The Light of the World

12 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.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 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. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 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. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 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.” 20 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. John 8:12-20 ESV

In this passage, Jesus issues the second of seven “I am” statements recorded in the book of John. Standing in the treasury of the temple, He states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). These declarations by Jesus are intended to clarify His unique relationship with mankind as the Savior of the world. In the course of time, Jesus will portray His identity as the Messiah sent from God using these seven descriptive and declarative statements:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11 ESV

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 ESV

Each of these statements reveals a relational aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He presents Himself as a source of sustenance, illumination, access, care, life, and fruitfulness. With each one of them, He clarifies His unique role as the Father’s personal emissary who had come to offer sinful mankind a means of being restored to a right relationship with a holy God. It is only through Him that sinners can discover all they need to be made right with God.

Chapter six records Jesus’ offering His body and blood as the sole source of spiritual nourishment that, when consumed, produces everlasting life. But this gift of eternal life is predicated on belief. Jesus clearly stated, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35 ESV). Yet, sadly, Jesus revealed the truth about those who had witnessed His power but had failed to accept His claim to be from God:  “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6:36 ESV).

Now, Jesus announces Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). In doing so, He reinforces the theme that John used to begin his Gospel.

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

Jesus has compared Himself to water and bread, two non-negotiable staples necessary for sustaining life. Without bread and water, human life is unsustainable. Jesus, the author of life, came to earth so that He might offer Himself as the sole source of eternal life. His body, which He would willingly sacrifice on behalf of sinful mankind, would become the means by which all those deprived of righteousness might “be filled.”

Now, Jesus uses the metaphor of light to describe the illuminating nature of His incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, as John wrote in his first letter, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the sinless perfection of His Heavenly Father. With His appearance in human form, Jesus brought the light of God’s presence to earth, making the full glory of God visible and accessible. The author of Hebrews describes put it this way:

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. – Hebrews 1:3 NLT

That is why Jesus was able to say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV). He made the light of God’s glory visible. But one of the unique qualities of light is its ability to both illuminate and expose. With His incarnation, Jesus brought the glory of God to earth and, in doing so, His very presence exposed the darkness that had enveloped the world. Darkness is the absence of light. And when the light of life appeared, the pitch-blackness of man’s spiritual condition was dramatically exposed.

The prophet Isaiah had written about the day in which the darkness would be penetrated by a great light.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

It would be Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who, upon hearing of his wife’s pregnancy, would testify regarding his son’s ministry.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 ESV

Jesus brought the light of God’s glory to bear on the darkness of man’s condition. His sinless, fully obedient life stood in stark contrast to the sinful and disobedient character of fallen humanity. As a man, Jesus provided the perfect example of godliness lived out in daily life. He was the model man, accomplishing what no other man had ever been able to do: Live in sinless, perfect obedience to the will of God.

The apostle Paul provides a stark contrast between the life of Adam and Jesus.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 ESV

But the righteousness Jesus offered was going to require sinful men and women to place their hope and trust in Him, rather than relying on their own ability to live up to God’s holy standards. Jesus required complete dependence upon Him. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). Those who would reject Him as the light and the source of eternal life would condemn themselves to a life of eternal darkness, separated from God and doomed to suffer the consequences for their rebellions against Him.

But the Pharisees rejected Jesus’ words. As far as they were concerned, His testimony was worthless because it was based on His own opinion. They did not believe He had corroborating testimony to support His claims. In essence, they called Him a liar.

“You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” – John 8:13 ESV

But Jesus rejects their assessment, defending His claims as true because they are fully supported by His Father in heaven. This line of defense must have infuriated the Pharisees because it was further proof that Jesus was a heretic and a blasphemer. By declaring Himself to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming to be on equal standing with God. For them, this was proof of Jesus’ guilt. But for Jesus, it was evidence of His deity and divine calling.

Jesus accused them of judging according to the flesh. In other words, they were limited in their perspective. They couldn’t see the truth of who He was because their eyes were blinded by sin. When they looked at Jesus, all they could see was a man standing in front of them. But Jesus was declaring Himself to be the very light of God’s glory, shining in the darkness that permeated the nation of Israel and the lives of those who claimed to be children of God.

As far as Jesus was concerned, He knew His claims were true because He had the full support of His Heavenly Father. And, according to their own laws, two witnesses were all that was required to support the veracity of a claim.

“Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.” – John 8:17-18 NLT

But the Pharisees subtly reject His claim to be the Son of God by asking, “Where is your father?” (John 8:19 ESV). They may have intended this as a slap in the face to Jesus, raising the rumors concerning Jesus’ “illegitimate” birth. It had probably become known that Joseph had not been Jesus’ birth father, which had led to rampant speculation that His birth was the result of an adulterous affair. But this question further illustrates their ignorance of who Jesus really was. A fact that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” – John 8:18 ESV

These were strong words coming from the lips of Jesus. He accused these self-righteous religious leaders of having no knowledge of Yahweh. Because they were ignorant of God, they were clueless as to the identity of the Son of God. The light of God’s glory was standing right in front of them, but they remained blinded by sin and doomed to walk in darkness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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