John tells us his purpose in writing near the end of his Gospel:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31 ESV).
John writes all these things to show us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He writes so that we will believe in Christ. “Believe in Christ.” What does that mean? Believing in Christ means that Jesus Christ himself is the focus and the object of our faith and worship. It is through this faith in Christ, the Son of God, that we may have life in his name.
We come then to John 8:12 where Jesus makes a tremendous claim about himself. He makes one of his great “I AM” declarations: “I AM the light of the world.”
1. I Am the Light of the World (8:12-20)
John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
1.1. The Claims of Jesus
This is not the first claim that Jesus makes, nor will it be the last.
- John 6:35 “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
- John 10:11 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
- John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
- John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
- John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
- John 15: (1), 5 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.
Jesus is doing the one thing that you and I should not do: he is making astounding claims about himself. As we have mentioned before on this broadcast, Jesus does not simply say that he will show us the way; he says, “I AM the way” (John 14:6). He does not say, “I will show you the Father.” He says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9).
These are breathtaking claims. They knock us back. They push us against the wall. We cannot simply say that Jesus was a wonderful teacher. If I were to announce to you today, “I am the light of the world,” you would have every right to dismiss me as a lunatic. But Jesus is continually making statements like that, and he makes several such statements in this passage in John 8. He makes these statements in chapters 6, 7, and 8 which all go together. Is he a lunatic? Or is he who he claims to be?
1.2. The Feast of Tabernacles
Let us understand that chapter 8:12f. is a continuation of chapter 7, and that chapters 6, 7 and 8 give us pictures from Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. You will remember that God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God struck the land of Egypt with 10 plagues and Moses led the children of Israel out of Israel, across the Red Sea, and they were on their way to the Promised Land.
1.2.1. The Bread of Life
But the Israelites refused to believe that God would give them victory in the Promised Land, so they were left to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until a new generation arose and took their place. Yet God graciously provided for the Israelites in the wilderness. He gave them water and manna – bread from heaven – and even meat to eat for 40 years.
The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of that time of God’s provision in the wilderness. In chapter 6, Jesus has already given us one picture from the wilderness years. He multiplied the loaves and fed the multitude. Then Jesus told them that he was the true manna, the bread of life that had come down from heaven. He told them that he himself was the source of life.
1.2.2. The Living Water
Now Jesus is in Jerusalem at this Feast of Tabernacles in chapters 7 and 8. Here he gives us two more pictures from the wilderness period: one has to do with water, the other has to do with light. During the Feast of Tabernacles, it is the dry season in Israel: September or October. The hills are barren and parched.
Just like on some of our smaller islands, water can become a crucial issue, water was not taken for granted in Israel. The Israelites remembered during this Feast of Tabernacles their 40 years in the wilderness. They remembered having no water. They remembered Moses striking the rock and the water miraculously gushing from it. This is the second picture from the wilderness period: the water is gushing from the rock. Paul says that Christ was the spiritual Rock that followed them in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4).
During the Feast of Tabernacles, special sacrifices are being made each day of seven days of the feast. Special ceremonies are conducted: The priest draws water from the Pool of Siloam into a golden pitcher as a choir sings Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The priest leads a procession of people back to the temple where the priest climbs the altar steps and pours the water onto the altar as the crowd continues to sing. On the last day of the feast, the seventh day of the feast, this ceremony is conducted seven times.
It is on this last day that Jesus stands and calls out with a loud voice, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” John explains that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Come to me. I am the source of spiritual life.” These are amazing claims:
“I am the bread of life come down from heaven.”
“I am the source of living water.”
1.2.3. The Light of the World
And now in John 8:12, still at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus makes another startling statement: “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This brings us to the third picture from the wilderness period. The entire Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of God provision in the wilderness. In the wilderness, God had led the Israelites with a pillar of fire by night. We read in Exodus 13 that as the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt,
And 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. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people (Exodus 13:21-22 ESV).
God parted the waters of the Red Sea and led the Israelites to the other side, but…
The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:23-25 ESV).
This pillar of fire was commemorated during the Feast. Sixteen golden bowls were filled with oil and cloth wicks. The rabbis said that when the bowls were lit at night, all Jerusalem was lit up. There were no streetlights in Jerusalem. No electric lights. Like any of our villages far removed from power lines, it would be quite dark at night. But the light from these sixteen lamps reflecting on
“Jerusalem’s yellow limestone walls must have been spectacular. Choirs of Levites would sing during the lighting while “men of piety and good works” danced in the streets, carrying torches and singing hymns. On this final day of Tabernacles, Jesus is teaching in the treasury (8:20) located within the Court of the Women [where the sixteen bowls have been lit]… Imagine the scene! In the very court where the lighting ceremony takes place, Jesus stands beneath sixteen lit bowls of oil and says that he is not only the true light of Jerusalem, but of the whole world!
“I am the light of the world,” Jesus says. Jesus does not say, “I have had a vision. I have received a revelation. I have seen the light and I will share it with you.” Jesus says, “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).
Who is the light of the world? In Psalm 27, David says,
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? … (Psalm 27:1 ESV).
Jesus says in effect, “The light that the Israelites saw in the wilderness, that was me. I am the LORD who is your light and your salvation.”
Time and again, Jesus is showing that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. The whole Bible points to Him. He does not say, “I have found the light.” He says, “I am the light.” Not just the light of Jerusalem or even the light for the Jews. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
1.2.4. Rejecting His Claim
This is not a message that the world wants to hear today. Today we want to say that we have our own light. We want to say that there are many ways to God. We want to say that we all worship the same God in our own way. The world has become quite intolerant of anyone who claims to know the truth. But this is hardly surprising for the Pharisees reacted strongly to Jesus when he claimed to be the light of the world:
The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid” (John 8:13 NIVO).
This is exactly what John told us would happen in the opening verses of this Gospel:
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:4-11 ESV).
Some people reject the claims of Christ out of hand. They simply deny him without giving any due consideration to his birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for us, or his physical resurrection from the dead. They refuse to see the absolute uniqueness of Christ, that there has never been nor shall there ever be anyone like him to walk on this earth.
Others diminish his claims. They do not want to accept what the inspired writers of the New Testament have written about Christ. They do not want to accept, for example, the words of John in 1:18 that Jesus is “the only God, who is at the Father’s side…” They will make him smaller. “A mighty god,” but not God Almighty. John says in 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made,” but others will say that he too was made. There are many ways to deny Christ. Whether you reject Jesus Christ outright or simply see him as a great teacher or prophet or as some half-god, that is darkness.
Jesus declared that he was the Light of the World. The Pharisees challenged Jesus that in a court of law, the testimony of only one person would not be accepted. They had apparently forgotten what Jesus had said back in chapter 5. Jesus had claimed to be equal with God. John tells us that explicitly in 5:18: “by calling God his own Father,” John says, “he made himself equal with God.” In chapter 5, Jesus calls to the witness stand John the Baptist, his own works which the Father gave him to do, the Father who sent him, the Scriptures, and Moses, saying that they all bear witness to him.
Again the Pharisees are refuting his claim. But Jesus responds,
“Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going (John 8:14 NIVO).
Jesus here adds another dimension to the discussion. “His words are true, and his judgment is true” not simply because they are convincing, but because of his origin. The Jewish authorities are wrong about him. They do not know him. They do not know that he was born in Bethlehem as the prophet Micah had announced 700 years before. They fail to remember that Isaiah had prophesied that the people of Galilee would see a great light:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 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 9:1-2 ESV).
Jesus says, “My testimony about myself is true because I know things about myself that you do not know. I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or here I am going.”
They are judging Jesus but they know neither his origin nor his destiny. They are judging, Jesus says, according to the flesh. They are using human standards to judge him, but they have no spiritual insight. They have failed to perceive through the Scriptures, through the miraculous signs that Jesus performed, or through the testimony of John the Baptist to the light that Jesus is indeed the light of the world. They are walking in darkness. They have failed to see the light. They refused to consider his claims to be the bread of life, the source of spiritual life, and the light of the world.
Unlike the Pharisees who judge from a purely natural standpoint – a purely earthly perspective, Jesus judges no one from an earthly perspective:
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 (John 8:16 ESV).
His judgment is true. Though his Father has sent him, he is not alone. His Father is with him. His perspective is the Father’s perspective. His judgment is the Father’s judgment.
So while they have rejected his testimony out of hand, Jesus reminds them that the testimony of two people is true. Jesus counts as one; the Father counts as the second person:
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” (John 8:17-18 ESV).
Now this is a remarkable declaration. Though Jesus claims equality with God in John 5:18, he does not say that the Father is the Son or that the Son is the Father. “I am one who bears witness about myself, and the Father is another who bears witness about me.” He states here that the Father sent him: “the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”
“Where is your Father?” the Pharisees ask (John 8:19). They do not understand what Jesus is talking about. Jesus’ response is powerful:
“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19 ESV).
They don’t know. They don’t know Jesus. They don’t know where he came from. They don’t know where he is going. And they don’t know his Father.
“If you knew me,” Jesus says, “you would know my Father also.”
Who could make such a statement? Who is his Father? His father is God. “If you knew me, you would know God.” “To know me is to know God.” That’s what Jesus said. Those are powerful words. Spoken by anyone but God himself, those words would constitute blasphemy.
Once again, the Jewish authorities want to seize him, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”
2. I Am Going Away! (8:21-30)
Jesus has already told the Jewish authorities that he knows where he came from and where he is going; they know neither where he came from nor where he is going. Now he tells them, “I am going away.” He is going away, but he does not tell them where. He only tells them that where he is going, they cannot come, and that they will die in their sin (8:21).
Where is Jesus going that they cannot come? Where could Jesus possibly go that they could not go? What does he mean?
The people asked, “Is he planning to commit suicide? What does he mean, ‘You cannot come where I am going’?” (John 8:22 NLT).
As a matter of fact, Jesus is referring to his death. He will die, and it will be a voluntary death. But it will not be suicide.
No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18 NLT).
He will die and he will rise and he will return to his Father. They will continue to look for the Messiah, but because they have rejected him — Jesus Christ the Messiah — they will die in their sin. What sin is that? The great sin of refusing to believe.
Again he tells them,
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am…, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
“You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am.”
“Unless we believe that you are—what?”
The original language, the Greek, just leaves it hanging. Some translations add the word “he” (ESV) or “the one I claim to be” (NIVO), but Jesus is using the divine name that God used when he revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14.
But the crowd misses the point altogether. It is God’s divine name (“I am”) that they cannot understand since they are “from below,” since they judge “according to the flesh.” Jesus is not simply a prophet with divine things to communicate, but he bears divinity in himself. He is not a man with religious insight (from below, from the world), but God’s Son (from above, from heaven). This prompts his audience to ask its most important question. Not: “What do you mean?” But: “Who are you?” (8:25). It is Jesus’ divine identity, his mysterious divine incarnation that makes everything about him important.
“Who are you?” they ask. That is the whole point. Who is Jesus? Who is the Christ? Again, John is writing these things so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. — The Son of God. Like Father, like Son. The Son has the same nature as the Father. He is the “I AM.” He is the God who revealed himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM.”
“Who are you?” they ask. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.” What Jesus says here in chapter 8 is consistent with what he has said about himself from the beginning.
What we believe about Jesus Christ has eternal consequences. “Unless you believe that I AM,” Jesus says, “you will die in your sins.”
John writes this Gospel so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, we may life in his name (20:31). Through every page of the Gospel, John is showing us that Jesus is God in a human body. Jesus is God in the flesh. “If you knew me, you would know the Father,” Jesus said (8:19).
So what happens if we don’t believe? What happens if we do not believe what Jesus said about himself? We will find ourselves in the same position as the unbelieving Jewish authorities. “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” Why? Because of our sins. The wages of sin is death.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:17-18 ESV).
You see, we have all sinned, but Christ came to take away our sins. Jesus came that we might have life. If we refuse to come to him on his terms, we will die in our sins.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40 ESV).
Jesus is the Light of the World. The light shines in the darkness. The light reveals the dark places of our hearts. Do we come to the Light, or do we refuse to come that we may have life?
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. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 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 ESV).
In verse 28, Jesus said to them,
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…”
The Son of Man? Who is the Son of Man?
As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal– it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14 NLT).
The Son of Man would be lifted up on the cross. God himself would bear our sins on the cross.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him (John 8:30 ESV).
We read in Mark’s Gospel that a lame man was carried into Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Everyone gasped, “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” Then Jesus said, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins,” and he turned to the lame man and said, “Rise up and walk.” And the lame man was healed and walked.
If a friend of yours sinned against you, and I told your friend, “I forgive you,” you would ask me what right I had to forgive sins committed against you. And you would be right. Who can forgive sins against God but God alone? Jesus can forgive sins because he is God.
Jesus is the Light of the World. He bore your sin on the cross. Have you put your trust in Him?
Burge, Gary M. (2009-08-22). John (The NIV Application Commentary) (pp. 213-214). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Burge, Gary M. (2009-08-22). John (The NIV Application Commentary) (p. 216). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
p class=”p1″>See also “Gospel of John”:
- John 01:01-05, 14-18, “God in the Flesh”
- John 01:06-08, 19-34, “The Witness”
- John 01:35-51, “Finding the Messiah”
- John 02:01-11, “Believing”
- John 02:13-25, “Christ Cleanses the Temple”
- John 02:23-03:15, “You Must Be Born Again”
- John 03:01-15 “The Purpose of the New Birth”
- John 04:19-24, “The Seeking God”
- John 05:01-18, “Jesus: Who Does He Think He Is?”
- John 05:19-29, “Jesus, What right do you have?”
- John 05:30-46, “Jesus’ Witnesses”
- John 06:01-71, “No Appetite for the Bread of Life”
- John 07:01-39, “History’s Most Controversial Person”
- John 08:02-11, “Guilt – What to Do with It”
- John 08:12-30, “Jesus, the Light of the World”
- John 08:31-36, “Life’s Greatest Freedom!”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”