“The Pharisees replied, “You aren’t even 50 years old, and You’ve seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.” At that, they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus walked right by them and left the temple.“ John 8:57-59.
A constant theme throughout the New Testament is Christ’s repeated confrontations with the Pharisees. The Pharisees were one of 4 distinct groups within Judaism during the first century. They were religious scholars who took a very literal and conservative view of scripture. These men were smart and well-read and had been studying the Scriptures since their youth. The Pharisees continually debated the Scriptures amongst themselves in an attempt to fully understand everything they could about God. The knowledge and understanding of Scripture that Jesus had, despite His lack of education, baffled the Pharisees, and they continually asked Him hard questions to test the limits of His knowledge and see if they could stump Him.
One particular day, the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees became quite heated. The Pharisees, once again unable to stump Jesus with questions, began to launch ad hominem attacks on Him and to question His Jewishness; they accused Jesus of being a Samaritan and of being possessed by a demon. Christ, not ruffled by such accusations, continued to talk to them and said, “Anyone that keeps My word shall not taste death ever!” This statement made the Pharisees even madder, and they replied to Christ something along the lines of, “Who do you think you are? All the Prophets kept God’s word and they died. Even Abraham died! Are you greater than Abraham?”
Now, to refresh our memories, Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people. He was called by God to leave his home in Ur and to go to the Land of Canaan, which was given to him by God. God made a covenant with Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that all the Earth would be blessed through Him. Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Issac had a son named Jacob. Jacob’s name would later be changed to Israel, and he had 12 sons. The Jews could trace their lineage through any one of Israel’s sons directly back to Abraham. The Hebrews, especially the Pharisees, took great pride in being the chosen people of God, and they were quite proud of their connection to Abraham. For Christ to make a statement that He was greater than Abraham was a big thing to the Pharisees.
Christ went on to explain that everything He does is done to bring glory to God, His father. In the course of explaining this, Christ said “Abraham rejoiced to see my day.” This comment really confused the Pharisees because Abraham had been dead for hundreds of years by this point, and Christ was only about 30 years old, give or take. What Christ meant was that Abraham had the assurance that God would send the Messiah one day, and he rejoiced in that. But the Pharisees, many of whom did not think Christ was the Messiah, failed to see what Christ meant. Instead, they mocked Christ and scoffed, “You’re not even 50 years old, and You’ve seen Abraham?”
Then Christ made the boldest statement of His ministry, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.” When the Pharisees heard this, they were shocked, and then they tried to kill Him. What was it that Christ said that made them pick up stones to kill Christ?
“I AM,” is the name of God. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked God, “Who should I tell Pharaoh sent me to free the Israelites?” God replied, “Tell them I AM sent you.” “I AM” is God’s first name; it is the name that He uses for Himself. When Christ told the Pharisees that “before Abraham was, I Am,” He was telling them that He is God. He was using God’s first name for Himself. This was one of few times that Christ publicly announced His divinity, and those around Him couldn’t comprehend it. To the Pharisees, who did not believe Jesus was the divine Son of God, this was blasphemy, and the punishment for blasphemy was death. But even as they rushed to pick up stones to kill Him with, Christ walked calmly through their midst and out of the temple.
As followers of Christ, we do believe that He is God. He and the Father are one. He existed before the foundation of the universe, He exists today, and He will exist forever.