A short reflection on Christ’s claim in John 8:12-20, “I am the light of the world. “
John 8:12-20 ESV "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come."
The setting of Christ’s second I Am statement is the Feast of Tabernacles, which provides rich cultural context for understanding the significance of his words. During this annual celebration, Jewish families would construct small tents to sleep in at night as a commemoration of their wandering years own the desert after their miraculous escape from Egypt. The feast celebrated God’s faithfulness, provision, and protection of His people.
Each evening at this particular festival a special moment occurred that Jews refer to as the “Illumination of the Temple.” It was at this moment that the four seventy-five foot tall golden menorahs, that stood in the corners of the Court of the Women within the temple, were lit. The significance of this moment was to remind God’s people how God himself had led them through the wilderness by a pillar of fire by night for forty years (Exodus 13:21). Standing in the temple, under the dark night sky, while these four massive lamps were lit, must have been a soul stirring experience. While these lights were still burning, while God’s people were still joyfully reflecting on God’s goodness, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
The significance of his words would not have been lost on any of his hearers. The light of the four pillars was to represent nothing less than God himself, the very God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt. The very God that had promised to send a messiah to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6). Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world meant not only that he was the long awaited messiah foretold in Scriptures, but that he was also God himself. As the writer of Hebrews states, “He is the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3).
Christ goes further though by coupling this claim with a divine promise. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). A contrast is established between those who walk in darkness and those who have the light of life. To walk in darkness, is to have no real understanding of God, of purpose, of salvation, of identity, of eternity. To walk in darkness to be void of the love of God, the very thing that our souls were designed for. Outside of Christ there is only darkness both now and forevermore (Matthew 8:12).
But in Christ, the light of the divine blazes forward a path through the darkness of this fallen world we inhabit. Like the Israelites, there is indeed a pillar of light to guide us through the night. God has not left us aimless, neither has he left us hopeless. God sent Christ to rescue our souls from the domain of darkness and to transfer them to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Ephesians 1:13). Christ’s resurrection has taken away the darkness of the sting of death, and the gift of His Spirit guides us to the truly fruitful life, the life full of light and life (Galatians 5:22-23). It is truly as the Apostle John said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).