The “I am” Saying of Jesus Christ in the Fourth Gospel

Philip P. Eapen

One of the characteristics of The Fourth Gospel is the “I am” (ego eimi) sayings of Christ. The phrase appears 26 times in the Gospel.

Contrary to Howard’s claim (1943) that the phrase “I am” was from Hellenistic sources, C K Barrett (1975) says that this phrase is from the Old Testament, where it appears as the word for divine self-revelation. The God of the Hebrews revealed himself to Moses as “I am who I am”—the eternal Absolute or Constant. The Hebrew word transliterated as YHWH, the tetragrammaton, was used exclusively for God. Whenever God wished to reveal His nature, He used this Name to describe his attributes. Jews even hesitated to utter the Name.

For example,

“I am Yahweh your Healer” (Ex 15:26); and

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isaiah 43:15). Since the Fourth Gospel was addressed primarily to Hellenistic Jews, it is possible that the author was attempting to highlight the divinity of Jesus through these “I am” sayings. To the Hebrew reader, these sayings of Jesus would have sounded very shocking if not utterly blasphemous. No wonder that the Jews who heard Jesus say, “Before Abraham, I am,” picked up stones to stone him (8:59).

Raymond Brown (1979) suggested that the “I am” sayings of Jesus be classified into three categories.

  1. “I AM” sayings that appear to be incomplete because they are without a predicate
  1. "I AM Sayings without predicate, yet with more or less complete meaning
  1. The predicated “I AM” sayings of Jesus Christ

I Am the Bread of Life"

“I Am the Bread of Life” – John 6:35

The Context

During a Passover season in Galilee, Jesus fed a crowd of over 5000 miraculously. The crowd later sought out and found Jesus across the lake of Galilee. Jesus instructed the crowds about eternal life that they could get through him. During this time, Jesus claimed to be the “bread of life” that came from heaven.

The Meaning And Symbolism (with references to OT)

In a lengthy discourse with the Jews (found in chapter 6), Jesus attempted three things:

  1. Jesus tried to shift the crowd’s focus from their pressing earthly needs to their real need of eternal life. Jesus discerned their real motive in seeking him out. They loved the food they had eaten the other day. They now wanted this Bread Giver to supply them their daily food. The “sign” of the Feeding of Five Thousand was lost on the crowd. Jesus wanted those dull people to come to their senses and seek everlasting life. (John 6:26-27)

  2. Jesus tried to convince the Jews that He was the fulfillment of what their Mosaic religion taught. The Jews demanded a fresh sign from Jesus–something more impressive than the daily shower of manna that their fathers enjoyed under the leadership of Moses (6:31). They wished to show Jesus how insignificant he was in comparison to Moses.

  1. Jesus wanted the Jews to see that He was the Divine Life Giver. The use of the phrase “I AM” (ego eimi) would have shocked the Jews of Jesus’ time because in it is Jesus’ claim to divinity.

“I am the bread of life” (6:35). C K Barrett (1975) says that this phrase is from the Old Testament, where it appears as the word for divine self-revelation. The God of the Hebrews revealed himself to Moses as “I am who I am”—the eternal Absolute or Constant.


The discourse in John 6 and Jesus’ claim - “I am the bread of life” - contributes to the Fourth Gospel’s aim of convincing Jews that Jesus indeed was the Messiah they longed for. Jesus is shown as the fulfillment of Mosaic religion - the “bread from heaven” that’s far superior to the manna of old. Jesus is indeed presented as someone far greater than Moses. However, true to the initial description of Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” Jesus is described as the suffering “Son of Man” who would pay a heavy price in his flesh to give eternal life to people (v. 53).

True to the trend in the Fourth Gospel, the sign and teachings of Jesus in John 6 divided the Jewish crowd into two groups: those that rejected Jesus and a minority who believed in him. This discourse thus fits in the Book of Signs to illustrate the initial statement in chapter one: He came into his own, but his own did not receive him.

Apart from the author’s direct intention to reach out to “the Jews,” the Fourth Gospel has a universal appeal. Jesus is not presented as the Saviour of just the Jews but of the whole world. Therefore the author introduces Jesus as the bread of life from heaven that was given “for the life of the world.” This is in sync with the rest of the gospel that proclaimed eternal life through Jesus to “whoever believed” in Jesus.

I am the Light of the world

“I am the Light of the world” – John 8:12

Context And Meaning

Jesus announced to the Jews in Jerusalem, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” This is the second of the seven predicated “I AM” statements of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.

Jesus’ claim is set in the background of the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths). During the Festival of Tabernacles, four tall golden candlesticks were lit in the Court of the Women. Pious Jewish people celebrated and danced with burning torches in their hands, singing songs of praises. This festival reminded Israelites about their wilderness journey. Leon Morris thinks that Jesus’ statement about being the “light of the world” along with references to Manna (in chapter 6) and to living water (in chapter 7) is a part of a “wilderness theme” that would remind readers of the “pillar of fire” that accompanied Israelites during their wilderness journey. (Morris, 1995)

Light, in John’s gospel, symbolizes a divine revelation that brings eternal life. The purpose of the advent of the “true light” into the world was not just to inform humanity about God. Mortal mankind needed a divine relation that would bring a cure for death. Therefore, John presented Jesus as the One in whom was life. “In him was life and life was the light of all people” (1:4).

Further, light represents God’s holiness and transparency (truth). Human sinfulness, on the other hand, is represented by darkness. Although Jesus declares that He is the light of the world, all men are not illuminated by his arrival. The world is in darkness. Only those who “believe in the Light” will become “sons of Light” so that they may “walk in the light.” (12:35-36). In 8:12, the expression “he who follows Me” is synonymous with “believing” in Christ (Bultmann, 1971). The men who rejected Jesus are described as those who “loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (3:19). Those who practice evil, wish to cover up their shameful deeds. Therefore, “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (3:20) “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (3:21)

Light, in Judaism, symbolized God’s revelation and guidance. The Urim and Thummim that Jews used for divine guidance were nothing but “Light” and “Truth.” However, for a Jew, the Law of Moses was the ultimate form of divine revelation. Therefore, Jewish rabbis referred to the Law as a lamp or light. (“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet” Ps. 119:104). In Hebrew spirituality, psalmists referred to God as their light. (Ps 27:1; 36:9). But here Jesus claimed to be the Light. He was in fact claiming to be the ultimate revelation of God that far surpassed the limited light of the law. He was the Logos Incarnate—Law/Word of God in Person.

The author’s attempt is to turn the gaze of his Jewish audience from the written Law to the Logos - the author of the Law who came in human flesh. The Jews looked into the Law of Moses to obtain eternal life. Yet, they remained in darkness due to their sins. They were unwilling to believe in the Living Word among them. This Jewish response is well captured in Jesus’ words: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me; and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40).

The personification of the Word of God is not just a figure of speech. The writer takes up the Herculean task of convincing monotheistic Jews that the “Law/Word of God” that they accept wholeheartedly is in fact a Person and that that Person is Divine. Jews would certainly reject any man’s claim to divinity for according to their belief, God is one. But the author of the Fourth Gospel brings plurality into the one true Godhead.

Jesus’ use of the phrase “I AM” is a direct claim to divinity. This phrase is part of the divine name “I am that I am.” The Jews feared to utter this name for fear of violating the Third Commandment. Jesus’ claim might have sounded audacious to his hearers.

Giving credence to Jesus’ statement, John cites the sign of the healing of a blind man in chapter 9. This blind man later put his faith in Christ. But Jewish leaders and the Pharisees rejected Jesus’ sign because they thought he had violated the Sabbath. The chapter concludes with Jesus’ words in verse 39: “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” The religious Jews who claimed to know God and His law were blind to see the Light who was in Person among them. Many who did not know the Law, however, recognized Jesus as the Son of God.

It is significant that Jesus is presented as the “Light of the world.” He did not come to reveal God and eternal life just to the Jews. Jesus’ revelation and life-giving mission was a global mission. Its relevance extends to the ends of the earth, to all humanity. But to step into His light, one needs to “follow” him. In the Fourth Gospel, great emphasis is placed on the need to believe in Jesus. To “follow” Jesus is to believe in Him and to obey His commands.


The Fourth Gospel was written with the express aim of leading its readers might get eternal life through faith in Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God. Although it has a universal appeal, the Gospel was written primarily to lead Hellenistic Jews to salvation. The seven “I am” statements of Jesus were carefully chosen to illuminate the Jewish mind regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ.

This particular “I am” statement points to the divinity of Jesus Christ and to his role as the ultimate revelation of God to humanity. Thereby, it contributes to the general purpose of the Fourth Gospel. It picks up the theme of “light” and “life” in the Prologue and develops it further. As is seen throughout the Gospel, the Light brought life to a believing minority. On the other hand, it brought judgment on those who refused to believe.

I am the door

“I am the door/gate for the sheep” – John 10:7


“I am the door for the sheep” is the third of the seven predicated “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus spoke this while he was walking in the Temple courts at Jerusalem, in the portico of Solomon (10:23). It was winter. The Festival of Tabernacles had concluded (7:37) and now it was the time for the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22)

The passage that begins at John 10:1 is a continuation of chapter 9. Jesus had healed a blind man on a Sabbath day. This gave rise to a controversy among the Jews. When the healed man spoke for Jesus, he was driven out. Knowing his excommunication, Jesus met him and revealed himself to the man. Jesus then implicitly declared that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who assumed leadership of the Jews were spiritually blind. In chapter 10, Jesus continues his speech against these blind leaders who gain access to the Jewish masses apart from him. This is a “symbolic discourse” (Barrett, 1978). After the discourse, there is a mention of how the crowds were divided. Some said Jesus had a demon. Others questioned, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” This clearly shows that the discourse in 10:1-18 is very much a part of the narrative about the healing of the blind man.


Jesus said, “I am the gate.” He connected the metaphor of sheep pen and gate with the theme of salvation. “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” This salvation has to do with deliverance from death, the consequence of sin, and the bestowal of eternal life. This eternal life was not something that awaited the righteous in some distant era. It was available to all who would “enter by Jesus”—in the here and now. Jesus came that people" may have life, and have it abundantly" (10:10b).The Pharisees had expelled the blind man who was healed from their synagogue. But the man had just stepped into salvation through Jesus!

Jesus’ claim to be the Door to salvation is parallel to the “I am” statement in 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus probably expected the Jews to perceive that he was indeed the only way for them to enter heaven, the ultimate source and goal of salvation. Regarding the imagery of the door, Chrysostom commented, “When he [Jesus] brings us to the Father he calls himself a Door, when he takes care of us, a Shepherd.” Köstenberger notes that there was this concept of a “gate” to heaven both in Greek literature and in Old Testament/apocalyptic literature (Kostenberger, 2008:303). The Gospel of Matthew too refers to “entering” God’s kingdom as through a “narrow” door or gate (Matt 7:13).

The scene in verses 7 to 10 seems to refer to a sheep pen in the open countryside. Here, a shepherd would keep his flock in a walled enclosure that did not have a gate. The shepherd himself was the door. He would lie across the entrance to protect the flock. Therefore, the ‘gate’ was not only a means of access and exit; it also offered protection to those inside the pen. When Jesus said that he is the gate of the sheepfold, he was sending a firm message to the Pharisees that he was bound to protect anyone who took refuge under him. Further into chapter 10, Jesus makes it clearer. “My sheep … follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (10:27-28)

“All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (10:8-9) Beasley-Murray notes that this “sweeping affirmation” is not about prominent figures in the Old Testament because OT witnesses of the Messiah are held in high regard in the Fourth Gospel. Instead, he opines that Jesus’ statement was about ‘mediators of salvation’—false messiahs in Judaism and false gods among the Gentiles (Beasley-Murray, 2000:170).

The passage closes with a comparison between Jesus and ‘the thief’ – “the thief comes to steal, to kill and to destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Significance in the Fourth Gospel: The contrast between Jesus and the hostile Jewish leadership reflects one of the themes of the Fourth Gospel: Jesus is the real leader and Saviour of the world. He came into ‘his own’ but ‘his own’ did not receive him. It was now time for Jesus to lead his sheep (those who believed in him) from the pen of Judaism to the pasture lands of eternal life.

Secondly, this “I am” statement reflects the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus as presented throughout the Fourth Gospel. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one can find God or eternal life except through him. The very purpose of the Gospel is to convince readers to accept eternal life through faith in Jesus, the Son of God.

I am the good shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” – John 10:7


“I am the good shepherd” is the fourth of the seven predicated “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus spoke this while he was walking in the Temple at Jerusalem, in the portico of Solomon (10:23). The Festival of Tabernacles was still on (as seen from chapter 7) –John 10:22.

The passage that begins at John 10:1 is a continuation of chapter 9. Jesus had healed a blind man on a Sabbath day. This gave rise to a controversy among the Jews. When the healed man spoke for Jesus, he was driven out. Learning about his excommunication, Jesus met him and revealed himself to the man. Jesus then implicitly declared that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who assumed leadership of the Jews were spiritually blind. In chapter 10, Jesus continues his speech against these blind leaders who gain access to the Jewish masses apart from him. This is a “symbolic discourse” (Barrett, 1978). After the discourse, there is a mention of how the crowds were divided. Some said Jesus had a demon. Others questioned, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” This clearly shows that the discourse in 10:1-18 is very much a part of the narrative about the healing of the blind man.


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:7). Jesus compared people with sheep that needed protection, guidance and provision. In the ancient days, Palestinians kept their sheep in their courtyards. Each family could not employ a shepherd to look after their small flock. Therefore, several households employed a shepherd to take care of their small flocks of sheep. The shepherd would go to the door of each sheepfold. The doorkeeper would open the door and let him in. The shepherd would then call each sheep by its name and lead it out to the rest of the sheep under his care. The sheep would recognize the voice of the shepherd. It would however, run away from a stranger. He would then lead the combined flock to a pasture. The parable of the sheepfold (in 10:1-6) refers to such a village scene.

The metaphor ‘shepherd’ represents a benevolent leader or a king. In the Synoptics, we read about how Jesus had compassion on the crowds that milled towards him. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). In the Old Testament too, we see a similar usage. God’s people are described as "the sheep of His pasture (Ps. 100:3). God condemned the leaders of his people as ‘shepherds’ who fed themselves instead of feeding the ‘sheep’ under their care (Ezekiel 34). At times, these ‘shepherds’ behaved like wolves and preyed upon the people under their charge (Ezekiel 22:27).

Jesus’ claim to be the ‘good’ shepherd (10:11) should be understood in the light of the contrast between the ‘good’ shepherd and the ‘hireling’ (10:12-13). The hireling cares only about himself. Even if a wild beast should take away sheep from his care, the Jewish law did not require him to pay for the loss (Ex 22:13). In sharp contrast to a hireling, Jesus is the ‘genuine’ shepherd—the owner of the sheep. Jesus cares for his people (v 13). The second mark of this ‘good shepherd’ is his knowledge of the sheep under his care. “I know my sheep, and am known by My own.” According to Beasley-Murray, the Hebrew notion of “knowing” someone refers to experiential knowledge. Thus it must refer to intimate relationship between people. Jesus has a deep personal relationship with his disciples.

In chapter 10, there are four references to Jesus’ intent to give his life to save and protect his ‘sheep’ (people). Köstenberger (2004) notes that the expression “to lay down one’s life” is “rare in Greek.” The Hebrew Old Testament and religion has the concept of Messiah’s self-sacrifice (especially in Isaiah 53:12). New Testament scholars such as Barrett (1978), Carson (1991) and Burge (2000) suggest that this reference to Jesus laying down his life connotes a sacrificial, substitutionary death. Later in the Gospel, Jesus predicted that he would be arrested and that his disciples would get scattered (John 16:32). This alludes to Zechariah 13:7, “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered.”

The emphasis in John 10 is on Jesus’ power to voluntarily ‘lay down’ his life. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down myself.” The Fourth Gospel thus makes it clear that Jesus’ crucifixion was not an accident. Neither was Jesus killed for crimes he committed. The Shepherd’s death was foreseen and orchestrated by a divine plan. It was the ultimate act of love and sacrifice to redeem his flock from damnation.

Jesus also said that the Jews who did not believe in Him were not a part of his flock. This must have startled the Jews. To take things further, he also said that he had “other sheep, which are not of this fold” and that he would combine the two to make one flock with one shepherd (10:16). This clearly refers to the Church that comprises of Jewish and Gentile Christians. The Fourth Gospel thus addresses the most vexing problem the early church faced—the reluctance of Jewish Christians to welcome Gentile Christians into the Messiah’s fold.


The Fourth Gospel is unique in that the long shadow of the Cross is cast upon the entire book. Unlike in the Synoptics, right from the beginning, Jesus is introduced as the “Lamb of God” – a sacrificial victim – who would take away the sins of the world. Jesus’ death is seen as an inevitable and necessary remedy for human sin. All who believe in Jesus are promised pardon and a safe passage to eternal life. Jesus’ statement, “I am the good shepherd … who gives his life for the sheep” captures this overall theme.

The author of the Fourth Gospel presents Jesus as the good shepherd in contrast to the Jewish leaders. The purpose of this is clear. The evangelist wanted to draw Hellenistic Jews away from Judaism and its leaders to the true Shepherd of their souls.

I am the resurrection and life

“I am the resurrection and life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” John 11:25.


“I am the resurrection and life” is the fifth of the seven predicated “I am” sayings of Jesus Christ. Of the seven “I am” statements, this statement in 11:25 may be considered as the most important statement since it is associated with the greatest of Jesus’ signs recorded in the Fourth Gospel.

When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent word to Jesus, requesting him to come and heal their brother. Jesus, however, stayed on for two more days in Galilee. Then, he set out for Bethany with his disciples. By the time Jesus reached Bethany, it was four days after Lazarus was dead and buried. The mourning was still on. Many Jews from Bethany and Jerusalem were present there to comfort the two sisters.

Martha went out to meet Jesus even as he drew near the town. She expressed her grief to Jesus. She said, “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she still believed that God would answer Jesus’ prayers. Even if Jesus has set out for Bethany the moment he got word about Lazarus’ illness, he would still have arrived two days after Lazarus died (Kruse, 2003, p. 244). The Jews of those days believed that for three days, a dead person’s spirit would attempt to return to life. After the third day, there remained no hope for the dead (Kruse, 2003).


When Jesus assured Martha that her brother would live, she thought that Jesus was referring to the “last day” when all righteous would resurrect to glory. This is when Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”

“I am the resurrection and life”—By saying this, Jesus was telling her that in him was vested the power to give resurrection and eternal life to anyone at any time. This echoes Jesus’ statement in John 5:21 and 26: “The Son has life in Himself” and “the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” There was no need for Lazarus to wait till a “last day.” The focus and fulfillment of the Jewish eschatological hope of resurrection was none other than Jesus. Thus, instead of negating Martha’s faith, as Bultmann claimed, Jesus took them a step ahead and revealed more about their hope (Beasley-Murray, 2000).

The only condition to see this Messiah at work was faith. Jesus asked her, “Do you believe this?” Martha responded in a confession of faith, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world.”

Jesus’ decision to stay on in Galilee for two more days was a calculated move. He was thus able to arrive at Bethany four days after Lazarus was buried—long after the Jewish period of any hope of resuscitation. Thus, Jesus was able to demonstrate his power over life and death without any interference from Jewish superstition about lingering spirits.

“he who believes in Me will live even if he dies”— According to R A Knox’s translation, “he who believes in Me will live on even if he dies…” However, in this context of resurrection, Dodd’s translation “will come to life” may be more accurate. The raising of Lazarus indicates that death is not the final end for all who believe in Jesus and die in faith.

“and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die”—If the earlier clause dealt with believers who die in faith before the last day, this clause deals with “everyone who lives and believes.” Therefore this clause must be referring to believers who survive till the last day. According to Colin Kruse, “this will be literally true of the last generation of believers.” (Kruse, 2003) However, it should be kept in mind the “last day” and “last days” mentioned in the New Testament always refer to the end of an “age” (as in Matthew 28:20) and never to the “end of the world.” The phrase “last day” is unique to this Gospel in the whole of New Testament (Beasley-Murray, 2000).


The stated purpose of the writer of the Fourth Gospel is that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through Him, they would receive eternal life (20:31). This is why the Fourth Gospel testifies, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men (1:4).” This purpose is served well by the author’s focus on “eternal life” throughout the book.

The miraculous sign of raising Lazarus to life - after four days of his death - stands out as the most important sign in this Gospel because it highlights Jesus’ ability to give eternal life to anyone. The “I am” statement in 11:25 is therefore is a high point in this Gospel. Jesus made a strong claim regarding is identity as Messiah and he proved it by raising Lazarus.

The raising of Lazarus is a direct fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”The raising of Lazarus is not a one-off event. Jesus promised eternal life (through resurrection) to all who believed in him. In verses such as 6:39, 40, 44 and 54 Jesus reiterated his commitment to raise his followers from the dead on the “last day.” Resurrection, however, is not just for those who believe in Jesus. Even those who committed “evil deeds” will be raised to face judgment (5:29).

The confession that Martha made about Jesus being the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God, comes in a series of such confession in the Fourth Gospel. Nathaniel (chapter 1) and Thomas (chapter 20) made similar confessions. It was the evangelist’s intention that his readers too would arrive at a similar confession of faith as Martha’s.

Interestingly, Jesus’ journey to Judea to raise Lazarus culminated in his own death. The raising of Lazarus and the “I am” statement in 11:25 might have been designed to protect the disciples’ faith during the Passion Week.

I am the way, the truth and life

“I am the way, the truth and life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” – John 14:6


Jesus’ statement “I am the way, the truth and life” is the sixth of the seven predicated “I am” sayings of Jesus Christ. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus then spoke of very disturbing things. He predicted his sufferings and death and that one of them would betray him. Very soon, Judas Iscariot left the gathering to betray Jesus. Jesus also predicted that Peter would deny him. The disciples were very sorrowful after these revelations. From 13:31 to 16:33, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure. In chapter 14, Jesus urged his disciples to believe in God and in Him. He comforted them with the hope of the “Father’s house” where he would prepare places for his disciples and then return to take them to their dwellings in heaven. Jesus said to them, “And you know the way where I am going.” To this, Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” (The Fourth Gospel is the only Gospel that records Thomas’ words—11:16, 14:5, 20:25, 28.) Jesus replied, ““I am the way, the truth and life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”


Colin Kruse opines that Jesus’ statement in 14:6 was primarily an answer to Thomas’ question regarding the way to God, the Father—Jesus claimed to be the way to God—and that his reference to being the “truth and life” was incidental to the him being “the way.” This view is strengthened by the clause that follows the statement: “no one comes to the Father but through me.”

Jesus is the way to God because he is “the truth and life.” Jesus was unlike many who claimed to espouse truth. He himself was the truth. Similarly, Jesus was “the life” because he was source of all life (cf. 1:2-4; 11:25). Marsh states this thus:

“It is not the case that Jesus is ‘away’ from the Father, and must therefore find and tread the way to him; he is the way himself: it is not the case that there is a truth about the Father which Jesus must learn and then pass on; he is the truth himself: it is not the case that the Father has eternal life which he will give to the Son when the Son reaches his home, so that the Son can then bestow life; he is the life himself.” (Marsh, 1968 p. 504)

For sinful humanity, Jesus was the way to God because Jesus alone could bridge the gap between a holy God and a sinful human race by providing for the remission of human sins. Jesus did this by being God’s Passover “Lamb”—a perfect substitute who died in the place of every human to “take away the sins of the world” (1:29).

Jesus’ claim, that no one can ever reach God without approaching Him, is unique and exclusivist. The Jews claimed to believe in God. But many of them refused to believe in Jesus. The Fourth Gospel therefore highlights the futility of religion that rejects Jesus.


This “I am” statement summarizes John’s exclusivist doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. If the synoptic Gospels spoke of the Kingdom of God, John describes salvation in terms of eternal life in God’s presence. The sole source of this eternal life is Jesus Christ. Anyone who approaches Jesus, believing/trusting in Him, obtains forgiveness of sins and the assurance of everlasting life. In the Prologue, Jesus is introduced as the one in whom is life, and this “life was the light of men.” (1:4) The evangelist wanted his readers to believe in Jesus, the Messiah and be blessed with eternal life (20:30-31). Therefore, the central affirmation in 14:6 is vital to the overall purpose of the Gospel.

The “I am” statement in 14:6 is intended to lift the eyes of Jesus’ sorrowful disciples from earth’s darkness to heaven’s glory. God the Father is the disciples’ destination and Jesus is the Way. Jesus’ departure from earth to the Father’s presence need not disturb His disciples. Thus Jesus attempted to comfort his apostles.

In the discussion that followed in chapter 14, Jesus claimed to be the visible expression of the invisible God (14:10). Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. This assertion is the development of verse 1:18. Jesus was the only one who had seen God and therefore had come to reveal God to humanity (1:18). Therefore, he embodied truth. In contrast, the Law that was given to Moses was only a partial revelation of God and His standards. Jesus is therefore rightly called the “Logos” – the Word of God in Person (1:1 and 14). Those who come to the “sunlight” of Jesus do not need the “candlelight” of the Jewish law to know God.

I am the true vine

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. … I am the vine, you are the branches;” John 15:1, 5


This “I am” statement is the last of the seven predicated I AM saying of Jesus Christ in the Fourth Gospel. This is the only I AM statement that adds a further statement about the Father as the gardener. From John 13:31 to 16:33, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure. In chapter 14, Jesus taught them the secret of continuing his work in his absence (14:12). He stressed the importance of prayer, of relying on the Holy Spirit and of obedience to His word (v. 15, 21, 23), thereby defining the essence of discipleship. Jesus then proceeded to illustrate the importance of humble reliance and obedience in the life of a disciple through the illustration of a vine.


In the Old Testament, Israel was often symbolised by a vine (Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-10; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 19:10-14). Instead of yielding fruit that pleased God, Israel failed God time and again. The ‘fruit’ that God expected from Israel consisted of justice and righteousness. But all that God could find in backslidden Israel were injustice, oppression and violence.

“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.” (Isaiah 5:7) “Yet I planted you a choice vine, A completely faithful seed. How then have you turned yourself before Me Into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21)

Each time Israel went away from God and did evil, God threatened to withdraw His favour and blessings from her. Even though Israel disappointed God by her refusal to bear good ‘fruit,’ Jesus, the ‘true vine’ (that is, the true Israel) fulfilled God’s purposes (Morris, 1995, Bennema, 2005).

God is the gardener or vinedresser (15:1b). By this, Jesus states that He is fully dependent on the Father. God is actively involved in tending the vine. God is not a passive vinedresser but is “in supreme control of the whole process” (Barrett 1978). Jesus said that God prunes those branches that bear fruit so that they may bear more fruit. (Jesus interpreted “pruning” as an act of cleansing (v. 3) by the Word of God.) On the other hand, God removes branches that do not “abide” in Christ. Such “branches” are gathered and burned–an indication of damnation irrespective of their previous association with Christ. For John, perseverance in Christ’s teachings is vital for true discipleship. Jesus said to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8:31-32).

Jesus’ disciples are the branches of this vine (v. 5). They consitute the true Israel - the set of God’s people in the place of the old that had rejected God’s Messiah. The disciples’ association with God’s vine is not by virtue of their race or descent from Abraham. Instead, each branch’s relationship with Jesus is crucial. This relationship is essentially that of humble dependence – “for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). This humble dependence – portrayed as “abiding in the vine” is characterised by two things: obedience and prayer

  1. Obedience to Christ’s Word: Branches that ‘abide’ in Jesus thrive and bear fruit. Jesus explained this ‘abiding’ as continued obedience to His commandments(v. 10, 12). The ‘new commandment’ that He gave his disciples was: “Love one another just as I have loved you” (v12). Colin Kruse is of the opinion that “abiding” refers to “loyalty and fellowship” with Christ as a result of a disciple’s obedience (Kruse, 2003).
  2. Prayer: Jesus said that “abiding” in the “vine” is the secret of answered prayers (v. 7). After Jesus’ departure, the disciples would be continuing Jesus’ ministry with this assurance. If the disciples continue in obedience to Jesus’ commands, each of their prayers would be in accordance with God’s will. God’s actions in answer to prayer would be the “fruit” that the disciples bear to the world.

The result of faithful obedience and prayerful dependence on God are two-fold: God’s name will be glorified (v.8) and the disciples may be filled with the joy of Christ (v. 11).


As in other passages of the Fourth Gospel, the Evangelist depicts the followers of Jesus Christ as the true set of God’s people (Israel) in the place of the old, which rejected the Messiah. Here too, perseverance in Christ’s teachings and commandments is the key to true discipleship (as mentioned in 6:37-40 and 10:28).

This “I am” statement contributes to the overall purpose of the Gospel in that it describes the special relationship that Jesus had with His Father. Jesus invited everyone to share this special relationship and joy. Besides, Jesus fulfilled Israel’s calling to be God’s special “vine” (people). Thus, in Jesus, the Messianic hopes of Israel were fulfilled.

If John 15:1-17 highlights the disciples’ relationship with Christ and among themselves, the rest of this farewell address sought to equip the disciples with regard to their relationship with the world that would persecute them.


About the author

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Date: Jan 4, 2012




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