Did Jesus ever claim to be God? Some people, who want to believe that Jesus was just a great teacher and a good man, have said that Jesus never actually claimed to be God. In fact, they would say, the deity of Jesus Christ is an idea that was made up by followers of Jesus after He died to try to convince people to follow their new religion.
Are they right? Well, to understand this chapter, and specifically John 8:48-59, we must first understand the name of God in the Old Testament. Way back in Exodus 3, Moses met God in a burning bush. Moses saw the bush burning, but noticed it was not being consumed by the fire, so he was intrigued. When he arrived at the bush, God spoke to him, and told him to go to Egypt to be used by God to deliver His people. As God sent Moses, He gave Himself a name that Moses could use. “I AM that I AM,” God said. Tell them that “I AM has sent you.”
Read this interaction between God and Moses in Exodus 3:13-17, and compare it to this passage. Do you see any similarity? Jesus is in a discussion with the religious leaders of Jerusalem. They are accusing Jesus of lying about His authority and identity. In fact, they claim that Jesus must have a demon. They recognize that Jesus has power and a following. But rather than recognize Jesus as God in human flesh, they choose to see His power as Satanic.
In reality, all religions are divided over the question of the character of Jesus. Is Jesus the Great I AM, or some ordinary Joe who can do magic tricks? Believing that the God who created the universe became a man and walked on this earth is a difficult thing to believe. In fact, it is impossible to completely understand this truth. Most cults (religions that use Christian terms but don’t believe basic Christian doctrines) deny something about the nature of Jesus Christ. They will either claim that He was not a man, or that He is not God.
In this passage, we see the humanity of Jesus Christ as He acknowledges His Father’s glory and holds a conversation with the Jews. But when they ask Him about His ancestory, Jesus lets the Jews know that He existed before Abraham, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” No doubt about it. Jesus identifies Himself as the same ONE who met Moses at the burning bush. The same Jehovah God who parted the Red Sea was now standing in the midst of these people. The same I AM who brought the plagues to Israel would soon go to the cross. But they refused to believe that this man could be God. They were so incensed that they tried to kill Jesus, and later succeeded.
One of the basic beliefs that makes a person a Christian is our understanding that Jesus was completely God and completely man. This is a doctrine that is more than our brains can hold, but the Bible affirms as true, and so must we.