Copyright © Edward Riojas
I am sometimes amazed at the stupidity of certain folks in Holy Scripture. Of course, that is only possible with Biblical hindsight and, of course, with the admission that I am often equally stupid.
Long after Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and after He asked the same of His disciples, the answer was given point blank. Unfortunately, folks didn’t like the answer, even when the Truth was standing in front of them and staring them in the face. Stupid happens.
There are seemingly countless events and references in Scripture that point to the Divinity of Jesus, but two very public events stick out in my mind – the culmination of His pointed discussion with the Jews in the Temple, and at His arrest in the the garden.
In His Divine forbearance, Jesus was trying to explain Himself, while in the Temple, to a Jewish audience, who only knew the traditions of men apart from the much older promise of a Messiah. Being hard of heart, the Jews were not being swayed. Their argument peaked with a telling question, and was given an infinitely-more telling answer.
“You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
This goofy, tense-warped answer was the last straw for the Jews, yet they somehow, stupidly, could grasp neither the meaning of Christ’s answer, nor His body itself for stoning, though He had been directly in front of them. Apparently, the ability to willingly disappear from plain sight was not on the Jews’ list of divine requirements.
This was later repeated when the mob sought to arrest Jesus. When He identified Himself as “I am,” they fell to the ground. The event must have been at once lamentable and comical. The armed soldiery acted as formidably as the Keystone Cops. They were so stupid that, after falling down, Jesus had to ask again whom they were seeking, as if to remind them where the not-so-polite conversation had been interrupted.
Both of these events point, of course, to the name of the Lord that had been revealed to Moses – “I am” – and it is why the Jews, in their ignorance, had cause to stone Jesus.
There is, interestingly, a small bit of Christian symbolism that confesses Jesus Christ’s answer to the Jews, and links images of Him to the name given in the Old Testament.
While Orthodox icons do not always get things right, and while the very use of their dated style is suspect, they do sometimes get things very right. In depicting Jesus, He is identified by the use of the tri-radiant nimbus. But Orthodoxy goes a step further.
It is tradition to have a Greek character in each of the three rays, appearing as “o w n.” This is shorthand, as is often the case in icons, for a longer phrase. In this case, it is very loosely translated as “He Who Is.” It is not simply a confession of Jesus as Christ in the New Testament, but a confession of the same as a manifestation of the Lord whom the Old Testament Jews had worshipped and, therefore points to Jesus as The God of all time, The Lord of all creation, and inseparable from His Father and The Spirit.