“I Am He,” Ensign, Apr. 1999, 7
Thousands of people flooded the streets of Jerusalem. It was autumn in the third year of the Lord Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry, and the harvest was over. The joyous seven-day celebration known as the Feast of Tabernacles was in full swing. People milled about the temple courtyard in anticipation of the dramatic, culminating ceremonial performances on the last day of the feast.
The morning animal sacrifices had been performed and the presiding priest had drawn some two pints of water from the Pool of Siloam. Large numbers of the worshipers carrying palm branches and waving them while repeating “Hosanna” had accompanied the priest as he brought the ritual water from the pool to the temple in a golden pitcher. The sound of trumpets had heralded the procession’s arrival at the temple courtyard.
With great ceremonial reverence the water was poured into a silver basin on the western side of the temple altar. Religious historian Alfred Edersheim has described the next dramatic event and what may have happened thereafter: “The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. … It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm cxviii —given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their Lulabh [willow branches] towards the altar, thus praising ‘with heart, and mouth, and hands,’ and then silence had fallen upon them—that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. , 2:160).
The text of John also describes this event: “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37–38).
The meaning and intent of Jesus’ declaration was unmistakable to all who heard. He was claiming to be divine, to be the Messiah, their deliverer and source for salvation. Truly, “never man spake like this man” (John 7:46)
We live in a day when many doubt or do not know who Jesus is. Some believe that Jesus did not know who He was, or if He did, He never clearly told others during His mortal ministry. Some assert that when Jesus said He was “the Son of God” He did not mean to be taken literally, only metaphorically.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “When the gospel was first restored, the pulpits of [the world] were aflame with the testimony of Jesus, the divine Son of God and Savior of the world. … Today, our missionaries cannot make the same assumption. There are still many God-fearing people who testify to the divinity of Jesus Christ. But there are many more—even in the formal ranks of Christianity—who doubt his existence or deny his divinity. As I see the deterioration in religious faith that has happened in my own lifetime, I am convinced that we who are members of his Church need to be increasingly valiant in our testimony of Jesus” (“Witness of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 31).
Jesus’ own public declarations about Himself set the example of valiance for us. Modern revelation confirms the witness of the writers of the Gospels that Jesus Christ repeatedly bore witness, both privately and publicly, of His own divinity during His mortal ministry. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) aids us considerably in our quest to understand and follow the Lord’s example in testifying of Him.
One way Jesus witnessed of His identity was to teach of the unique Father-Son relationship He had with God. He frequently referred to Himself as “the Son of God” and spoke of God as “my Father.” He emphasized that only God was His Father and that He was God’s Only Begotten Son on earth.
At the cleansing of the temple (see John 2:13–17). When Jesus entered Jerusalem to begin His public ministry, He made His way to the temple, where “changers of money” infested its outer courtyard. He commanded the merchants to leave the temple with a bold statement about Himself: “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16; emphasis added).
The temple at Jerusalem was one of the greatest sources of inspiration and pride for the Jews. It was a holy place where God Himself could come and where Jews could offer their sacrifices and confess their sins before Him. Here they could approach His very presence.
When Jesus overturned the money tables, the attention of the masses fell upon Him and they watched and wondered. Jesus taught them who He was by calling the temple “my Father’s house,” instead of “our Father’s house.” The meaning was clear. Jesus had forcefully declared that He was not merely mortal but was the divine Son of God.
Leaders of the Jews treated Him with contempt for such a claim. They asked, “what sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (John 2:18). His answer reaffirmed His divinity: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
After healing a man on the Sabbath (see John 5:16–47). When Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the healing of a man on the Sabbath day drew tremendous attention. Jesus defended the timing of this action by fearlessly teaching, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17; emphasis added). His explanation not only openly confronted the strict laws and practices of the Jewish Sabbath but also declared with unmistakable clarity that He was the Son of God.
His audience protested His words, for they clearly understood Him to say that “God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). So Jesus further taught, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: … For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: … All men should honor the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:19–20, 23). He concluded with these words: “I am come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43; emphasis added). Jesus had openly taught them that God was His Father and that He was the divine Son of God.
After feeding the 5,000 (see John 6:22–66). During His Galilean ministry, Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 caused many to follow Him, seeking more such miracles. They asked, “What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? … Our fathers did eat manna in the desert” (John 6:30–31). The Lord explained, “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32; emphasis added).
The Savior then further defined His relationship with God with statements such as these: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me” (John 6:37) and “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). Because Jesus had so plainly declared His unique relationship with God, “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
When teaching in the temple (see John 8:12–59). While visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus again openly declared His divine sonship. The Pharisees debated Him, questioning His right to bear record of Himself. As the debate turned to a discussion of fathers, Jesus said, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; … I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. … It is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God” (John 8:42, 49, 54; emphasis added). The Pharisees were extremely upset and angry, for they knew Jesus had claimed a divine Sonship, and therefore felt He had blasphemed, a crime punishable by death under Jewish law. Accordingly, they attempted to kill Him but failed (see John 8:59).
At the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22–39). Jesus returned to Jerusalem several months later for the feast commemorating the dedication of the temple in the days of Judas Maccabæus. As He walked in the temple, the Jews pressed Him to tell them plainly if He was the Christ. He had already said so numerous times, but their request gave Him another opportunity to testify publicly. He declared before all those gathered at Solomon’s porch, “My Father … is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them [my sheep] out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:29–30; emphasis added). Again Jewish leaders attempted to kill Jesus for what they thought was blasphemy. Jesus reconfirmed that He was the Son of God (see John 10:34–38)
In addition to teaching of His divine sonship, Jesus boldly asserted that in Him was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of Israel’s ancient prophets. No greater prophetic figure exists in Jewish tradition and literature than the Messiah, who is the focus of Jewish hopes for national and personal deliverance and represents the highest glory of Israel. Jesus frequently and plainly declared that He was the promised Messiah.
To His neighbors in Nazareth (see Luke 4:16–30). Early in His Galilean ministry, Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. Word of His cleansing of the temple and His miracles in Jerusalem had spread rapidly (see John 2:11–19), and many people stood in the Nazarene synagogue on the Sabbath hoping to hear Him speak. As all eyes focused on Him, the Lord took the prophetic books into His hands and read aloud Isaiah 61:1–2 [Isa. 61:1–2]. These words would have been familiar to them, beautiful words of hope concerning the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus closed the book and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). The meaning of His declaration was plain: He was claiming to be the Messiah. All those in the synagogue “were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city” (Luke 4:28–29).
After healing a man on the Sabbath (see John 5:16–47). At the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus responded to accusations from His enemies by invoking the recorded words of the ancient prophets to substantiate His claim of being the Messiah: “Search the scriptures; … they are they which testify of me. … For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:39, 46–47).
During the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 8:33–59). A group of Jews debated with Jesus about His self-claims. They discussed Abraham, the father of the Hebrews and one of the most revered men of all time. To His combatants’ claims of special parentage from Abraham, Jesus simply said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). This claim of preeminence over Abraham so inflamed these Jews that they immediately “took … up stones to cast at him” (John 8:59). Clearly, they had understood His statement to mean: “I, Jesus, am Jehovah, the Great I Am.”
While teaching the multitudes a few days later (see John 10:1–21). Before leaving Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus used the symbol of the shepherd to describe Himself. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Among the pastoral people of Palestine, service as a pastor or shepherd was one of the most honorable and respected vocations. Accordingly, many of the prophets had used the shepherd’s vocation as a basis for teaching great spiritual truths and as a means of foretelling the coming of the Messiah who would be the Good Shepherd” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 1:483).
Jesus taught the multitudes in the temple, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), and, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). He thus indicated that He was the fulfillment of David’s messianic Psalm 23 [Ps. 23], “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and of Isaiah’s messianic words, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (Isa. 40:11). Jesus was saying that as the Messiah, He had the power to care for and watch over all His “sheep,” for how could any ordinary man claim to be King David’s “shepherd?” A great debate soon arose among the people. Jesus withdrew from them, leaving them to decide for themselves who He really was.
While teaching a great multitude in Perea (see Luke 14:25–35). Jesus testified of His messiahship frequently during the final weeks of His mortal ministry. Just before His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus taught a large gathering about discipleship. Some, seeking to justify themselves, claimed they were disciples of Moses and the prophets. Jesus responded, “Ye know not Moses, neither the prophets; for if ye had known them, ye would have believed on me; for to this intent they were written. For I am sent that ye might have life” (JST, Luke 14:36, Bible appendix). Jesus was teaching them that His disciples could not give preeminence to ancient prophets, for He, Jesus, was the Messiah and was therefore greater than them all and the source of everlasting life.
Still in Perea, Jesus taught many parables to a great crowd, including disciples, publicans, and Pharisees. The Pharisees ridiculed Him when He finished. “Then said Jesus unto them, The law and the prophets testify of me; yea, and all the prophets who have written, even until John, have foretold of these days. …
“And why teach ye the law, and deny that which is written; and condemn him whom the Father hath sent to fulfil the law, that ye might all be redeemed?” (JST, Luke 16:17, 20, Bible appendix).
While teaching the multitudes in the temple (see Matt. 23:37–39). As Jesus preached in Jerusalem during the final week of His mortal ministry, He publicly lamented the fate of the city’s inhabitants who would not believe in Him. He told them He would return to Jerusalem in glory with His angels and said, “Ye shall not see me henceforth and know that I am he of whom it is written by the prophets until ye shall say: Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord” (JS—M 1:1), thus fulfilling the messianic words of Psalm 118:26 [Ps. 118:26].
Jesus bore witness of Himself in a third manner by publicly teaching about His divine rights and powers. He most often used divine “object lessons,” or symbols, to clearly make His point. By doing so, He was teaching that He possessed capabilities that only the Almighty Himself possessed—powers and rights ascribed to God by the writers of the holy scriptures. By asserting Himself to be the source of these rights and powers, He was claiming to be God. As noted at the opening of this article, His dramatic announcement to be “living water” at the Feast of Tabernacles is but one example of this manner of testifying.
At the healing of the paralytic (see Luke 5:18–26). Shortly after beginning His Galilean ministry, Jesus taught and healed many people in a crowded house. A man with “palsy” was not able to enter through the door, so his friends lowered him into the house through an opening in the roof. Knowing that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting nearby, Jesus addressed the afflicted man: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” (Luke 5:20–21). Jesus told them He had said it “that ye may know that [I] the Son of man [have] power upon earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:24).
Among the Publicans (see Matt. 9:9–13). After Jesus had called Matthew to be a disciple, they dined together with his fellow tax collectors. The Pharisees saw this dinner as irregular and suspect conduct and began questioning Jesus: “Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law? But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law” (JST, Matt. 9:18–19, Bible appendix).
The law of Moses was revered by the Jews almost above all else, and now Jesus was claiming to have given this law! There was no mistaking His meaning. He was testifying that He was that Jehovah who had spoken to Moses from Mount Sinai. Furthermore, Jesus was asserting His right to interpret the meaning of that law and to instruct them on how it should be practiced.
By the cornfields on the Sabbath day (see Mark 2:23–28). Jesus also witnessed that He was the divine author of the law of the Sabbath. As His disciples were foraging for food in a field, the Pharisees asked, “Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mark 2:24). Jesus answered, “[I] The Son of Man made the Sabbath day, therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (JST, Mark 2:27, Bible appendix).
The Jewish scriptures taught that the Sabbath came from God and was an everlasting sign between Jehovah and Israel (see Gen. 2:3; Ex. 16:23–29; Ex. 20:11; Ex. 31:16–17; Ezek. 20:12, 21). By boldly testifying that it was He who had originated the Sabbath, He was now asserting the right to decide how His disciples could keep that day which belonged to Him, even the Sabbath.
To the 5,000 by the seashore (see John 6:26–66). Another divine power that Jesus said was His was that of being the sustainer of Israel. Beside the Sea of Galilee, the multitudes desired more food than He had divinely provided from the five loaves and two fishes. They wanted bread from heaven. Jesus responded, “The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). When they clamored, “Give us this bread,” Jesus testified, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:34–35). Jesus had offered Himself as the temporal and spiritual source of sustenance for happiness and eternal life.
At another Jewish feast (see John 8:12–29). The Feast of Tabernacles included a ceremonial lighting of the temple’s great golden lamps. Each night of the celebration the candelabra, 50 cubits (75 feet) in height, was lighted in the temple to symbolize the sending forth of light to the inhabitants of the world. Perhaps as the attention of the vast multitude was focused on the lighting of the lamps, Jesus proclaimed His divine power, saying, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Jews knew that the Messiah would be a light to the world and that King David had said of the Messiah, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps. 27:1).
At the raising of Lazarus (see John 11:1–46). In Bethany, the Lord both asserted and demonstrated another divine power. While Jesus was ministering in Perea, He was told of the death of His friend Lazarus. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus was met by Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, along with many of the Jews who had come to comfort the family. To the grieving Martha, Jesus said, “Thy brother shall rise again. … I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:23, 25–26).
Jesus stood before the tomb and in a majestic demonstration of His divine rights and powers said, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). Lazarus’ emergence from the tomb demonstrated again that Jesus truly held power over life and death.
At His trial prior to His Crucifixion (see Mark 14:53–65). Following His arrest, Jesus was taken before a council of chief priests and rulers, the Sanhedrin. They had already conspired to condemn Him to death but after finding no evidence against Him, “the high priest asked him, … Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). The Jewish leaders knew that Jesus had openly and repeatedly declared His divinity among the people, but they wanted to hear it again in order to have a clear charge against Him. One more blasphemous statement from His lips, they thought, could bring a unanimous vote of the council to condemn Him to death. Thus it was that Jesus closed His public ministry the same way He began it, by declaring His identity: “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62)
The Savior’s public declarations not only assure us that He knew who He was, they also set an example of how we can testify of Him with power and conviction. Jesus was not apologetic or shy. He knew who He was and how essential it was to the eternal life and salvation of others for them to also know who He was. When testifying, He spoke plainly and boldly of His divinity. He left audiences with an unmistakable decision to make: Was He or wasn’t He divine? We should testify of Jesus in public as well as in private, doing so appropriately yet courageously and frequently. The specific ways in which Jesus testified of Himself also show us how we may bear witness of Him.
We may bear witness of His divine sonship. As Latter-day Saints we have taken the name of Jesus Christ upon us; we witness to this each Sabbath as we partake of the sacrament. Thus, we are to be prepared to stand in all places and testify that He is the actual Son of the Father in the flesh and is therefore the only perfect person ever to walk this earth qualified and capable of atoning for sin and bringing about the Resurrection. This assurance also allows us to testify that He is our Savior and Redeemer, the only name by which mankind may be saved.
We may bear witness of His divine messiahship. As the true Messiah, Jesus preached the gospel to the meek, bound up the broken-hearted, proclaimed liberty to the captive, and brought beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (see Isa. 61:1–3). In Him was the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of Israel’s ancient prophets.
We may bear witness of His divine rights and powers. Through modern revelation we understand more fully that Jesus has received a fulness of the glory of the Father and has received all power both in heaven and on earth (see D&C 93:16–17). It is He who may forgive sins, interpret His laws, sustain His people, control life and death, and lead us out of spiritual darkness. He is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Good Shepherd, and the Light and Life of the World.