So 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.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8:57-59)
As our study of John 8 comes to its dramatic conclusion, the Jews present one more question to Jesus: ““You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus’ response is one of the most definitive statements of His deity: “Before Abraham was, I am.”
As we have previously noted, the phrase “I am” is a declaration of the most personal name for God. It refers to His eternal preexistence. Therefore, since this is a statement and title only God possesses, Jesus was affirming to the Jews that He was God. The present tense of the title indicates the perpetual present of God’s eternal existence. The statement also reminds us of God personal declaration to Moses in Exodus 3:14.
We should also note that prior to issuing this personal identifying statement, Jesus said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you.” This statement indicates two truths. First, by using the familiar phrase “Truly, truly” Jesus was placing emphasis that what He would say would be a true truth or an absolute truth. Second, by saying, “I say to you” Jesus was invoking His own authority as God.
Dr. John MacArthur says, “Here Jesus declared himself to be Yahweh, i.e., the Lord of the OT. Basic to the expression are such passages as Ex. 3:14; Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10 where God declared himself to be the eternally pre-existent God who revealed himself in the OT to the Jews.”
The Jews had no more questions of Jesus. They finally understood what He was saying, and they hated Him for it. They grasped the concept that Jesus was declaring Himself to be Yahweh.
What was their response to this understanding? “So they picked up stones to throw at him.” They were following the instructions from Leviticus 24:16 that anyone who claimed to be God should be stoned. However, because of their hatred towards Jesus that they did not attempt to take Him out of the city/camp as Leviticus 24:14 directed. They also failed to understand that Jesus’ claim to be God was true.
Dr. R.C. Sproul explains, “When the Jews responded with incredulity, asking how He, a man younger than fifty, saw Abraham, who lived a millennia earlier, Jesus made an even bolder claim: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:57–58). Christ was saying more than that He preexisted Abraham, for He did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Instead, He was drawing from the Old Testament and God’s covenant name revealed therein. As we have seen, the Greek construction behind the English translation “I am” (egō eimi) is the same one used when God revealed Himself to Moses. Thus, “Jesus claimed for Himself equality with the Father by clearly using the divine name that God revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14). Jesus identified Himself as eternal deity, declaring that He was alive as the second person of the Trinity before Abraham was born”
Jesus escaped this impromptu execution by miraculously hiding Himself and then leaving the temple. He did so because His hour of execution had not come (John 7:30-44; 18:1-6). Jesus remained in complete control of all the events in His life on earth.
Pastor Burk Parsons states that, “Some people are willing to put Jesus on the same plane as other renowned religious leaders such as Buddha or Muhammad. In light of Jesus’ claims about Himself, however, we cannot do that. Jesus is not just another religious sage—He is God incarnate. God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, and He retains that flesh forever. This claim separates Christianity from other world religions, and we must not be afraid to declare it.”
Soli deo Gloria!