the Gospels that garnered great controversy in His day.
He said that He came from heaven
had the authority to forgive sins
and is the “Lord even of the Sabbath”
But perhaps His most surprising assertion
was given in response to the Jews in
Amid a heated debate over
Jesus told them,
"Before Abraham was born,
This declaration is especially significant given that
the phrase I am was used as a
title for God
When analyzing Jesus’ comment, it is important to notice what Jesus did not say. He did not say that “before Abraham existed, I existed.” Or, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Rather, He declared that before Abraham was even born, “I am.” Before Abraham was (past tense), Jesus is (present tense). Jesus was claiming pre-existence.
When Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham, His hearers “picked up stones to stone him” (John 8:59). They knew immediately that Jesus’ statement was tantamount to claiming equality with God, and the penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law was stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus’ opponents were unsuccessful, however. John records that “Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59). Later, in John 13:19, Jesus again applies the divine name I AM to Himself: “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” The words echo God’s statements in Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” and in Isaiah 41:4, “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.”
One day, “the LORD appeared to Abraham” (Genesis 18:1). Throughout the conversation, the Lord is alternately called a “man” and “the Lord” (verses 2, 13, 16, 17, 22). This is a case of an Old Testament Christophany (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). Genesis 18 provides further support for Jesus’ claim that He existed before Abraham. Jesus visited Abraham and Sarah in their tent and ate a meal with them.
Yes, the Bible certainly teaches that Jesus existed before Abraham. Jesus was “with God in the beginning” (John 1:2; see also John 1:14; Colossians 1:16–17), and that predates Abraham by quite a while. Jesus claimed to be divine on numerous occasions, and one such claim was that He existed prior to Abraham. Not only did Jesus exist prior to Abraham, but Abraham gave Him honor (Genesis 18:2–5).
As Jesus’ resurrection from the dead made clear, Jesus’ divine claims were true! So Jesus’ use of the name “I am” was not blasphemy as the Pharisees had supposed. Such an identification with Yahweh was entirely appropriate given who Jesus is. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). He is “God over all” (Romans 9:5) and “the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
He was then and will forever be the
great “I AM.”
In John 10 Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd and, in a debate with the Jewish leaders, makes the claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). It was a bold statement—one His audience found quite audacious—and it reveals much about who Jesus is.
Five key observations can be made concerning this passage. First, Jesus claimed to be one with God in the sense of being equal to Him. Jesus did not claim to be merely a messenger or prophet of God, but of equal power with God.
Second, His audience understood that Jesus was claiming equality with God the Father. In verse 31, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” Why? Blasphemy was a crime punishable by death according to the Jewish Law. When Jesus asked why they were planning to kill Him, they answered, “For blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). If Jesus had been lying or deceived, His statement would have been blasphemous. In fact, the only way His words were not blasphemy is if Jesus was telling the truth about His equality with God.
Third, Jesus referred to Himself as God’s Son and to God as His Father (John 10:36–37). He used Psalm 82:6 to show that the Messiah has the right to claim the title “Son of God.”
Fourth, Jesus claimed that that Father sent Him: “the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world” (John 10:36). In this statement, Jesus claimed preexistence in the Father’s presence. No biblical prophet had ever made such a claim before; yet Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham (John 8:58).
Fifth, Jesus only stated that the Jews did not believe Him; He never said they misunderstood His claim to be God. John 10:38 notes, “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Jesus was not correcting a misunderstanding. They understood what He said perfectly. He was correcting their willful rejection of Him.
Colossians 1:16–17 affirms Jesus’ same teaching: “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.” John 1:1 explicitly notes that Jesus was both with God in the beginning and was God.
In summary, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father as part of a larger argument to note that He had existed from eternity past, lived in perfect oneness with the Father, held the same power as God, and was sent by God the Father’s authority. Unfortunately, He was rejected as divine by the Jewish leaders. Jesus’ claim to have equal power as the Father was not blasphemy. It was the plain truth.
“I am the True Vine” (John 15:1) is the last of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique divine identity and purpose. Jesus said, “I am the True Vine” to closest friends gathered around Him. It was only a short time before Judas would betray Him; in fact, Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30). Jesus was preparing the eleven men left for His pending crucifixion, His resurrection, and His subsequent departure for heaven. He had just told them that He would be leaving them (John 14:2). Knowing how disturbed they would feel, He gave them this lovely metaphor of the True Vine as one of His encouragements.
Jesus wanted His friends, not only those eleven, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grape vine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its brancheswhile they develop their fruit. Jesus wanted us to know that, even though we cannot see Him, we are as closely connected to Him as the branches of a vine are connected to its stem. Our desire to know and love Him and the energy to serve Him will keep flowing into and through us as long as we “abide” in Him.
Jesus went on to remove any misunderstanding about what He meant (John 15:4). He said that no branch can even live, let alone produce leaves and fruit, by itself. Cut off from the trunk, a branch is dead. Just as a vine’s branches rely on being connected to the trunk from which they receive their energy to bear fruit, Jesus’ disciples depend on being connected to Him for their spiritual life and the ability to serve Him effectively. The fruit we produce is that of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Our source of life and spiritual fruit is not in ourselves; it is outside us, in Christ Jesus. We can live, live rightly, and serve Him effectively only if we are rightly connected to Him in a faith/love relationship.
Then Jesus underscored His point even more strongly by saying, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This illustration of the vine and branches is no thoughtless generality or careless simile. It is absolute, stark reality. No believer can achieve anything of spiritual value independently of Christ Jesus. He also reminds us that there are some who are “in” Him who bear no fruit. But these are not, as some would suppose, true branches that just happen to be fruitless. All true branches bear fruit. Just as we know a healthy, living tree by the good fruit it produces, so do we recognize fruitless branches as having no connection to the True Vine. This is why Jesus tells us, “By their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:16–20). Those who do not produce good fruit are cut away and burned. The reference here is to apostates, those who profess to know Christ but whose relationship to Him is insincere. He neither called them nor elected them nor saved them nor sustains them. Eventually, the fruitless branches are identified as not belonging to the Vine and are removed for the sake of truth and the benefit of the other branches.
So, we depend on Jesus for everything, starting with our very life—“For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)—and including our reconciliation with God through Him (Romans 5:10). No one can serve God effectively until he is connected with Jesus Christ by faith. Jesus is our only connection with the God who gave life and who produces in us a fruitful life of righteousness and service.