In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes many bold pronouncements to the people concerning His heavenly identity. John 8 is particularly noteworthy, since several times Jesus uses the Greek phrase ἐγώ εἰμι (egō eimi – literally: “I – I Am”) to refer to Himself. Sometimes the phrase is connected in a longer description – “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am he who testifies about myself” (8:18) – but more often it is unconnected, a simple self-pronouncement (usually translated “I am he” – 8:24, 28, 58).
The phrase “I AM” recalls several Old Testament texts, not the least of which is Exodus 3:14, where Moses asks Yahweh (God) for His name and God responds, ‘“I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’ (ESV) We have seen on a number of occasions on Sunday morning that the phrase “I AM” relates linguistically to the personal divine name of Yahweh, which derives from the same verb (see my message on Christmas morning 2016).
But one connection with the OT that we have yet to explore in more depth is a section from Isaiah 40-55. Part of the purpose of this section of Scripture is to point to the uniqueness of Yahweh, especially seen in relation to His ability to create, see the future (prophecy), and His eternal traits.
Amidst this section, there are several verses that stand out and use the egō eimi / “I AM” formula in respect to Yahweh. I will list several of them and underline the words that use the phrase (all in ESV):
Isaiah 41:4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Isaiah 46:4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.
There are more examples that we can point to, but these five will suffice to demonstrate that the formula is quite common in this section of Scripture and is used to set God apart from all others. I have pulled all these examples from the Greek translation of the Hebrew text (called the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX).
One thing that should strike us from this sampling of texts is the connection of the “I AM” statement with the eternality of Yahweh. Isaiah 41:4 says He called generations into being “from the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), and that He is the “first, and with the last.” In other words, He is before Creation and will last forever. 48:12 uses similar language to carry forth the same idea. Even 46:4 demonstrates God’s eternality, showing that God will last well beyond the gray hairs of the Israelites (this verse actually uses the formula twice in the Greek, but once in the Hebrew).
The other thread of theological truth woven throughout these passages is that the Great I AM stands alone from all others. 41:4 opens with a question: “Who has performed and done this?” The answer, obviously, is no one other than Yahweh. 43:10 stands Yahweh apart from any other gods (which don’t actually exist – there are none before or after Him – He is alone). The idea of being the “first and the last” (48:12) also points to Yahweh’s uniqueness and greatness.
We see several verses focusing on the salvific nature of Yahweh. Though He is God alone, from eternity past to eternity future, and there is none like Him, He is still gracious and loving to His people and will save them from sins (43:25 – this verse actually uses the egō eimi formula twice in a row – “I AM – I AM the one who blots out your transgressions…”; cf. 46:4) and has graciously called His people from among the nations (48:12).
So Yahweh is God alone, standing apart from all others through His eternality, creative acts, and ability to forgive sins. Bringing the conversation back to John, it becomes all the more significant that we see the same things said of Jesus throughout the Gospel. Not only does Jesus use the “I AM” formula multiple times in the book (multiple times in chapter 8 alone), but we don’t even make it past the prologue without seeing that Jesus is eternal, Creator, and able to forgive sins (1:1-18)!
Finally, two more verses that uses the “I AM” formula warrants mention:
Isaiah 47:8 Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children”:
Isaiah 47:10 You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”
Here, God speaks to the Babylonians, who are prideful for coming and conquering Israel. The Babylonians use language to describe themselves that Isaiah uses elsewhere for Yahweh: “I am (egō eimi), and there is no one besides me.” Because they have conquered God’s people, they feel that they themselves are worthy of God’s title. But Yahweh is very clear: though they may say that they are gods, there is only one God! If we look at the middle verse between 47:8 and 10, we see that their destruction is quite evident:
Isaiah 47:9 “But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day: Loss of children and widowhood. They will come on you in full measure In spite of your many sorceries, In spite of the great power of your spells.
God does not take lightly those who put themselves in His place. Again, when we consider this in view of John’s Gospel, Jesus clearly claims these deific titles for Himself (i.e. 8:24, 58). Yet God certainly does not speak to Jesus in the way He speaks to the Babylonians. Jesus has the right to use these titles for Himself, because He is Yahweh. He is God alone. He is Creator and Savior.