JESUS IS THE GREAT I AM
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.
For fairly good reasons, the Jews scratched their heads, a bit perplexed. Here was a fairly young man, roughly 30 years old, claiming to have known Abraham. So, not knowing his exact age they argue, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?
Jesus said to them,
Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.
Now the Jews did not laughingly say, “Seriously? You think you existed before Abraham? LOL!” If that was our Lord’s claim, everybody would have dismissed Jesus as being a lunatic from Nazareth. Jesus’ career as an up-and-coming Messiah would have ended rather quickly and his followers would have abandoned him, embarrassed to be associated with a psychotic rabbi who thinks he is older than Abraham.
The Jewish leaders were well acquainted with scripture though, and they fully understood Christ’s claim to be the great I AM who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.
In Exodus 3 we read:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
The above passage makes it clear that “I AM” is the name which God chose to express Himself to His people while they were in exile.
The Jewish leaders without a doubt understood what Jesus was claiming, and that is why in verse 59 of John’s Gospel we see, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him.” The Pharisees would have had little interest in stoning a mentally ill young man. However, they had every intention to stone an ordinary person claiming to be the great I AM, the God of Israel, for that was extreme blasphemy.
The Watchtower misconstrues Exodus 3:14 in their New World Translation (2013 revision) as follows:
So God said to Moses: “I Will Become What I Choose to Become.” And he added: “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I Will Become has sent me to you.’”
They then translate John 8:58-59 as follows:
Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid and went out of the temple.
In order to prevent readers from seeing the connection that exists between Exodus and John, the Watchtower provides an inconsistent translation that does not match. This is a sleight-of-hand on their part in order to leave their followers in darkness.
Of course, verse 59 then makes no sense. Why stone a silly rabbi who thinks he is older than Abraham, especially when the Pharisees claim to know Jesus’ family and hometown? If anything, they would have laughed and jeered at him, but not have been angry enough to stone him to death. The context of the passage clearly supports “I AM” as being the correct translation in both Exodus and John.
On a side note, what does the Watchtower mean in their Exodus translation about God becoming something he already is not? Are they saying Jehovah was not fully God or as powerful as he would later become? Their translation of Exodus could indicate that they believe God changes, however, that is in direct contrast with the Orthodox Christian understanding of God as being the one who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
DOUBTING THOMAS AND HIS LORD AND GOD
The last passage I will discuss is John 20:28. The context is this, Jesus was captured, crucified, died, and now rumors are floating that He has come back to life. None of the disciples believe the rumors until they encounter Christ Himself. St. Thomas was no exception; unfortunately for him though, he was not at the prior gatherings when Jesus revealed Himself and so he was the last one to see Christ. That earned him the nickname Doubting Thomas.
Thomas was quite vocal about his doubts, knowing how efficient Roman soldiers were at executing people. Therefore he states,
Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas is given the opportunity to touch Christ’s hands and sides. So overwhelmed by the truth of the revelation that God bestowed upon him, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
THE RIGHT INTERPRETATION
This passage reveals two truths: Firstly, the divinity of Christ. Thomas refers to Jesus, not as a lord or a demigod-of-sorts, but rather as “my Lord and my God!” Being a devout Jew, Thomas undoubtedly believed in the Jewish God and was not referring to pagan demigods. In fact, Jews had such a deep respect for the sacredness of God’s name, they referred to God as “Lord,” or “Adonai” in the Hebrew. Therefore, for Thomas to call Jesus both his “Lord/Adonai” and his “God” is quite significant. If properly understood, there can be no clearer claim to divinity than this statement.
Secondly, Jesus had a bodily resurrection that could be touched and could even eat food. It was not a delusion, a “spiritual” vision, a ghost, or some mass hypnotism. Jesus actually rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples in a resurrected, glorified body to confirm that He is the Master over death.
A VERY SILLY REBUTTAL
For me, this passage could not be any clearer; it’s a total theological slam dunk. So, I asked my Witness friends what they thought of it. Firstly, they believe that Jesus did not have a bodily resurrection. They state that he resurrected from the dead, but how they define “resurrection” differs from the Christian definition.
The Watchtower teaches that humans do not have souls or spirits. We are simply matter in motion, given a brain so that we can think. According to them, we don’t even have the Holy Spirit; that has only been given to the Watchtower governing authority (this, of course, is an obvious means of control and manipulation, but that’s another topic).
Therefore, they logically conclude that a soulless person ceases to exist once dead. In their teaching, Jesus was no different. When he died on the cross, that was it. Jesus ceased to exist. Jehovah recreated him as a spirit creature a few days later; of course that was after making Jesus’ body disappear so that it wouldn’t confuse the disciples. For them, that is the resurrection: Jehovah hides bodies and brings non-existent beings into a spiritual, non-bodily existence. Of course, one would have to conclude that Jesus was a liar regarding his teachings about raising himself from the dead (John 2:19, 10:18).
Going back to the passage, we see Thomas’ insistence that he would not believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he could touch and handle Him. In other words, he wanted to ensure that Jesus was more than just a ghostly spirit creature. The Watchtower teaches that Jesus appeared to be solid so that the disciples could believe in his resurrection, but he was truly a ghostly spirit creature with no body. However, all of this means that Jehovah is nothing more than the master of deception – showing the disciples a form of Jesus that does not actually exist.
Seeing their argument made no sense, I asked them about Thomas crying out, “My Lord and my God!” Their translation is exactly the same for this passage. They explained, “Thomas was shocked and simply saying, ‘O my God!’”
I stopped and stared at them and asked, “Are you serious?” They laughingly said, “Yes.” At that point I realized there is no way to effectively distort this passage without looking silly. A Jew would be stoned for taking God’s name in vain like that.
Jesus had a bodily resurrection and He is our Lord and God, just as the Bible clearly teaches.