When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)
In John’s composition, Jesus said this to the crowd who had just watched him shame the judgmental Scribes and Pharisees who brought him the woman caught in adultery… The event happened in the temple during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles, so there was a large group of religious folks looking on, both rabbis and students alike. Since the Pharisees immediately challenged him on this statement, apparently not all of them had left with the shamed rock throwers.
A Startling Announcement
Why did Jesus make this announcement right here? This “I am” statement might seem unrelated to this event, like John inserted it for emphasis, but it really makes sense if you think about it. The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration to remember God’s provision in the desert during the Exodus. It began on the first night with a festival of lights, in which pilgrims all lit lamps in their tabernacles. That mean hundreds of small tents or booths were illuminated all around the city. (It had to be a beautiful and moving sight.) If that wasn’t enough, there were also four very large candles were placed on the corners of the walls around Jerusalem for all to see.
There was probably one within sight of him as he taught. (You might think, how would people see a candle? But these were HUGE candles, and there weren’t any other large sources of light like we have in today’s cities. Any resident of or visitor of Jerusalem would have made an instant connection with his reference. Light versus darkness is one of the oldest archetypes for mankind. Here, Jesus calls it dramatically to everyone’s attention.
I’m sure the average Festival attendee didn’t connect ALL the dots, but surely it was a seminal statement that drew their attention to the polarity that existed in their culture. Jesus was contrasting his Father and himself with the legalistic system of the Pharisees. He offered light; they walked in darkness. They emphasized law and punishment; he was pointing to celebration and life.
Characteristics of Light
Let’s make a couple of quick observations: First, Light dispels darkness. It helps us to see clearly and to act accordingly, in both a physical and a spiritual context. If there is something clouding your outlook, or darkening your attitude, light can brighten things up. This statement about light could have pointed Hebrew teachers back to the Shekinah Glory You remember that, right? It was God’s presence which led the children of Israel through the wilderness. Was Jesus identifying himself with God? Jesus correctly points out that light provides life. Enlightenment saved the life of the woman caught in sin, and it does the same thing for us.
Shining a Spotlight on God
The Psalms says that God’s word is a lamp that lights our path (119:9). Here among the teachers at the temple, Jesus was equating himself alone to the Word of God, which John later expressed so well in the introduction to his gospel. John said of the Word, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Getting to know the Word better is absolutely the same thing as getting to know Jesus better.
Finally, Isaiah 9:2 is talking about the coming Messiah when he says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” When he proclaims himself to be the light of the world, Jesus is connecting the dots. Are they connected for you? Today, may light warm you, illuminate you, brighten your world, and help you see!
A Festival of Lights
Picture this: a thousand camps, the glow of candlelight, and lamps,
Without the glare of electric lights to minimize the darkest nights.
Within this glow, a statement’s hurled:
“Listen! I am the Light of the world!
Follow me, and leave your fright
of the darkest world on the darkest night…”
Men can follow, if they will, but many walk in darkness still,
Where evils in the shadows hide, with sin and ego full of pride:
Perhaps it’s time to just abide, to stop and listen to this guide,
Who said, when it was hard for us to see:
“I am the Light of the World; come, follow me!”
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