I was looking at responses to John 8:58 and I saw some answers here saying that Jesus was claiming to be God this is why they tried to stone him... but my question is if he was claiming to be God and was in the habit of doing this throughout his ministry on earth why when the pharisees brought him to judgment did they have to have false witnesses bring accusations against him and why were none of these false accusations that he "claimed to be God"? Doesn't it make more sense that in this text Jesus was proclaiming to be greater than Abraham and that he existed before Abraham which would have been reason enough for them to want to stone him?
The Jews wanted to stone Jesus because he was saying he was God.
When Jesus claims that he and the father are one, they say this reason explicitly:
It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God. (John 10:33 NRSV)
When he says that he was before Abraham (John 8:58), they stone him because they took his words as a hint that he was God (his "I am" possibly referring to God's identification as "I am" in Exodus 3:14).
Claiming to be older or greater than Abraham would not have been a punishable offense. On the other hand, blasphemy - cursing God - was punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:14; 1 Kings 21:10). The Jews obviously viewed Jesus' saying he was God as blasphemy.
There are no false witnesses I can find mentioned in John, which makes sense according to the stories in which so many Jews see him equate himself with God and already want to stone him. But in the other gospels, when they were looking for false testimony, from the high priest's question to him, it seems the testimony they were looking for was what the high priest asked him (Matthew 26:63): if he was the Messiah, son of God. They also considered this to be blasphemy (Matthew 26:65), so it was the same charge against him.
In the Old Testament, Jehovah’s self-proclaimed title of “I AM” is given special prominence in Ex 3:13-15. While we are told “I Am” was to be God’s name forever, there is no record in the Bible of it ever being used again unless we admit the grammatical connection between “I am” and the “Tetragrammaton” (which see), YHWH, commonly translated, “Jehovah”, “Yahweh”, “LORD”, or even “Eternal” in Moffatt’s version. “I am” in the Greek (NT) is, “ego eimi”. The verb, “eimi” occurs 2462 times in the New Testament in various forms, but in only 75 of these cases is the first person nominative pronoun, “ego” used with it. Generally, the complete form, “ego eimi” only occurs when some emphasis is required.
This present continuous verb, “to be”, is the most common in almost all languages and has several syntactical functions in Greek (eg, see John 1:1 ):
- Existence, “I am.” (see below)
- Identification, eg, Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel”; John 9:9, “I am [that one]”; John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd”.
- Relationship, eg, Acts 18:10, “I am with you”.
- Predication, eg, Acts 22:3, “I am Jewish”.
The New Testament shows an interesting and (somewhat) unexpected pattern in the use of the Greek phrase, “ego eimi”, “I am” which occurs “ego eimi” occurs 48 times in the New Testament. It also occurs 11 times as “eimi ego” which has a very similar but still different construction and all are relational or predicative. It occurs in a few other forms such as “ego gar eimi”, “ego men eimi”, “ego ouk eimi” (I am not), etc, a total of 75 times (one or two are disputed). Of the 48 cases of the exact phrase “ego eimi”, “I am”, just 15 have the syntactical form existence as opposed to identification, relationship or predication. All are listed below (my translation) unless preceded by “not”, eg, Matt 26:22, 25, plus one exception to be noted.
- Matt 14:27, Mark 6:50 – “Be encouraged. I am.” [To the frightened disciples in the boat.]
- Mark 13:6, Luke 21:8 – “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am’”.
- Mark 14:62, Luke 22:70 – “Jesus replied, ‘I am’”. [He was then accused of blasphemy by the Jews and condemned.]
- John 4:26 – “Then Jesus said, ‘I am.’” [To the Samaritan woman at the well. There is a reasonable case for this being identification, but that is a matter of taste.]
- John 6:20 – “But then [Jesus] said to them, ‘I am. Fear not.’” [To the frightened disciples in the boat.]
- John 8:24 – “If you do not trust/believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
- John 8:28 – “When you will lift up the Son of Man, then you will trust/know that I am.”
- John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you; before Abraham existed, I am.” [The Jews then tried to stone Him for blasphemy.]
- John 9:9 – “Some were saying that, ‘this is [that one]’, and others were saying ‘no, it is like him.’ But he was saying, ‘I am [that one].’” (This instance is clearly identification rather than existence.)
- John 13:19 – “From now [on] I tell you before the occurrence, that you may believe when it occurs that, I am.”
- John 18: 5, 6, 8 – “He said to them, ‘I am.’ …Therefore, when He told them, ‘I am’, they fell backward to the ground.” [This occurred when the Jews tried to arrest Jesus in the garden. It could be reasonably argued that this is a case of identification. However, the fact that the arresting mob fell backward suggests that much more is intended here.]
Thus, the use of "I AM" in John 8:58 is highly significant and was much more than a simple claim of pre-existence; specifically, he was accused of blasphemy and hence was worthy of execution by stoning as the Jews clearly understood. This conlusion is strongly reinforced by the New Testament's dozens of claims that Jesus was YHWH and the frequent claims of Jesus absolute divinity.
It is interesting that, according to Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, one of the distinguishing characteristics of false christs is their claim to be “I AM”. Unfortunately, there has been a historical parade of charlatans making such false claims.