I Am (John 8:48–59)

Read John 8:48–59.

Not too long ago, I heard a singer-songwriter say that his job is to describe the world as he sees it. I think that’s right—and I would put my own vocation as a writer in the same category. But the question still remains: how should you and I view reality? How big and how wide is it? Is there more than what we can feel in our gut and see with our eyes?

Neo took the red pill, and he discovered his reality was phony, a matrix designed to keep him docile. Lucy stepped through the wardrobe and felt the snow of a magical country crunching beneath her feet. Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his servant, and the hilltops revealed a heavenly army (2 Kings 6:17).

I remember sitting in a church leadership meeting one time. One of the pastors said he thought our church services needed to make faith more relevant to real life. What he meant was that there ought to be more sermons on career issues, sustaining a healthy marriage, grace-filled parenting, and navigating the perils of modern life—that sort of thing. That’s all well and good, but looking back, I think he had it backwards. We don’t need more messages that make faith relevant to our lives. We need encouragement to make our lives relevant to the faith we say we have.

We all need to see this world with spiritual eyes, as it truly is. We need to take the red pill, step through the wardrobe door, and pray that God would reveal his troops on the hilltops surrounding us. We need to experience the fullness of the universe in which we find ourselves.

This question of reality has been the backdrop for Jesus’ dialogue with the people gathered at the temple for the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7–8). He has been teaching about the true nature of the world: The Jewish leaders say Jesus is merely another peasant from Galilee; He tells them He’s come down from heaven. They say He broke the Sabbath by healing a lame man; He says they don’t understand the heart of God or the purpose of the Sabbath. He announces He is the light of the world; they don’t even recognize they are living in darkness. They say Abraham is their father; He says their real father is the devil. And on and on…

Jesus warned them, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). The people can’t see past what their natural eyes can show them; they can’t see the depth and breadth and magic of true reality. Here at the end of John 8, Jesus pulls back the veil to the unseen realm even further.

It started simply enough. Jesus told the people, “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never taste death” (John 8:51). You and I have learned to translate these words—to understand that Jesus isn’t talking about bodily death, but rather eternal death. He’s saying those who trust in Him will pass from this earthly life into everlasting life with God the Father. They will pass through the judgment unscathed and never know the wages of their sin. He’s telling the people what He will later tell Martha of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25).

It’s confusing, to be sure, especially if you’re out of practice viewing the world the way God views it, but it’s good news through and through. The people, however, take offense. They can’t see the offer at hand. All they hear is that Jesus seems to be placing Himself above Abraham and the prophets. After all, they followed God, and they all died. How, then, can Jesus hold the keys to life and death? So they rightly ask, “Who do you think you are?” (8:53).

Jesus tells them exactly who He is—and it’s enough to make them pick up rocks to stone Him.

Since the people mention Abraham, Jesus lets them know, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (v. 56). Two thousand years separate the life of Abraham and the earthly life of Jesus, yet Abraham knew Jesus. Such a thing can only be true if Jesus is who He has been claiming to be: “‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”

This “I am” is ego eimi, the same phrase Yahweh used to introduce Himself to Moses at the burning bush in the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14. Jesus is claiming to be Yahweh, now come in the flesh. The crowds understand exactly what He means. Hence, their response with the stones.

But when exactly did Abraham meet Jesus? That’s the million-dollar question. Of course, the Old Testament never talks about Jesus of Nazareth directly. Instead, as Jesus indicates here in John 8, He and Yahweh are one. Still, it’s interesting that in Genesis 15, it’s “the word of the LORD” who comes to Abraham (then called Abram) “in a vision” (v. 1). Now, put your finger in Genesis 15 and flip back over to the opening verse of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1).

Before the Word came in the flesh, the Word went and visited Abraham. Right about now, you may think I’m twisting things. I mean, “the word of the Lord” can simply refer to the voice of God, right? Yes, many times it may, but remember that this “word” came “in a vision” (Genesis 15:1), meaning it, or He rather, was visible to Abraham. Later, this same word “took him outside” (v. 5). This was more than an audible voice from heaven.*

That day at the Festival of Tabernacles, Jesus revealed something no one could have expected: At the center of true reality, the most important truth we will ever know is that Jesus is God. It is He who created this world and formed us before we were born. It is He who orders the stars, cares for the birds, and gives rain to the righteous and unrighteous alike. The beauty that we see all around us came from His imagination. Every good thing we experience in this life is a gift from His hand. And He is our only hope in life and in death. He is worthy of our worship and our undivided devotion. He ought to be our everything.

It’s a lot to take in, requiring nothing less than a complete reordering of everything we thought we knew. For many people, it’s too much to handle. But Jesus is the One our hearts were made for, the One who answers our souls’ deepest longings. As He told the crowds that day, He is the source of living water (John 7:37–38), the light in the darkness (8:12), and the truth that sets us free (8:32). The only question, then, is: Will we follow Him into a reality that’s deeper and wider than we had conceived or will we close our eyes and cover our ears?

The choice is left to each one of us—and not just once. When the morning light interrupts our sleep and draws us into a new day, we must choose. Each and every day, we must ask God to give us eyes to see.


* Another interesting passage is Genesis 18, where God comes to earth in bodily form to visit Abraham and is clearly referred to as Yahweh, rendered “the LORD” in most English translations.


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