I Am the Light of the World
In this passage, Jesus continued to speak to the crowds at the feast. The previous passage contained his saying the he is the source of living water. Here he said he is the light of the world.
The background to the previous passage was the ceremony during the Feast of Booths of pouring water from the pool of Siloam onto the altar in memory of God providing water to the Israelites in the desert.
The background to this teaching of Jesus is another ceremony at the feast. This ceremony was called the Illumination of the Temple, and it occurred on the first night of the festival and, possibly, every night.
Jesus was teaching in the Treasury, which was in the Court of the Women. Also in the court were four large candelabras which were lit on the first night and kept burning all night long. Men danced and sang to the Lord in the light of the lamps.
So, at this place, Jesus declared that he is the light of the world. This is the second “I Am” saying. (12) The first was Jesus’ declaration that he is the Bread of Life.
Although this is the first time the crowd heard this message of Jesus being the light of the world, John has already told his readers this in the prologue. There he said that in Jesus was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (1:4-7) He also wrote that Jesus was the true light, which enlightens everyone. (1:9)
In this passage, Jesus said he is the light of the world and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (12) There are many Old Testament passages about God as light that are possibly alluded to here.
Psalm 27:1 says “The LORD is my light and my salvation…”.
Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.
Isaiah 49:6 cites God saying of his Servant, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”.
Maybe most telling comes from God leading the Israelites through the wilderness. At night, in the dark, the Lord went before them in a pillar of fire. (Exodus 13:21) They followed the Lord by following his light, which penetrated the darkness of night in the wilderness.
Light in John’s gospel means the knowledge and understanding of God and of spiritual things. It, is revelation. Remember John 1:18 saying no one has seen God, but Jesus has made him known, or revealed him.
Darkness is ignorance or rejection of God. Paul wrote in this same way, when he said that those who did not honor God became futile in their thinking and their hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul wrote that the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to them, and thy are not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. In other words, they are in darkness and do not have the light that Jesus brings.
So, Jesus says he is the light and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. (12) It is a metaphorical statement meaning that Jesus is the way to know the Father and have eternal life.
This statement must have stunned his audience. Here in the place where the celebration of God’s light in the darkness took place, Jesus claimed to be the light and that he was the light who gave life, meaning eternal of life.
There is a claim to deity here and a claim to give eternal life to his followers. So, the Jews are again are put to the point of decision: they must believe or deny. The first group denies: they claim Jesus’ testimony cannot be true because he bears witness to himself. They do not acknowledge Jesus’ authority as God to speak about himself. They are also going beyond the requirements of the Law, which only applied this standard in criminal matters.
Jesus’ response is that, even if he did bear witness about himself, his testimony is true because he knows where he came from (heaven) and where he is going (heaven). In other words, he has first hand knowledge they do not have. (14)
Additionally, Jesus said they judged according to the flesh. (15) He means by human standards, by those of fallen mankind without the Spirit of God. (If you want to experience this kind of judging yourself, try talking to an unbeliever about God being just and having the right to punish or judge nations for their sins as he did in the Old Testament.)
In contrast, Jesus said he judged no one. A better translation of the Greek word might be to “assess”. So, Jesus is not saying he did not come to condemn as he will at the second coming. That is true, but here he is saying he does not judge as the Jews do, in a world fashion or superficial way.
But, Jesus said, if he did judge, his judgment would be true, and not worldly, because he and his Father both judge. (16) The Jews would not argue with the Father’s right to judge, though they do not seem to understand that Jesus is referring to God as his Father .
We again see the complete agreement of Father and Son and the Son’s complete obedience to the Father in his earthly mission.
This also means that Jesus does indeed have the two witnesses the Jews want to require: himself as one with first hand knowledge and the Father in heaven.
So, of course, they asked where his father was. They are still thinking on a human, or fleshly, level. Even though it seems clear that Jesus is speaking of God the Father, they try to ascertain his earthly father to contest his claims. (19)
Jesus explained again that they do not know his Father because they do not know him. (19) It is Jesus, the Son, who reveals the Father. If they know the Father, they will know the Son, and vice versa. As John said in the prologue, “No one has ever seen God (the Father); the only God (the Son) who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. These Jews do not know the Son who reveals the Father, so they do not know the Father.
Jesus will later teach this truth to his disciples plainly. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. no one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
In verse 20, John closes the discussion by telling us Jesus said these things in the Treasury of the Temple, which is in the Court of the Women, but was not arrested because his hour had not come. The word for “hour” there is “hora”, meaning the time designated by God.
The Authority of Jesus
In this section, Jesus reiterates themes he has already stated, but with the addition of judgment. He lets them know that he will not be with them long and they will suffer consequences for not believing.
When Jesus said he was going away, he meant his death and resurrection, when he would return to the Father. (21) They cannot come to heaven, where he will be, because they do not believe in him. (22)
Jesus also said they will seek him after he is gone, but they will die in their sins. (21) He may not have meant they would seek him personally, but that they would seek a Messiah. But that seeking would be in vain, for they would have already rejected the only Messiah God sent them.
The Jews then speculated about where Jesus could go that they could not. They did seem to think it might involve death, but they wondered if he would kill himself (22)
Jesus explained what he meant, but he did so by making contrasts between himself and them. First, they are from below (the world), but he is from above (heaven). They are of this world and he is not. (23) And I do not think he means just the material world in contrast to heaven, but the world as in the fallen moral order that is in rebellion against its creator.
The implication is that he will return to where he is from, which is heaven, but since they are not from or of heaven, they cannot follow him there. That is because they do not believe in him (“that I am he”) and will die in their sins. (24) Those who die in their sins do not go to heaven. They are morally culpable, responsible, for their rebellion against God. As Paul wrote, the wages of sin is death, meaning a permanent separation for God. (Romans 6:23) The only way out is to believe in Jesus.
By saying “I am he”, Jesus is making a claim to deity. He is using the words of Isaiah 43:10, where God declared that the Jews were his witnesses and his servant that they may know and believe that I am he”. At the end of this chapter, we will see that they finally understand is claim and are outraged by it, seeking to stone him for it.
But here, in response to Jesus’ requiring belief that “I am he”, the Jews asked “who are you?”. Jesus meant that he was the light of the world, the one sent from heaven by God the Father to reveal the Father to mankind and give eternal life to those who believe, and that he is God.
But the Jews asked who are you, giving no thought that he was the one sent from the Father, that he was one with the Father. So, Jesus just says he is what he has been telling them he is. (27) I am the one sent by the Father, who is true, and I have been telling you what I heard from the Father. (26) They still did not understand. (27)
So, Jesus told them when they had lifted him up, meaning crucified him, they would know that he was the Son of Man, referring to the figure in Daniel who is brought to the presence of God and given a kingdom. (28)
They would also know that he did not speak or act on his own authority, but on the Father’s, and that they Father was with him as he did what was pleasing to the Father.
Verse 30 again shows us the division caused by Jesus and his teaching. The first group rejected him and questioned everything about him. But, the second group were the many who believed in him.
We must also believe to be saved from our sins and their consequences. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sins and you will be saved.