Introduction to the I AM's in John's gospel : Is Jesus in your boat?

Home >  Full Study List >  Introduction to the I AM's in John's gospel : Is Jesus in your boat?

Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM

Introduction to the I AM's in John's gospel : Is Jesus in your boat?

by I Gordon

In the last message I gave an introduction to the I AM series and we looked at Moses’ encounter with the great ‘I AM’ in the burning bush (Exodus 3). Now it’s not every day that a voice comes to you from within a burning bush (well not unless someone is in trouble!) and it may have been hard for Moses to explain to his friends what happened... but here was Moses’ introduction to the I AM of Israel! You may remember that God commissioned Moses on that day to deliver His people and Moses asked ‘who shall I say has sent me?’ "I AM WHO I AM” was the reply. "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Now I gave a few reasons why studying the ‘I AM’s’ of Jesus are worthwhile. In brief:

1. The I AM''s present Jesus Christ in His true glory. In a word, they present Him as God!
2. The I AM's present the unchangeable nature of our great God and Saviour, Jesus.
3. The I AM's give us the 'present tense' of Jesus (who He is now) which is very important.
4. The I AM's place Jesus in His right place in our lives. As one who is essential. The very bread of life.

Now we didn't look at any of the I AM statements of Jesus last time so we'll rectify that today... but not by looking at any of the seven I AM statements of Jesus. Confused? You should be! It's almost like a riddle. Riddle me this, riddle me that... 'How can we look at the I AM statements of Jesus without looking at any of the seven I AM statements of Jesus?' 'Tis a great mystery indeed!1

Naaa, this riddle is actually quite simple. When people talk about the seven I AM statements of Jesus, that is not the total number of times that Jesus used this name I AM. So we aren't going to look at any of the seven I AM statements of Jesus today but we will look at some other significant I AM statements Jesus made. Of course if you wanted a proper riddle I would say 'what is it that God never sees, a king seldom sees and you and I see every day?2

So today I need to lay a foundation from the New Testament before looking at the specific seven I AM's. So as we move back into the New Testament, we will look at three specific questions:

The focus of this study

1. Where can the I AM statements of Jesus be found and why?
2. What do the I AM statements tell us about who Jesus is?
3. What can we take away personally from the I AM statements?

This second question of 'who is Jesus?' is one that has been circulating from the time of Christ Himself. Jesus asked this very question of His disciples saying 'who do men say that I am?' This was followed by the even more important question 'who do you say I am'? (Matt 16:15). Who do you say I am?... Without trying to be overly dramatic, that question is probably the most important that mankind can ever ponder and its answer the most important they will ever face. According to one verse that we will look at later, the answer to this question has eternal ramifications. We'll end by looking at an example of what we take away personally from the I AM statements. But let's start at the beginning... where are we going to go to find Jesus' I AM statements in the New Testament?

Where can the I AM statements of Jesus be found and why?

The I AM's are only found in one of the gospels so straight away you know it has to be the gospel that is unique. Which is it? That's right, the gospel of John. I remember reading the Bible for the first time over at Student Village ('Stud Ville') at the University of Waikato... I started with Mathew and it really spoke to my heart. The stories of Jesus captivated me and His words both convicted and comforted me. Then I read Mark and remember being a little disappointed that it had a lot of the same stories. 'Oooh I've read that before!' I thought to myself. But reading John I thought 'ok... this is different - In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God... what on earth is he talking about?' Each of the gospels were written with a different emphasis based on the intended recipients. For example, as a slightly odd illustration of this, consider Revelation 4:7 and the four living creatures around the throne:

Revelation 4:7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

John, in this heavenly vision, sees living creatures looking like a lion, an ox, a man and a flying eagle... Why do they all look different and why this strange combination? It is describing the four living creatures but you can't help but notice that it also describes how Jesus is presented in all four gospels... and in order!

Gospel Pictured as Note


Lion (pictures the King)

Mathew's gospel is written primarily to the Jews. It starts with Jesus' genealogy to prove Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, a son of David. It contains frequent quotes from the Old Testament to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. It shows Jesus is the King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah


Ox (pictures a servant of man)

Mark's gospel was written to Gentiles. It doesn't contain many quotes from the Old Testament but presents Jesus who came to serve (like the ox) and give His life for the many (Mark 10:45)


Man (pictures His humanity)

Luke's gospel presents the humanity of Jesus. He is often called 'the Son of Man' in this gospel and gives many stories that are not found anywhere else.


Flying Eagle (pictures His heavenly origin and divine nature)

John's gospel presents Jesus as God! Not just a servant, not just a man, not even just the Messiah... But God Almighty, the I AM, Yahweh, from the Old Testament. The Word who is God.

That's why John starts his gospel establishing that Jesus is God. Mirroring the start of the Old Testament that says 'In the beginning God...' John writes to let us know who this God is and says 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God! And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...' In fact John tells us the reason he wrote near the end of his gospel:

John 20:30-31 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; (31) but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

John wrote for two reasons:
1) That you would believe that Jesus is the Son of God. 2) That believing you would have LIFE in His name.

So it is in John's gospel and John's gospel alone that you find the 'I AM' statements of Jesus. So let's explore these two aspects in relation to the I AM statements of Jesus. As mentioned 7 times Jesus specifically uses that name to define who He is, but at least 5 other times He uses I AM in a separate dramatic way. So let's look at some in answering the second question...

What do the I AM statements tell us about who Jesus is?

So who is Jesus? People have been pondering that for 2000 years. Like I said at the start, the most important question on this planet is that which Jesus asks all of mankind - 'Who do you say I am?' Here are some responses to that question from some famous people:

Who is Jesus? Some quotes...

The Dalai Lama -  "Jesus Christ also lived previous lives...So, you see, he reached a high state, either as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened person, through Buddhist practice or something like that."
Mikhail Gorbachev  'Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.'
Martin Luther King Jr - 'Jesus Christ was an extremist for love, truth and goodness.'
Richard Dawkins -  'Jesus was a great moral teacher [but] somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.' 
Saeb Erekat (chief Palestinian authority peace negotiator) - Jesus is 'the first Martyr, the first Palestinian.'
Albert Einstein -  'I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene...No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.' 3

So, according to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of these well known men, Jesus was either a reincarnated enlightened Buddhist, a future atheist, the first socialist, an extremist for love, a luminous figure or a Palestinian freedom fighter and first Palestinian martyr. Can't remember Jesus saying He was many of those actually. All of these opinions remind me of the Larry Norman song 'The Outlaw' which i was listening to the other day. I've only heard it 5 or 6... hundred times.

Some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land, With a band of unschooled ruffians and few young fishermen
No one knew just where He came from or exactly what He'd done. But they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run.

Some say He was a poet that He'd stand upon the hill And His voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
That He spoke in many parables that few could understand, But the people sat for hours just to listen to this Man.

Some say He was a sorcerer a Man of mystery. He could walk upon the water, He could make a blind man see
That He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread, That He talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.

Some say a politician, who spoke of being free. He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and He bowed to no decree, But they feared His strength and power so they nailed Him to a tree.

Some say He was the Son of God, a Man above all men, But He came to be a servant and to set us free from sin
And that's who I believe He was, 'cause that's who I believe And I think we should be ready when it's time for us to leave.
Oh yes i think we should get ready, for it's almost time to leave...

So we've heard lots of opinions but what did Jesus say about Himself?

When saying 'I AM' can get you stoned!

John 8:56-59 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." (57) You are not yet fifty years old, the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" (58)  I tell you the truth, Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"  (59) At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

This was massive! It is easy for us to miss the full impact of what Jesus was saying, but in using the I AM in this way the Jews of His time certainly knew. The Law of Moses stated that blasphemy was punishable by death and that by stoning (Lev 23:10-16). They knew Jesus, this man before them, was claiming to be the God of the Old Testament. He didn't just say 'before Abraham I was' to show that He existed before Abraham. He said before Abraham 'I AM'. One author I read helps put this into perspective:

'You see in those few words He (Jesus) said, 'OK Folks, remember Moses out there in the Wilderness? Remember the burning bush? Remember that God? Remember the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Remember the God who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery? Remember the God who gave you this land and destroyed all your enemies? Remember the God who said it is punishable by death to claim to be Him? Remember the God who created the entire universe as well as you? Remember the God who says He is the only God? Well, guess what? That is the God I am. That is the God I am claiming to be. No doubts, no questions, no confusion, I AM.' 4

Even earlier in this same conversation Jesus had used I AM which they hadn't quite picked up on.

John 8:23-25 And He was saying to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. (24) "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (25) So they were saying to Him, "Who are You?" Jesus said to them, "What have I been saying to you from the beginning?

The 'He' in 'I am He' is not in the original and has been introduced to make the sentence more readable (as if Jesus had problems with His grammar!) It is literally, 'unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.' It is exactly the same Greek words as later on in this chapter when Jesus say 'Before Abraham, I AM'. I have shown this to some JW's that have knocked on my door. They believe that Jesus is a created being - the first creation of Jehovah. Jesus said He is Jehovah!5  And what we believe about Jesus matters! He said unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins. That's why I showed it to the JW's. This is not believing that Jesus was a great moral teacher, it is not believing that he was a revolutionary or a Palestinian freedom fighter. It is not believing that He was the first socialist, a reincarnated enlightened Buddhist or even the first created being of Jehovah... It is Jesus, Immanuel. God with us. The I AM.

We can tell from the reply of the Jews that they were taken a little by surprise and were unsure exactly what Jesus was saying (for it's not every day that someone comes and claims to be the God of Israel!) so they asked 'Who are you?' When Jesus said it the second time a few verses on they were certain of what He was claiming and they were certain they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy! Let's look at another example at the last supper, this time with His disciples.

John 13:18-19 "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.' (19) "From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.

We find ourselves at the last supper here, and Jesus is announcing something before it comes to pass so that the disciples have further proof that He is who who says He is. But again, in the Greek there is no 'He' at the end of this passage. It literally reads  'I am telling you before it comes to pass so that when it does occur you may believe that I am.'  In other words the disciples would be given proof of Jesus' claim to be Yahweh, the I AM of Israel, by the fact that he would declare to them what was going to happen before it came to pass. And this of course is the same test and proof Yahweh gave in the Old Testament to show He is the true God. (Isaiah 41;21-23, 46:9-10)

What should we take away personally from the I AM statements? 

So far this study has focused on the more theological aspect of the I AM - that is, what this truth teaches us about Jesus. But what about the practical take away for us today? How is this meant to benefit our life on a daily basis? Well... can you remember the two reasons why John said he wrote his gospel? Firstly he wanted you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is what we have been looking at mostly so far with these I AM statements of Jesus. But secondly, he said 'and believing, that you will have life in his name.' This is the practical side. So how can seeing Jesus as the I AM impact our life? Let's look at one example of this through another 'I AM' example.

An example: Jesus on high... Be not afraid! Boat in storm that Jesus calms

John 6:14-21 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." (15) So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (16) Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, (17) and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. (18) The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. (19) Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they *saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened. (20) But He *said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." (21) So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

With the masses wanting to make Jesus king, He left them going up high on a mountain. John's gospel doesn't tell us what Jesus was doing there but other gospels do. Can you remember? Yes! Jesus was praying. And praying for His disciples no doubt! Meanwhile Jesus' disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and it is getting stormy... They are a few miles on the sea but are really struggling getting battered by both wind and waves. So what is the application for us?

  1. Firstly, I like what William MacDonald writes in the Believers Bible Commentary:  'As they went over the sea toward Capernaum, it was already dark. Jesus was not with them. Where was He? He was up on the mountain praying. What a picture of Christ's followers today. They are on the stormy sea of life. It is dark. The Lord Jesus is nowhere to be seen. But that does not mean that He is unaware of what is going on. He is in heaven praying for those He loves.' 
  2. The second point to note is that Jesus comes to them during a storm. It is normally the way. He is with believers always but His presence is normally encountered in the storms of life. And sometimes, like this storm, He leaves it a while before coming!
  3. Thirdly, (and this is the main point of using this example) Jesus comes with words that bring comfort and instant relief. To the already struggling disciples, seeing someone approach them walking on the water freaks them out even further. But Jesus says to them 'It is I, do not be afraid'. The words 'It is I' are literally 'I AM.' The Amplified Bible gives a literal translation of 'I AM. Stop being frightened!' So what is scaring you? What storms are you facing? What wind and wave is battering you? What is wearing you down? We need to learn to hear the voice of Jesus speaking those words to our hearts today 'I AM - Stop being frightened.'

Conclusion - What mistakes did the disciples made? And what are we to learn? 

Firstly they thought they were alone. They didn't realise that Jesus was actually praying for them and knew exactly what was going on. Feeling separated they could only see the wind and waves. They had lost sight of the Lord even though He hadn't lost sight of them! They had forgotten that He was the One who actually made the waves. He was the One that made and controlled the wind. He was the One that had made the Sea of Galilee that was freaking them out so much! They had lost sight that He was the I AM. So the first thing He said was 'I AM - Stop being frightened!'

To conclude, why did John write this Gospel and use the I AM's again?

1) That you would believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

2) That believing you would have LIFE in His name.

It is critical that you firstly believe for we saw that Jesus said 'unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins'. But for those of us who do believe, we also want to have life in His name. As we have seen, one way, not the only way, but one way this comes about is through remembering and reckoning on Jesus being the I AM today. He is the One that is, at this very moment, everything that we need. He is the One that can calm the roaring seas when we have learnt what we need to learn. He is the One who speaks 'I AM - Stop being frightened!' when we just simply feel inadequate for the many demands of this trying life. And that can be quite often if you are like me.

The very last verse of this passage in John states: '  So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.' 

This has been on my mind since reading it. I can't tell you exactly what that is for you as it will change in different circumstances. I'm sure you will have your own thoughts on what this means with what you are going through. But how I took it for myself is that I need to be willing drop my oars and my straining and receive Him into our boat (whatever situation that may be). John wrote this for a purpose and it is intriguing. There is somewhat of a mystery here for it once they received Jesus into the boat another miracle took place and immediately they were out of the storm, safe at the land having reached their destination.

  1. Argh, ok. You want some real riddles. Here you go...
    I am greater than God, more evil than the devil, the poor often have me, the rich don't, and if you eat me, you'll die. What am I?' Nothing
    I'm light as a feather, yet the strongest man can't hold me for more than 5 minutes. What am I?' Breath
    He who makes it, has no need of it. He who buys it, doesn't use it. He who uses it but can neither see nor feel it? What is it? A coffin
    Johnny's mother had three children. The first was named April and the second was named May. What was the name of the third child? Johnny
    The more I dry, the wetter I become. What am I? A towel
    You keep answering me but I've never asked you a question. What am I? Telephone
    What can travel around the world but always stay in the corner? A postage stamp
    Easy aye?

  2. Their equal  

  3. Here are a couple of last quote that are moving closer towards the mark...

    Mahatma Gandhi - 'A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.'
    Napoleon Bonaparte was also getting far closer to the truth when he said  'I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison."

  4. M.M. inan in ' I AM - Symbols used by Jesus to explain Himself'  

  5. John MacArthur writes on John 8:24 '  "He" is not part of the original statement. Jesus' words were not constructed normally but were influenced by OT Hebrew usage. It is an absolute usage meaning "I AM" which has immense theological significance. The reference may be to both Exo_3:14 where the Lord declared His name as "I AM" and to Isaiah 40-55 where the phrase "I am" occurs repeatedly (especially Isa 43:10, Isa 43:13, Isa 43:25; Isa 46:4; Isa 48:12). In this, Jesus referred to Himself as the God (Yahweh - the Lord) of the OT, and directly claimed full deity for Himself, prompting the Jews' question of verse Joh_8:25