Read John 8:46-59.
Who Is Julius Caesar?
According to Plutarch of Chaeronea, seventy five years or so before Jesus was born, Julius Caesar was sailing on the Aegean Sea when he was kidnapped by pirates. They demanded a ransom of 20 talents of silver (about 350,000 in today’s U.S. dollars) but Caesar laughed at the amount. He realized they didn’t recognize who he was and insisted that the pirates require 50 talents instead of 20 (about 880,000 in USD). When they heard that, I imagine these pirates saying to Caesar: “Who do you think you are?”
But of course more ransom meant more profit, so the pirates agreed to the greater amount. Caesar sent some of the people with him to collect the money. This process took more than a month and during that time the pirates held Caesar prisoner on an island. But Caesar didn’t act like a prisoner, he behaved as though he was their leader. He participated in their games and exercises. He even wrote speeches and poems and recited them to the pirates.
After a while the pirates grew to like Caesar. But Caesar, while he treated them graciously, didn’t appreciate the pirates kidnapping him and holding him prisoner. On several occasions Caesar warned the pirates that one day there would come a moment of reckoning. They didn’t take him seriously. They didn’t recognize him for who he was.
After thirty-eight days Caesar’s followers delivered the ransom and Caesar was freed.
Caesar went out and marshalled a group of ships, sailed back to the island, and took the pirates to Pergamon where they met their demise. (Livius.org, Articles on ancient history)
Arguing With God
In our last post from the book of John the Pharisees were assailing Jesus with a barrage of questions. But there’s a point in this debate between Jesus and the Pharisees when Jesus asks a couple of questions himself, one of which is “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (see previous post Who’s Your Father?)
They couldn’t answer that question. And we know that Jesus was under their microscope too. They would have loved to have found Jesus to be guilty of some sin, any sin. But no matter how close and thorough their scrutiny, there was no wrongdoing to be found. As Pilate said on the day Jesus was wrongly convicted, “. . . I find no fault in him.” Jesus lived a life without sin.
They couldn’t answer Jesus’ question. They had no answer for any of Jesus’ questions, or for anything else Jesus said during this debate. So they did what people do during debates when they have no answers, they resorted to a logical fallacy called ad hominem, otherwise known as–name calling.
“You’re a Samaritan and you have a demon,” they said.
Jesus responded very matter of factly, “I don’t have a demon . . .”
Then he continued, “. . . but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I don’t seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.”
Here we see Jesus committing his reputation to his Father to judge. He’s unconcerned with pursuing the approval of people and interested only in what his Father thinks. And he trusts his Father, even when he’s under attack, to do with his reputation what He wills.
Oh Death Where Is Your Sting?
Then Jesus said these words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
In another part of the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:21 a) The husband half of a young couple I know, recently told me about their first years of marriage: “We spent those first years finding out what was important to each of us, and what bothered each of us. We worked hard to figure all that out early.” They’re an amazing example of what marriage should look like. Their love for one another is obvious because you can see how each one wants to please the other.
That’s exactly how our relationship with Jesus should be. We should love him so much that we love to keep his word, that we might please him. And if we keep his word, as Jesus promised, we’ll never see death.
But the Pharisees were offended by that statement and took Jesus’ words as referring to physical biological death, they said, “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.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
In other words the Pharisees were saying, “Who do you think you are?”
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.’ But you haven’t known him. I know him. If I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”
“It is my Father who glorifies me,” Jesus said. In hindsight we can see how Jesus was probably referring to how his Father will glorify him in his death and resurrection, but the Pharisees don’t realize it. (See John 12:23-33)
We can also see how the Pharisees don’t realize Jesus’ true identity. They’re like the pirates who kidnapped Caesar. The pirates didn’t recognize Caesar and the Pharisees don’t recognize Jesus.
Also the pirates didn’t believe Caesar could or would do what he said he would, they didn’t believe Caesar’s words. And the Pharisees don’t believe Jesus.
The God Of Space And Time
Then Jesus makes an amazing statement: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus’ words, “. . . before Abraham was, I am,” made me wonder. As I thought about that statement I realized Jesus was saying that he exists, currently, during the time period before Abraham came into existence. And that prompted me to do some research on time. What I found was fascinating. You probably already know about how Einstein hypothesized that time passes differently for someone in motion than it does for someone who is stationary. His hypothesis was proven in 1971 when they used a jet to fly an atomic clock around the world, and then compared the time to a stationary atomic clock of the same type. Sure enough, they found a small but measurable difference in the way the two clocks recorded time. It turns out that time passes more slowly for someone in motion. Today we can measure time with amazing accuracy, down to billionths of a second, and the proof of Einstein’s theory holds. Since 1971 it’s been tested many times.
In a documentary film featuring physicists from MIT, Columbia University, and Harvard, physicist after physicist described how space and time are not at all independent of each other. The reality is, together they form what physicists call spacetime. Space time is, in a way, like a loaf of bread with each moment in time represented by a microscopically thin slice. Where it gets weird is when we introduce great distances between two people, one in motion and one at rest. Say a person at rest is 10 billion light years away from another person, also at rest. Because they’re both at rest time passes the same for both, they both experience the same slice of time.
But, if one person is in motion away from the other, now their clocks no longer agree, and their slices of the spacetime “loaf” don’t agree either. The person in motion slices through space time differently. His or her slice is no longer parallel to the stationary person’s 10 billion light years away. The slice of the person moving away is angled toward the past. The angle is tiny, but over a billion light years distance the angle results in a massive difference in time. The result is that the now for the person in motion is two hundred years before the now of the person who’s stationary.
The implications for Jesus’ statement about he and Abraham are remarkable.
And even stranger still, if the person in motion moves toward the stationary person, his or her time slice angles toward the future. His or her now is two hundred years after the now of the stationary person. (The Illusion Of Time, Nova, PBS)
The implications regarding prophecy are amazing too.
When Jesus says “. . . before Abraham was, I am,” he’s saying that time doesn’t apply to him in the same way time applies to you, or me, or the Pharisees he was debating with. Obviously a human being can’t move to a position 10 billion light years away and then experience a now that’s centuries, or millennia, before or after the now of another. But somehow, Jesus can exist in a now that’s before Abraham existed, while simultaneously existing in the first century AD.
Who Do You Say He Is?
And there’s another more important point to make about Jesus’ statement: He used the same words that were used by the God of Moses. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh, Moses knew he would need to know the name of the One who required that the Jews be freed from Egypt, so he could share with Pharaoh who it was that sent him. When Moses asked God for His name, God’s answer was, “I AM WHO I AM.”
Jesus used the same I am language to identify himself when he said, “before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus is God.
And no one understood what Jesus was saying better than the Pharisees.
As soon as the words “I am” passed Jesus’ lips, the Pharisees picked up stones to throw at him.
In Matthew chapter sixteen Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” I think at some point every person on the planet will have to give an answer to that question.
And I think the answer is, “Jesus is God.”
And if we love him, if we keep his words,
We’ll never see death.
-You might also like: Is Believing In Jesus All That’s Required? (Because after all, Jesus gave us commands)–
(If you’d like to become a follower of Jesus, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
References and Resources:
Plutarch of Chaeronea (translation by Robin Seager), Caesar and the Pirates, Livius.org, Articles on ancient history
The Illusion Of Time, Nova, PBS, Aired July 18, 2012
Image via Wikimedia Commons