Jesus made many statements recorded in the Gospels that garnered great controversy in His day. He said that He came from heaven (John 3:13), had the authority to forgive sins (Luke 7:48â€“50), and is the â€œLord even of the Sabbathâ€ (Mark 2:28). But perhaps His most surprising assertion was given in response to the Jews in John 8. Amid a heated debate over His identity, Jesus told them, â€œBefore Abraham was born, I am!â€ (John 8:58). This declaration is especially significant given that the phrase I am was used as a title for God (Exodus 3:14).
When analyzing Jesusâ€™ comment, it is important to notice what Jesus did not say. He did not say that â€œbefore Abraham existed, I existed.â€ Or, â€œBefore Abraham was, I was.â€ Rather, He declared that before Abraham was even born, â€œI am.â€ Before Abraham was (past tense), Jesus is (present tense). Jesus was claiming pre-existence.
When Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham, His hearers â€œpicked up stones to stone himâ€ (John 8:59). They knew immediately that Jesusâ€™ statement was tantamount to claiming equality with God, and the penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law was stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesusâ€™ opponents were unsuccessful, however. John records that â€œJesus hid himself and went out of the templeâ€ (John 8:59). Later, in John 13:19, Jesus again applies the divine name I AM to Himself: â€œI am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.â€ The words echo Godâ€™s statements in Exodus 3:14, â€œGod said to Moses, â€˜I AM WHO I AMâ€™â€ and in Isaiah 41:4, â€œWho has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.â€
One day, â€œthe LORD appeared to Abrahamâ€ (Genesis 18:1). Throughout the conversation, the Lord is alternately called a â€œmanâ€ and â€œthe Lordâ€ in (Genesis 2; 13; 16; 17; 22). This is a case of an Old Testament Christophany (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). Genesis 18 provides further support for Jesusâ€™ claim that He existed before Abraham. Jesus visited Abraham and Sarah in their tent and ate a meal with them.
Yes, the Bible certainly teaches that Jesus existed before Abraham. Jesus was â€œwith God in the beginningâ€ (John 1:2; John 1:14; Colossians 1:16â€“17), and that predates Abraham by quite a while. Jesus claimed to be divine on numerous occasions, and one such claim was that He existed prior to Abraham. Not only did Jesus exist prior to Abraham, but Abraham gave Him honor (Genesis 18:2â€“5).
As Jesusâ€™ resurrection from the dead made clear, Jesusâ€™ divine claims were true! So Jesusâ€™ use of the name â€œI amâ€ was not blasphemy as the Pharisees had supposed. Such an identification with Yahweh was entirely appropriate given who Jesus is. He is the â€œAlpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the Endâ€ (Revelation 22:13). He is â€œGod over allâ€ (Romans 9:5) and â€œthe Savior of the worldâ€ (1 John 4:14). He was then and will forever be the great â€œI AM.â€