The words were delivered with the voice of authority that one might expect from a radio preacher.
For all his preaching power and zeal, this teacher of the Word could not have been more incorrect. For the Messiah there was no identity crisis. He did question the disciples as to their understanding of His identity when He asked in Matthew 16:13, “Who do men say that I am?” But as the Lamb of God, Jesus had a clear understanding of His dual nature. He was God, Who had come in the flesh. Some contemporary religionists reading the Bible might have missed His proclamation. But for those in Judea, who heard Him speak, the announcement of His Divinity was crystal clear.
That announcement came on the same morning that the scribes and Pharisees had expressed indignation because Jesus had spared the life of the woman they claimed had been caught in the “very act” of adultery. As they engaged Jesus, questioning His authority to heal the sick and to forgive sinners, the Jewish authorities were stunned to hear the declaration of Divinity spoken by Christ.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:58, 59).
The reaction of the Jewish leaders helps us to know the depth of the meaning of the words of Christ. They were outraged at the implication of his statement. There was no mistaking the meaning of those five words “before Abraham was, I AM.” They understood that Jesus was going on record in declaring Himself to be the “I AM,” who spoke with Moses at the burning bush.
The significance of Jesus’ testimonial was not swept away by the whirlwinds of confusion. His turn of a phrase was established in a very public way. He revealed His true identity. He was declaring the reality of the opening words of John’s gospel; in the beginning He was the Word. He was with God. He was God.
Were the Jews unsure of the meaning of His words? Not in the least. Indeed, John 10 shares this narrative: “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God’” (John 10:31-33).
Their response provides additional evidence of their understanding of His self-identification. However, they rejected His claim. “Blasphemer,” they cried. “Death,” they bellowed.
Whether Jesus ever uttered the words, I am God or not, the Jews certainly understood that He believed He was God. In John 5:18, we’re told, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
According to Scripture, Jesus did express Himself to be God. Was there any confusion among the Disciples? Absolutely not. Dr. Luke records Paul’s declaration in Acts 20:28, “ The Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Writing of Jesus, Paul in Philippians 2:6 describes him as one, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul reminds us that in Jesus “God was manifested in the flesh.” In Titus 2:13, we are admonished to look for the blessed hope “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
On that hill far away there was no confusion regarding the identity of the One hanging on the middle cross. Not for the disciples, not for the Jews and certainly not for Jesus. He was the God of creation, Who loved mankind so much that He had kept an appointment on Calvary to become the God of salvation.