51 ¶ Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? 54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. 59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Death in verse 51 is clearly not a reference to physical death. Christ is not promising immortality of your existing body. We know this is true, not just from the context, but also from the use of the word, “death,” at other times. For instance, in its very first use the idea of death does not refer to the immediate cessation of bodily functions. Speaking to Adam, the pre-incarnate Christ* said, in the Garden of Eden;
Ge 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
However, Adam’s physical body lived to be 930 years old, well beyond the day of his disobedience.
5:5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.
The essence of Jesus’ promise is spiritual life, the eternal aspect of our existence as souls created by God not biological flesh corrupted by Adam’s sin and our, perhaps genetic, inheritance of it.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
His audience was clueless to this as they referred to the physical state of Abraham and the prophets as being dead and buried. They ask a question, “whom makest thou thyself?” that Christ is about to answer.
Jesus states that His honor comes from the Father, whom the Jews say is their God. He accuses the Jews of not knowing God and states, as well, that He knows God and if He were to say He didn’t He would be a liar like them who say they do. He knows the Father and obeys Him, unlike the Jews.
Then, Jesus makes the stunning statement that Abraham, long dead, saw His day and rejoiced and was glad. This would seem an absurdity to say that Abraham saw something that was to occur long after his time on earth. The Jews understood that Jesus was claiming that Abraham saw Him and they make that statement about Jesus not even being fifty years old and could not have been anywhere with Abraham. That makes sense from our human perspective. But, Jesus has set them up for the next declaration that before Abraham was, Jesus says that, “I am.” This is the identification of Himself that God made to Moses.
Exodus 3:14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
This claim is that Jesus Himself is the very God who spoke to Moses. Another clear statement from Christ that He is God cannot be tolerated and in their rage and perhaps confusion they try to stone Him but Jesus made Himself invisible and passed right through them. It was not time yet.
Christ is the body of God, as explained earlier, the visible image of God. God simply is. There is no way to ask, where did God come from or is there something greater than God. It is impossible to pursue that line of reasoning without coming to a dead end where all questions become meaningless expressions of confusion. God is, “I am,” the ever present, always existent, never beginning or ending, someone completely outside of our ability to grasp apart from His revelation of Himself in the Bible. We can see that He, as the ultimate designer of the universe we see, exists by the irreducible complexity and glory of all there is. But, there is no explanation of God that fits our finite minds and experience. God simply was, is, and will be. He is first and He is last. And He came to earth and lived as one of us for a short time in a finite body that needed food, drink, and rest. It staggers the mind.
*Genesis 4:8 “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” The Lord God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. The Holy Ghost is never said to walk and God the Father is a Spirit and invisible to us. It doesn’t seem likely Adam and Eve were being addressed by a disembodied voice that walked.