The Expository Files



The Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ

John 8:58


Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)

The Incarnation was not simply the birth of a great man. Instead, it was the only-begotten Son of God entering into the world of human beings.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).  The very idea that someone might believe in miracles, revelation, the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, etc., is opened up to direct ridicule today from many areas.  However, in the midst of all of this confusion we find the Bible, continuing to proclaim the pre-existence of Jesus Christ and His timeless message for all humanity.  As Wayne Jackson said, “Any proper study of Jesus Christ must include not only His earthly span of some 33 years, but His eternal existence as well.  The Bible plainly teaches that the Savior had an eternal existence prior to His earthly incarnation.” (“The Pre-Existence and Birth of Jesus.“ Spiritual Sword. 1.3. (1970): 1-4).

The question in our text is about our Lord’s pre-existence.  The objection by the Jews was that Jesus was not 50 years old, and could not, therefore, have seen Abraham.  Jesus replied that He existed before Abraham.  Therefore, in his human nature He was not 50 years old, and could not, as a man, have existed before Abraham.  However, the affirmation in our text must refer to His deity, another nature.  This agrees with John’s statement that He was in the beginning with God, and was God (John 1:1-3).  In Robertson’s Word Pictures he says in regards to the statement, “Before Abraham came into existence or was born” I am” that “Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God.”

The Jews wanted to stone Jesus for making such a claim. Since they believed both God and angels pre-existed Abraham, the only reasonable explanation as to why they would want to stone Jesus, was because He was claiming eternality with God, the Father. Jesus could have merely stated He was an angel (exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe) and the Jews would not have wanted to stone Him.  Jesus echoed the language of deity by using the phrase “I AM” which is uniquely applied to God in Isaiah chapters 40-55 and Exodus 3:14.  His “hour” was not yet come, however, and they could not take him (vv. 58-59).  William Hendriksen said, “The Jews committed the error of ascribing to Jesus a merely temporal existence. They saw only the historical manifestation, not the eternal Person; only the human, not the divine. Jesus, therefore, reaffirms his eternal, timeless, absolute essence.”  Lenski observed: “As the aorist sets a point of beginning for the existence of Abraham, so the present tense ‘I am’ predicates absolute existence for the person of Jesus, with no point of beginning at all” (1943, 670).

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have “translated” the Greek present tense (“I am”) into the English perfect tense (“I have been”) which is more consistent with their theological position that Jesus is not God in flesh.  In the Greek, the words are “ego eimi.” Literally, this is “I am.”  But the New World Translation, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, does not translate this into the present tense. Why? I am firmly convinced it is because translating John 8:58 as “I am” would be too close to God the Son identifying Himself as the “I am” in Exodus 3:14.

From Walking in Truth
“Daily Devotionals by Guy Roberson”

By Guy Roberson
From Expository Files 22.7; July 2015