Before Abraham was, I Am. These are among the most powerful words Jesus spoke, as reported in the Gospel of St. John. They were said to a group of Pharisees and scribes in the Treasury inside the Temple at Jerusalem. The location is the Temple as rebuilt during the time of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah after the return from exile in Babylon and as modified and expanded under Herod.
As I’ve noted in the on-going Bible Study videos on the Gospel of St. John, this phrase marks the climax of a series of conversations at different locations but with essentially the same audience that begin in Chapter 6 with the start of the “I Am the Bread of Life” conversation (John 6:30-49). All the several uses of the Greek ego eimi (I Am) were like a galvanic shock to the audience, because, whether they were willing to admit it or not, they knew quite well that in this choice of words Jesus meant to remind them of God’s answer to Moses’ question regarding the identity of God. Ego eimi is the Greek equivalent of eyheh asher eyheh, or I Am that I Am, or I Am the Existing One from the Greek Septuagint text of Exodus 3:14, 15.
The illustration is a 15th C Russian Orthodox icon, Not Made With Hands, based upon a 4th C. linen burial mask from the region of Edessa.
Through the prolonged series of conversations the topics were the contention of the Jews that they were children of their father Abraham and their confusion and rejection of Jesus’ use of “Father” to mean God, His Father. Through the exchange they ask at two different points: Who Are You? and “Who Do You Make Yourself Out to Be?” The answer in the first case was I Am who I told you from the beginning (meaning in the multiple uses of ego eimi (I Am). This, of course, they were not prepared to admit and finally Jesus accuses them of being spiritual children of the devil whose work they do and not of obedient Abraham.
Then we get to verse 56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (8:56). And they willfully continue to deny His divinity. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham” (8:57).
And then the galvanic shock, to which they reacted exactly the same as frogs on a lab table. What He said to them was not the wandering, lengthy expository explanation preferred by many modern translations. BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM!
John relates in verse 59 another miracle that goes mostly unnoticed in the modern world: “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus HID HIMSELF and WENT OUT OF THE TEMPLE, GOING THROUGH THE MIDST OF THEM.” (8:59). This does not mean He slipped out via a window or the back door. By His Divine power he vanished from their midst.
In Episode 33 of the You Tube video I continue after verse 8:59 with Part 1 of 2 in “I Am the Door…” and ‘I AM the Good Shepherd” with explanations of the meaning of “door” and “shepherd.”