be rank blasphemy were he not the one so described, the one who said to Moses "I AM WHO I AM". Once again the emphatic "ego eimi" qualifies the title claimed and authenticates the worthiness of the one who makes the claim. Other Old Testament references to God as the Shepherd of Israel are Isaiah 40 and Psalm 80.1.
(v). "I AM the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die". (John 11.25).
We shall reverse the order of the study now. Let us first consider that which is absolute in the declaration made by Jesus ("I AM the Resurrection and the Life") before briefly glancing at the words "Resurrection" and "Life".
Firstly consider the answer Jesus gave to Martha's first remark that God would give him whatever he asked "Your brother will rise again". Martha promptly took this as a reference to the general resurrection at the end of the world. To her, God was going to raise the dead one day by his own power but she did not consider the power Jesus had in himself to perform such an act right then. He therefore confronted her immediately with this profound assertion. She said in effect "I know there will be a resurrection and life thereafter".
Jesus soundly asserted that both these realities vested entirely in him. "I AM the Resurrection and the Life". All the power that ever existed to raise her brother from the dead was embodied in the one speaking to her. It was a challenge to faith in Martha that Jesus could raise her brother right there and then. In short, the challenge is this: "Who do you suppose me to be - just a man of flesh and blood entirely dependent on God and humbly submitting to his declared purpose of raising the dead on Judgment Day, a decree I as just a man dare not interfere with, or do you consider that I am in fact the author of all resurrection and all life, whether bodily or spiritual, indeed having absolute power and authority over life and death itself and indeed being the source of all life?"
Her reply clearly indicated that she fully accepted that, as deity, he could genuinely make such claims. By a revelation from the Father Peter confessed the truth about Jesus Christ. By a similar revelation Martha made the same confession: "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God".
Need any more be said about the introduction "I AM"? God alone can be the author of life and resurrection from the dead. For Jesus to be able to truly make such claims for himself, he must also be able to truly say "I AM". If he was mere man, his claims would be indeed blasphemous. Consistently he made such claims and it is no wonder the Jews were continuously accusing him of blasphemy (Mark 14.64, John 10.33). They knew full well who he was declaring himself to be!
"Resurrection" and "Life" are defined by the words which follow. "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live". This amplifies his proclamation of himself as the Resurrection. As he said elsewhere, "I came that they may have life". (John 10.10).
To sinners dead towards God, slain by iniquities, Jesus, as the source of life in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit, came to bring life. Even though the body will die, the soul of the true believer in Jesus Christ, already resurrected through regeneration, will be reclothed and the true Christian will come back alive.
"Whoever lives and believes in me will never die" explains "the Life". This life can never be quenched. The true believer has this life in himself now, vested in him as an assurance of the ultimate reality of its eternity. Jesus said "If any one keeps my word, he will never see death" (John 8.51).
The word "life" as amplified here not only means that the believer cannot be affected by death itself, but also refers to the second death on Judgment Day which has no power over him who shares in the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20.6), the regeneration of the soul. Jesus himself constitutes the true believer's hope of being raised from the dead and thereafter being in a state which will be continually sustained by him as the source of life. The assurance of this life is given to the true believer through the Holy Spirit which he received when he first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
(vi). "I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me". (John 14.6).
The second part of this verse accentuates the three titles. The statement of Jesus that he is the Way came as an answer to the question of Thomas "How can we know the way?" (v.5). This simply meant, "How can we come to God?" Thomas asked the ultimate question that has perplexed and confused men ever since Adam sinned. Adam knew the Way for he had had spiritual communion with God. He knew the Truth, having knowledge of God. He had life. When he sinned he lost the way. Hiding himself in a garden was proof of this. By making aprons from figleaves he showed he had lost perception of truth. Being cast from God's presence was death as God had warned.
Now Buddha, the master of the Buddhists, showed his followers a way. Muhammed claimed unswerving allegiance to his religion of Islam as the way. But Jesus claimed that the way to God is not through a discovery (e.g., Buddha), his example (viz. Muhammed), or his teachings (all the rest), but by HIM, his very person.
Verse 7 tells us why: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. Henceforth you know him and have seen him." It is this very manifestation of the Father in himself that makes Jesus the only way to God. And it is for this reason that he says "I AM the way." As Jesus himself said:
"No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Matthew 11.27).
It is this reality that establishes Jesus as the way. It is God, in his fulness, who is revealed in him and so he declares his deity "I AM the way." Any concept of God or philosophy or theology about him that does not find its completeness in Jesus Christ is false. So he says "I AM the Truth." Buddhists say that truth can be found through their eight-spoked wheel of righteousness. By strictly following eight principles they claim that they can discover truth. The Muslims believe that truth is found in a book, the Qur'an. Hindus tell us that truth is abstract. But Jesus says "I AM the Truth." It was said earlier in John's Gospel that "God is true" (John 3.33). Indeed apart from God there is no truth and all truth vests directly in him. In Jesus Christ the truth is gloriously revealed. He does not claim to be the Truth apart from or equal to God, but with the divine logos declares "I AM the Truth." To know him is to discover the very truth of God.
For "I AM the life" see on John 11.25 above.
(vii). "I AM the True Vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." (John 15.1).
"I AM the Vine, you are the branches." (John 15.5)
This is the last of the great statements of Jesus in which he declares his deity, beginning "I AM".
In verse 1 we find the adjective "true", also used in John 1.9 to describe Jesus ("the true light") and in John 6.32 ("the true bread"), all of which give substance to the declaration "I AM the Truth."
Jesus says "I AM the Vine." A short explanation of the word used will show once again why it is necessary that Jesus should introduce the phrase with another declaration of deity "I AM".
No branch can survive by itself, it must draw its life from the vine. As soon as it is cut off it cannot bear fruit. Indeed it perishes (John 15.6). Without drawing all its sustenance from the vine, real life in the branch perishes. As we have seen, without drawing real, spiritual, eternal life from Jesus we merely exist and in our sinful state are dead towards God and on judgment day will perish forever in the second death and it is therefore clear that we need real life within us. That Jesus came to bring this life to sinners is continually emphasised in this Gospel (1.4, 5.40, 6.33, 10.10). But why does he declare "I AM the Vine"? Why must he declare his deity in claiming to be the source of real human life? Because this life is the very life which comes from God and unites men to God.
Though a man may be physically alive, he is not necessarily spiritually alive. This life comes only by the very Spirit of God who makes men inwardly alive to God. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Spirit of God to them as the prophets of old had predicted (see John 16.7, Luke 24.49). Through the prophets God had promised "I will put my Spirit within you" (Ez. 36.27, Isaiah 44.3, Joel 2.29).
As just a man Jesus could be the recipient of the Holy Spirit but only God could impart it. But Jesus said that he himself would send the Spirit, that to know him is to know the Father, that to love him is to be known of God. Who is this man, this mediator, who claims such power and authority to draw men to the very knowledge of all the fulness of God? Who is he who claims that to know him and to believe in him will gain the believer access to God? Some mere man making phenomenal claims? A prophet? A messenger? "I AM the Vine" he declares.
Our vine is the source and author of all life, the one who imparts it, the one who sustains it, and the one in whom it vests. It is he who says "I AM the Vine."
For those of us who are saved by his grace, as true Christians, may the "genuineness of our faith ... rebound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1.7). For Muslims who read this, may God grant you the knowledge of his Son, he who says "I and the Father are One" (John 10.30), the great "I AM", whom to know is eternal life.
3. Jesus deity veiled in the tense of a sentence.
Occasionally the deity of Jesus is revealed in a sentence by his use of the present tense, "I am". In none of these is the expression emphatic (that is, the word "eimi", which means "I am", is not accompanied by the pronoun "ego" which makes the expression emphatic, e.g. "I myself am", declaring that what he claims is unique and can only be applied to himself).
The fascinating feature of these expressions is that Jesus does not intend to declare his deity but, because he is very deity, unbound by time and indeed the ruler of it, who is not measured by past or future but is the "same, yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13.8), he cannot use any other expression but "I am"!
I intend just to list these utterances with very brief comments about outstanding features. The verses are translated literally.
i). "Jesus said to them, 'You know me and you know whence I am? I have not come on my own accord but he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, because from him I am' and he sent me'." (John 7.28-29).
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and eternally lives in the present. He does not say "From him I came" but "From him I am". He is always, everywhere, eternally one with his Father whom the Jews called their God. He is from him but has never left him.
ii). "Alone I am not, but with he who sent me." (John 8.16).
The same comments apply.
"You are from below, I am from above." (John 8.23).
Again his deity is clearly revealed: "I am from above." He does not say "I came from above", Oh no, he is eternally above. Though he came to earth, yet as he is deity, he is always above. "He who comes FROM above IS above all." (John 3.31).
iv). "I am the Son of God." (John 10.36).
No emphatic "ego" is used here and the context makes the reason clear. Jesus is not asserting his deity but is defending his claim in the light of the scripture which supports the concept that men may be sons of God. However, the deity of Jesus not denied. He is merely endorsing his claim.
v). You call me Teacher and Lord. and you are right, for so I am." (John 13.13).
Once again the present tense of the verse veils the declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ. He does not assert it here but nevertheless his very nature and the claim he makes demands the use of the great words denoting an ever present state, "I am".
vi). "Little children, yet a little while I am with you." (John 13.33).
In a very real sense Jesus would no longer be with them. But in an eternal sense he would never leave them, and so the scripture records, "Lo, all the days until the completion of the age, with you I AM" (Matt. 28.20).
When he said "yet a little while I am with you" he did not declare the divine Word, "EGO EIMI" - "I AM" for he spoke only of himself as their human companion. In that sense he was leaving them. He was soon to ascend to heaven. But when said "I AM with you always" he used the declaration of deity because he could never be any where else but with them. He fills all eternity. He is everywhere. In that sense he would never leave them. Humanly speaking he was leaving them but as deity in his eternal Spirit he would never leave them.
Because of his very deity, Jesus is neither of the world, nor just a man in the world. His deity is revealed in the very content of his statements but as he is praying to the Father and not declaring himself to men, no emphatic claim is made.
viii). "You say that I am a king." (John 18.37).
Jesus is the King of Israel, which is the same as saying the Shepherd of Israel. As we have already seen that he declared his deity when proclaiming himself Israel's Shepherd (as indeed he had to, because the title belonged to God), we might expect the same here. But Pilate's question is just "Are you a king?" The Governor was thinking solely in human terms and Jesus answered him on this basis. (Contrast his answer to the High Priest in Luke 22.70 dealt with below).
There are instances in John's Gospel where Jesus uses the emphatic I AM where, unlike the absolute declarations which are all devoid of predicates and the great sayings wherein he declared his functions, each again is veiled in the tense. However, by using the emphatic form of the "I AM" it is obvious that Jesus intended that his hearers should recognise his claim.
Although the emphatic "ego eimi" is used, and cannot but otherwise describe where Jesus "is", the words are simply part of the sentence and fit into the tense. In the first verse, he says the Jews cannot come "where I AM", not where he is going! And when he said the second sentence he was not desiring that his discples should be in the garden with him but rather in his eternal realm of which he speaks on both occasions. That realm is heaven. Though he was now on earth, because he is very deity, he ever fills the whole creation, and so he speaks of his eternal realm as "where I AM."
ii). "I AM bearing witness to myself." (John 8.18).
Instead of saying "I bear witness" he emphatically declares "I AM bearing witness." As he adds that "the Father also bears witness to me" it is obvious why he speaks of his deity. According to Jewish law any claim must be established by at least two witnesses. Well, two persons in the Godhead bear witness to him - what more do the Jews need to satisfy them of his deity?
There is another reason. The very first and last words of this discourse are "I AM". The absolute declaration occurs twice more in the discourse without any predicates. Five times Jesus declares his deity. Once he states "I AM the Light of the World" and then uses the absolute "I AM" three times and again uses it in this verse. If ever Jesus set out to declare himself and his deity to men, it was during this discourse.
The construction here is unique - it is the only time Jesus began a sentence with "I AM" not followed by a predicate noun interchangeable with himself as subject.
Other uses of the emphatic "I AM" in this sense (in the flow of a sentence) are in John 14.3 - "Where I AM, you may be also", and in John 12.26 - "Where I AM, there will my servant be also."
"I AM" elsewhere in the New Testament.
John's Gospel contains most of the declarations of deity "I AM" but there are a number of other similar proclamations by Jesus elsewhere in the New Testament and we shall briefly look at some of them.
Earlier I mentioned Luke 22.70 in contrast with John 18.37. Let us read it:
"And they all said 'Are you the Son of God, then?' And he said to them, 'You say that I AM'."
Even more emphasis is given in the answer which Jesus gave to the High Priest:
"'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' And he said to them, 'I AM'." (Mark 14.61-62).
This absolute declaration was the only answer Jesu could give. When asking him if he were the Son of God, the High Priest was enquiring whether he was deity manifested in the flesh. As High Priest he put Jesus on oath to answer him. Emphatically Jesus replied "I AM". At this the High Priest tore his mantle, exclaiming to those who were around him "You have heard his blasphemy". He had clearly enquired of Jesus whether he was the very image of the invisible God. Not only did Jesus reply in the affirmative, he emphatically took the divine name "I AM". Caiaphas accused him of blasphemy. The incident can only be considered in two ways. Either Jesus is the Son of God or he was speaking blasphemy. All thoughts or theories about Jesus being a good man, or just a prophet, or an example of good living must be disregarded. Either you acknowledge by his own claims of deity that he is the very Son of God or you must join forces with Caiaphas and declare him a blasphemer and an impostor. By his own claims you cannot choose any path other than one of the two. For Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.
The contrast with the answer of Jesus to Pilate is worth noting. Pilate asked whether he was a king in the mould of other earthly kings and rulers. He got an answer in human terms. Caiaphas and the others enquired whether he was the divine ruler of Israel. They got a divine answer!
Other great "I AM" declarations are found in Acts 26.15 where Jesus appeared to Paul and in revealing his identity as the Holy One of Israel, he began by saying "I AM Jesus", thereby attributing to himself the office of the Holy One of God who was mentioned in Isaiah 43, a chapter where God identifies himself as the Holy One and on numerous occasions declares himself by the great word "I AM" (v.3, ll, 13, 15, 25). Jesus declared his unity and identity with the one who spoke to Isaiah by first addressing Paul with the divine word "I AM". Another incident is recorded in Luke 24.39 where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and proclaimed himself as he gave them proofs of his identity by "I AM" (to which Thomas responded 'My Lord and my God!' - John 20.28). But some of the greatest declarations are in the book of Revelation where Jesus speaks from the throne of God. We shall look briefly at just a few of these.
i). "I AM THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA, THE FIRST AND THE LAST, THE BEGINNING AND THE END." (Revelation 22.13. Compare with 1.8, 1.17, 21.6).
Of all the claims Jesus ever made to deity, this is surely the greatest and embraces all that ever has been, ever is, or ever will be. Further comment is unnecessary.
ii). "All the churches shall know that I AM, the one who searches mind and heart." (Revelation 2.23).
This is a clear statement that the whole body of true Christian believers shall know that he in whom they trust, who was crucified, is indeed their Lord.
iii). "I AM the Root and the offspring of David; the Bright Morning Star." (Revelation 22.16).
This is the last great I AM in the Bible. Not only is Jesus descended from David, he is also his root. He is the Son of David, he is also his Lord. (Compare the question of Jesus given in Matthew 22.41-45). He is also the Bright Morning Star - a symbol of royalty of which our divine sovereign is altogether worthy.
SOLO DEI GLORIA!
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The deity of Jesus Christ is one of the clearest of all Biblical teachings. In addition to this study, we suggest that you read the Letter of Paul to the Colossians.
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