Jesus, in response to the Pharisees’ question
"Who do you think you are?”
"Your father Abraham
rejoiced at the thought
of seeing my day;
he saw it and was glad.’
‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:56–59). The violent response of the Jews to Jesus’ “I AM” statement indicates they clearly understood what He was declaring—that He was the eternal God incarnate. Jesus was equating Himself with the "I AM" title God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14.
If Jesus had merely wanted to say
He existed before Abraham’s time,
He would have said, “Before Abraham, I was.” The Greek words translated “was,” in the case of Abraham, and “am,” in the case of Jesus, are quite different. The words chosen by the Spirit make it clear that Abraham was “brought into being,” but Jesus existed eternally (see John 1:1). There is no doubt that the Jews understood what He was saying because they took up stones to kill Him for making Himself equal with God (John 5:18).
Such a statement, if not true,
was blasphemy and the punishment prescribed
by the Mosaic Law was death
But Jesus committed no blasphemy;
He was and is God, the second Person of the
equal to the Father in every way.
Jesus used the same phrase “I AM” in seven declarations about Himself.
In all seven,
He combines I AM
with tremendous metaphors
relationship toward the world.
All appear in the book of John. They are I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51); I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12); I AM the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7, 9); I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14); I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6); and I AM the True Vine (John 15:1, 5).
God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him to go to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery. In response, Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13).
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).
The phrase translated “I am who I am” in Hebrew is ehyeh asher ehyeh. The word ehyeh is the first person common singular of the verb to be. It would be used in any number of normal situations: “I am watching the sheep,” “I am walking on the road,” or “I am his father.” However, when used as a stand-alone description, I AM is the ultimate statement of self-sufficiency, self-existence, and immediate presence. God’s existence is not contingent upon anyone else. His plans are not contingent upon any circumstances. He promises that He will be what He will be; that is, He will be the eternally constant God. He stands, ever-present and unchangeable, completely sufficient in Himself to do what He wills to do and to accomplish what He wills to accomplish.
When God identified Himself as I AM WHO I AM, He stated that, no matter when or where, He is there. It is similar to the New Testament expression in Revelation 1:8, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” This is true of Him for all time, but it would have been especially appropriate for a message in Moses’ day to a people in slavery and who could see no way out. I AM was promising to free them, and they could count on Him!
Moses and Aaron delivered the message to Pharaoh: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh replied, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:1–2).
Pharaoh stood in opposition to the LORD. Pharaoh was not willing to concede that there was a power higher than himself. He was not willing to yield his plans to the One who was all-powerful and all-sufficient. In essence, Pharaoh was saying “I am who I am, and therefore I will not yield to another.” This seems to be the besetting sin of humanity. God is “The Great I AM,” but we continually want to be our own “I AM.” We make plans and determine that we will fulfill them no matter what. Even evidence to the contrary does not readily convince us of our weakness and contingency.
One of Frank Sinatra’s signature songs was “I Did It My Way.” The final lines of the song, written by Paul Anka, express a common refrain of mankind:
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.
Likewise, the final stanza of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley expresses much the same sentiment:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
God is the only One who can accurately describe Himself as “I AM.” Jesus claimed the title I AM for Himself in John 8:58. For the rest of us, “I am” is a false claim to self-sufficiency. We are not eternally constant or ever-present. Our only hope is to abandon claims of our own sovereignty and sufficiency and cast ourselves upon the mercy of I AM.
The aseity of God is His attribute of independent self-existence. God is the uncaused Cause, the uncreated Creator. He is the source of all things, the One who originated everything and who sustains everything that exists. The aseity of God means that He is the One in whom all other things find their source, existence, and continuance. He is the ever-present Power that sustains all life. There is no other source of life and none other like Him: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isaiah 46:9).
The aseity of God is expressed in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asked the Lord about His name, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” God is the eternally self-existent Being who always was and always will be. The aseity of God is related to His complete independence. God has no need. He is complete in and of Himself and always has been. God did not create man because He was lonely or because He needed to create. He is and always has been complete and self-sufficient in and of Himself.
God’s name I AM embodies the concept of God’s eternality and immutability, both of which are linked to His aseity. God is eternal (Psalm 90:2). He did not have a beginning. He has always been. God is unchangeable (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), always the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will be what He is forever. All of God’s attributes—His love, power, wisdom, etc.—are eternal and unchanging. They are as they have always been and will never be any different.
God’s aseity assures us that His autonomy is absolute. He alone decides what to do, and nothing can ever thwart His purpose to keep His promises. What He promises to do, He will do. What He predicts will come to pass. When God says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10), He is emphasizing His aseity and sovereignty.
Jesus Christ, being God in flesh, shares the aseity of God with the Father. Jesus claimed the name I AM for Himself (John 8:58; 18:6). Speaking of Jesus, Paul declares, “In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17). Jesus is not a created being. He came to earth as God in flesh and after His resurrection ascended back into heaven to take His rightful place as Creator of the universe. In the Old Testament, God declared to the Israelites that He is “the First and the Last” (Isaiah 44:6b). Jesus made the same declaration about Himself in Revelation 1:17.
Because of the aseity of God, we can depend upon Him as the independent One who is able to deliver, protect, and keep those who trust in Him. Those whom God has purposed for salvation will come to Christ, and nothing can hinder them: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). If we understand the biblical doctrine of the aseity of God, we will be kept from the error of thinking that God is finite, that He grows weary, or that He will ever be insufficient to meet our needs (see Psalm 23:1).