The Lord Jesus used the expression, “I am,” throughout the Gospel of John in referring to Himself: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), “I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), “I am the true vine” (John 15:1), etc. There is so much to be learned from these wonderful statements concerning our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but in this lesson, we want to focus on the significance of these first two words: “I AM.”

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to lead the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, Moses questioned God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exo. 3:13). God’s answer to Moses was, “I AM WHO I AM. Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exo. 3:14).
The expression “I AM” is from the Hebrew “haya,” the verb “to be.” It is closely related to the Hebrew “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” a title for God which is found over 5000 times in the Old Testament. According to Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon, this name “Jehovah” means “the existing one” or “the self-existent one.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (by Harris, Archer, and Waltke) says, “It seems beyond doubt that the name (Jehovah/Yahweh) contains the verb haya ‘to be.'” God’s response to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” might also be translated “I AM HE WHO IS,” for it speaks of God’s eternal existence. Thus, the words, “I AM,” God’s name for Himself, are very powerful words.

When Jesus used the expression, “I AM” in reference to Himself, He was, in effect, claiming to be God! He was declaring Himself to be equal with Jehovah, the eternally existent God. Those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, assert that Jesus never actually claimed that He was God. They question that Jesus’ use of the expression “I AM” was really a declaration of His deity. We have mentioned the more well-known uses of the expression, “I AM,” found in John’s gospel, but there are others that make it clear that Jesus was, in fact, asserting His equality with God.

In John 8, we find Jesus teaching in the temple (John 8:20). He began by saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). In verses 13-19, the Pharisees disputed with Him regarding His testimony. Following this, we read, in verses 21-24,

“Then Jesus said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.’ So the Jews said, ‘Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?’ And He said to them, ‘You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.'”

Please notice Jesus’ statement in verse 24: “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins'” The expression “I am He” is more literally translated, “I AM,” for the word “He” is in italics, meaning it is not found in the original text. In this verse, Jesus gets to the very heart of His ministry to Israel: the person of Christ. They must believe that Jesus is, in fact, the great “I AM,” the eternal God, or they will die (spiritually) in their sins (cf. John 20:31).

The Jews, in verses 25-28, questioned Jesus concerning who He was. Jesus’ response in verse 28 was, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He (or literally ‘I AM’).” The finished work of Christ on the cross also demonstrated that Jesus was the great “I AM.” The many prophecies that were fulfilled (Acts 3:18), Jesus’ humility and obedience to the Father’s will (Phil. 2:5-8), the darkness that covered the land the last 3 hours before Jesus died (Matt. 27:45), the veil of the temple being torn from top to bottom, the great earthquake that occurred (Matt. 27:51), plus, the powerful testimony of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, all testified to the deity of our Savior.

The thief that was crucified with Jesus saw and believed Jesus was the great “I AM,” calling Him, “Lord” (Luke 23:42). The centurion who superintended Jesus’ crucifixion saw and believed that Jesus was the great “I AM,” declaring, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54). Yet, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day—the priests, scribes, and Pharisees—refused to acknowledge Him, clinging, instead, to their traditions, their religious system of good works (legalism), and their self-righteousness. They, like so many today, would not believe in the person of Jesus, even after He had finished His work on the cross of Calvary. What did Jesus say? “If you do not believe that I AM He, you will die in your sins.” It was true then, of the Jewish leaders; it is still true today, of all who do not believe on Him!

As the confrontation between Jesus and the Jews continued in John 8, we find His deity brought into focus again. In verses 33-47, the Jews laid claim to Abraham as their father. Though they may have been Abraham’s physical descendants, they were certainly not his children spiritually. Jesus boldly told them, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). In the Jews’ answer to Jesus, they asked Him, “Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). In His response to them, Jesus stated, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). “Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM'” (John 8:57-58).

Jesus was saying, “Before Abraham ever existed, I AM!” He was clearly claiming His eternal existence, His deity. The Jews certainly understood this to be His claim, for “they took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59), believing His statement to be blasphemy.

The power of who Jesus is was also seen in John 18:1-9, when Judas led the soldiers to Gethsemane to arrest Him. As they approached Him, Jesus asked, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” When Jesus said to them, “I am He,” or literally, “I AM,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Why? They were moved by the power and majesty of the person of Jesus and of His glorious name: “I AM.”

Jesus is not just another religious leader, as most of the world views Him today. He is not like Buddha, or Mohammed, or Abraham, or Moses. Jesus is, indeed, the great “I AM”—the eternal God, Jehovah! As He said in John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.” He did not just mean that they were in agreement with one another, but that they were one in person.

Do you believe this wonderful truth? Do you believe in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe in His death on Calvary for your sins? Do you believe in His glorious resurrection from the dead? Or, are you, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, clinging instead to the traditions of men, religious systems, and your own self-righteousness and good works? If so, it is just as Jesus said, “you will die in your sins.”