Stony Creek Church
“Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (NET). Jesus’ intriguing words in John 8:56 have puzzled church fathers, scholars, and Bible readers of all kinds for centuries. Indeed, the crowd of Jesus’ original hearers was also baffled and asked, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57 NET). To what does Jesus refer when He speaks of “my day” and Abraham’s joyful response to it? What did Abraham see and when did he see it?
As we would expect, differing interpretations have been defended, but there is no clear consensus among Johannine specialists today. Amid the contenders from ancient times till the present has been the view that Jesus refers to pre-incarnate appearances in human form to Abraham and Sarah as recorded in Genesis. Like all the other suggestions, this one is not without its difficulties, among them the concern that pre-incarnate appearances of Christ (i.e., theophanies or Christophanies) diminish the uniqueness of the Incarnation. But what did John’s Jesus mean when He spoke these words?
In this paper, I shall argue that when we consider Jesus’ statement in John 8:56 in light of the account of Yahweh’s appearances in Genesis and contextual factors in John’s Gospel, Jesus is most likely alluding to His appearing as Yahweh in pre-incarnate form to Abraham.2 First, I will look briefly at some alternative viewpoints and then devote the bulk of this article to demonstrating my thesis.
II. ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS
Since treatments of the views discussed in this section are readily available in the technical commentaries on John,3 here I shall provide only a very brief sketch of three common interpretations of John 8:56 and an even briefer critique of each so as to maximize space for explaining and defending my own thesis.
A. A Visionary View
One approach to John 8:56 is to appeal to the understanding, at least among some first-century Jews, that Abraham foresaw the messianic age through a vision, perhaps revealed in connection with the events described in Genesis 15.4 Perhaps Jesus’ reference to raising up the dead “on the last day”5 in John is an allusion to the eschatological day foreseen by the great patriarch two millennia earlier. While this view is possible, it lacks any clear Scriptural support.
B. A View from Afar
Alternatively, many scholars believe the “day” in 8:56 must refer to Jesus’ ministry—the eschatological day anticipated by Abraham. This “day” is the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s joyful hopes as realized in Jesus Himself.6
Since Isaac’s birth prophetically points to Christ, as Thomas Brodie argues, “to have rejoiced over Isaac is to have rejoiced over Christ.”7 For example, through the promise inherent in the near sacrifice of Isaac and the covenant that assured him all nations would be blessed through him, Abraham need not have had a messianic vision or have seen a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus in his time to satisfy the language of 8:56. In Jesus, everything that Abraham hoped for and more is met.
Thus, when this is viewed proleptically, the great patriarch has seen and rejoiced in the fulfillment of the promises in which he so fervently believed. The NIV’s rendering of 8:56 allows for this idea: “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day…” (italics added). The hina introducing the clause idē tēn hēmeran tēn emēn can be taken this way.8 Abraham does not literally see Jesus or the “day” of His ministry. Instead Abraham’s hopes, based on God’s promises, are later realized in Jesus’ day (cf. Heb 11:39).
But this view, though possible, strains a bit at the words, “and he saw it and was glad” (NIV). As Edward Klink—who favors this view in his commentary—admits, “The statement is not straightforward.”9 Indeed, if we take it as a straightforward or literal statement, the wording more naturally points to a spectacle viewed in Abraham’s life. If this view-from-afar interpretation had been the intended meaning, it would have been more natural to say, “Abraham was overjoyed as he anticipated (perhaps using a form of prooraō) My day and was glad.” But that is not what Jesus said.
C. A View from Paradise
Another interpretation of 8:56 among scholars is that Jesus implies that Abraham is viewing the ministry of Jesus in real time from paradise.10 The longing of OT heroes, reported in a few NT texts,11 is met for them as they are allowed in the afterlife to view the events of Jesus’ ministry. Thus Abraham literally sees Jesus in His day.
But if this were the intended sense of Jesus’ words, it would have been more natural for Him to say that Abraham “is rejoicing to see My day,” rather than placing both the spectacle and the joy of seeing it in the past—as though it happened in Abraham’s time. Certainly the Jews debating with Jesus did not take His words as a reference to Abraham’s status in the afterlife.
Some answer this and other objections noted above by chalking it up to another example of reported misunderstandings12 of Jesus so typical in John’s gospel. No doubt Jesus’ opponents do indeed misunderstand Him, but what precisely is the nature of their misunderstanding? Is it that they take Him to refer to Abraham’s past when they should have known He meant Abraham in the present? In other words, is it simply a chronological misunderstanding? Or, in the case of the from afar view, are they taking Jesus’ words too literally and should realize that Jesus speaks of Abraham anticipating His day or, perhaps, foreseeing it in a vision? Or could it be—in the theophany view—that the misunderstanding is self-imposed? That would involve a stubborn refusal to believe Jesus could possibly have preexisted His earthly life and hence they ridicule Him with the absurd notion of a mortal life stretching back two thousand years. While any of these alternatives might be plausible on their own, the best recourse is to look for clues in the immediate context and John’s wider perspective on the possibility of pre-incarnate appearances of the Son.
III. THE THEOPHANY VIEW RECONSIDERED
In John 1:1, we are informed that the Logos—later identified as God the Son—is God the Father’s spokesperson or voice. In 1:18, we are informed that though no one has ever seen God the Father, God the Son has indeed revealed the Father. But does this refer solely to the Incarnation or could it include pre-incarnate appearances of the Son as well? Justin Martyr argued that the Father is the invisible God whom the OT says no one can see. The Son, on the other hand, is the visible God who appeared to Abraham and others in the OT.13
The Hebrew Bible contains some intriguing stories of apparent Yahweh appearances in human form to humans. Several of these texts involve the Angel of Yahweh figure—which is hotly disputed. However, there are a number of other texts which speak of Yahweh Himself appearing, with no mention of the disputed Angel of the Lord figure. Could these texts involve pre-incarnate appearances of God the Son? John seems to think so.
IV. ABRAHAM SEES YAHWEH’S DAY
My contention here is that both Jesus and John affirm that it was indeed the Son who appeared in the OT as Yahweh. A prime example is our text under consideration in this paper. Once again:
“Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area (John 8:56–59 NET).
So much is going on in this fascinating passage, but here we can only unpack a few pertinent points. As we know, Abraham lived about two thousand years before Jesus. Therefore, His enemies are convinced that His claims show He’s delusional or demonized.
But knowing who Jesus is, we naturally ask when and how Abraham saw Jesus’ day. Jesus seems to be referencing an event the Jews in His time could recognize from Scripture. The Johannine Jesus characteristically grounds His claims about OT characters from what is stated in Scripture or may be deduced from it.14 Thus it is reasonable to look first to the Genesis account.
The only instance in the Genesis account of Abraham that comes close to rejoicing and gladness takes place, remarkably, in connection with two Yahweh appearances.15 We are told, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord [Yahweh] appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless’” (Gen 17:1).16 During this appearance, Yahweh reveals the startling news that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is going to conceive a child in her old age. At this Abraham suddenly bursts into a fit of laughter: “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’” (Gen 17:17).
Could this be what Jesus meant by “Abraham was overjoyed to see my day?” At first it may appear unlikely. Abraham’s laughter seems spawned more out of incredulity at the idea of a pregnant, ninety-year-old woman than out of rejoicing for the good news of a soon-to-be baby boy. Abraham’s first reaction to the surprising news may indeed have sparked a doubtful laugh. Today a ninety year old pregnant woman is the stuff of supermarket tabloids, and it would seem just as bizarre back then.
On the other hand, Abraham and Sarah had patiently waited and trusted God for nearly twenty-five agonizing years, struggling and even quarrelling with each other over God’s promise to provide them with an heir. Such momentous news must have produced a flood of powerful and even conflicting emotions within Abraham. But to assume he was howling with laughter out of pure mockery and doubt is inconsistent with everything else we know about him.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s take on the situation:
Without weakening in his faith, [Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (Rom 4:19–21 NIV).
Paul’s insistence on Abraham’s unwavering response of faith to the birth announcement would imply that he did not regard the outburst of laughter as a pure expression of distrust.
But Abraham’s laughter in Genesis 17 is just the beginning. In Genesis 18, Yahweh, along with two angels (see Gen 19:1), makes another appearance to Abraham—one of the most intriguing found anywhere in the OT.17 Not only does the author clearly identify the figure as Yahweh (“Yahweh appeared to Abraham,” 18:1), but he also underscores the humanness of His appearance, referring to Him and the angels as “men” who converse, walk, eat, drink, and have their feet washed as Abraham’s honored guests. On this occasion, Sarah overhears Yahweh reiterate His prediction of her impending pregnancy. Similar to her husband in the previous encounter, Sarah immediately laughs to herself when she hears of it (18:12-15). If you put yourself in Sarah’s sandals, the promise must have sounded too good (and hilarious!) to be true. But about a year later, when Sarah’s baby boy is born, Abraham names him “Isaac,” which means in Hebrew “he laughs.” After the initial shock and surprise of the pregnancy announcement had worn off, Abraham and Sarah must have been delirious with joy over their miracle son. By naming him “he laughs,” they were fondly remembering their stunned, turned-into-ecstasy feelings, when the impossible became a reality.
And yet “he laughs” was born out of (pardon the pun!) two appearances of Yahweh. For Abraham and Sarah, these days were likely the most memorable and happy of their lives.
With this background in mind, we see that Jesus’ statement in John 8:56 fits these events in Abraham’s life better than anything else. The “day” Jesus refers to is likely His remarkable birth announcement visits to the elderly couple, commemorated in the naming of Isaac.
But there is a problem. Technically, Jesus does not say Abraham saw Him but saw His “day.” How could this reference to Jesus’ day fit with Abraham’s encounter with Yahweh?
The escalating conflict in John 8 provides an answer. When Jesus’ opponents scoff at the notion of the young man standing before them somehow having met Abraham two thousand years earlier, Jesus makes the stunning declaration: “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (8:58 NET). Jesus’ climactic pronouncement “I am” refers back to the egō eimi statements in the LXX of Deuteronomy and Isaiah,18 which likely echo Exodus 3:14—as noted routinely in commentaries. By applying this title to Himself, Jesus is claiming—as I have argued in detail elsewhere—to be Yahweh.19
Jesus is saying, “Abraham seeing my day two thousand years ago? My seeing Abraham two thousand years ago? That’s nothing! Long before Abraham existed, I am!” Jesus’ words lay claim to the eternal present tense of Yahweh’s true identity.20 Jesus’ enemies clearly get His point. They react by attempting to stone Him because they believe He has profaned the sacred name of Yahweh by applying a form of it to Himself (John 8:59). But if we see Jesus’ declaration within the context of the debate about Abraham, we can better understand what He meant. Abraham could see Jesus’ “day” because as the eternal Word, God the Son is present every day throughout time—including during His personal appearances to the great patriarch and matriarch.
Unlike the other explanations of John 8:56, the theophany encounter as defended here shows how Jesus’ “I am” declaration answers the Jews’ objection about Jesus’ age. Abraham could easily have seen Jesus’ “day” two thousand years earlier because Jesus is the ever-present “I am.” If Jesus meant that Abraham saw a vision of the eschatological day of the Messiah or merely anticipated Him via Yahweh’s Abrahamic promise or viewed His ministry from paradise, Jesus’ appeal to the divine “I am” would hardly be needed. It would also not answer the objection regarding His age. But if Jesus was claiming to have visited Abraham as Yahweh in human form, it would make good sense. The fact that Jesus is not yet fifty years old, or even two thousand years old as a human, makes no difference. He is the Eternal One, whose days have no number. As the Psalmist wrote, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God…A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Ps 90:2, 4 NIV).
In connecting the OT Yahweh appearances to Abraham with Jesus’ declaration to be Yahweh, John shows the deep irony of the situation by bringing the conflict in Chap. 8 to a startling conclusion. Jesus’ opponents appeal to their ancestral lineage back to Abraham (John 8:39). But the true paternity test is their behavior towards Him. Jesus insists their rejection of Him reveals their spiritual father is the devil (John 8:44). Once again, Yahweh is visiting earth in human form, speaking this time to Abraham’s physical offspring. But instead of rejoicing, they are attempting to stone Him, proving they are not true children of Abraham.
V. ISAIAH MEETS JESUS
Another text within John’s Gospel helps bolster this understanding. According to John 12, Jesus is identified with Yahweh’s appearance to Isaiah when he was called into prophetic ministry. In John 12, John is lamenting the rejection Jesus received among so many of His fellow Jews, despite all the miracles He performed.
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him (John 12:37–41 NIV).
This text requires a bit of unpacking. John informs us that the Jewish rejection of Jesus was sad but not surprising. He proves this by quoting two Isaianic texts—the first from Isaiah 53, in which the Servant of Yahweh faces stubborn rejection from Israel. John then quotes from Isaiah 6, in which the prophet speaks of Israel’s stubborn unbelief, using the vivid metaphors of blinded eyes and hardened hearts. Then John adds this stunning commentary: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’21 glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41 NIV).
When did Isaiah see Jesus’ glory? In context, Isaiah has just seen a vision of the exalted Yahweh in the temple where the seraphim call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD [Yahweh] Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3).
This is one of the OT’s most awesome Yahweh appearances. Unlike some cases, in which Yahweh shows up in the somewhat plain appearance of a man, here Yahweh is seated on a glorious throne, high and lifted up, surrounded by angelic creatures that are sounding His praises and afraid even to look at Him. Verse 5 confirms that Isaiah is seeing Yahweh himself: “[M]y eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty,” he cries. So fearful and flabbergasted is Isaiah at this glorious sight that he shrieks at his impending doom! He remembers that no one can see Yahweh’s face and live (Exod 33:20).
Thankfully, Isaiah lives to tell of this spectacular encounter, but before the appearance is over, Yahweh imparts to Isaiah the prophecy which John quotes. Clearly the glory Isaiah saw and to which John refers is Yahweh’s glory revealed in Isaiah 6. Yet John says that what Isaiah calls Yahweh’s glory was in fact Jesus’ glory—a point routinely affirmed by Johannine scholars.22 Like Jesus’ allusion to the Abraham episode, John’s quote from Isaiah 6 identifies an OT appearance of Yahweh as the pre-incarnate Son.
And so, when John declares in 1:18 that God the Son has revealed God the Father, and perhaps when he speaks of the Word giving life and light to all people while being unrecognized by the world, he is likely not referring exclusively to Jesus’ earthly life as recorded in John. He is God’s Word Who spoke creation into being, as recounted in Genesis 1 and Psalm 33. From John’s perspective, the Son has always exercised His role as the Word—God’s spokesperson who is also Yahweh Himself. No one has ever seen God the Father, but when God shows up visibly, He comes in the person of the Son.23 Isaiah’s experience of witnessing Yahweh’s glory, as recounted by John, is paralleled in Jesus manifestation of divine glory and subsequent rejection. When Yahweh showed His glory to the great prophet, he responded with the fear of the LORD and obedience. But when Yahweh shows His glory through the Incarnation to Jesus’ generation (cf. John 1:14; 2:11), the vast majority tragically respond in unbelief.
VI. THEOPHANIES VERSUS THE INCARNATION
But some scholars are leery of postulating pre-incarnate theophanies of Christ. Aside from other concerns—which I cannot address here—some scholars worry that pre-incarnate appearances of Christ diminish the glory of the Incarnation. Fred Sanders, for example, in his influential work on the Trinity writes:
If the Father sent the Son repeatedly during the old covenant, it derogates in some way from the uniqueness of the incarnation sending. The question is not so much where the Old Testament Jesus got the body he appeared to the patriarchs in (though that surely calls for some speculation). It is more a matter of the unrepeatable uniqueness of the incarnation of the Son…This is not to deny that God is active in the Old Testament or in creation at large—in fact, that the Trinity, the entire Trinity, is active and present in appropriate ways. But it is to reject the notion that apart from the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity was the subject of visible mission.24
Sanders’s objection strikes me as rather subjective and lacking in Scriptural foundation. While showing due reverence to the Incarnation is always essential, it is also important never to allow the tail of systematic theology to wag the dog of exegesis. In formulating our theology, the definitive question is, “What saith the Scripture?” The real issue here is: do John’s Jesus in Chap. 8 and John’s editorial remarks in Chap. 12 claim that God the Son appeared to Abraham and Isaiah? Has the light shined in the BC darkness, as well as in the dawning of the Incarnation? If so, does this indeed lessen the luster of the Word becoming flesh and “tabernacling” among us?
I believe if John were answering this question in today’s parlance, he would be quick to remind us that the “trailer appearances” of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible cannot compare to the “feature film” appearance of the Word made flesh among us. On the contrary, like movie trailers, theophanies in the OT serve to prepare the way and generate anticipation for the climactic revelation of the divine Christ. For John, the definitive disclosure of God is found not in OT appearances but in the Word who “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
When John says in 1:18 that the Son revealed the Father, he’s speaking primarily of this unique event, which Christians call the Incarnation. An OT appearance of Yahweh is not God “made flesh,” that is, God uniting Himself with humanity—as John means it—but God manifesting Himself in human form for a brief encounter. We may safely assume that when angels (which are incorporeal creatures) appeared in the Bible in human-looking forms, they did not possess bodies that had once been an embryo in a womb, had not been born of a woman, and had not lived a human life. Though they appeared as humans, no angel has become incarnate as did God the Son. If angels can appear in a temporary human form without becoming incarnate in the full sense, certainly Yahweh can.
Nothing in the OT compares with the incarnate Son. The predawn glow does not diminish the brilliance of the bright sun. To see Jesus is not only to see an appearance of Yahweh the Son (as if that were not enough), but also the perfect representation of God the Father. As Jesus said, “The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (John 12:45 NIV). In Jesus, God did not visit the planet for a fleeting appearance in a temporary human form25—as in the OT visits. In Jesus, God entered the human race by joining Himself permanently with humanity.26
Nothing of this wondrous magnitude had ever occurred. Unlike the OT appearances, Jesus is God’s light not merely in the invisible presence of God for people, nor for a select few OT believers who beheld brief theophanies, but now for all mankind so that all may believe and be saved.27 And the grand finale of this supreme revelation is Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins followed by His resurrection and ascension. Jesus refers to this as His being “lifted up”28—an event of cosmic significance in John’s Gospel.
Unlike the OT appearances, Jesus came into the world as God’s ultimate gift, so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). True, Jesus’ human life did not come with the stunning “special effects” of glory,29 as some of the OT appearances did. But the quality of the revelation was of much deeper and higher significance. And when Jesus returns in power and great glory to raise the dead and fully establish His kingdom, He will consummate the glorious revelation He began when He became flesh.30 This is the ultimate hope of every Christ follower. The final chapter of the Bible sums up this unfathomable climax by saying, “They will see His face” (Rev 22:4 HCSB).
I can think of no NT passage that rules out an OT theophany. Sometimes Heb 1:1-2 is cited, allegedly indicating that the Son—in contrast to the “many times and various ways” God spoke to people in the past—has made His first and only appearance “in these last days” (NIV). But surely this does not negate the scenario described above, for the writer of Hebrews insists that the whole OT is scented with the ubiquitous fragrance of Christ. Our Lord Himself taught the entire canon spoke of Him and pointed to Him (Luke 24:44). Was He not the spiritual rock that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4), according to Paul? Was He not the “Son of Man” figure Daniel saw on the clouds of heaven in his vision (Dan 7:13-14), according to Jesus Himself (Mark 14:62)? Rather than spoilers, the trailers generate expectancy and enthusiasm for the feature film.
John’s Gospel opens with the insistence that God the Son has been present and active in the Hebrew Bible since the very first verse of Genesis. The beginning of His story—from a human viewpoint—commences not with the birth of Jesus but prior to the birth of the universe. When we try to wrap our heads around the notion that the Son is the eternal God, co-equal with the Father, we are delighted to discover that before the Author of history made His entrance on His own stage to play the role of the Savior of the world, He had already made several cameo appearances earlier in the play without our realizing it. When we do so, we also discover that the Gospel of John not only recounts this glorious drama, but also brings together the testaments into a unified narrative of God’s revelation.
1 Editor’s Note: This article was first presented as a paper at the National Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2018 in Denver, CO. Used by permission of the author.
2 For more on OT appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ, see Randy Rheaume, God the Son: What John’s Portrait of Jesus Means and Why It Matters (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018), 53-58, 130-33 and Vern S. Poythress, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).
3 Good places to start include Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1982) 2:221-23 and J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John (NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 529-32.
4 On Jewish speculation about Abraham, see esp. Craig Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) 1:767-68. In 4 Ezra 3:14 God reveals to Abraham “the end of times.” Also, T. Levi 18:11-14—the coming of the eschatological priest revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see https://archive.org/stream/pdfy- T7Y10PusEVDrsirI/The%20Testament%20Of%20Levi_djvu.txt; accessed 10-11-18) and 2 Bar. 4:4, in which Abraham is shown the tabernacle in New Jerusalem.
5 John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; cf. 11:24; 12:48.
6 E.g., Andreas Köstenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 272; D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 357; Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 321.
7 Thomas L. Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary (New York, NY: Oxford University, 1993), 335.
8 Cf. Michaels, John, 530 n126.
9 Edward W. Klink III, John, ZECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 424.
10 Barnabas Lindars, John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 334-35; Michaels, John, 532-33.
11 Luke 10:24; Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 1:10-12.
12 Lindars, John, 335; Michaels, John, 533.
13 Dialogue with Trypho 127; see also 56, 59. A modern scholar who takes this approach is Jerome Neyrey, The Gospel of John in Cultural and Rhetorical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 442-43. Craig Keener seems to favor this view among those he discusses. See Keener, John 1:767-68.
14 E.g., John 3:14; 6:31-32, 49, 58; 7:22; 10:34-35.
15 P. Linwood Urban, Jr., and P. Henry, “‘Before Abraham Was I Am’: Does Philo Explain John 8:56-58?” Studia Philonica, vol. 6, (1979): 157-93; J. Neyrey, The Gospel of John in Cultural and Rhetorical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 442.
16 Like the Genesis 18 appearance, the characteristics of this Yahweh appearance indicate it was likely not a dream or a vision (17:3, 17, 22).
17 For more detailed discussion on OT appearances of Yahweh, see esp. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 2: Theological Objections (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 2:25-37; Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015), 127-48; Poythress, Theophany.
18 See LXX Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 48:12; 51:12.
19 Randy Rheaume, An Exegetical and Theological Analysis of the Son’s Relationship to the Father in John’s Gospel: God’s Equal and Subordinate (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2014), 310-15.
20 See Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 529-32.
21 In the Greek text, the word “Jesus’” does not appear here, as it does in the NIV. It simply reads “his.” The NIV translators supply the name to make plain what the context clearly implies.
22 See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible (New York: Double Day, 1966), 486-87; George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987) 217; Klink, John, 560; Michaels, John, 710-11; Lindars, John, 439; Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1998), 364; Schnackenburg, John, 2:416-17.
23 A word of clarification is appropriate here: because the Son is the member of the Trinity who makes visible appearances, we should not conclude that He is not as glorious as God the Father or the Holy Spirit or that He does not also exist as a non-physical, invisible spirit. In His divine nature the Son shares the same eternal glory as the Father possesses (John 17:5) and is omnipresent (John 14:23; Matt 18:20; 28:20; Eph 4:10).
24 Fred Sanders, The Triune God, New Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 225–26. See also, for example, Kenneth Way, Judges and Ruth, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 79.
25 The tangible human forms in which Yahweh appeared in the OT were temporary—as in the case of angels that appeared as humans. Unlike Jesus, they were not conceived and physically born, nor did they experience a human life and death.
26 Contrary to common misconception, Jesus did not dispense with His humanity or His body when He ascended to heaven. He will return just as He left (Acts 1:11). He is still a man (1 Tim 2:5) though now with a glorified human body (Phil 3:21)—and remains a descendent of Judah and David (Rev 5:5; 22:16).
27 John 1:4, 7; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5.
28 John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34. This expression “lifted up” is an allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy of Yahweh’s Servant who is lifted up in glory after suffering horribly (Isa 52:13-15). John uses it as a double entendre to refer both to Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and in glory.
29 According to John, Jesus’ presence (1:14) and miracles (2:11) showed His glory to His disciples, but He otherwise appeared as simply human to onlookers. The other NT gospels record Jesus’ transfiguration as an exception to the rule (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36).
30 John 5:27-29; 1 John 3:2; Rev 1:7; 11:15-19; 19:11-21; 21-22.