You know a statement is powerful when the listeners start throwing stones. At the end of John 8, after an almost humorous back-and-forth with the Pharisees, who can’t seem to understand why Jesus claims to know Abraham, Jesus says it bluntly. “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Immediately, everyone started picking up stones to throw at him. Clearly, they immediately understood that Jesus wasn’t merely saying he existed before Abraham (though that would be a statement in itself). The Greek term he used, egō eimi, was a direct reference to the very name God identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” For the Greek-speaking Jews of Jesus’ day, who would have been keenly familiar with the Septuagint, ego eimi was hallowed ground. In fact, by picking up stones, they believed they were simply obeying Old Testament blasphemy laws.
Except that Jesus meant what He said. The identification as Yahweh Himself was no blasphemy, for He was Yahweh, come in the flesh, the One all the law the prophets pointed to but no one recognized.
God chose Ego eimi as His name because He is existence. That is, He is fully self-existent, and any life or being we have is only because of Him. This is gloriously illustrated in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s throne, for as Ezekiel gets a peek at the One who defines what life and existence is, Ezekiel is utterly at a loss for words for anything he was describing:
“And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire, and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the lines of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” (Eze. 1:26-28).
Jesus’ identification as the “I Am” might seem philosophical, but it’s also intensely practical. If His existence is the very foundation of our life, wouldn’t it be folly to not live every second without Him in mind? From my first thought when I wake, to the way I go about my work, to the way I celebrate Christmas—may all be centered on worshipping Jesus, the I Am.