“Yesterday, I run a race.”
Sounds weird, right? The verb tenses are wrong. This is something I’ve harangued about a lot when teaching writing. Keep your tenses consistent!
That’s why Jesus’s words in John 8:58 jump off the page and mess with our minds.
The Pharisees were on his case again about claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had the gall to mention something about Abraham in his response and the Pharisees sarcastically replied, “Yeah, right, as if you’re old enough to have known Abraham!”
And then this statement: Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Whoa there, Jesus. Hang on a second. I need to reboot. You’ve either gotten your tenses wrong, or you just messed with something called “time”, which is really important to us earthlings. We exist on a timeline… as in people are born, and then they die. You can only say, “I am” right NOW! Before Abraham was born would be called “past tense.” Maybe you didn’t learn that in carpentry school?
But Jesus says nothing accidentally. He is frying our circuits on purpose. God’s existence transcends beyond our grasp, our understanding, our sensibilities. The confines of time and space he created for us do not apply to him, and I’m so glad! Before Abraham was, he IS!
That means he could also say,
- Before the Earth was created, I AM.
- When nations are rising and falling, I AM.
- When you were being formed in your mother’s womb, I AM.
- On the day of your funeral, I AM.
- When the earth gives way and the mountains move into the heart of the sea (Ps. 42), I AM.
- When we’ve been in heaven 10,000 years, I AM.
Today, he IS. We have a Savior who IS. He is alive, active, working, answering, moving, and guiding.
I’m so glad our God doesn’t obey the tenses.