I AM He: The Unconventional I AM
There are eight traditional I AM statements in the Gospel of St. John: “I AM the bread of life, I AM the light of the world, I AM the door, I AM the good shepherd, I AM the resurrection and the life, I AM the way, the truth and the life, I AM the true vine, and before Abraham was, I AM.” In addition to these traditionally accepted I AM statements in the gospel of John, there is one additional statement that also deserves to be looked at; Jesus’ I AM statement to the Samaritan woman at the well. Through this I AM statement, Jesus is declaring, I AM the Universal Savior.
I AM The Universal Savior
This is an important ‘I AM’ declaration to look at because it is the first one recorded in the Gospel. What makes it significant is that the declaration of divinity is made to a non-Jew, and furthermore, its hearer believes it. The placement of this ‘I AM’ statement by John in his Gospel shows the universality of Jesus’ message. “John stresses the title Savior of the World, because his concern is to show the universality of Christ’s mission.”1 In essence, Jesus is saying, I AM the Universal Savior
This message of universality will be echoed again in another of the ‘I AM declarations,’ when Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd in chapter ten. Although in chapter ten Jesus is speaking to the Jews, He also refers to non-Jews when He says, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”2
The Samaritans and the I AM
The Samaritans where hated by the Jews of Jesus’ day. Being descendants of Assyrians who had intermarried with Jews, “they were regarded by ‘pure’ Jews as both religiously and racially unclean. For Jesus to visit the Samaritans was a great offense to the Jews of His time.”3 This is why the woman shows surprise when Jesus asks her for a drink. ” ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”4
But Jesus not only purposely went to Samaria, as He could have by-passed it on His way to Judea, but He sat and spoke with a Samaritan woman. Not only was she considered unclean by the Jews by virtue of her heritage, but she was also a woman of a questionable past. This is evident in that she comes to the well at the hottest time of the day, a time when the well would be deserted, in order to avoid the scorn of the other women. But Jesus breaks the paradigm of not only the Jews, but of all mankind and approaches this woman to offer her salvation; I AM the Universal Savior, not just for the Jews, but for all mankind.
“He feigns thirst so that He might give eternal grace to the thirsty.”5
Jesus’ intention was not to get a drink, but to offer Himself as a drink offering. He did thirst, “but for salvation and not merely for human drink.”7 This is why Jesus offers His first declaration of divinity to the despised Samaritans, those who are not a part of the Children of Israel. The Samaritans were ready to receive the message of salvation. For the Jews, Jesus’ sayings were often a stumbling block, and, as will be explored in the next ‘I AM’ statement, their concerns were primarily earthly and not heavenly.
I AM Who Speaks to You: Salvation for the Samaritans
The Samaritan woman however, shows a willingness to engage in theological matters. The Samaritans were also awaiting a Messiah figure; she mentions this to Jesus, to which He answers, “I AM, who speaks to you.”8 This is a declarative statement of Jesus’ divinity. He is claiming to be God. How does the woman respond? She leaves her water pot, forgetting all earthy things and runs back to town to preach the arrival of the Messiah, the one who “told me all that I had ever did.”9 And upon hearing her words and coming to see Jesus, the Samaritans believe and beg Jesus to stay with them. This is a stark contrast to the way the Jews will respond to Jesus when He makes a similar ‘I AM’ declaration to them.
Contrasting I AM Declarations
In the eighth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is questioned by the Jews, “are you greater than our father Abraham?”10 This question is similar to the Samaritan woman’s question, “Are You greater than our father Jacob?”11 To both questions Jesus answers with a declaration of ‘I AM’, showing that He is in fact greater than both Jacob and Abraham. But where the Samaritans respond to this in a positive manner, receiving salvation, the Jews pick up stones to cast at Him, accusing Him of blasphemy.
I AM and Isaiah
The I AM statement to the Samaritan women, “I AM, who speaks to you,”12 is a clear echo of Isaiah, “Therefore My people shall know My name; Therefore they shall know in that day that I AM He who speaks.”13 Jesus is the prophesied Messiah, offering living water as Jehovah-Jireh, I am the One who provides. Where at the creation of the world Jesus provided men with earthly water for physical life, He now provides spiritual water for eternal life. This gift of eternal life the Samaritan woman accepts, and with her the rest of the Samaritans, thus effectively bringing into the sheepfold a new flock.
I AM the Living Water
The offer of living water will again be made by Jesus, this time to the Jews in chapter seven of John’s Gospel. This offer took place during the feast of Booths, in which a ceremony was performed were water is poured out onto the altar. Jesus shows that this is yet another type and shadow of the truth to come. This ceremony had to be repeated each year, and only at the temple, just as the Samaritan woman had to go and draw water each day from the well. Yet those who accept the living water from Jesus, which is the Holy Spirit, will have a flow of living water out of his heart.
Both the Samaritan woman who drank actual water from the well, and the Jews who offered ceremonial water on the altar of the temple, remained spiritually thirsty. To this Jesus offered spiritual refreshment when He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”14 Jesus is referring to the scriptural image of water as an image of life, abundantly available in the messianic age.15 Those who are filled with the living water that Jesus gives will also in turn become wellsprings from which others can draw the living water of Christ.
Series Menu: I AM Statements in the Gospel of John and the Divinity of Jesus
– Part 2: I AM the Universal Savior: I AM Declarations and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Citations: I AM the Universal Savior: I AM Declarations and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
- Farley, Lawrence, The Gospel of John: Beholding the Glory (Ben Lomand, CA Conciliar Press, 2006), 83.
- John 10.16
- Cronk, George, The Message of the Bible (New York: SVS Press, 1982), 83.
- John 4.9
- Oden, Thomas C., Ancient Commentary on Scriptures: John 1-10 (Downers Grove,Il: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 147.
- Oden, 147] The woman responds with questions, she is yet still thinking that Jesus is talking about earthly water, but unlike Nicodemus whom Jesus had encountered just before leaving for Samaria, the Samaritan woman quickly recognizes the spiritual gift that Jesus is offering her. “She shows signs of spiritual progress. Before, when she could not understand, she asked dubiously, ‘whence then has Thou that living water?’ Now without doubting she accepts Christ’s words and begs, ‘give me that water’.”6Theophylact of Ochrid, 67.
- John 4.26
- John 4.39
- John 8.53
- John 4.12
- John 4.26
- Isaiah 52.6
- John 7.37-38
- Farley, 140.