I AM the Light of the World
Please read John 8:12-20 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
SERIES INTRO - “I AM” is the name God gave to Himself. Jesus used the expression to show He was God and to teach us truths about God. During Lent we are looking at the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus in John.
CONTEXT - Let’s take a moment to visualize the place in which Jesus gave this teaching as it figures prominently in our understanding the passage. V. 20 tells us the location of this incident: JESUS WAS TEACHING IN THE SECTION OF THE TEMPLE KNOWN AS THE TREASURY. In this area there were twelve offering boxes with trumpet-shaped boxes into which people could deposit their offerings (think gramophone). Of course, the coins made a lot of noise when they went down the metal chute into the box. This drew attention to the giver, giving a poor motive for generosity. Jesus’ teaching on the “Widow’s Mite” took place in this area.
This was also the Court of the Women who were otherwise not allowed to enter the temple. This was the evening event for the Festival of Shelters. In this court there were four huge lamps that priests had to climb ladder to light. These flames could be seen all over the city. It is likely that Jesus was standing under these lamps when He gave this teaching. So, Jesus’ reference to the LIGHT was appropriate to what was going on right in front of them.
Jesus is the LIGHT. He is the source of truth and life.
1. Jesus claimed to be the LIGHT the leads to LIFE.
He is the LIGHT that leads us out of DARKNESS to LIFE. (12) What is involved in being the LIGHT OF THE WORLD? In part, LIGHT is defined by means of the contrast with the DARKNESS, the symbol of everything that is the opposite of the LIGHT. To further answer that question, let’s take a look at the biblical symbolism of LIGHT:
- Knowledge of the truth.
- LIFE, which Jesus identified here as the result of following His LIGHT. (Note the condition that makes LIFE possible: “IF YOU WILL FOLLOW ME.”)
- God’s presence (Genesis 15:17).
- God’s salvation (Psalm 27:1).
- God’s word (Psalm 119:105).
- Israel, a “light” to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).
Put it all together and we see that in this claim Jesus promised that He was bringing about a new situation in which salvation was coming to the Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus answered the Pharisees’ objection to the validity of His claims in verses 14-17. First, He rejected their objection on the grounds of their ignorance about Him. Jesus knew where He came from and where He was going, but they didn’t. (14) To paraphrase; “I don’t need two witnesses; my CLAIMS are VALID even though I’m the only one to say so.” Then to justify that response, He pointed out their ignorance of Him. They didn’t have a clue about where He came from or where He’s headed.
Legally, the Pharisees had a point. However, spiritually, they didn’t have a leg to stand on. Jesus’ authority as God was all the evidence needed to substantiate His claim of divinity as valid.
Second, they were judgmental, relying on HUMAN STANDARDS, but He did not. (15) The “two witnesses rule” did not apply to Him as that was a standard God set up for human beings. As humans are corruptible, even prone to sin (including lying), human justice needed a standard, a way to verify one person’s claims. The “two witnesses rule” supplied that standard.
As God, Jesus was the embodiment of truth. He could be counted on to be completely truthful and therefore needed no verification of the truthfulness of His claims. This echoes John 3:17 = “GOD SENT HIS SON INTO THE WORLD, NOT TO JUDGE THE WORLD, BUT TO SAVE THE WORLD THROUGH HIM.” Jesus’ first coming into the world was not for judgment; that will happen at His Second Coming.
Though His purpose was not judgment, Jesus is the dividing line on which the essential judgment is made. If we receive Him by faith, God judges us worthy of eternal life. If we reject Him, we are judged unworthy and face eternal death instead.
Jesus’ third reply was to assert that His judgment was CORRECT because the Father is with Him. (16) “Actually,” to paraphrase what Jesus said, “I do have another witness because God the Father is always with me.” His spiritual discernment was perfect because the Father was with Him. This meant that His claims were founded on absolute truth verified by the one Source even the Pharisees had to respect: their Heavenly Father. Jesus was not judging them but if He had been, His judgments would have been perfectly fair.
Jesus’ fourth rebuttal was to play by their own rules, requiring two witnesses in agreement to establish His claims as factual. (17-18) I think these verses reflect on the Pharisees’ objection in v. 13. When Jesus said, “YOUR OWN LAW,” it was to use their legalism against them, not that He considered Himself exempt from the Law of Moses. However, He knew part of His purpose in coming to earth was to establish a New Covenant between God and man. He referred here to Deuteronomy 19:15 which required two or three witnesses to convict a person charged with a crime.
While it sounds a bit like He’s name dropping here, Jesus is effectively saying, “OK, let’s play by your rules. You require at least two witnesses. I am one witness and My Father is the other.” “WHO SENT ME” is a phrase repeated in verses 16 and 18. This assertion is repeated so Jesus’ listeners would not miss the fact that Jesus was ministering among them because the Father had SENT Him to do so.
Upon hearing there was another witness, the Pharisees demanded Jesus produce His Father to give witness to His claim. (19) “Where is this father of yours?” they asked. The fact that they asked this question reveals how earthbound their thinking remained.
Jesus’ disciple Philip made a similar question in John 14:8 when he said, “LORD, SHOW US THE FATHER, AND WE WILL BE SATISFIED.” Part of Jesus’ reply to Philip was, “ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER!” Jesus utilized the same truth in chapters 8 and 14 = He and the Father are one.
The Pharisees did not know either the Father or the Son. This was a source of their error. This was why their rejection of Jesus’ claim to divinity as “invalid” was so mistaken.
2. The Pharisees rejected Jesus and His claims. (13)
As we have seen, they rejected His CLAIMS as invalid. (13) They may’ve said Jesus’ TESTIMONY was invalid because He lacked two witnesses. That would have prompted Jesus’ response in verses 17+18 where He supplied God the Father as the other witness.
The Pharisees invoked a technicality here, but later they would not allow any amount of technicalities to keep them from having Jesus condemned to the cross. This is often the way legalists operate. They are handy to cite the fine print when it benefits them but ignore whole sections of law that aren’t to their benefit.
Verse 20 implies they considered arresting Jesus: BUT HE WAS NOT ARRESTED. In other passages, the reasons given for their failure to arrest Him is fear or the crowds, or He simply slipped away from them. In this case, the timing was bad: Jesus’ TIME HAD NOT YET COME. The Father about whom we’ve heard so much did not allow Jesus to come to any harm because His plan was for that to happen later.
Jesus is the LIGHT. He is the source of truth and life.
Here’s a startling truth: Jesus is not the ONLY LIGHT OF THE WORLD - you are too! If you are in Jesus, His LIGHT shines through you. How do I know? This is what He said in Matthew 5:14-16:
“YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD - LIKE A CITY ON A HILLTOP THAT CANNOT BE HIDDEN. NO ONE LIGHTS A LAMP AND THEN PUTS IT UNDER A BASKET. INSTEAD, A LAMP IS PLACED ON A STAND, WHERE IT GIVES LIGHT TO EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE. IN THE SAME WAY, LET YOUR GOOD DEEDS SHINE OUT FOR ALL TO SEE, SO THAT EVERYONE WILL PRAISE YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER.”
Here Jesus tells us two things: that we are, like Him, the LIGHT OF THE WORLD and how we are to shine His LIGHT into a sin-darkened WORLD. While we are the LIGHT, we do not generate the LIGHT; it does not originate in us. We are mirrors, reflecting the light of Jesus into ourselves, our homes, our church; everywhere.
The method for doing that is plainly spelled out as GOOD DEEDS. Words have value and good words must also be spoken, but the light that shines most brightly is the light displayed in GOOD DEEDS. Jesus explained why this is the case: GOOD DEEDS will give EVERYONE reason to PRAISE our HEAVENLY FATHER. The true LIGHT of Jesus points people to the light source, our Father in Heaven. It is this kind of witness that most effectively results in changed lives. GOOD DEEDS don’t happen accidentally, and they don’t have to happen spontaneously. We must also plan, prepare for, and carry out good deeds by intention.
For example, all of us are concerned about the Ukrainian people. We talk about the war, pray for the Ukrainians, give to support the needs of the refugees and those who stayed behind. All good deeds. I know a man who’s signed up with Samaritan’s Purse to be part of a team that will deliver medical supplies and care to Ukrainians in Ukraine. He has volunteered to put his own boots on the ground in a humanitarian effort. All good deeds done in Jesus’ name shine. Some of them shine a little more brightly because of the greater sacrifice that goes with them. Jesus gave His life for us and therefore His light shines brightest of all.
Cornerstone Bible Commentary, Vol. 13, The Gospel of John, Grant R. Osborne.