When I talk with unbelieving skeptics, it is not uncommon to hear them object, “There is no place in your Bible where Jesus says, ‘I am God!’” And if you search the Scriptures for that exact statement from the lips of our Lord — “I am God” — it’s true that you won’t find it. But it is also true that Jesus declared that He was God in a variety of ways, and there can be no question that His first century audience clearly understood His claim to be God. To be sure, not all of that audience accepted Jesus’ claim as truth, but they had no doubts about who He was asserting that He was. This month we will look at His message; next month we will study His miracles.
Let’s start with those who would understand Jesus’ message far better than any modern skeptic. The Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders of the first century listened closely to every word Jesus spoke; time and time again they condemned Jesus for speaking “blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
I think it’s safe for us to trust the testimony of the first century religious leaders more than the arguments of 21st century skeptic, don’t you? When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), these students of the Old Testament Scriptures heard an unambiguous allusion to the great shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 — “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus was making it clear that He and the God of Israel — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — were, in fact, one God.
Earlier in the gospel of John, the religious leaders picked up stones to hurl at Jesus for saying, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” There was not a religious leader present who did not harken back to the burning bush encounter between Moses and God:
Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:11-14)
When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” He was using the personal name of the God of Israel that was revealed to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus did not need to say the exact words, “I am God,” to be make it clear to His audience that He was directly claiming to be God. Those who knew the most about the Word of God were absolutely certain about the claims that Jesus was making about Himself over and over again.
If I told you that I preached at three services this past weekend and ministered to a variety of people throughout the week, what would you think I was claiming to be? I don’t need to say the exact words, “I am a pastor,” in order for you to know I am claiming to be a pastor.
The next time you encounter someone who insists that there is no place in the Bible where Jesus said “I am God,” you will be ready to calmly explain that Jesus actually did say He was God several times, and He did it in ways that His first century audience clearly understood, especially those who knew the Scriptures best. You might begin your response by saying kindly, “You are absolutely right that Jesus never said those exact words, but He definitely did say that He is God in a variety of other ways. I would love to share some of them with you.”
Always be ready.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that… Amen!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.