Many are familiar with the famous “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. John was also the writer of the Book of Revelation where there are some more “I am” statements of Jesus that are less well known. After brief background from John’s Gospel this piece will concentrate on these examples from Revelation.
Writers and speakers generally refer to seven instances from John’s Gospel. They are really all about life and relationship. Jesus is not revealed as a distant and aloof being. Indeed His whole purpose is to bring people into a living relationship with the living God. He, as the God Man, is the mediator between mankind and God.
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Christianity stands or falls by these words. He also said “I am the resurrection and the life”. He died and rose again, which makes Him the only One who can bring true hope and assurance of a future beyond the grave. He said “I am the bread of life” and “I am the true vine” – He is the only source of all true spiritual food and sustenance. He also said “I am the light of the world” – the only source of true spiritual light and direction. Jesus also referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” adding that “the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep”, speaking of His death on the cross for our sins. In the same beautiful passage from John 10 He said “I am the door of the sheep” another picture of being the true way to God.
In John’s Gospel, however, there is another saying of Jesus which is of vital importance in this context. It is another “I am” statement, but somehow it gets overlooked. However, once its intended meaning is understood, it is even more powerful than the ones already quoted. Near the close of a long debate with the religious leaders, who were proud of their Jewish heritage and their links back to Abraham hundreds of years before, Jesus completely silenced them by saying “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). They knew that Jesus meant He was claiming to have been alive at the time of Abraham. More than that, the very term “I am” links in with the Old Testament revelation to Moses of God as Jehovah – “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 14). He was doing nothing less than claiming to be God, and the religious leaders were fully aware of that significance.
Today people still need to answer for themselves as individuals the question that Jesus asked – “Who do you say that I am?” The claims of Jesus still stand and they still have the same impact. If Jesus was speaking the truth, the answer that we each give is of vital importance. Anyone denying that He is God are in effect calling Him out as a liar.
Revelation provides four more statements of Jesus to consider. These are words spoken by Jesus after His death and resurrection, and after His ascension to glory where He now lives in the power of an endless life. If anything, they carry yet more weight than the powerful examples already listed. They certainly deserve as much attention as the well known words from John’s Gospel.
The first we will refer to is an amazing personal testimony. In Revelation 1:18 Jesus says to John “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.” The words themselves, as so often with John, are simultaneously simple and extraordinary. Who else has ever said “I was dead”…? If true, they are among the greatest and most significant words ever spoken. If not true, the whole message of Jesus and the Bible falls apart. There is no middle ground, however much people might wish to try to avoid taking sides.
Paul says that it is of the utmost importance to the Christian faith to affirm that Jesus “died for our sins” and that “He rose again the third day” according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). His death and resurrection – and their meaning in opening up the way for people who have sinned to have a restored relationship with a holy God – are central to the message of Christianity. He died that we might live, and He lives that we might live with Him and “in Him”.
Once again we see that the Bible claims that Jesus is at the heart of the very matters of life and death for all mankind. All the Bible asks people to do is to believe its message about Jesus as the Son of God, and the saving work He has accomplished on the cross for us all. On recognising our need of Him to be our Saviour, and trusting in Him, we are are brought from death into life. Without Christ, the penalty of death and eternal separation from God because of our sins hangs over us all. Only Jesus through His death and resurrection can save us and bring us into relationship with God, a relationship of life, light and love. For this very reason Jesus makes the solemn announcement after these words of triumph and hope that He is the One who holds the keys of death and hell.
Salvation is freely offered to all. The work has been done, the price has been paid, Jesus has proved the love of God to all. The testimony of Scripture is that God is not willing that any should perish, and that He desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For us as individuals, once we hear and understand the terms of the Gospel message – “believe and live” – our response is our personal responsibility before God. Receiving the gift of salvation is a matter of faith, which is an active decision to trust Christ based on a real choice between accepting and rejecting the offer. It is not a matter of ability vs inability, but rather one of willingness vs unwillingness. The response to the Gospel – acceptance or rejection – will effect the way Jesus uses the keys of death and hell in each individual case. This is fundamental to the terms of the gospel as revealed in the Bible. Although the context was rather different, the Old Testament has very similar language when Moses confronted people with a choice or decision they had to make – “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life…”
Jesus died and rose again. He Himself and many eye-witnesses bear record through Scripture. There is strong evidence, and it really does demand a verdict.
The other three “I am” statements in Revelation group together very neatly, and they set the seal on the sheer scope of the “I am” claims of Jesus. All three are found in the form pairs of words. The term “Alpha and Omega” is found in Revelation 1:8, 1:11, 21:6 and 22:13. “First and last” occurs in Revelation 1:11, 1:17, 2:8 and 22:13. “Beginning and end(ing)” is found in Revelation 1:8, 21:6 and 22:13.
Alpha and omaga are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. One of the titles of Jesus from the first chapter of John’s Gospel is “the Word”. It seems clear that Jesus is claiming to embody the full and final communication from God in terms of language. All that God has to say to mankind is communicated in highest authority through Jesus Christ personally. We have the wonderful gift of language and communication with one another. It is a God given ability, and He is the greatest of all communicators. The Old Testament is full of God speaking and commanding things to be written down. Jesus brings the communication even closer – in Christ God communicates with mankind as a Person. Jesus embodies all that God has to say to the world. What Jesus says is always exactly what God requires to be said and is always exactly what God considers that we need to hear. Nothing more and nothing less. The whole thrust of John’s Gospel is to examine the words of Jesus about Himself and about God the Father, and to establish the basis of the authority of the words He spoke. The content of the message, down to every word and letter (in the original language), is of significance. Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of the jots and tittles, the little marks of the Hebrew language. Jesus alone spoke the words that bring true spiritual life and light, all shared in the true spirit of the God of love. His words are true and reliable. His communication in language was truly unique – the testimony at the time was “never has man spoken like this man”. Hebrews 1 confirms this whole line of thought in the powerful opening verses of the epistle.
Jesus spoke words of truth and of grace. He only spoke harshly to those who were proud and self important, with no sense of spiritual need. To others, however far they had fallen, He would bring compassion and hope. People marveled at the gracious words He spoke, and yet He also spoke with authority. Unlike the religious leaders, His deeds matched His language. He spoke great truths and His life was right, pure, holy, kind and good to the utmost standards perfection as tested and evaluated by God.
This leads on to the other two statements. One of these is that Jesus said “I am the First and the Last”. This relates all deeds and activities accomplished. He is claiming to do all that God does throughout history. This is confirmed in John’s Gospel, which takes us back to the beginning of time and of creation. “Without Him (the Word, Jesus) nothing was made that that has been made”. Hebrews 1 confirms that Jesus is the One “through whom” God made the worlds. Jesus the Son is the agent and embodiment of all that God does. We cannot overstate His greatness. Yet He is the One who promises His care for us as individuals if only we will trust in Him. How good it is when we recognise how great He really is, and what He is able and willing to do even for the least of us as His people. Nothing is too great or too small for Him. He is responsible for the vastness of space and for minuteness of the sub-atomic particles. Yet often even as believers we fail to trust Him in many aspects of our lives.
In the Old Testament, the Psalmist writes “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth”. In New Testament terms, Christian believers can just as well say “My help comes from the Lord Jesus who made heaven and earth”. He acts in ways that are unseen to us, but works things out for the ultimate blessing of His people, even though He also allows us to stumble and fail as we learn lessons along the journey of life.
Finally we come to the third statement – “I am the Beginning and the End”. This has to do with the most fundamental aspect of all and the one that is widest in scope. It links in most fully with God as THE “I AM” – it is about Jesus as God in His very being. He is all that God is. The previous statement concerning His part in all that God does can only flow out of the fact that He is also intrinsically God Himself.
This is not the place to multiply words. Human words cannot do justice. An eternity of praise and worship will not exhaust the One great subject of adoration – our God revealed in the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed never will the summit be scaled, ever will there be the profound sense of depths and fullness in the person of Christ yet unknown and untold, even though we are promised that one day, those who trust Him will “know as they are known”.
In effect, the summary is that the Jesus of the New Testament is One with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. If true He can be no less the He claims, and the claims are so great that He could be no greater. If true, facts remain facts despite lack of belief. Is it not a risk to reject the claims of Christ, when accepting them is the promised route to redemption and eternal blessing for all who simply receive them at their full value?