“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
This verse comes at the end of a rather long discussion between Jesus and the Jewish leaders that began with the validity of His testimony, and moved to a discussion of both His and their paternity, and now has simply come down to who exactly Jesus is (John 8:12-59). Jesus was quick to tell them in vv. 54-55 that He is God’s Son. In the next verse He tells them that He knows Abraham’s thoughts as well when He says that Abraham looked forward to this day and rejoices in it. It is important to note that Jesus did not say this so as to speculate on what Abraham would have thought, but instead He is stating it as a fact; He is acting as a witness to it.
This completely blows their minds.
Their response in verse 57 is not one of amazement but is instead ridicule; they are marginalizing Him again so as to reduce or eliminate His credibility with the rest of the people. Verse 58 is the tipping point in the discourse: Jesus claims to be God. To make the statement that Jesus made here is one that is direct, to the point and undeniable in its meaning. “Before Abraham was born, I am!” Jesus is telling them two things, first that He has been around since before Abraham; He isn’t thirty-something, He’s at least 2,000 years old. Second, notice that Jesus didn’t say “before Abraham was born, I was alive” no, He said “I am”. I Am is the name God used to identify Himself to Abraham, thus Jesus is telling them that He is none other than God in the flesh. They understood this, and since they knew blasphemy when they heard it, they proceeded to grab for stones with which to execute Him. Jesus slips away, for His time had not yet come to die. It is worth pointing out that for all of the reasons Jesus cited, these people did not stop to consider the possibility that He might be telling the truth.
These great men of God, these teachers, lawyers and scholars were actually following the devil, and their haste to shut Jesus up when He states the greatest truth of all is a poignant reminder to all of us that we must “continue in His word” to ensure that we are recognizing the truth when it is spoken in this difficult and dark age in which we live.
As we move into the Christmas season and look forward to our celebrations, perhaps we too should stop and ask ourselves just who it was who was born in that Bethlehem manger so long ago; clearly He was not just the son of an obscure carpenter.