THE “I AM”
The Lord Jesus is the I Am. His name is I Am, the eternal One. In 8:58 the Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being, I Am.” The Lord as the great I Am is the eternal, ever-existing God. Hence, He is before Abraham and greater than Abraham.
The words “I Am” are related to the verb “to be.” To be is to exist. In His creation, God called things into being. Actually, God did not make anything, but rather called everything into being. In Romans 4:17 Paul speaks of God as the One who “calls the things not being as being.” For something to be called into being is for that thing to exist. At one time there was no light. This means that light did not exist. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and light came to be; that is, it came into existence.
Do you know who God is? God is the unique I Am. He is the unique One who has being, the great “To Be.” We, on the contrary, are not. In ourselves, we do not have any being. This means that the verb “to be” can be applied only to God and not to us. We need to realize that we are nothing, that in ourselves we do not have any being. Do you know what it means to be nothing? It means that you are not, that the words “I am” and “to be” cannot be applied to you. Only God is the I Am. Only He has being. He is the To Be. God is the universal To Be, the genuine being. Apart from Him, nothing else has any being. Rather, everything is vanity; everything is nothing.
When the Pharisees asked the Lord who He was, He replied by saying, “I Am.” Here the Lord seemed to be saying, “I Am that I Am. I am the unique being; I am the To Be. But you scribes and Pharisees are nothing. You are nobody. I am the eternal One, the only One who is, the only One who is real.”
Only the I Am is reality. Because He is the To Be, He is reality. Anything that does not have being cannot have any reality. Whatever does not have being is empty, vain. Because only God is the I Am, Solomon could say that all things are “vanity of vanities.” Only One is the I Am.
We have seen that in 8:58 the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as I Am. This expression is used two other times in this chapter. In verse 24 the Lord Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins.” I Am is the meaning of the name Jehovah (Exo. 3:14), and Jehovah is the name of God in relation to man (Gen. 2:7). Hence, it denotes the Lord as the ever-existing God in relation to man. If any man does not believe that the Lord is this very God, that man will die in his sins. In verse 28 the Lord went on to say, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am.…”
In 8:32 the Lord says, “And you shall know the reality, and the reality shall set you free.” Reality is not the so-called truth of doctrine, but the reality of the truth which is the Lord Himself (14:6; 1:14, 17). Verse 32 says that the reality will set us free. But verse 36 says, “If then the Son shall set you free, you shall be really free.” This proves that the Son, the Lord Himself, is the reality. Since the Lord is the embodiment of God (Col. 2:9), He is the reality of what God is. Hence, reality is the element of God realized by us. When the Lord as the great I Am comes into us as life, He shines within us as light, and this light brings the divine element as reality into us.
The Lord is the reality because He is the I Am, because He is the To Be. Therefore, reality is the I Am, the To Be. The reality that sets us free is this I Am. The great To Be sets us free. This One is Jehovah, the One who was, who is, and who will be. Jesus is this very Jehovah. The name Jesus means Jehovah the Savior. Therefore, Jesus is the great I Am, the great To Be. Because He is the To Be, He is the reality.
The Lord told the scribes and the Pharisees, “Before Abraham came into being, I am” (v. 58). The past tense is used for Abraham, but the present tense is used for the Lord Jesus. Grammatically speaking, the Lord’s word seems to be wrong. We would not say, “Before you came, I am.” Instead, we would say, “Before you came, I was here.” However, it is altogether correct for the Lord to say, “Before Abraham came into being, I am.” The Lord is the ever-existing One. Before Abraham came into being, He was already the I Am. This great I Am, the eternal To Be, is the reality.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 24, by Witness Lee)