Jesus said "I am..."
When someone asks which Gospel to read in order to get to know Jesus, the answer often given is John. This is a great place to start to get a picture of Jesus’ ministry, and His teachings. John is easy to understand, and yet because of that it is easy miss the depth of what is going on in this Gospel.
Seven times John includes an earth-shattering saying of Jesus that shows Him as the fulfillment of a major Old Testament motif, or theme. John shows us that much of the Old Testament was a shadow of the True Realty of the coming Messiah!
We believe, as you learn more about these 7 statements, you will come away with a greater love and understanding of who Jesus is now and forever.
In John, Jesus makes 7 major I AM statements, where He is saying two things:
- He was affirming His divinity by connecting Himself to the Holy Name of the Lord (“I AM who I AM”), used in Exodus 3:14, as well as Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:13.
- He was showing Himself as the fulfillment of a major motif of Scripture. Just like a shadow at sunset points towards the substance, so do these motifs of the Old Testament point towards the true substance, which is Christ (Hebrews 10:1)
John 6:35; 48-51
We cannot understand Jesus’ statement, “I am the Bread of Life”, without seeing it in the context of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus and His disciples find themselves in a situation where they have a multitude of people, who have listened to His teaching, and have no food to eat. This is similar to Moses teaching the Israelites in the wilderness, where they also had nothing to eat. In the wilderness, God provided manna to feed them. However, that manna could never satisfy. Day after day they had to gather it, or it would go bad. This time however, Jesus miraculously feeds them with abundance. From this miracle, the people recognized that Jesus is the prophet that Moses prophesied would come (John 6:14; Deuteronomy 18:15). The manna in the wilderness was a shadow of the true substance that was to come in Jesus. Like the manna, the Old Covenant could never fully satisfy. The manna, like the sacrifices, would need to be gathered every day. However, Jesus is the bread that brings life. Those who partake of Jesus will be eternally satisfied (this is a fulfillment also of Isaiah 55:1-5).
SHADOW: the manna that Israel ate in the wilderness that couldn’t satisfy
CONTEXT: Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000, with leftovers
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is the bread from heaven that eternally satisfies
The Feast of Tabernacles would have been a spectacular sight. It was a time where people would come together to celebrate the faithfulness of God to lead their ancestors through the wilderness. It was also a time when they looked ahead to when God would lead them to future victory. Young and old would get together to live in tents similar to what their ancestors lived in during this time period, and yet the most spectacular visual reminder was saved for the evenings of this festival. To remind them of God leading them in the pillar of fire in the wilderness, they constructed a lamp-stand in the temple that was as tall as a 7 story building! It could be seen from all around Jerusalem. Each night of the festival they lit these torches, and their light shone throughout the city as a reminder that they are to follow God’s leading. With this as a backdrop, Jesus proclaims, “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Jesus is the One who led Israel through the wilderness, and Jesus will lead all who follow Him into future victory! This was what Isaiah prophesied about the Servant when he said, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…” (Isaiah 42:6).
SHADOW: God leading Israel through the wilderness with fire, and the Servant in Isaiah who would be “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
CONTEXT: During the Feast of Tabernacles, during which, 7-story candlesticks were lit every night.
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is the Servant, whose light would bring salvation to the world.
Israel looked forward to a day when their shepherd would lead them to pasture, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2). During the hot summer months in Israel, sheep were led out to pasture to feed. These pastures had a wall or hedge around them to keep the sheep in, while keeping thieves and predators out. This wall didn’t have a door, but had an opening, where the shepherd would lay down at night to guard it. He essentially was the door to the sheep, only letting the righteous in and keeping the nefarious out. Jesus makes this ‘I AM’ statement right after He healed the blind man, which upset the Pharisees. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus always has the best interests of the sheep in mind. The blind man was a sheep who recognized his Shepherd’s voice and followed Him. This imagery goes back to Psalm 118, which was sung at the Festival of Tabernacles that they were currently celebrating, “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous enter through it” (Psalm 118:20). As followers of Jesus we can follow His voice, trusting that He will lead and protect us!
SHADOW: Israel looked forward to a day when their shepherd would lead the righteous to pasture. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2); “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it” (Psalm 118:20).
CONTEXT: Jesus just healed the blind man. The Pharisees responded by kicking this man out of the synagogue for his faith in Jesus.
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is the door to the pasture for His sheep. Like a door, He not only lets His sheep in, but also protects them and keeps the thieves out.
Israel had a long history of bad shepherds; people who would lead the people for their own selfish gain, and not with the best intentions of the people in mind. The fact that Ezekiel’s description of the bad shepherds from his time sound just like the Pharisees during Jesus’ time shows that nothing much has changed. Ezekiel says, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves… The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick… So they were scattered because there was no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:2-5). This is just what the Pharisees had done to the blind man whom Jesus healed, as they kicked him out of the synagogue! Despite these bad shepherds, Ezekiel prophesies of a new good shepherd who will come. This shepherd that they looked forward to would not just be a good leader, but would be someone greater: “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out… I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick” (Ezekiel 34:11-16). There is no better shepherd than God Himself, who would lay Himself down so that we could live!
SHADOW: In the Old Testament, God prophesies that He will be their shepherd. “I Myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 34:15; see also Isaiah 40:11).
CONTEXT: Jesus calls out the Pharisees (bad shepherds) for their pride, expelling the formerly blind man from the synagogue for his faith in Jesus
SUBSTANCE: Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus is the good shepherd who will humbly lay down his life for His sheep.
When we face the painful loss of a loved one, we cling to the hope that we will one day see them again. This was the hope that Martha held on to when her brother Lazarus died when she said, “I know that he will rise again on the last day” (John 11:24). Like most Jews, she believed that God would raise them to life when God restores all things. They believed that the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37 was a picture of this future last day: “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5). They recognized that God had the power of life in this future resurrection. What was not always clear to them was the divine identity of Jesus. Only God has the power of life and resurrection, and that power resides in Jesus. The evidence He gives that He is the God of the resurrection: He raises Lazarus from the dead. Those who believe in Jesus share this same hope that we will be a part of that future resurrection. What is the evidence that He gives us? We have His Holy Spirit. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:14).
SHADOW: The vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, where the dead are raised and given the Spirit of God, which brings life.
CONTEXT: Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again, which she understood to be in the far future, at the final resurrection.
SUBSTANCE: In Jesus is the power of eternal life. Only those who believe in Jesus can receive the Spirit of God, and share in the resurrection and eternal life.
John 14:6This statement is richly rooted in the prophet Isaiah. More than 700 years before Christ, Isaiah prophesied of a future where God’s people can once again dwell with Him. He painted a vivid picture of this time, with God opening up a highway (sometimes called a ‘way’) where those who are righteous can have direct access to Himself. They looked forward to a day when their sin no longer kept them from the presence of God, and they could finally have direct access to Him: “a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way” (Isaiah 25:8 NIV). What is this Way of Holiness, and how does someone find it? When Jesus is talking to His disciples He tells them, “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The only way for God to dwell with you is through Jesus. He is the highway talked about in Isaiah, and through Him we are now the dwelling place of God!
SHADOW: In Isaiah, a recurring theme is a coming ‘way’ or ‘highway’ that leads to a place where God would dwell with His people (“a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness” Isaiah 35:8)
CONTEXT: Jesus told the disciples that He will leave (after His death, resurrection, and ascension), through which He will make a way where God would make His home with them.
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is that highway, leading us to become the dwelling place of God! In Him is found all truth and eternal life.
John 15:1, 5Vineyards were everywhere in Judea. Because of this, God used the imagery of a vine and a vineyard throughout the Old Testament to portray Israel (Psalm 80:8-13; Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-11; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:5-10; 19:10-14). Unfortunately, Israel was a vine that could never produce the ripe and healthy fruit that God was looking for. Those who were looking for righteousness through being attached to Israel and the works of the Old Covenant were met with failure. The story of Israel and the Old Covenant underscored the need for something greater: a vine that could produce healthy branches. Jesus says this ‘I AM’ statement in the evening before His crucifixion. Though the disciples don’t realize it yet, in the morning everything will change. Their identity will no longer be as branches of the vine of Israel, but branches of the vine of Jesus. They will not be fruitlessly toiling under the law but will be fruitfully producing for God. As we abide in Jesus, finding our identity in Him and keeping His commandments, we too will bear much fruit for God!
SHADOW: In the Old Testament, Israel is portrayed as a vine that has been unfruitful (Isaiah 5:1-7).
CONTEXT: Jesus says this at the beginning of His farewell speech to His disciples, before His crucifixion. The Father is the vinegrower, and His disciples are the branches (15:5).
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is the new vine that can do what the old vine could never do because of sin – produce healthy, lasting fruit for those who abide in Him.
John 8:58Clearly in this passage Jesus said something infuriating to His audience, if they were to the point of wanting to kill Him. Why were they so upset? They were upset because of Jesus’ answer to their question in John 8:53, “Who do you claim to be?” Jesus makes His answer clear to them when He says, “before Abraham was, I AM”. Why seek to kill someone for this statement, and try to do it in the temple of all places? There is only one answer: blasphemy. Many think that Jesus was referencing the Divine Name that God reveals in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM”. While that is possible, this is more likely a direct reference to how God refers to Himself in Isaiah. The Greek wording here in John (“ego eimi”) is identical to the Greek translation of Isaiah, “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I AM (“ego eimi”). The audience understands what Jesus is claiming: He is the first, and He. is. God.
SHADOW: In Isaiah, God reveals Himself as “I AM” (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:3-4; 48:12; 51:12; and 52:6; and in Deuteronomy 32:39)
CONTEXT: A group of unbelieving Jews asked Jesus if He was claiming to be greater than Abraham, and who was He actually claiming to be (8:53)
SUBSTANCE: Jesus is God! (Jesus repeatedly refers to Himself as ‘I AM’ in John. Along with the 7 ‘I AM’ statements we already showed, see also 4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 13:19; 18:5, 8)