Written by Susan Richardson
I AM …. I AM
The events surrounding the betrayal of Christ lead us to what could be considered the most blatant and powerful revelation of Christ’s deity. His claim of being the Great I AM of the Old Testament is majestically reaffirmed in John 18 as we will see.
After the Passover meal was finished and Judas had left the group. Jesus and His disciples went out and crossed the brook Cedron traveling into the Garden of Gethsemane. While in the garden Jesus was overwhelmed with the necessity to pray. He pleaded with his disciples to watch and pray with Him but the scripture says they slept for sorrow. Here He pleads with The Father to allow “this cup” to pass from Him, yet He also asks that His Father’s will be done. During His prayer an angel comes down to minister to and strengthen him. Luke 22:44 tells us “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” When He arose from prayer He found His disciples asleep. In Matthew 26:46 He says, “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.”
Judas knew well the place where our Lord often spent the night out of doors. Under the authority of the chief priests, Judas has with him a detachment of Roman soldiers and a large company of the temple police. Even though there was a full moon, they carried besides their weapons, lanterns and torches, if necessary to seek the prisoner among the darker places of the garden. There were possibly several hundred men as related in Matthew 26:46. The mob was ready to seize Jesus and lead Him away. Jesus knowing all things about the situation asks, “Whom do you seek?” They said “We seek Jesus of Nazareth”. According to Gaebelein (1936) many of the company did not know Him by sight. Gaebelein (1936) also states that the kiss of Judas must have been given after the Lord had answered their question. The next moment brings His answer, “I AM.” This is the same statement He had made in chapter 8:8 when He had told the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This time instead of picking up stones to stone Jesus, at His word, they all fell backward at the asserting of His deity . At this miracle, not one Roman soldier or Jewish officer could stand. It was His own omnipotent power which He displayed once more. This incident not only shows that Jesus is the Son of God but that His arrest and crucifixion were undertaken voluntarily. Unfortunately, both Matthew Henry (1961) and Tenney (1988) seem to miss this reference in their commentaries. Neither men take note that Christ does not say “I am He” as it reads in the King James Version but literally “I AM”. They also seem to miss the fact that Christ by the power of His Word caused the mob to fall backward. Both Henry and Tenney ascribe the falling back of the mob to fear, not to a miraculous act of a Holy God.
A second time, probably after everyone had regained their footing, Jesus asks again, “Whom seek ye?” When He spoke the second “I AM” they did not fall to the ground. There was no second exhibition of His power, but He manifested His Grace. “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way.” He willingly let Himself be bound on the condition that His own should be free.
The “I AM” statement was a very familiar one in the Jewish mind. In Exodus Moses enquires as to the name of God. This revelation is related in Exodus 3:13-15. “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, what is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
The etymology of the name “I AM” is from Strong’s H1961 which is also translated Jehovah in the following passages from the King James Version (1982):
Exodus 6:3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
Psalm 83:18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
Isaiah 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
Isaiah 26:4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.
The meaning of “I AM” or Jehovah is “the self existent One”. Each time Jesus called Himself I AM He was clearly presenting Himself as the I AM God that spoke to Moses in the wilderness, the Jehovah of the Psalmist and the Lord Jehovah of the prophet Isaiah.
In summary, each time Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM” He was drawing to remembrance, in the minds of those around Him, the Jehovah God of the Old Testament, the I AM that spoke to Moses. Each time Christ asserted His deity He gave the unbelievers a chance to take Him as their Messiah. Each time they refused. In Christ’s longsuffering He finally manifests His power through the name “I AM” at the time of His arrest. After this, no more miracles would He do until His resurrection from the dead. No longer was there a chance for the Jews to accept their Messiah and usher in the Kingdom. Christ’s hour had come. He would now become the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. The Holy One of Israel would give His life as a ransom for many. In the words of the Prophet, “He (Jehovah) also is become my salvation”.
Gaebelein, A. C. (1936). Thwe Gospel of John. Wheaton: Van Kampen Press.
Henry, M. (1961). Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp.
Holy Bible. (1982). Iowa Falls: B.B.Kirkbride.
Strong, J. Strongs Concordance. Mc Lean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company.
Tenney, M. C. (1988). John:The Gospel of Belief. Grand Rapids: Wm.B.Eerdmans.
Towns, E. (1990). The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Co.