The Light of the World
By Peter Amsterdam
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In John chapter 8, we find one of Jesus’ “I Am” sayings: “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” (John 8:12).
Understanding the context of when and where Jesus made this statement adds extra insight to its meaning. The eighth chapter of John begins with the story of the woman who was caught committing adultery, and then moves on to Jesus’ statement about being the light of the world. Most commentators consider the story of the woman to be out of context within the story line of the Gospel. If one skips over the first eleven verses (the story of the woman), then the second part of chapter eight seems to flow from chapter seven. Let’s take a closer look:
Chapter seven begins by stating that Jesus was in Galilee and that the Feast of Booths was at hand. (This feast is also sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles, and is still practiced today in the Jewish faith.) The Feast of Booths is a seven-day festival celebrated in September or early October, and at the end of the festival, there is an eighth day of rest as per God’s command (Leviticus 23:39, 42–43).
Jesus delayed going to Jerusalem for the feast, and when He did go, He did so privately (John 7:10). We are then told that, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching” (John 7:14).
His teaching stirred controversy, as some who heard Him thought He was the Messiah while others wanted Him arrested. It’s at this point in the story where the woman caught committing adultery enters the picture, but once that story ends, the account returns to Jesus speaking at the festival. While it doesn’t specifically state that He was still at the festival, what He said suggests that He was.
There were two ceremonies associated with the Feast of Tabernacles in Jesus’ time—the “pouring out of water” and the “temple illumination.” On each day of the festival, the priests drew water from the Pool of Siloam and brought it in a procession to the temple with the joyful sounding of the trumpet, which celebrated God’s supply of water from a rock during the desert wandering of Israel.1
In chapter seven, we read that “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39). Jesus speaking about living water during this festival would have been understood within the context of the water procession.
Another part of the festival was the temple illumination. During the festival, in a part of the temple complex called the court of women, four huge golden lamp stands, each with four large lamps, were lit in an evening ceremony. This ceremony commemorated the pillar of fire which led the Israelites in the wilderness: “The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21).
When Jesus made the statement “I am the light of the world” in John chapter eight, it was probably in this setting. Within this chapter, this is a stand-alone statement, as once He said it, the Pharisees began disputing with Him. However, John includes several references to Jesus being light, especially in the first chapter of 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”; “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4–5, 9).
Later in this Gospel—when the crowd asked Jesus, “How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34)—Jesus responded in a manner that once again pointed to Himself as light:
“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (John 12:35–36).
The call to believe in the light is the same as Jesus saying, “Believe in Me.” Becoming sons of light means becoming people who belong to God. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In John chapter three, right after saying that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus referred to Himself as the Light:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19–21).
Those who do not believe in the Light are condemned, while those who believe aren’t; just as Jesus had said earlier that whoever believes in God’s Son “should not perish but have eternal life,” “but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16, 18). Believing in the Light is required for salvation, and that Light is Jesus. In the book of Isaiah, when speaking of the coming age of the kingdom, reference is made to the “Servant of the Lord” who would be “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” and “the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Isaiah 49:6; 60:19).
God, who is Light and the giver of light, sent His Son Jesus, the Light which has come into the world, to bring life. Those who follow this Light “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).
Jesus likens those who believe in Him to stationary light sources: a city on a hill, a lamp on a lamp stand. Our light, as believers, reflects the light of Christ, the Light of the world, the Light which has come into the world. As we walk in His light, we reflect Him and are a witness to others. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Originally published February 2018. Adapted and republished February 2023. Read by Jerry Paladino.
1 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 372, 388.
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