Examining Christ’s ‘I am’ statements
Bailey McBrideIn my previous column, I mistakenly wrote that Jesus existed from the beginning of time. In fact, Jesus, like the Father, has neither beginning nor ending, but he has a an interlude of 30-plus years when he lives as a human being.
John strengthens the connection with God’s existence by recording seven statements that echo God’s identification of himself in the Old Testament, when Moses talks to God from the burning bush. Moses uses several ploys as he tries to avoid the assignment God gives him. He tells God that he’ll need to explain to Pharaoh which god is sending him.
God replies, “I am that I am.” The eternal God does not have a name that is a noun, but a verb — a form of the verb “to be,” signifying his continual being. The idea still teases me to try and understand the marvel of this God.
Jesus echoes that in John’s gospel when he declares, “I am bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light” (8:12, 9:5), “I am the gate” (10:7 and 9), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11-14), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14:6) and “I am the vine” (15:1,5) — a statement to be examined next month.
Through all these statements, Jesus is seeking to help his disciples understand how profoundly fundamental he is to the existence of mankind.
Throughout Bible times bread was fundamental to existence. Even in our times we think of bread as a life-sustaining food. Jesus is not a physical food, but his teachings are spiritually nourishing. His followers, from start to finish, gain knowledge and spiritual strength from him.
(PHOTO FROM PEXELS.COM)
In the context of this statement, Jesus has fed thousands after he has taught them all day. The next day, when the crowds find he has already moved on, they follow him, and he gets to the heart of their motive: they want to be fed again. That is when Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.” Although his followers have often had empty stomachs, the hearts and minds of believers are sustained by who Jesus is and what he reveals about the human spirit.
Later Jesus spoke to the people, declaring “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first element spoken into existence in Genesis 1 is light, even before the sun was created. Light is power and a force for all living things. Light sustains all botanical life and is a necessity for the biological life. So the spirit of man needs light for nourishment: throughout the Christian era seekers and pilgrims have honored light as the physical presence of God.
In the next chapter, after Jesus makes this statement, he heals a man who has been blind from birth, again making the point that light is so important for direction and understanding.
In chapter 10, Jesus use the metaphor of the primitive sheepfold where the gate is the shepherd protecting and restraining the sheep. The message of love and concern for mankind is obvious.
The next chapter recounts the resurrection of Lazarus, the most impressive of all the miracles, so powerful that the Jews determine that they must destroy Lazarus to wipe out the evidence of Jesus’ power. Jesus teaches in the wake of the miracle, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever believes in me will never die.”
Jesus addresses one of the great concerns of man. All understand death is inevitable and inescapable. But what comes after that? Lazarus was raised, but he died again. In contrast, Jesus died and was resurrected to live eternally. Jesus promises a resurrection that leads to the eternal dawn for those who believe and obey him.
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death, Thomas asks him where he is going. In response, Jesus explains, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to Father except through me.” Thus he connects his identity to that of God the Father, an idea John has set out to clarify the divine nature of the man called Jesus.
And the Word was God.