Text: John 8:42-59
“The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” With these words, we witness a climax of the tension between the Jewish authorities and our Lord. These confrontations seem to increase toward the end of the Gospel as those sinful men sought to silence the Word of God. Indeed, in just a few more chapters, the authorities would make up their mind to put Jesus to the death. But Jesus would not be silenced. Instead, He continued to speak to them the Word of Him who sent Him and to perform miracles, in order that some might be saved. In our text, though, things look dire. Our focus today will be on those words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” – both what they mean, and what they mean for us. Christ, the eternal Son of God – the one who spoke to Abraham and to Moses – is now become flesh to suffer and die.
Our text today takes place in the temple. It would’ve happened shortly after the Feast of Booths, which is in the fall. Jesus had gone up to the temple for the celebration, and when it had ended, He went to the Mount of Olives – but, then He came back. John 8 begins with the account of the woman caught in adultery, and out text flows out of that occasion. Jesus spoke to the mixed crowd – as some of them did believe in Him – mostly concerning their father. The Jews were claiming to Jesus that they were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” By this, Jesus meant they were truly offspring of the devil. For, if they were of Abraham, they would have believed Jesus, as Abraham did.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Now, this set them off. Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith – or, so they claimed – died. The prophets also died. How could Jesus possibly say that whoever believes His Word will never die, Jesus Himself being not even fifty? That’s when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, before Abraham was born, before he was brought into existence, Jesus is. The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him because they understood what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying to them, definitively, that He is God. These are the words that were spoken to Moses from the burning bush: “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’“
With these words, Jesus was authoritatively declaring to them just who He was. He is the great I Am. He is the one who spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He is the one proclaimed by the prophets. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. He is the one who existed before all things, and by whom all things were made. With these words, Jesus is saying that He is the eternal and almighty God. There, standing in their presence, was God. And, out of the hardness of their hearts, they picked up stones.
So, what does it mean when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am?” It means that Jesus is the eternal and everlasting God, the one who was before all things and through whom all things have come into being; even Abraham, even us. But, what does this mean for us? It means that all the promises of God are being fulfilled, even in the present age. Jesus is the One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created all things. Yet, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve, who will crush the head of the devil. He is the one promised to Abraham, the offspring by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. He is the one promised to David, who would sit on the throne forever. He is the one promised through Isaiah, who will rule with justice and equity. He is the one promised to be born of a virgin. These promises are now being fulfilled.
Chiefly, being accomplished now, is the forgiveness of our sins. Christ, the eternal and everlasting God, has become flesh for this purpose – to suffer and die. We should see in this that sin is no laughing matter, no small thing. Our sins hang around our necks like a great weight. Every single sin is another shovel load as we dig ourselves down to hell; and not only us, but the whole world, also. The weight of the world’s sin such that only one sacrifice could take away the guilt – our Lord’s own self-sacrifice. Our sins prompted God to die. Mark well, the seriousness of our transgressions. But, mark as well, the depth of our God’s love for us.
Though He was without sin, though He had kept the Law of God perfectly, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin. That cup did not pass from Him; He drank it all. Not as any man did He die, but as both man and God. One person may not die for another; we are all responsible, each for his own sin. But Jesus Christ, man and God, died in place of the whole world. By His death, He secured for the world – for us – the forgiveness of our sins. And, so, this is what it means, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means that Jesus is the eternal God, the author of all life. He is the eternal God now become flesh, to suffer and die. He is the eternal Word of God become flesh to win for us the forgiveness of our sins. He is the eternal Word of God, come to bring us life through the cross.