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Jesus: The Great I AM

Does Jesus actually claim to be God?

It had been a daily routine for the past forty years. Moses had been shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks in the land of Midian and this particular day was no different. The now eighty-year-old Moses, as he had done many times before, “led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God”. (Exodus 3:1) Then, on what was an otherwise ordinary day the extra-ordinary happened: “The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)

But Who should I tell them sent me?” Moses asks. “I AM WHO I AM,” He responds.

Through this first and most dramatic encounter with this Figure, Moses would learn first of all that this was none other than God Almighty, the God of his fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Secondly, to Moses’ dismay, he had been chosen to deliver his people, the Israelites, from the bondage of the Egyptians. “But Who should I tell them sent me?” Moses asks. “I AM WHO I AM,” He responds. Therefore, tell them “I AM” has sent me to you. In other words, “I am self-existent; I am the eternal God”—I AM Yahweh.

It is highly significant that Jesus of Nazareth referred to Himself a number of times as the great “I AM”. In fact, Jesus uses this expression in two primary ways, both of which echo the Old Testament description of Yahweh: He uses it in a simple predicate construction, such as “I am the good shepherd” as well as in the absolute sense, without a predicative expression, so that it is rendered simply as “I am”[1]. Jesus employs this absolute sense several times throughout the Gospels[2], particularly in John, although many translations add the word “he” (rendering the phrase “I am he”) or change the phrase completely to “It is I” in order to avoid an awkward reading; however, this term is not at all present in the original Greek text.

For example, in Matthew 14:27 when Jesus is walking on the sea He speaks words of comfort to his terrified disciples: “Be of good cheer! I am He; do not be afraid.” But in Greek, the word “He” is not present. So literally Jesus said, “Be of good cheer! I AM. Do not be afraid.” Also consider John 18:6 in which Jesus again confesses that “I am He”. Again, in the original Greek Jesus simply says: “I AM”. And these words uttered by Jesus caused those present to physically draw back and fall to the ground.

Jesus’ repeated use of this phraseἐγώ εἰμί (egō eimi) in the absolute sense draws on Exodus 3:14 and other Old Testament passages where the phrase clearly refers to God. In using the expression, Jesus is explicitly identifying Himself with Yahweh, asserting His eternality, self-existence, and changelessness, and claiming to bear Yahwehs presence on Earth – a claim that is undoubtedly confirmed through His death, resurrection and ascension.

 

Ryan Hembree | October 4, 2019 – 6:50 PM EST


[1]Miller, J. E. (2016). I Am Sayings. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2]Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50, Mark 14:62; Luke 22:70; John 8:24, John 8:28, John 8:58; John 13:19; John 18:6

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