“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” – Exodus 3:14″So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…'” – John 8:28
English translations of John 8:28 will add a “he” after “I am” in order to make the meaning of Jesus’ words clear. However, in the Greek He simply says, “I am.” In fact, He says it in a unique way that directly echoes one of the most well known moments of divine self-revelation in all of scripture: God’s meeting with Moses at the burning bush.
John’s gospel is well known for these “I am” statements of Jesus, and most scholars recognize them as very intentional allusions to the divine name. Many skeptics of Christianity (often those in religions that are essentially Christian heresies spiraled out of control, like Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness etc.) many skeptics will say things like, “Jesus never claimed to be God…..show me where Jesus says, ‘I am God,’ and I’ll believe” etc. etc. Well, ONE answer to such skepticism are the “I Am” statements in John’s gospel. For Jesus to claim this title would have been a far more provocative and far more implication-laden way of claiming divinity than had He simply said, “I am God.”……to say, “I AM” was to say that AND MORE. The word “God” in Jesus’ context could have meant many things (there were, of course, polytheistic religions around them which accepted many “gods” and demigods etc….), but for Jesus to say “I AM,” for Him to echo the Name of YHWH and apply it to Himself, THAT was–and is–an awesome statement of divinity.
The “I Am” statement that we find in John 8:28 is the central of 8 “absolute” I AM statements in John’s gospel (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:9; 18:5-8)***. Not only that, it is also the central of three “lifting up” statements (3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32-34). So, John is very purposefully weaving together the idea of Christ’s being “lifted up” (a phrase that can mean both crucified and glorified, and in the case of Christ’s death means both), being “lifted up” on the cross together with the idea of the identity of the One True God being revealed in Him…that is awesome to consider. John–writing under the inspiration of the Spirit–is calling us to see Christ’s exaltation on the cross as the definitive declaration of the identity of the God of Israel. Beautiful, and worthy of an eternity of enraptured exploration.
So, in today’s picture I tried to unite visually what John unites verbally, namely, the revelation of God’s identity (Name) at the burning bush with the lifting up of the incarnate Son on the cross. When the Son is exalted on Calvary, then creation will definitively know the One who is “I AM.”
*** I am indebted to Richard Bauckham and his book, “God Crucified” for the insights into the seven absolute “I AM” in John’s gospel.