I used to pride myself on my ability to know a lot of people. While my college was considered “small” (around 2,000 students), I would say that I knew most of them. But looking back now, I actually knew very few people; I just knew about a lot of people. There is a huge difference.
It is no surprise that social psychology says that actually knowing someone requires personal and private knowledge coming from being with someone over time and building up a level of trust so that they let you in. Knowing about someone is just the first step toward actually knowing them.
It is the same way with God. Thankfully, God has gone to the extreme to make himself known to us. He does this through nature, personal spiritual interactions, and (most importantly) the revelation of himself through his Son, Jesus Christ that we get to read about in the Bible.
Why Does Jesus Use 'I AM' to Describe Himself?
Jesus was especially self-revealing in his “I Am” statements found in the gospels (specifically in the Book of John). These descriptive statements explain the character and nature of God through significant phrases that all begin with “I Am.” These are not Jesus’ only statements about himself, but they stand out in a unique way.
Although we cannot comprehend the complexities of what God is (as in all-powerful, always present, and all-knowing), the great thing is that we can know who he is because he has revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The God of the universe is not just some mysterious voice behind a curtain. He is a relational being that we can know personally. He is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Really, Jesus’ coming was the culmination of God already revealing Himself to us in so many ways.
Interestingly, though, the gospels are not the first time that one of these “I Am” statements were used in Scripture. The first time it appears is early on in the Old Testament. In Exodus 3:14, God told a man named Moses to go to the evil Pharaoh and demand that the Hebrew people be allowed to leave their slavery in Egypt.
Along with this classic instruction to “let my people go,” God explained to Moses that His name should be called “I Am who I Am” (or “ego eimi” in the Greek), which means “I exist” or “I be.” This title of “I Am” was used by God or the “Angel of the Lord” multiple other times throughout the Old Testament (such as in the story of Samson).
This is because God always wanted His people to know Him ever since sin separated humanity from Him in the Garden of Eden. God promised His people through the prophet Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14, ESV).
Centuries later, when Jesus used it to describe Himself to His disciples, He was referring back to these expressions every time and not-so-subtly declaring that He is the I AM. No wonder the religious Jewish people were upset! While these self-revealing comments by Jesus are powerful and provocative for us, the people around Jesus would have recognized what he was doing and saying.
This was a “stumbling block” (as Paul called it in 1 Corinthians 1:23) for some of the people and a source of contention and division for others (such as the mob’s response in Luke 4). This assertion ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion! For His true disciples, though, Jesus unequivocally claiming to be God was eventually the very life-giving truth that they clung to and gave their lives for (John 6:68).
When Does Jesus Use 'I AM'?
While there was no clearer way that Jesus could have said “I Am Jehovah God,” He did not stop there. Instead, He continued to dive even deeper into revealing His nature and character by working purposeful miracles and making the following seven descriptive statements about Himself that each has real implications for humanity:
2. I Am the Light of the World: Jesus is the original and eternal source of light in the universe for us who are spiritually blind by birth (John 8).
3. I Am the Gate of the Sheepfold: Jesus is the only door to life for us who are lost outside God’s will (John 10).
5. I Am the Resurrection and the Life: Jesus is the key to escaping spiritual death for us who are hopelessly doomed to death because of our sin (John 11).
6. I Am the Way, Truth, and Life: Jesus is the accessible path, the illuminating truth, and the giver of life for us who are lost, ignorant, and dead without Him (John 14).
7. I Am the True Vine: Jesus is the source of eternal life for us who are dead and useless branches apart from him (John 15).
Jesus is the “I Am.” He is everywhere, everything, and “every-when.” As the songwriter, Oscar Bernadotte wrote more than a century ago,
He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom, He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb, He’s all that my hungering spirit needs, I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
After considering these incredible truths about who God is, we are left with the difficult question that Jesus asked His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say that I am?” Do you know God?
Not do you know about Him, but do you really know Him on a personal level. If not — He can be known, wants to be known, and made a way for you to get to know Him through Jesus Christ!
What Do the 'I AM' Statements of Jesus Mean for Us Today?
Our world is full of so many people who know just enough about God to know what to say and sing, who do just enough good to feel better about themselves, who have memorized enough out-of-context verses to convince themselves they are fine, and who would quickly check the box of “Christian,” but their eyes do not really see Jesus, their ears do not really hear His voice, and their life is not really in relationship with Him.
They say they love Jesus, but not enough to do what He says. There is an eternity of difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him.
May we hear and receive the words that Jesus said about Himself much more than what we think, how we feel, what we have heard, and even what we have experienced about Jesus in the past. May our prayer be similar to Paul’s prayer in Philippians 3:10 to “know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection…”
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/timwildsmith
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.