John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”

JESUS (Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go)

What do you think of Christ? Even when Jesus walked on this earth, just like today, there were many different opinions about him. The crowds had various opinions. The Jewish authorities took a different position concerning Christ. The disciples held their cherished beliefs and hopes about Jesus. In addition these divergent viewpoints, there was the Jesus’ own understanding of who he was, where he came from, who sent him, and the vital mission that he came to accomplish.

The Jewish authorities ask Jesus the vital question that is found in our text today: “Who do you make yourself out to be? Just who do you think you are?”

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In John 8:47-59, we find the conclusion of a dialogue between Jesus and the Jewish authorities concerning his claims. It was during the great feast of Tabernacles, one of the three most important feast of the Jews. There was a tremendous amount of discussion and speculation about Jesus. Some believed that he was the Christ, but the Jewish authorities wanted to kill him.

The Jewish authorities were looking for him, trying to find a way to arrest him, while the crowds were wondering if Jesus would show up at the feast.

And suddenly, there he was, teaching in the temple. The claims that he made were staggering:

  • He promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who would come to him (7:37-39).
  • He claimed to be the Light of the world (8:12).
  • He said that whoever knew him, also knew God the Father (8:19).
  • He told those who believed in him, that if they continued to obey his word, they would really be his disciples, and they would know the truth, and the truth would set them free (8:31-32).

These are amazing claims. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to his followers. He does not simply promise to lead people to the light; he is the Light of the world. He does not simply tell people about God; he says that to know him is to know God. And he promises freedom from sin to those who remain faithful to his teachings.

Who can make such staggering claims about himself? What kind of a man is he? This kind of talk provoked the Jewish authorities to ask the question:

John 8:53 NLT Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

Who did Jesus think he was?

MUSIC: BOB BENNETT – CARPENTER GONE BAD – 3:30 – 14 second lead-in

1.1.Public Opinion

On one occasion, Jesus asked his disciples about public opinion. It was not that Jesus did not know, or that he was concerned about opinion polls. He was leading up to a more important question. So he asked his disciples,

Matthew 16:13-14 NLT …”Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

That may sound impressive: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. People compared Jesus to one or another of the great prophets in the history of Israel. That sounds impressive to us. Men who were greatly used of God in the past. But is that all that Jesus was? Simply a great prophet?

Today, some people still think of Jesus as simply a great teacher or a great prophet. Islam considers Jesus to be a prophet, but the first Christians would understand that Jesus was so much more than than just a great prophet.

Jesus is talking with his disciples. These men would have the responsibility of carrying on his work after his departure into heaven. Public opinion was one thing, but it was much more important that his disciples get it right. It was essential that these men who were to carry the gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ—to the ends of the earth… it was imperative that they know who he was. You cannot share the good news of Jesus Christ if you do not know who Jesus Christ is.

So Jesus turned the question to his disciples. “Others say that I am John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Matthew 16:15-16 NLT Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus is not merely a prophet, not even a great prophet, Peter says. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One that the prophets had prophesied would come. And more than that, he is the Son of the living God. Like Father, like Son. As Son of the living God, he had the same nature as the living God: eternal, all powerful, all knowing, all wise. The Apostle Paul says it like this in Philippians 2:6,

Philippians 2:6-7 NLT Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being…

Was Peter right in what he said about Jesus? When he said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, did he get the answer right? Did Jesus accept what Peter said about him? This is what Jesus said in response,

Matthew 16:17 NLT Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

Peter’s understanding did not come from logic or observation, Jesus said. Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God, was the result of a revelation from Jesus’ own Father in heaven.

1.2.Diverse Opinions

Just as there were many inadequate opinions about Jesus when he walked the land of Israel, there are many defective opinions about Jesus Christ today. While many recognize that Jesus was more than an ordinary man, and many recognize that he existed before his virgin birth in Nazareth, their opinions about Jesus are nonetheless faulty.

Some say that Jesus was an angel. Some say an archangel. Some say that Jesus was the archangel Michael in the Old Testament. While that may sound good to us, it dishonors Jesus Christ who claimed to be equal with God in John 5:17. John tells us that “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Angels are not equal with God. Archangels are not equal with God. They are creatures. God is not a creature; he is the Creator. Creatures are not eternal; they have a beginning point in time. The Son of God had no beginning. He is eternal. As John tells us in the very first verse of this Gospel,

John 1:1 ESV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Others say that Jesus Christ was a god. They say that he is not Almighty God; he is just “a god.” He is “a god”—“a mighty god”—that God Almighty created, but he is not the Almighty God. So according to their teaching, there is the Almighty God and a mighty god. But that makes two gods. That teaching is not the monotheism of the Bible. That is polytheism, the belief in more than one god. That is not the teaching of the Bible. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that there is only one God:

Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

John 17:3 ESV And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Yet still others say that both Jesus and Satan were spirit children of God and that Jesus and Satan are brothers. Well, this is scandalous and is not at all the teaching of the Bible, the Word of God. You may find that false teaching in other books that people have added to the Bible, but you will never find that in God’s Word.

If you have never heard such teachings of men before, consider yourself blessed. But I mention these things because we live in the last days when there are many false teachers in the world and even here in Vanuatu.


2.1.Round One

What kind of man would make the claims that Jesus made? In addition to the claims that we have already mentioned today,

  • Jesus said that he had the right to be honored as God is honored.
  • He said that he does the works of God.
  • He said that God had committed all judgment of men to him.
  • Jesus said that just like the Father, he gives life to whom he will.
  • He said that he was the Bread of Life, the very source of life.
  • In 8:45-47, Jesus implies that his words are the very words of God:

John 8:45-47 ESV But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

What kind of man would make such claims? As we have stated before, in the words of C. S. Lewis, Jesus must be a liar, a lunatic, or he is Lord.

The Jewish authorities said that Jesus had a demon:

John 8:48 ESV The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

The New Living Translation puts it this way,

John 8:48 NLT The people retorted, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”

They called him a Samaritan. The Jews despised the Samaritans. They considered them to be half-breeds and people who had compromised the truth. Jesus does not respond to this slur, this insult. If anything, Jesus identifies with the downcast, those who are despised. He does not even respond to this part of the insult.

But the charge of being demon-possessed is far more serious. They are attributing the works of God to Satan.

John 8:49 ESV Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.

Jesus has made many absolute claims. He comes from the Father and bears witness to the truth. He does not seek his own glory. He seeks to honor his Father. But in dishonoring Jesus, they dishonor his Father who seeks to glorify his Son:

John 8:50 ESV Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.

The Son glorifies the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son.

2.2.Round Two

In verse 51, we start another round. Jesus has just stated that the Jewish authorities do not believe him because they are not of God but of their father the devil. In response to his absolute claims, they insult him as a Samaritan and accuse him of having a devil.

Jesus does not back down. He makes another outstanding claim:

John 8:51 ESV Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

This is another one of his solemn declarations opened with the words, “Truly, truly” or in the Greek, “Amen, amen.” Jesus draws attention to the absolute truth of what he is declaring: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

How can this be? How are we to take this seriously?

The Jewish authorities respond violently:

John 8:52 ESV 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.’

It is absolutely true because those who keep Jesus’ words have already passed from death to life:

John 5:24 ESV Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

On January 31, 2014, my father, at the age of 83, entered into the presence of God. At 18 years of age, he was gloriously saved and passed from death to life. In January, he simply passed through the veil into the presence of God. His communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was not interrupted by death. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:38-39 that even death itself cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:23-24 NET I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.

Mat 22:32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

We read in Hebrews 12:23 that when we come together to worship, we come “to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

The dead in Christ are not literally asleep. They are alive in the presence of God. Whoever keeps his word, Jesus said, “will never see death.”

Jesus has once again made an amazing declaration that the Jewish authorities are unable to accept: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never die.”

John 8:52-53 NLT The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, ‘Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”


There it is! That’s the question! Who does Jesus make himself out to be? Who does he pretend to be?

3.1.Greater than Abraham

The Jews ask Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Abraham?”

This question keeps coming up.

  • The Samaritan woman had asked Jesus a similar question: “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?” Jesus told her in effect that as a matter of fact he was greater he was greater than Jacob. Everyone who drank from Jacob’s well got thirsty again and eventually died, but whoever drinks from the water that Jesus gives never thirsts again. Instead the living water that Jesus gives becomes a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).
  • The Jews unfavorably compared Jesus to Moses who they said had given their fathers manna in the wilderness. Jesus implied that he was greater than Moses for all who ate the manna died, but whoever eats the Bread of Life that is Christ himself, will never die (John 6).
  • Once again, Jesus is compared with one of the luminaries of this history of Israel: “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
  • Jesus offers something that neither Jacob, nor Moses, nor even Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, could offer. Jesus offers eternal life: “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
  • Yet Jesus is not glorifying himself:

John 8:54-55 ESV 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…

This is a terrible indictment. They claimed God, but they did not know him: “You say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him.”

We claim God, but do we know him? Jesus is not talking about simply believing in him. He is talking about knowing him: “You have not known him,” he says.

I know who Prime Minister Tony Abbott is, but I do not know him. I know who President Barack Obama is, and I know things about him, but I do not know him.

These Jewish people knew a lot about God and what he had done in the history of the nation, but they did not know God.

Again, “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they may know you, the one true God, and your Son Jesus Christ whom you have sent into the world” (John 17:3).

You know some things about God. You claim that God is your God. But are you really any better off than these Jewish leaders who did not know God?

John 8:55 ESV 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.

Those who know God keep his word.

3.2.Seen by Abraham

John 8:56 ESV Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

Jesus never backs down. He makes one astonishing statement after another. Now he claims that Abraham was overjoyed as he looked forward to Christ’s coming. And he saw it and was glad!

How is that?

Abraham was a prophet (Genesis 20:7). And God had made promises to him concerning Christ (Galatians 3:16). By faith, Abraham saw the fulfillment of the promises (Hebrews 11:13).

No rabbi would object to Jesus’ claim that Abraham would see the messianic era. But Jesus does not say this. Instead, he says: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad”(italics added). The messianic era is now fulfilled in Christ.

The attitude of Abraham was totally different from that of the Jewish authorities. Abraham rejoiced at seeing Christ the Messiah. “Jesus identifies the ultimate fulfillment of all Abraham’s hopes and joys with his own person and work.” Jesus claims that Abraham had seen his day, that is, “the Day of the Lord.”

3.3.How Old Is Jesus?

John 8:57 ESV So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Rather than accepting what Jesus said and meant, the Jews dismiss his claim. Abraham lived and died 2000 years before Christ. So how could Abraham have seen the coming of Jesus? They could have easily understood that Jesus was referring to himself as the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, but they reject his claim out of hand.


So Jesus has one more stunning claim to make. Again he solemnly announces, “I tell you the truth…”

John 8:58 ESV … ”Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

“Before Abraham was, I am.” What did Jesus mean?

The Jews knew exactly what he meant. They responded with violence. They picked up stones to throw at him:

John 8:59 ESV So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Why did they do that? They recognized that Jesus was claiming to be God. “Who do you make yourself out to be?” they had asked (John 8:53). They got their answer and they did not like it.

Had Jesus “wanted to claim only that he existed before Abraham, it would have been simpler to say, ‘Before Abraham was, I was.’”

But Jesus does not say that. He clearly says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

“I am” what? Just, “I AM.” “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

This is not the first time Jesus uses this phrase, “I AM” without a predicate.

John 8:24 ESV I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:28 ESV So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

In both cases, the pronoun “he” is supplied by the translators. It is not in the Greek text. Finally in this stunning response, Jesus simply says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

New Testament scholars believe that Jesus is clearly identifying himself with Yahweh, the name of God.

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush to send him to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, Moses asked God, “Whom shall I say sent me?”

God responded, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” “I AM that I AM.” “I am the one who is.” “I am the one whose existence depends on no one else.” “I AM.”

Time and again in Isaiah, God refers to himself as “I am…” While the English translations add the pronoun “he,” the Greek translation of the Old Testament says exactly what Jesus was saying, “Ego eimi.” “I AM.”

Isa 41:4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.

Isa 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isa 43:13 Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Isa 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isa 46:4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isa 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.

John 8:57-58 NLT The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”

This is what John is telling us on every page of this Gospel: Jesus is God in the flesh. The opening words of this Gospel tell us that Jesus is God:

John 1:1 NLT In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Again in verse 18 of chapter 1,

John 1:18 ESV No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.


What is your response to this claim that Jesus was God? Do you, like the Jews, want to pick up stones? Do you react violently to the teaching of Christ about himself, the teaching that he was God in a human body? The Word who was God—that Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Many reject his claims. They water them down. They diminish his claims. They dishonor Christ and they dishonor God.

John 8:24 …unless you believe that I am, (Jesus said,) you will die in your sins.”

The only other appropriate response is to worship him. In the next chapter of John, John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind.

John 9:38 ESV He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

In John 20:28, Thomas will call Jesus “My Lord and my God.”

Where are you friend? This is no new teaching that I have shared with you today. This is the teaching of the New Testament and has been the teaching of all true churches: Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Pentecostal, and others. Jesus Christ is God.

John 20:30-31 ESV Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

See also “Gospel of John”:


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