“I AM”

“I AM”

from Jesus of Nazareth

During the time when Israel was deprived of land and Temple, God—according to the traditional criteria—could not compete with other gods, for a god who had no land and could not be worshiped was not a god at all. It was during this period that the people learned to understand fully what was different and new about Israel’s God: that in fact he was not just Israel’s god, the god of one people and one land, but quite simply God, the God of the universe, to whom all lands, all heaven and earth belongs; the God who is master of all; the God who has no need of worship based on sacrifices of goats and bulls, but who is truly worshiped only through right conduct.

Once again: Israel came to recognize that its God was simply “God” without any qualification. And so the “I am” of the burning bush found its true meaning once more: This God simply is. When he says “I am,” he is presenting himself precisely as the one who is, in his utter oneness. At one level, this is of course a way of setting him apart from the many divinities of the time. On the other hand, its primary meaning was entirely positive: the manifestation of his indescribable oneness and singularity.

When Jesus says “I am he,” he is taking up this story and referring it to himself. He is indicating his oneness. In him, the mystery of one God is personally present: “I and the Father are one.”


After the Jews ask the question “Who are you?”—which is also our question—Jesus’ first response is to point toward the one who sent him and from whom he now speaks to the world. He repeats once again the formula of revelation, the “I am he,” but now he expands it with a reference to future history: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he” (Jn 8:28). On the Cross, his Sonship, his oneness with the Father, becomes visible. The Cross is the true “height.” It is the height of “love to the end” (Jn 13:1). On the Cross, Jesus is exulted to the very “height” of the God who is love. It is there that he can be “known,” that the “I am he” can be recognized.

The burning bush is the Cross. The highest claim of revelation, the “I am he,” and the Cross of Jesus are inseparably one. What we find here is not metaphysical speculation, but the self-revelation of God’s reality in the midst of history for us. “Then you will know that I am he”—when is this “then” actually realized? It is realized repeatedly throughout history, starting on the day of Pentecost, when the Jews are “cut to the heart” by Peter’s preaching (cf. Acts 2:37) and, as the Acts of the Apostles reports, three thousand people are baptized and join the communion of the Apostles (cf. Acts 2:41). It is realized inthe fullest sense at the end of history, when, as the seer of the Book of Revelation says, “Every eye will see him, every one who pierced him” (Rev 1:7).

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.