By Tyson Thorne

July 30, 2019

John 28 Large

Jesus continues to teach the crowds, and the Jewish leaders have still not moved to arrest him. In his usual fashion, Jesus makes some statements to teach and others to confuse his adversaries. Still testifying about himself and his Father, Jesus speaks in such a way that some will understand and others will not. This is evidence by the various reactions the people have to his teaching as recorded by John. Verse 21 is a typical example of such language, "I am going away… Where I am going you cannot come," he said. The religious leaders immediately tried to discern his meaning.

This portion is both cryptic and direct. There is a division of understanding and confusion. The Pharisees heard the first and last phrase, "I am going away… Where I am going you cannot come." They wondered if maybe Jesus was going to commit suicide. But the common people heard the middle phrases, "You will look for me, but die in your sins," Jesus stated dramatically. In Jewish religious life, to die without having one's sin's confessed and atoned for was a terrifying fate. Jesus' meaning was clear to the crowd, believe in Jesus — who takes away one's sins — or die in sin. In an attempt to be perfectly clear, Jesus states the same truths with added detail explaining that he is different in that he is not from "below" like the rest of humanity, but from "above," or heaven. This is why they will not find him when he departs. Most importantly, however, he gives a clear presentation of the gospel message, "For unless you believe I am he, you will die in your sins."

There is some debate over this final phrase. Did Jesus say"believe I am he" as in "I am the messiah," or did Jesus say "believe I AM" as in the great I AM who spoke with Moses? There are really good scholars and translators on either side of the argument, and some translations go one way and some the other way. Without getting too far into the weeds, it seems the best arguments about the implied predicate nominative are against Jesus' use of the formal name of God, meaning Jesus was identifying himself as the Messiah.

That is, until you get to verse 28. Jesus says, "When you lift up the son of man, then you will know that I am (he)..." The same situation occurs, with an implied predicate nominative which would require "he" be added. The arguments are the same in this instance, but it seems to me that when the phrase is used twice perhaps Jesus is claiming equality with God. In my way of thinking, however, the people's reaction means as much as rules of grammar. Usually when Jesus refers to himself as I AM (in other gospels) the people are angered and believe the statement is blasphemy. There is now such reaction here — in fact just the opposite takes place, they believe in Jesus. So while I cannot say with certainty what Jesus was intending here, at least we've explored the passage well enough for us to understand the issues.

Jesus discloses a bit more about himself and the Father, claiming they are on the same page in regard to Jesus' testimony and judgment of Israel. John tells us that the people didn't understand Jesus was stating that God was his father, which may lend credence to the argument that Jesus was not using the phrase I AM. But the people understood that Jesus and the promised Messiah are the same, and that is enough. Or is it? Find out tomorrow.

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