This article is part of the What Did Jesus Teach? series.
Jesus in the Gospel of John
Jesus taught on a variety of topics, from family to money, to discipleship, and more. But there is one subject that is central to all his other teachings—himself. Jesus’s autobiographical words reveal not simply interesting facts, hobbies, or personality traits, but an astonishing identity that, if true, demands our attention and response.
One of the places where Jesus clearly taught about himself is in the Gospel of John. He declared his identity, his mission, and his power through seven “I am” statements. We’ll explore five of them here. John wrote down the words and works of Jesus so that, “. . . you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31), implying that the question of Jesus’s identity is a life or death subject. So who is this Jesus? Let’s hear from him in his own words.
The Bread of Life
At the beginning of John 6, Jesus did something astounding—he took one little boy’s lunch and transformed it into enough bread and fish to feed five thousand people. The very next day, the people he fed followed him and asked him to prove that he was worthy of their belief. Ironically, they asked for a sign like the Israelites received when God gave them manna in the wilderness, even though Jesus had just given them miraculous bread! Jesus responded by telling them something about himself that shocked them and revealed that he is far better than the manna in the desert: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).
God’s gift of manna in the wilderness saved the Israelites from death for a time, but the “true bread from heaven” (John 6:33) gives life that lasts forever. Jesus fills our spiritual hunger, satisfying us and sustaining us as the source of life for all who believe in him. Just as the Israelites had to depend on God in faith for bread to keep them alive, we too must receive by faith the gift of the bread of life, Jesus Christ, to give us everlasting life.
The Light of the World
Throughout the Bible, darkness is associated with sin, evil, confusion, and chaos. We’re all acquainted with darkness—we see it in tragic events, sinister schemes of the wicked, and even the sin in our own hearts. The prophet Isaiah described a future time when light would break through the darkness, bringing hope and healing to a sin-sick world. He foretold a day when “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). In John 8:12, Jesus announced that the promised light had come. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus taught that he is the One the Scriptures foretold who would illuminate the darkness and offer forgiveness and redemption from sin. If we follow him, we turn away from the darkness of death and walk in the light that leads to eternal life.
The Good Shepherd
Sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd. The shepherd protects them from predators, leads them to pasture and water, and ensures they stay nearby. If the shepherd is gone, the sheep tend to wander off and put themselves in harm’s way. Without the shepherd, the sheep won’t survive.
All who believe in him are united to him and share in his resurrection life.
In John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus protects his sheep, guides his sheep, and provides for his sheep. The image of God’s people as sheep in need of a shepherd is a common theme throughout the Bible, including in Psalm 23, where David, a shepherd himself, declares, “The Lord is my shepherd.” When Jesus called himself the good shepherd, he was claiming to be the true and better David, the Shepherd-King over God’s people. Moreover, he was claiming to be the Lord. And the remarkable thing about the good shepherd is that he goes to unimaginable lengths to protect his sheep—even to the point of death. Jesus willingly laid down his life for his sheep—for all who believe in him and know his voice—by dying on a cross to pay the penalty for their sin and to guard them from the enemy who seeks to kill and steal and destroy.
The Resurrection and the Life
Jesus willingly laid down his life, but he also took it up again (John 10:17–18). In John 11:25–26, Jesus made a statement about himself that, at the time, might not have made perfect sense. He said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Up to this point, there had not been a resurrection to eternal life. Moments later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, proving that he holds resurrection power. Even so, Lazarus’s resurrection was not permanent. He died again.
It wasn’t until John 20 that the meaning of his statement came into focus. Jesus laid down his life on the cross, but on the third day, he took it up again to live forever. All who believe in him are united to him and share in his resurrection life. We who put our faith in Jesus have new life that never ends, and one day, our bodies will be raised in a resurrection like his (1 Cor. 15:20–23). Jesus does not just give resurrection power; he is the resurrection and the life.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
Jesus’s claims about himself were often bold and controversial, and his statement in John 14:6 is no exception. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To some, this claim appears presumptuous and offensive in its exclusivity. Many of us live in a culture that highly values the individual and the journey of self-invention, wherever it may lead. The notion that there is only one way to God and that all other paths lead to death is intolerable.
And yet, Jesus revealed this facet of his identity as a comfort to his troubled disciples. As Jesus prepared for his own death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, he provided those who believe in him the assurance that he would not leave them alone but would return and bring them to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. There is a way to everlasting joy in the Father’s presence. There is truth amidst the lies and confusion of this world. There is hope for eternal life, and he has made himself known. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.
We don’t have to guess who Jesus is—he told us! When we come to understand the significance of what Jesus taught about himself, we see that who he is demands not only our attention but our response. If Jesus really is the way, then there is no other. If he is the truth, then we are lost without him. If Christ is the life, he is our only hope in death. Through his self-revelatory words, Jesus calls us to behold the savior, the Christ, the Son of God, and to believe in him.
Joanna Kimbrel is coauthor with Courtney Doctor of Behold and Believe: A Bible Study on the “I Am” Statements of Jesus.
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