Jesus’ use of the name “I am” pointed to His deity. Elmer Towns explains, “This affirmation is taken from the root word for ‘Jehovah,’ ‘I am that I am’ (Exod. 3:13-14; Jn. 4:26, 18:5-6).” Other verses that would immediately come to an observant Jew would be, “I am the God Almighty” (Gen. 17:1); “I am the Lord, your healer” (Exod. 15:26); “I am the first and I am the last” (Isa. 44:6). These verses tie Christ’s “I am” sayings to the OT and shows that He is the same God, not a different one, that Moses and the prophets wrote about.
The “I am” statements must have been perplexing claims to Jesus’ hearers. They didn’t understand what He was talking about; however, they knew Jesus was making a claim of deity. “Jesus asserts his own divinity by his august claims of ‘I am’,” writes A. M. Okorie. He goes on to contrast the way Jesus spoke to the people versus how the prophets proclaimed God’s message. Jesus was more than a prophet. He spoke the Word of God with authority (Matt. 7:29). No prophet could make the claims that Jesus made. No prophet would want to make such claims because these claims made many wonder if Jesus was insane or a blasphemer.
Nevertheless, Jesus made these claims because they are true. He proved them all. This claim, about being the resurrection and the life, was illustrated in John 11. This was a time when Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, and had already been laid to rest for four days in a tomb. Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, were waiting on Jesus to show up. They both knew of His reputation of miracles and His love for Lazarus. Surely Jesus would show up. Perhaps Jesus would even show up before Lazarus’ imminent death and heal his sickness.
Perplexingly, Jesus didn’t show up in time to heal his friend. Jesus seemed to have purposely waited too long. Although Jesus knew of Lazarus’ illness, he made no attempt to meet him straightway (v. 6). Jesus arrived four days late. A close friend would generally arrive on the first day of the death of a loved one. We can see the disappointment of the sisters in the text. Mary didn’t even bother to meet Jesus when He arrived. This shows the state of her faith; she was wholly devastated. Perhaps she was so overcome with grief that she was oblivious to Jesus’ late arrival. Besides, what good is it if Jesus shows up now – four days late! Conversely, the other sister Martha does meet Jesus and declares: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (v. 21). The following short discourse tells us important details about what followers of Christ believed in that day. Martha continued, “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (v. 22).
Here we see that Martha really didn’t understand to whom she was speaking with. She did not understand that Jesus was the very incarnation of God. Elmer Towns points out her faulty belief that Jesus was inferior to God when she said, “God will give you whatever you ask” (Jn. 11:22, NIV). Jesus was equal with God; He didn’t have to ask a superior for a favor. In these days, Jesus was merely an outstanding prophet or rabbi to most followers. When Jesus informed Martha that her brother would “rise again”, she didn’t understand Him. She responded, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” This shows that many Jews only believed in one final resurrection on “the last day.” Their worldview didn’t include the possibility of someone rising from the dead prematurely. Martha simply couldn’t accept what Jesus was telling her.
It was within this context that Christ makes a shocking claim. He informs Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (v. 25-26). Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world (v. 27). Martha spoke those words; however, she still didn’t know exactly who Jesus was. On some level, this is always the case with God’s people since God is bigger than our comprehension.
When Mary realized that Jesus was calling for her, she hastily made her way to Him and stated the same thing her sister had previously, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (v. 32). Both sisters expressed their doubts about Jesus’ ability to right the situation. Jesus wept at the hurt He saw in the sister’s eyes, as Jesus too loved Lazarus. Jesus could also have been thinking of his own soon-coming crucifixion and death and the hurt it would bring His followers. The following sequence of events is only recorded in the book of John. Jesus instructed the onlookers to remove the stone that sealed the body within the cave. This was an incredibly inappropriate request to make concerning a man who had been dead for four days. Martha objected. Jesus assured everyone that if they would believe they would see the glory of God (v. 40). After a brief prayer for the sake of the onlookers, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.”
One of the most awesome sights ever witnessed followed.
Lazarus indeed came forth, still bound in his grave clothes. This miracle was not only an awesome sight to witness; it went against everything the Jews believed. How could one be resurrected before the last day? What kind of man could do such a miracle? The Pharisees concluded that if Jesus wasn’t stopped that everyone would believe in Him (v. 48) causing them to lose position and power.
One spiritual analogy especially sticks out to this writer. Verse 44 states: “Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” This is what Jesus was talking about when he made the claim of being the resurrection and the life. The raising of Lazarus was a foreshadowing of the salvation that Christ would bring into the world. The apostle Paul points this out plainly in Eph. 2:1 (NIV):
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus …Many see salvation as a ticket to eternal life, redeemable at a future date. This isn’t true: eternal life starts when one is born again. Believers already have eternal life through Christ. Elmer Towns sums it up concisely when he stated that all Christians have eternal life which is based upon Christ’s resurrection. This is a prime example of Christ’s deity. If this claim isn’t true, then everything in the Bible is meaningless and worthless. As Leon Morris points out, “Jesus does not say simply that he will give resurrection and life, but that he is resurrection and life.” The fact the Christ has power even over death clearly shows His deity.
Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ. Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1989.
Okorie, A M. 2001. “The Self Revelation of Jesus in the ‘I Am’ Sayings of John’s Gospel.” Currents in Theology and Mission 28, no. 5: 486-490. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCO/host (accessed October 5, 2013).
Towns, E. John - Believe and Live. Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 2002.
Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008.
This essay is (c) 2013 by J. Keith Tysinger and released into the public domain. It was originally an assignment for Liberty University. It may be the first essay that I made a perfect grade on.