Before Abraham Was, I Am! (Part 2)

John 8:48-59 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


Welcome back to John 8:48-59. As I mentioned last week, within these verses there is one main claim made by Jesus, three other claims rooted in it, and a single response from the Jews. Last week I focused on the main claim, found in v.58, that Jesus is God. This week, I’ll mainly focus on the other three claims and the response of the Jews to all of them.

Once again, then, the three contingent claims Jesus made in this passage are: (1) there is no immorality in Jesus, (2) the Father and Son conspire for one another’s glory, and (3) eternal life comes from keeping Jesus’ word. And the single response from the Jews was complete rejection of everything Jesus said.

While the main takeaways last week were worship and recalibration, the main takeaways this week are looking to Jesus to see what it means to live a godly life, trusting Jesus to help us live it, and giving ourselves to seeking the glory of the godhead. Let’s pray that God would be pleased to help us with all of that and all He sees fit to do with it.


Although I covered it in detail last week, it’s important to say a brief word about Jesus’ central claim (that He is God). The entire passage (all of 7-8) built towards it as Jesus and the Jews went back and forth. The Jews kept insisting that Abraham was their father and that, therefore, they were right with God (and immune from Jesus’ critiques). From there, the argument followed a windy path to the point that Jesus told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (56). Understandably, the Jews were confused. Abraham had lived centuries earlier. What could Jesus possibly have been talking about, they wondered. They said, therefore, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham” (57). A simple “yes, I have seen him” would have answered their question, but elicited many more.

Getting right to the point, then, in essence Jesus said to them, “Yes. I have seen Abraham. I created him. I held him together. In Me did he live and move and have his being. It is because of me that the covenant with him could be made and certainly fulfilled. I am the sacrifice that was offered, the lamb that was provided. I am your hope, not Abraham. If you really understood Abraham’s relationship with the Father, you would believe in me. And all of that because, I am one with the Father and Spirit. I am God.”

In actual word, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (58); therein taking on God’s holy name. Understanding that perfectly, the Jews “picked up stones to throw at him” (59), in keeping with command of God concerning blasphemy (which this was if Jesus wasn’t telling the truth).

That’s what we’ve already covered. You’ll need that continually in your minds both to really understand the rest of this text and to live as God made you to live.


With that, as a means of best helping you understand Jesus’ three contingent claims, I want you to imagine someone coming up to you and clearly and sincerely saying, “That car belongs to me.” You’re parked, waiting for someone in your family to come out of a store, and a stranger walks up to your window and commands you to get out and let them drive away in your car. That’s not a normal demand, of course, and it’s hard to even imagine what they might be talking about. Certainly, you wouldn’t just comply. In fact, it’d probably take something significant for you to even bother engaging them.

The main question I want you to consider within this scenario is this: If you were to ask them why you should comply, what kind of answer could they give that would convince you? And the key that I want to help you understand is that for someone to make a claim like that, and for it to be legitimate, there must be some greater claim under it, holding it up.

In one sense, all of Jesus’ ministry was like that. From the perspective of the Jews, it was a long series of unexpected, confusing, and even shocking statements, commands, and actions. The question always before them was, on what basis could Jesus say and do those things that we should accept Him at His word. “The things He’s saying don’t make any sense unless there’s something greater, hidden beneath them.” Indeed there was.

As Jesus’ ministry progressed and His time approached, His words and actions became increasingly hard for the Jews to understand and accept. His answers to their questions became clearer and fuller, but they only prompted more questions as they sought to get to the bottom of it all. We see this especially in chapters 7-8, and even more so in our passage for this morning.

That’s at the heart of vs.48-57 and the claims Jesus made in those verses. Like most of the rest of what Jesus said in the first three years of His ministry, the three initial claims of our passage simply couldn’t have been true without a remarkable underlying explanation. Indeed, Jesus’ claims led the Jews to press and ask and investigate until they got to the bottom of things. And the bottom of things, once again, was the fact that Jesus is God.

In that, Grace Church, is the key to understanding the three claims and the great question that determines everything. Either it’s true that Jesus is God or it isn’t. The Jews concluded that it wasn’t true. They, therefore, rejected every lesser claim of Jesus (including the three in this passage). If they were wrong, however, and the most certainly were, every other claim and command of Jesus is to be received as good news with great joy. And that will leave no aspect of our lives untouched. Today is the day to decide.

That leads us to the first of Jesus’ lesser claims: there is no immorality in Jesus.

There Is No Immorality in Jesus (48-49)

The passage we considered two weeks ago, John 8:31-47, ended with these words from Jesus, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Jesus made two main claims in the words I just quoted. First, He claimed that being “of God” is a prerequisite to recognizing and believing God’s words. That wouldn’t have been controversial to the Jews He was speaking to. The second thing He said, however, most certainly was. Jesus’ second claim was that they were not of God and, therefore, could not hear God.

The entire identity of the Jewish people was in being “of God” on account of being Abraham’s offspring. To claim that they weren’t was to deny their most foundational understanding of themselves. Even more significant still, is the fact that Jesus made those claims as an explanation of why those present could not understand or accept His words. In other words, Jesus’ main point was that He was speaking the very words of God to the crowds and their rejection of it was entirely the result of their mistaken understanding of who they were. They were not of God, Jesus cried, but of the devil.

And in response to that, which is where our passage for this morning begins, “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?'”

I have a child who, thankfully, lacks the vocabulary to fully express her anger and frustration. Nevertheless, it’s always clear to all of us when she attempts to draw from the deepest recesses of her insult well. If she had been among the crowd listening to Jesus, and her well ran deeper, it would have sounded just like that.

To charge Jesus with being the product of idolatrous sexual immorality (that’s how the Jews understood the Samaritans) and with being demonically possessed, was to draw from the very bottom of the insult well.

But that just brings us back to the main point. If Jesus is not God, the Jews are right to question everything about Him. If He is God, though, and He most certainly is Grace Church, then His charge and reasoning make perfect sense. And so does His reply to their insults.

Curiously, Jesus didn’t even address the Samaritan charge, but He did reject their claim that He was a demoniac, 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon…”.

More than that, though, Jesus made an even bigger claim. He claimed that He was not only not the product of immorality (that of His parents if He were a Samaritan or a demon if He was possessed), but also He had no immorality in Him at all. He was filled with righteousness. That’s what He meant when He said, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father”. Let me explain.

We cannot honor God in sin, so there is an inseparable connection between righteousness and honoring God. What’s more, Jesus wasn’t simply claiming to honor God once in a while; here and there. He was claiming to fully honor God at all times. Therefore, He was also claiming to be fully righteous at all times.

But Grace, as you know, God alone is truly righteous, so there’s also an inseparable connection between Jesus’ deity and His ability to truthfully make the claim He made. It is, therefore, precisely because Jesus is God that He could rightly claimed to be thoroughly righteous; entirely honoring to God. Even as it is precisely because His hearers rejected that claim that they rejected His teaching and dishonored Him in their response.

This means, Grace Church, that we are right to believe all Jesus says and follow Him in all He does. It is right to look and listen to Jesus to see and hear what it means to live as God intends. He is without sin. He is entirely righteous in all He thinks, feels, says, and does. He perfectly honors God at all times. He is, therein, the authority of a model for all mankind. He came to earth to show and tell us what it looks like to live an abundant life in a fallen world. Consider His life, therefore, and follow Him in faith. Reconsider every aspect of your life that doesn’t line up with His. Praise Him for this glorious truth. And, in contrast to the response we find in the Jews here, listen carefully to His every word, in the knowledge that they are entirely trustworthy and right, since He is God!

Father and Son, Glorifying One Another (50, 54)

The second area of contention between Jesus and the Jews concerned whether or not Jesus was sinfully seeking His own glory as the Jews implicitly charged. Assuming that Jesus was lying about His identity and was therefore lying about His motives, the Jews also assumed that Jesus was pridefully doing so for His own glory.

On the contrary, though, Jesus said, 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.” And similarly, in v.54, 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.””.

At times, I’ve certainly tried to draw attention to certain aspects of myself that I found impressive—that is, in some ways, I’ve sought my own glory. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who hasn’t. To help us all appreciate this claim of Jesus (that He did not seek His own glory), how it was rooted in His divinity, and why it was so offensive to the Jews, I want to invite you to consider another question with me. What’s the difference between me seeking glory for myself and Jesus seeking glory for Himself?

The first part of the answer to that question is in the fact that I’ve never really done anything all that impressive on any meaningful scale. I’m not a moon walker or world record holder of billionaire or NYT bestseller or element-discoverer or university-founder or new-world-colonizer or anything like that. In contrast, however, Jesus had already taught with unparalleled understanding, worked miracles, and demonstrated supernatural authority. In other words, there’s a remarkable difference between someone seeking their own glory who hasn’t done much and someone who is truly exceptional.

The second thing to see is that Jesus isn’t merely exceptional, He is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, the maker and sustainer of all things. He is the One to whom all glory belongs. He is God and His glory is infinite in quantity and quality. The difference between Jesus and me isn’t a matter of degrees, it’s infinite.

The third thing to grasp is that for God alone, being glorified is the highest virtue. God’s infinite glory is tied to the fact that He is good and perfect in every way. More still, it is what we were made for. It is the only thing that can truly and eternally satisfy. In that way, to withhold His glory is uniquely unloving, even as putting it on display is the highest form of love. The world needs the infinite glory of God. It does not need the paltry glory of Dave.

The final and most important thing for us to see then, is that Jesus described a conspiracy of glory between the Him and the Father. He did not seek His own glory, but the Father did. And Jesus sought the glory of the Father. In perfect harmony, with all their might, continually, as the greatest expression of love possible, Father and Son were committed to putting the other’s glory on display for all the world to see and delight in and be forever blessed by. The real problem, then, entirely missed by the Jews, wouldn’t have been Jesus being glorified, but if He wasn’t. Jesus not seeking His own glory would have been tragic, if the Father was not seeking it for Him.

Once again, it is only because Jesus is God that He is infinitely glorious. It is only because Jesus is infinitely glorious that it His glory being displayed is the highest form of love. It is only because it is perfectly loving that the Father is right to work at all times to make it known to the world. And it is because the Jews rejected the first link in the chain (that Jesus is God), that they rejected every subsequent link, and missed the highest blessing.

Jesus honors (glorifies) the Father at all times, even as the Father seeks His Son’s glory at all times. What unspeakable joy will it be to enter the triune praise that has gone on for eternity past, for eternity future. One of heaven’s chief occupations is the perfect, unceasing, entirely right praise of each person of the Godhead for the others. O, to hear and join in that song. Jesus was inviting His hearers to join Him in it at that moment. To accept Jesus’ claim to be a member of the trinity is to accept His claim that He glorifies the Father at all times and the Father Him. But to reject that first claim is to be appalled by His audacity. Everything hinges on whether or not Jesus is God.

Keeping Jesus’ Word Is to Have Eternal Life (51)

As we’ve seen, inseparably linked to the claim to be God, Jesus’ first two claims aren’t small. “I honor God at all times and in all ways”. And, “I don’t seek my own glory, but the Father seeks it for Me.” His third and final claim is also so remarkable that it can only be true if His greater claim to be God is true.

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

Truly appreciating that claim requires that we first answer two questions: 1) What did Jesus mean by “keep my word”? and 2) What did Jesus mean by “never see death”?

The bulk of the sermon from two weeks ago was spent answering the first question. To keep Jesus’ word is to abide in it. And to abide in Jesus’ word is to live entirely in light of it. Of course, none of us do that perfectly, so Jesus’ promise that all who do will never see death might ring a bit hallow.

I’ve used the example with many of you…imagine me telling you that I have a billion dollars for you and that it’s free for you to take possession of whenever you want. That’s really good news until I tell you that it is sitting in a suitcase on Jupiter. No matter the amount of money offered to you, it’s not good news if you have no access to it. Is Jesus’ promise any different than that? Never seeing death (as we’ll soon see) is a far greater reward than any amount of money. But perfectly keeping Jesus’ word is harder to do than reaching the furthest star in the universe.

The good news, Grace Church, is that when we place our faith in Jesus and long to abide in Jesus’ word because of it, through that faith in Jesus, God is pleased to unite us with the complete righteousness of Jesus and also to begin to cause us to abide fully in Jesus’ word. Through faith, God does for us what He requires of us. Who could make a claim like that but God Himself? Everything hinges on Jesus’ first claim: to be God.

But what does it mean to never taste death? In simplest terms, Jesus meant that everyone who trusted in Him and sought to live by faith in His promises, will live forever in perfect fellowship with God. The body will die for a time, but the soul will live on forever only to be reunited with a glorified body in the new heavens and earth. True death is the death of body and soul, not merely the body. For Christians, then, Jesus promised here that it is not death to die. The Jews misunderstood what Jesus meant, and locked in on that misunderstanding.

52 [They] said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died!

They said, in effect, once again, “Jesus, you’re making claims that you have no right to make. On top of that, we know for sure it can’t be true. If anyone is rightly said to have been right with God, it’s our father, Abraham. He was the very recipient of the covenant that is at the heart of our relationship with God. The prophets are like that as well. They were directly given the very words of God from God and many remained faithful to God even to death. If they all tasted death, no one can avoid it.”

If Jesus is not God, the Jews were right…Abraham is dead, the prophets are all dead, and Jesus was wrong. Everything hinges, therefore and once again, on whether or not Jesus is God.

But Jesus is God and Abraham, the prophets, and all who truly trust in God, is alive. Thus, Jesus could rightly say, 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” While the exact meaning of this is uncertain, what is certain is Jesus’ main point in saying it: God IS (not WAS) the God of Abraham and Abraham knows that Jesus is the fulfillment of his greatest longing and joy. For the Jews to really be Abraham’s children, then, they would need to accept and rejoice in that which Abraham accepted and rejoiced in: Jesus!

There is no immorality in me. I honor God at all times. Not only do I honor God at all times, but He honors me at all times too. And if you keep my word, you will never die.

Recognizing the magnitude of Jesus’ words caused the Jews to ask the right questions: Who do you make yourself out to be?…[and] You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And the time had finally come for Jesus to give the answer that would change everything: “Before Abraham was, I am”!


Just think of the blessings that poor out of these claims of Jesus! A description and example of fullness of life, living in the fullest love of God, and never tasting death. Rather than receive Jesus’ words, accept His perfect example, join in the eternal glorification of God, and live forever, without exception, the Jews rejected every claim Jesus made in this passage.

In response to Jesus’ claim to speak the words of God, 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

In response to Jesus perfectly honoring the Father, 49 Jesus answered…you dishonor me.”

In response to Jesus’ teaching that everyone who keeps His word will never die, 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

In response to Jesus’ teaching that Abraham longed to see the say when Jesus would take on flesh, 57 … the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

And, again, in response to His claim to be God, 59 … they picked up stones to throw at him…

Our world is swimming in questions concerning morality and purpose and pain. Jesus answers every one of those questions and offers Himself as a perfect example and solution to them. Every one of His answers, examples, and solutions, though is rooted in the fact that He is God. The world around us, like the Jews in Jesus’ day, is increasingly rejecting Jesus’ deity and, therefore, everything that flows from it.


I’d like to close with the same challenge as last week. Would you take a moment, right now, to ask the Holy Spirit to help you decide once and for all whether or not to hang everything on the central claim that Jesus is God. As we’ve seen, the only real options are to reject it outright and everything that goes with it or accept it and obey all that Jesus commands in faith. John’s Gospel and this sermon were written largely to help you believe that Jesus is the Christ and find the fullness of life that goes with it. May God be so kind to us this morning to open our eyes to this glorious, gracious truth.