Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out to Be?
I said yesterday (indeed, throughout all of these devotions) that the people did not understand Jesus because they could not, and could not because they would not, and would not because they could not. Perhaps I should clarify: when I use the word, “understand,” I mean “believe” or “receive as true.” There is another level in which these hearers of Jesus understood exactly what he was saying, and it was this they would neither believe nor receive, because they neither could nor would.
The people are definitely aware that Jesus is making some claims for himself that seem to them to border on blasphemy, that is, until they decide that his claims don’t border, but are downright blasphemous. Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” “Seriously,” say the people. (I paraphrase–) “Now we know you have a demon! Surely Abraham was righteous, and he died. Surely the prophets were righteous, and they died. Are you greater than them? Who do you make yourself out to be?” They clearly understood his words; they simply rejected them. And this is the same today. The fact that people cannot understand and will not understand is no excuse for their unbelief, for they reject what little they do understand. This is what Paul refers to in Romans 1:18ff: Even though things have been made known to people concerning God, and here in John 8 concerning Jesus, they still reject – and do so on their own (albeit, limited) cognizance and freedom.
There is no question here regarding who Jesus claims to be and what they understood him to say in making that claim: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And then Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Greek words here translated, “I am,” are, “εγω ειμι,” the very same ones used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where God answers Moses in the “Burning Bush,” telling Moses His divine name (Exodus 3:14) – which Jesus’ listeners would have immediately recognized. This is why they picked up rocks to stone him: As far as they were concerned, Jesus didn’t just cross the line, he hurdled it.
The blessing for believers is that Jesus didn’t say, “Before Abraham was, I was,” which would have made sense, grammatically; no, Jesus says, “I am.” This is an even greater affirmation of divinity as it speaks, not only to the present, but to all of time. Jesus is our God now and throughout eternity.