Jesus didn’t pull any punches, and He made some very bold statements that flew in the face of the religious leaders of Israel. In John 8, we read of one of His confrontations with the Pharisees, and in the midst of it, Jesus said something profound that made them furious. Many modern readers, especially those with no Jewish background or knowledge, tend to overlook it.
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:58 (KJV)
At first glance, we think this is saying that Jesus was claiming to exist before Abraham lived. That, in itself, would anger the Jews, because it would be a claim to His eternal existence. But, looking closer, we see what appears to the casual reader, a mistake in the grammatic structure of the sentence. The verb tenses look to be different: before Abraham WAS, I AM. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Before Abraham was, I was?” Absolutely not. The scripture is written correctly, because I Am is a title; the very name of God.
Going back to Exodus, when God appeared to Moses, Moses asked who he should say was telling Him to liberate the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The Lord told Him that He was to call Him I Am.
God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14 (NIV)
Therefore, when Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I Am,” He was very clearly telling them that He was God- the very same God that had appeared to their forefather Moses. And because they refused to see Him for Who He was, they believed Him to be a blasphemer, practically losing their sanity with rage.
All through His earthly ministry, Jesus was clear in Who He was and Who had sent Him. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the Messiah. He fulfilled every one that had to be filled during His lifetime, and yet most of the religious leaders and teachers of the Law (the Word) turned a blind eye to the evidence that was right in front of them. Instead, they came against Him continually, even accusing Him of working miracles by the power of the devil. They made the decision not to believe in Him, and did everything they could to rid themselves of His presence- ultimately nailing Him to the cross. They chose spiritual blindness over the illumination of His true identity. And in the end, they chose the eternal damnation of their souls.
Today, many people are still choosing blindness and darkness over the light of Jesus and His gospel. And if the people of Jesus’ day confronted Him and refused to believe what was right in front of their faces, how can we expect people today to act any different? We cannot become discouraged, however. As we pray and release the light of the glorious gospel of Christ to them, speaking the removal of what has blinded them, we will see the Holy Spirit drawing them to salvation. It is when it is darkest, that the light of Jesus is the brightest. It is the goodness of God that draws people to repentance, so as we love and reach out to people, their hearts will be softened, and they will come to know the wonderful love of I Am.