Yesterday we concluded our eight week study of Jesus’ mind bending I Am statements. None was more provocative than the one found at the end of John 8. In it, Jesus referred to himself as I Am. This was the personal name God gave as his own when speaking to Moses in the famous “burning bush” encounter found in Exodus 3:1-14. Referring to this Old Testament scene, Jesus was in fact saying that he was preexistent deity; God with skin on him.
This and other hard teachings drew allegiance from some and hatred from others. Seeing the dichotomy of reactions Jesus’ caused throughout John’s account of his life has been enlightening. The same spiritual fork in the road exists today for those who would consider Christianity. Among other things I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not our job to make un-open people open. It’s to find open people and introduce them to God who lives in our community of faith and in us individually through Christ and his Spirit.
Our goals for this series was that through it we would deepen our belief in Jesus, deepen our unity, and love for each other, and deepen our conviction about moving people toward Christ. I think God has done all three and more! Hopefully, this kind of foundation will enable us to be used by God to change thousands of lives as we build a healthy church that lasts for generations.
For more on this topic, see page 28 of this week’s featured resource and the commentary below.
Greater Than Abraham
Jesus’ fraternizing with Samaritans
) would not play well to a Jerusalem audience, but his hearers are probably unaware of that. The basis for this charge is apparently similar theology: Samaritans insulted the temple and challenged the Jewish people’s exclusive heritage in Abraham (cf. comment on John 4:12
). The charge of demon possession (also John 10:20
) challenges his prophetic credibility (see comment on John 7:20
). The discussion is thus becoming quite hostile at this point. It also reflects John’s irony: only the Samaritans (John 4:9
) and Pilate (John 18:35
) recognize that Jesus is Jewish.
According to Jewish law, one who rejects a person’s appointed agent also insults and rejects the one who sent that agent.
Most Jewish people except the Sadducees
would have agreed that Abraham and the prophets were spiritually alive with God; but Jesus’ opponents here take his reference to death as literal, physical death. (Even in one Jewish tradition where Abraham did not want to die, God made special arrangements to get him to give in.)
Jewish tradition emphasized that Abraham had been shown the future kingdoms that would oppress Israel and the messianic
era beyond them.
Fifty was the minimum age for involvement in some kinds of public service.
If Jesus merely wished to imply that he existed before Abraham, he should have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.
” But “I am” was a title for God (Exodus 3:14
), which suggests that Jesus is claiming more than that he merely existed before Abraham. This title of God may have been fresh on the minds of Jesus’ hearers at the feast: during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests were said to utter God’s words in Isaiah: “I am the Lord, I am he” (Isaiah 43:10
). (It is not certain, however, whether this tradition is early enough to serve as background for the Fourth Gospel.)
Jesus’ hearers do not miss his point in John 8:58
and take his words as blasphemy (a mere claim to messiahship
was not considered blasphemous, although it could be offensive; they understood him to claim deity). But their reaction to Jesus puts him in good company (Exodus 17:4
; Numbers 14:10
; 1 Samuel 30:6
). The temple was constructed from massive stone blocks, not the sort of stones that people could throw; but in Jesus’ day construction was still going on, and a mob could have found objects to throw, as Josephus
later did in the temple and a crowd did in a synagogue
God had hidden some of his servants under similar circumstances before (Jeremiah 36:26
); here Jesus hides himself. Jesus’ departure from the temple is portrayed as Ichabod:
the glory had departed (Ezekiel 10-11
); the departure of God’s presence on account of Israel’s sin was a common theme in later Jewish texts.
—Bible Background Commentary