I AM – Truth and Freedom

Please read John 8:21-59

Again He told them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin — where I am going, you cannot come.”  
The Judeans said, “Is he going to commit suicide? Is that what he means when he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”  
Yeshua said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.  This is why I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not trust that I AM [who I say I am], you will die in your sins.”
John 8:21-24 CJB

Again” indicates that there was an interval between Yeshua’s last words and this discourse, but gives no indication as to whether that interval was minutes, hours, days or weeks. Certainly, it was long enough for His last words to sink in: “You know neither Me nor my Father; if you knew Me, you would know my Father too.”

It was just six months until Yeshua would be crucified as the ultimate act of their rejection of His teaching and of Himself. He could feel the pressure mounting, already many of the leaders were plotting to have Him killed and it was only divine intervention staying their hand. So there was a certain urgency in His teaching, these people needed to see the reality of what was soon to take place if they were to be saved from dying in their sins.

Where was Yeshua going? He was returning to the Father, He was going to sit at the Father’s right hand. “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:20-21 NASB. “…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” 1 Peter 3:21b-22 NASB. This is where Yeshua was going, and we cannot go there with Him unless we believe in Him.

In verse 21, and then twice in verse 24, Yeshua tells them they will die in their sin – (Gk) hamartia = having forfeited God’s approval because of missing His mark; failing to hit the target of obedience to God; every decision not of faith, not inspired and empowered by God; being in the condition of estrangement from God. In verse 24 Yeshua makes it plain that the core of their sin is unbelief – all those who refuse to believe what He says or who He is have, by that unbelief, rejected God and thereby forfeited His approval, regardless of how hard they may work at religious practices. Religious, or ‘spiritual’, activities are no substitute for believing and obeying God.  

Importantly, Yeshua equates Himself with God by speaking of Himself as I AM. Unless we believe that Yeshua is I AM יהוה we will die in our sins.

We first encounter this name for God in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks God for His name and God replies: (as translated into English) “I AM WHO I AM (Hebrew: Ehyeh asher Ehyeh – which also translates as “I will be what I will be”) … tell them I AM (Hebrew: YHWH – known as the tetragrammaton because of the 4 letters) has sent me to you”. Yahweh is the third person version of Ehyeh, which is first person. In the postexilic period the Jews, for reverence reasons, did not pronounce the name YHWH but substituted for it the word adonai (lord), and in written form attached these vowels to the tetragrammaton. The resulting misguided pronunciation of the name Yhwh as the three-syllable word, Y[J]ehovah, continued in English Bible translations until early in the twentieth century. Evidence from Greek usage in the Christian era points to the two-syllable pronunciation, “Yahweh.” In giving this name for His people to call Him, God conveyed His dominion over all things, the source of His power, and His eternal nature: I AM. He is the self-sufficient, self-sustaining God who was, who is, and who will be.  

 At this, they said to him, “You? Who are you?”
Yeshua answered, “Just what I’ve been telling you from the start. There are many things I could say about you, and many judgments I could make. However, the One who sent Me is true; so I say in the world only what I have heard from Him.”  
They did not understand that He was talking to them about the Father.  So Yeshua said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM [who I say I am], and that of Myself I do nothing, but say only what the Father has taught Me.  Also, the One who sent Me is still with Me; He did not leave Me to Myself, because I always do what pleases Him.”
Many people who heard Him say these things trusted in Him.
John 8:25-30 CJB

The religious leaders in the temple ask the question “You? Who are you?” in the tone of scorn. The pronoun is the emphatic word and the phrase was in frequent use to express contempt. He had said, “I AM;” but they do not accept His divinity so they are attempting to draw from Him some definite statement that they can use as technical grounds to charge Him with blasphemy. Yeshua affirms His identity without falling into their trap: “Just what I’ve been telling you from the start.” All of His teaching points to who He is – the light of the world, the way the truth and the life, the Son of God, the great I AM – and unless we are willing to believe who He is we forfeit God’s approval and will die in our sin.

Yeshua’s reference to Himself as “the Son of Man” alludes to Daniel 7:13-14:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

The title “Son of Man” thereby encompasses both Yeshua’s humanity and His divinity as the One who has everlasting dominion and is to be worshipped by all peoples. The Jewish pseudepigraphal writings of 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra give evidence of the understanding of the Jews of that time, presenting ‘the Son of Man‘ as an individual and a messianic figure, so Yeshua’s use of the term would have been clearly understood by His Jewish audience.

Yeshua generally used the term Son of Man when explaining His authority in terms of the humiliation, suffering and death He was to suffer in giving His life as a ransom for us. Likewise the phrase “lift up” – (Gk) hypsoo = to raise high, elevate, exalt – refers both to Yeshua’s crucifixion, and beyond that to His glorification. Those who were looking for a conquering Messiah could not comprehend that the Son of Man was given the authority, glory, sovereign power and an everlasting dominion of Daniel 7:13-14, only after such had been earnt through the sufferings of Isaiah 53. Our Messiah’s suffering and glory are intertwined.

We are called to follow in His footsteps: And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ–if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17).

Many of the people who heard Yeshua say these things about Himself believed in Him, put their trust in Him. They had taken the first step but such belief is not the fullness of what God requires. So, now Yeshua addresses these ones who had believed in Him, instructing them on what it takes to be His talmid (disciple).

 So Yeshua said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my talmidim, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free .”  John 8:31-32 CJB

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know (γινώσκω) the truth, and the truth will make you free ( ἐλεύθερος ).” John 8:31-32 NASB

What does it take to be Yeshua’s talmid (disciple)? It is more than just believing in Him. Even the Devil believes that Yeshua is the Son of God (He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was (Mark 1:34). Moreover demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah (Luke 4:41) ). Many of the Judeans listening to Yeshua teaching in the Temple that day had come to the point of believing in Him, but that alone is not sufficient. Yeshua addressed them, and all those who likewise today claim to believe in Jesus but want to keep living for themselves. To be Yeshua’s talmid requires that we obey what He says, that we abide in His word, that we live in His word, that we remain in His word, that we stand in His word, that we stay in His word. This is so much more than just saying that we believe Jesus is Lord, it requires a total life commitment that brings all we think, say and do into line with His word. If we do not obey Yeshua, He is not our Lord and we are not His disciples.

When Yeshua spoke of knowing (γινώσκω) the truth, He was not talking just about head knowledge. The Greek word used in scripture, γινώσκω, ginōskō, refers to knowing through personal experience, it is the kind of knowing that comes from an active relationship between the one who knows and the person (or thing) known. What sets us free is not just knowing some facts about Jesus, but personally knowing (being in intimate relationship, united as one with) the One who is the truth.

ἐλεύθερος – eleutheria (translated as free; one who is not a slave; one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted; one who is exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation; released from confinement or distress or physical sickness; liberated from political domination and oppression; especially: a state of freedom from slavery)- was an ancient Greek term for, and personification of, liberty. In NT times ἐλεύθερος was used literally of becoming a Roman citizen, something that slaves were not allowed to do. These religious Jews in the temple knew that Yeshua’s invitation was not to Roman citizenship but to citizenship in the kingdom of God. Instead of rejoicing in this invitation, they riled against it because their hope and identity was placed in their ethnicity, in being descendants of Abraham.

They answered, “We are the seed of Avraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?” 
Yeshua answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. 
 Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever. So if the Son frees you, you will really be free!   John 8:33-36 CJB

Instead of rejoicing in the hope of being made free, these ones who said they believed in Jesus refused to acknowledge their bondage. Like so many who are enslaved by sin, these Judeans in the temple refused to concede their lack of freedom. It was a matter of personal pride. It was a matter of identity – they were God’s chosen people. It was a matter of accepted doctrine – all Jews were part of God’s household. It was a matter of ethnicity – they were descendants of Abraham and had never been disqualified (put out of the camp of Israel) by slavery.

These were ones who had believed in Him, yet Messiah knew their hearts that they were not willing to live His teachings. Like those today who call themselves “Christians” but reject God’s commands on how they should live, not willing to submit to His lordship over their lives. Belief that does not result in obedience is not discipleship. Belief that rejects the demands of obedience will quickly expose itself as murderous unbelief when challenged. So it was that at Yeshua‘s challenge to a life of obedience they responded very defensively, even ridiculously as their national pride rose to the fore, claiming while in the shadow of the Roman garrison that they had never been slaves to anyone.

I know you are the seed of Avraham. Yet you are out to kill me, because what I am saying makes no headway in you.  I say what my Father has shown me; you do what your father has told you!”
They answered him, “Our father is Avraham.”
Yeshua replied, “If you are children of Avraham, then do the things Avraham did!  As it is,
you are out to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Avraham did nothing like that! You are doing the things your father does.”
“We’re not illegitimate children!” they said to him. “We have only one Father — God!” 
Yeshua replied to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; because I came out from God; and now I have arrived here. I did not come on My own; He sent Me.  Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t bear to listen to My message. 
John 8:37-43 CJB

The Jews believed that being descendants of Abraham made them part of the household of God. Yeshua directly challenged this. He affirmed that they were Abraham’s seed (descendants) but disputed that this made them Abraham’s “children” – part of God’s household of faith. Our ‘father’, the one whose spiritual heritage we carry, is the one whose actions we do. Their actions, that which they were to do, would make a lie out of their claim to be Abraham’s children and their claim to be God’s children. The problem was that what Yeshua said made no headway in them / His word had no place in them / there was no room in their hearts for His word. Their hearts were full of opinions, beliefs and passions that were contrary to Yeshua’s word, and these are what defined them in His sight, not their earthly heritage.

You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar — indeed, the inventor of the lie!  John 8:44 CJB

Yeshua’s assessment was that they were filled with the nature of Satan and so belonged to him and desired what he desired. Thus He described the awful state of unregenerate men. “From the start he was a murderer” — It was through Satan that Adam transgressed; in consequence of which death entered into the world, and slew Adam and all his posterity. This was the sentiment of the Jews themselves. In Sohar Kadash, the wicked are called, “The children of the old serpent, who slew Adam and all his descendants.” 

Every thought they had that stood against Yeshua’s teaching was a lie from the father of lies. Every thought we have that contradicts Jesus’ teaching is a lie from the father of lies. Yeshua is the Word of God. Yeshua is the truth and speaks only truth. If they could not believe and take to heart what He was saying it was because they had believed lies from Satan that had become entrenched in their hearts and minds. The choice was stark – believe truth or lies, believe Yeshua or Satan.

But as for me, because I tell the truth you don’t believe me. Which one of you can show me where I’m wrong? If I’m telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God listens to what God says; the reason you don’t listen is that you don’t belong to God.” John 8:44-47 CJB

Those who have believed lies cannot accept the truth. Hence the call from both Yochanan the immerser and Yeshua Hamashiach to “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17).  “Repent” in the New Testament is the Greek word metanoia, which literally means “to change the mind.” They, like us, had been thinking one way and needed to think the opposite way to be able to believe the truth Yeshua was telling them. Repentance is a change in the way I think that leads to change in the way I live. When you really change your mind about something, it’s going to change the way you think about it, talk about it, feel about it, and act concerning it. True repentance is more than just a mental game. Repentance is a decisive change in direction. It’s a change of mind that leads to a change of thinking that leads to a change of attitude that leads to a change of feeling that leads to a change of values that leads to a change in the way you live. It was to such repentance that Yeshua was calling these ones who had begun to believe in Him.

The Judeans answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying you are from Shomron (Samaria) and have a demon?”  John 8:48 CJB

They were unwilling to repent, or even acknowledge their need of repentance. They had more confidence in their own rightness than in their messiah. To avoid repenting they turned on Him and started arguing and verbally attacking Him.

Yeshua replied, “Me? I have no demon. I am honoring my Father. But you dishonor me.  I am not seeking praise for myself. There is One who is seeking it, and He is the judge.  Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever obeys My teaching will never see death.”
The Judeans said to him, “Now we know for sure that you have a demon! Avraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever obeys my teaching will never taste death.’ Avraham avinu died; you aren’t greater than he, are you? And the prophets also died. Who do you think you are?” 
John 8:49-53 CJB

Once again it came back around to who Yeshua is, what is His real identity? This is the core question we have to answer.

Yeshua answered, “If I praise myself, my praise counts for nothing. The One who is praising me is my Father, the very One about whom you keep saying, ‘He is our God.’ Now you have not known Him, but I do know Him; indeed, if I were to say that I don’t know Him, I would be a liar like you! But I do know Him, and I obey His word.  John 8:54-55 CJB

Avraham, your father, was glad that he would see My day; then he saw it and was overjoyed.”
“Why, you’re not yet fifty years old,” the Judeans replied, “and you have seen Avraham?” 
Yeshua said to them, “Yes, indeed! Before Avraham came into being, I AM!” 
John 8:56-58 CJB

They had asked in scorn if He were greater than their father Abraham (John 8:53). .His words have shown that He was. He now, with the thoughts of John 8:39 still present, contrasts the exultation of Abraham whom they claimed as father, when he saw from afar the Messianic advent, with their rejection of the Messiah who is actually among them.

Yeshua is, always was, and always will be, God – “I Am”. Such a proclamation is either the most essential truth or a terrible blasphemy. Refusing to believe Him, they decided that it was the latter.

At this, they picked up stones to throw at him; but Yeshua was hidden and left the Temple grounds. John 8:59 CJB

It was not God’s time yet, nor was this the way prophesised for Him to die, so once again Yeshua slipped away from a murderous crowd angered by His proclamation of truth that they were unwilling to hear.

Reference List

1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Coffman, James Burton. Coffman Commentaries on the Bible John 8. Study Light. [Online] [Cited: November 27th, 2021.] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-8.html.
4. John 8:8-15 Commentaries. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: November 27th, 2021.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/8-15.htm.
5. Guzik, David. John 8 Bible Commentary. Enduring Word. [Online] [Cited: November 27th, 2021.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/john-8/.
6. Henry, Matthew. John 8 Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: November 27th, 2021.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/john/8.html.
7. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. John 8 Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Bible Study Tools. [Online] 1871. [Cited: November 27th, 2021.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/john/john-8.html.
8. Mounce, Bill. γινώσκω. Bill Mounce – For an Informed Love of God. [Online] [Cited: December 11th, 2021.] https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/ginosko.
9. —. ἐλεύθερος. Bill Mounce – For and Informed Love of God. [Online] [Cited: December 11th, 2021.] https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/eleutheros.
10. freedom in the ancient world. Oxford University Press. [Online] [Cited: December 11th, 2021.] https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110810104937413.
11. Culture and religion. Britanica. [Online] [Cited: December 11th, 2021.] https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Rome/Culture-and-religion.
12. Commentaries John 8:44. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: January 1st, 2022.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/8-44.htm.
13. Verrett, Bethany. Why Does God Call Himself “I Am that I Am”? Bible Study Tools. [Online] November 1st, 2019. https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/why-does-god-call-himself-i-am-that-i-am.html.
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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

*What has God taught you as you have meditated on these words of Christ?
* How would you describe who Jesus is and why it is important to believe in Him?
* What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?
* How would you describe the state of someone who believes in Jesus but has no interest in reading the Bible or obeying His word?
* The Jews put their trust in being Abraham’s children for their salvation. What do people in your area trust in?