You Asked For It: The Great I Am
July 19, 2018
By Dr. Carey Akin, Pastor of Missions
Why is Jesus Called “The Great I Am?”
That’s a good question with an answer that is important to the understanding of who God truly is, and how the Christian faith understands who He is throughout the New and Old Testament. Although there is not space here to do an exhaustive study of “The Great I Am” (if there were, most of you probably wouldn’t read it), I will try to do justice to the central concept and its scriptural basis. It should first be noted that, technically, the scriptures never call God “The Great I Am.” But that being said, biblically there is good reason why this is an appropriate title for our God.
In the Genesis account of the beginning, we find God creating “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Before anything else was created, God was there. In other words, “He is” when nothing else was in existence or, to put it more precisely, since nothing else existed. If God were speaking, since no one else is there to speak in the beginning, God would say, “I Am.”
The actual term “I Am” describes God as found in the Old Testament, in the book of Exodus, as Moses has an encounter with God through a burning bush and God sends Moses to Pharaoh to demand that he set God’s people free from captivity in Egypt. When Moses asks God who he should say sent him, since there were many God’s that go by many names in that day in time, God tells Moses to identify Him as, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God also identified Himself as the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. So here we see God as a specific God to a specific people, but so much more than this, He is God, who is from the very beginning. He did not derive from something else. Also by proclaiming that, “I AM WHO I AM” implies He is not to be questioned, that He is above all others, in other words, He is “The Great I Am.” He is the God that is above all else and before all else.
To add to this understanding of “The Great I Am,” we can turn to the New Testament and see Jesus using this same kind of imagery of himself as “I Am.” At the beginning of the book of John, the author makes it clear that this same “I AM” who was in the beginning, is found in Jesus who was from the beginning as “the Word became flesh.” Jesus describes himself in the book of John by identifying himself through a series of “I am”:
“I am the bread of life” – John 6:35, 48,51
“I am the light of the world” – John 8:12, 9:5
“I am the gate for my sheep” – John 10:7,9
“I am the good shepherd” – John 10:11,14
“I am the resurrection and the life” – John 11:25
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” – John 14:6
“I am the true vine” – John 15:1
As Jesus describes himself in these “I am” statements, we discover through these different comparisons that God in the form of Jesus is everything we could possibly need as He feeds us, gives us light, takes care of us, gives us new life, provides the truth that is the path to life and the source to bear fruit.
It becomes clear here, as in many other passages of scripture, that Jesus is not just an “I Am,” but He is the “Great I Am.” Through His life, death, and resurrection, He is for us what nobody else could be.
From the Old to New Testament it is clear that God is not only the one true God, but chooses to be a personal God who enters into our life and says, “I am everything you need.” It is appropriate to call Him “The Great I Am.” And I am so very thankful that He is. I hope this helps you understand a little more about what it means when someone calls God, “The Great I AM.”