We live in a dark world. The Gospel of John has repeatedly tried to open our eyes to the fact that the world walks in darkness and cannot see. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4–5 ESV) The picture of Jesus as the light of the world returns in this section of John’s message. What is the answer to our darkness? What is the solution to the fact that world is lost, blind, and in the dark?
What Jesus Claims About Himself (8:12)
Jesus makes a powerful declaration about himself. “I am the light of the world.” This is the second “I am” statement that we have seen in this gospel. The first “I am” statement was, “I am the bread of life” in John 6:35. Now the timing of this statement is very important. Remember that the feast under which these chapters are recorded is the Feast of Tabernacles. We noted in John 7 that there was a water ceremony that was tied to the Feast of Tabernacles, which is why Jesus on the last day cried out “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The Feast of Tabernacles also had a nightly counterpart to the water ceremony and that was a lamp lighting ceremony. In the temple court four huge candelabras were lit. There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect their light. This had the reminder of their wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land as God led the people by night with a pillar of fire. So I want you to imagine these blazing torches whose flames burned each night through the time of the feast. With these torches of light blazing in the temple complex, Jesus speaks to the Pharisees (connect back to 7:47; 8:13) and says that he himself is the light of the world. The implications of this statement are far reaching.
First, Jesus calling himself “the light of the world” was a claim to be God himself.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation.” (Psalm 27:1 ESV)
“The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19 ESV)
David said that the Lord was his light and the Lord was his salvation. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would be the light for the people. Jesus comes along and declares that he is that light. He is God. This is a point we will see a few times in this gospel. Only God gives light to the world. Only God can give light to the eyes. Only God can bring light to the heart. Only God can speak light into existence.
Second, Jesus calling himself “the light of the world” was a claim to the prophesied Messiah. The prophets pictured the world and Israel in darkness. God is separate from the world and cannot be in relationship with evil. Therefore, the world is in darkness and even Israel was in darkness because of their sins. But Malachi spoke of a hopeful day.
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2 ESV) Simeon said similar words in Luke 1:78-79 when he took the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple.
Third, Jesus calling himself “the light of the world” means that he is the head of the true Israel, the people of God, and people must attach themselves to him to belong to the Father. Isaiah spoke of a hopeful day when the people who were in covenant relationship with God would be the light of the world.
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6–7 ESV)
He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV)
While all of these points are part of what Jesus is teaching the Pharisees, I believe this third point is the force of what Jesus is saying. Listen to what Jesus says in the rest of verse 12.
What Jesus Claims For His Followers (8:12)
“Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Think about what Jesus says. Following Jesus continues to parallel the imagery in the wilderness when the Israelites followed God in the pillar of fire. Following Jesus is not just saying that we are followers of Jesus. Those who follow Jesus have the light of life to walk by. Notice that Jesus does not say that you will not walk in darkness but will walk in the light. Rather, Jesus says that you will have the light of life. You will possess the light. You will be in relationship with the light. Following Jesus means attaching yourself to Jesus. Following Jesus means going where he goes, believing what he teaches, and doing what he says.
Let me put this teaching another way so that we can see what discipleship looks like. Without the light of Jesus we cannot see anything in life properly. Jesus is the only light. If Jesus is not your light, then cannot look at life properly. You cannot see yourself properly. You cannot look at God properly. You cannot comprehend what you need. There is only one thing you need when you are in the dark — light! Jesus is that light for life in the world. When you are in the dark, you must follow the light to have any direction. When we had our hurricane in 2005 and we were all without power, what did you do when the sun went down? You found your flashlight and you followed the light. We need to see Jesus as that light for our lives because without him we are walking in total darkness.
What Jesus Says To Those Who Do Not Follow Him (8:13-20)
Now, will the Pharisees be amazed by what Jesus is saying and readily accept him as the light for their lives? We have seen enough in John’s gospel to know what the typical response of every human being is unbelief. Rather than listening to Jesus, they are reacting against Jesus and rejecting his claims.
The basis of their rejection this time is that Jesus is testifying about himself. They do not want to believe his testimony so they come up with a reason to reject his claim. We do this today. We do not want to accept the truth of Jesus so we conjure up reasons why we cannot believe. The problem is that we do not believe. The problem is that we do not want to believe. So we soothe our pricked conscience by coming up with a reason why we could not possibly believe Jesus. Yet our reason for rejection is weak. The Pharisees reason for rejection is weak. Jesus has already given his witnesses back in chapter 5. In the fifth chapter Jesus numbered the corroborating witnesses. Jesus does not number them again. This time Jesus simply points out that his testimony is true because he is telling the truth. There has been nothing false in his words. There has been no reason for not believing what Jesus is declaring.
But Jesus gives a simple solution. Since Jesus’ teaching and authority comes from the Father, the Father is able to verify the legitimacy of his words. He witnesses to himself, not as a ordinary being, but as the Son of God. Jesus as divine testifies of himself and the Father testifies to him as well because his teachings are matching the teachings of the Father. These are the only two witnesses that are needed. The Pharisees are failing to recognize the truth of Jesus’ words. They are not hearing what he has to say. Jesus’ words are valid because they are in conformity to the mission given to him by the Father.
Now, how much were they listening? Notice their lousy response in verse 19: “Where is your father?” If they really knew who Jesus was, then they would know exactly who the Father was and that the Father had sent him. Verse 19 contains an important spiritual truth. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” The only way to know the Father is to know Jesus. How do you know Jesus? You get to know Jesus by following him. What did Jesus tell every person who came to him? Come and follow me. Let me lead your life in this world of darkness. Don’t follow your own path. You are in darkness. Jesus is the light that leads you to the Father. Jesus was sent from the Father to show you the path to walk to him. Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. True belief is to follow Jesus. Does Jesus lead your life? Does your life submit to his will? What does the world see in us? Do they see us walking in the light because we follow Jesus completely or walking in darkness and looking just like the world? Jesus is the light. Will you come to light, set aside your false obstacles, and allow yourself to submit to the glorious purposes of Jesus?