The Point: Jesus is the Light who reveals the way we should go.
The Light of the World: John 8:12-19.
 Again 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."  So the Pharisees said to him, "You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true."  Jesus answered, "Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  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.  In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.  I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me."  They said to him therefore, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." [ESV]
“If we want to understand the nature of the light and salvation that Jesus brings, we need first to understand the character of the darkness. What was the darkness in which Jesus found the world? According to the Bible, darkness is the realm of ignorance and folly [Ps. 82:5; Micah 3:6]. To say that the world is dark is therefore to say that it is lost in ignorance, superstition, and folly. Is this not the constant state of the world wherever Christ is unknown or the gospel is lost? Is this not the way it is now in the once-enlightened West: people made by God with high intellects and blessed with choice educations grope about in a darkness of the greatest ignorance and folly, making decisions and enacting policies contrary to wisdom or even common sense. Darkness is also the realm of evil and fear [Prov. 2:13; 4:18; John 3:19]. The worlds into which Jesus came was and is darkened by evil. This being the case, darkness also speaks to bondage, misery, and death [Is. 8:22;59:9]. Paul said that mankind suffers presently in the slave-chains of Satan. He speaks of the cosmic powers over this present darkness [Eph. 6:12]. The darkness of the world involves a bondage in sin and misery that culminates in death [Ps. 143:3]. Finally, the world in darkness sits under God’s judgment and is consigned to God’s wrath [Zeph. 1:15; Matt. 22:13]. This is the darkness into which Jesus came as a light. Darkness consists of a lack of knowledge: ignorance, folly, and superstition; it has a moral dimension: evil and fear; it is experiential: bondage, misery and death, and it is judicial: judgment and wrath. What is true of the dark world is also true of every life apart from the shining of the light of Jesus’ gospel. The world was not created dark; it was made dark by sin. Because of sin, mankind came under the judgment of God; since God is holy, sinful man was cast out from the light of His presence. The world that God made good, and the human race created in glory as His image-bearer, fell into darkness by sin. The world cannot escape the chains of this dark bondage, so in His great mercy God promised to send a Savior to free us from ignorance, evil, death, and judgment. To a world that is ignorant of God Jesus reveals the truth of heaven. To a world suffering the misery of evil Jesus offers a cleansing renewal and peace. To those condemned in judgment for their sins Jesus shed His own blood for forgiveness. Into a spiritually dark and dying world He shines the light of eternal life. John 8:12 presents the second of this Gospel’s famous I am sayings. We need to remember that His expression I am is an implicit claim to deity. Jesus’ emphatic way of saying I am recalls the reader to the great scene at the burning bush, when God revealed His name to Moses [Ex. 3:14]. Jesus now declares Himself as the great I am, the divine light that shines into our darkness for salvation. Jesus did not identify Himself merely as a light, but as the light. This means that He alone is the true light shining in the world. This reality is illustrated by the scene in which Jesus made this claim. The Jews had just wrapped up their religious festival, the Feast of Tabernacles, in which they had exulted in their religious traditions. One of the great events was the festival of lights that took place on the first night of the feast. Four great candelabras, each with four golden bowls filled with oil, were lit in the temple court. The bright light from these sixteen bowls illuminated the whole temple. After the feast, those lights had gone out. Where the lamps had hung, Jesus now presented Himself as the light of the world. He fulfilled what the ritual had symbolized: Jesus is the light: He alone provided the reality for which the people rejoiced in the feast. Yet even on such an occasion, the people had rejected Him and their leaders sought His life. This makes the point that religious traditions and practices contain saving truth only as they point to Jesus Christ. Without His true light, the lights of their feast were false lights and would soon go out. This is not merely true for Judaism. We will light our candles in vain unless we stay true to Jesus Himself and the salvation He offers by His death on the cross. The only true light that this world has ever seen is the light of Jesus. The only true path of peace is the one shadowed by His cross. The only true way for God’s blessing is His way of discipleship. This festival of lights in the Feast of Tabernacles recalled the pillar of fire that had guided and protected Israel during the people’s passage through the desert [Ex. 13:21]. We see, then, why Jesus continued by saying, Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life [8:12]. This shows that while Jesus is the one true Light of the World, we benefit from His coming only if we believe on and follow Him. We follow Jesus as the Israelites followed the cloud of fire. They trusted it to lead them and found protection under its shadow. As we follow Jesus, He relieves us of ignorance and folly by teaching us His Word. He protects us from the searing rays of God’s wrath, having paid the penalty of our sins on the cross. As He leads, we follow out from misery and fear and even from the curse of death. As the cloud of fire led the tribes of Israel through the barren, scorched desert and into the Promised Land, Jesus leads us in our passage through this wicked world and into the glories of heaven. What, then, does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to trust in Him and live as His disciple. When the cloud moved, the Israelites moved; when the cloud settled, they made camp. Likewise, we follow Jesus to His cross, dying there to our sin. If we consider the uses of the Greek word for follow, we can better understand what Jesus means. It is used of a soldier following his commander into battle; the Christian thus fights against evil in the armor of God and with the sword of God’s Word. It is used of a servant or slave who attends upon his master. It is used of one who accepts a wise counselor’s judgment. It is used of rendering obedience to the laws of the state; the Christian follows Christ by keeping His commands. And it is used of one who follows the line of his teacher’s reasoning. The follower of Christ is one who has gained understanding of His teaching and takes it into His heart. So why take up such costly discipleship? To escape the darkness! This is the great promise that Jesus attaches to His call: Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. This is what Jesus offers us: an escape from the guilt of our sin, from the corruption of our evil natures, and from darkness of the lives we have led.
A Challenge to Hardened Hearts [13-19]. The Gospel of John is well known for its emphasis on the witness of the gospel; nowhere else do we find so many evangelistic appeals from the lips of Jesus. Because of this, no other book in the Bible provides so penetrating a study of unbelief. And it is with hardened unbelief that Jesus is faced after His great gospel appeal that began, I am the light of the world. As usual, Jesus’ opponents were Pharisees. These were the religious leaders most devoted to fulfilling the letter of the law, at least as understood through their own tradition. The Pharisees were sure that a true Messiah would be one who agreed with their point of view and fulfilled their own particular idea of salvation. From that perspective they stood in judgment on the Son of God so as to reject Him. This passage provides a choice display of the stubborn unbelief in our world. In 8:13 the Pharisees argued that since Jesus was not following established legal procedures, His testimony could not be valid. They referred to the Old Testament law that demanded two or three witnesses before evidence could be considered valid. This was disingenuous for two reasons. First, the requirement for two witnesses pertained to criminal cases in which capital punishment would result. But this was not a criminal case; it was not even a formal hearing such as Jesus endured in John 5. Had the Pharisees really wanted to follow the law, they would have consulted the Old Testament requirements for testing a prophet, which followed a different procedure that Jesus fully met [see Deut. 13:1-5; 18:21-22]. Second, the Pharisees had already received multiple witnesses (John the Baptist [1:19-36], Nicodemus [3:2], the lame man in John 5). So the Pharisees had ample proof. This is why their complaint against Jesus displayed stubborn unbelief. Jesus explained their attitude: You judge according to the flesh . Ultimately, the Pharisees rejected Jesus because of their worldly agenda. This same mistake has been repeated by countless Christian churches, and we face the same dire risk today, especially if we become devoted to political, social, or personal agendas that reflect our own priorities rather than the Bible’s. These Pharisees remind us that at its heart, unbelief is not an intellectual matter. It is always a matter of the heart. As Jesus went on to point out, the question is not how Jesus conforms to our preferences and expectations. The question concerns the truth of His claims. He said, Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true . Being the Son of God, Jesus and His claims are self-validating. He is the light of the world, and it is the property of light to be self-evidencing. Jesus therefore did not then, and does not now, subject Himself to worldly standards of judgment. After all, when Moses came to the burning bush, God did not present arguments but burned with divine light. So it is for Jesus, He simply presents and declares Himself: I am the light of the world. What is true of Jesus is also true of the Bible. Just as Jesus validated Himself as God’s Son, the Bible validates itself as God’s Word. We are to believe it because it manifests the majesty and power of God. This is why those earnestly seeking truth should always be directed to the Word of God itself, for it is by the voice of God speaking in Scripture that we are born again to saving faith. To this Jesus adds a second reason why His testimony is true: 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 . To insist that Jesus stand trial before our reason and sensibilities is to ensure that the only Jesus we will accept – if any – is not the true Jesus who alone can save. He comes as Lord, right from the start. Finally, Jesus turns the situation on His hearers’ heads. They had demanded at least two witnesses before they would entertain Jesus’ claims. Jesus replies to their demand in 8:17-18. Two words stands out in His reply. The first is your – your Law. These were men who spoke constantly about the Old Testament law, though they had largely corrupted it with their own traditions. Fine, Jesus said; I will take you on your own terms. And when I show that even by your own standards my testimony is true, you must accept me or stand exposed as hypocrites. The second word is men. Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater. The law required that in capital cases, two men’s testimony must be accepted as valid. But here is the testimony of two divine persons! Jesus stands forth as the Son of God, and God the Father stands beside Him. If the Jewish leaders accept the joint testimony of mere men, they must surely accept this combined divine testimony. What was Jesus’ testimony to Himself? Surely He refers to the claims that He has been making. I am the bread of life, He said [6:35]. If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, He cried [7:37]. I am the light of the world [8:12]. These were plain declarations that Jesus is the divine Messiah. What was the Father’s testimony? There were Jesus’ miraculous works, which were the mighty deeds of God done by and through Jesus. There was the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures. The point is that the Pharisees were morally and spiritually obliged to believe on Jesus. Their unbelief was culpable, and it would be judged as such before the throne of God. Faced with the same claims of Jesus, we have the same obligation today. Any reverent, serious, and open consideration of the evidence for Jesus Christ will lead to His acceptance as Savior and Lord. God has given you the testimony of His Holy Scriptures, which point conclusively to Jesus Christ as Savior. They include scores of prophecies that could be fulfilled only in His life, death, and resurrection. The resurrection itself offers public proof that Jesus is God’s Son. The Pharisee’s response reveals the hardness of their hearts. They stood in the presence of the divine Son, with the mighty testimony of heaven beside Him. He offered the witness of God the Father, but they scoffed: Where is your Father? . If Jesus has a father to testify, He should produce Him, they argued. This demonstrates that their rejection of Jesus stemmed from their attitude to God Himself. Jesus responded by condemning their fitness to judge: You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also . The problem, as is always the case with hardened unbelief, was not the quality of the evidence for Jesus, but the hearts of proud unbelief that scorned both His truth and the truth of God the Father.” [Phillips, pp. 509-527].
Questions for Discussion:
1. In 8:12, Jesus makes a definitive contrast between light and darkness. What was the darkness in which Jesus found the world? What realms of darkness does Phillips discuss?
2. What does Jesus mean when He declares: I am the light of the world? In what sense is Jesus the light? What must we do in order to experience this light? What does it mean to follow Jesus?
3. Describe the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees in 8:13-19. What was the argument of the Pharisees against Jesus? How did Jesus respond to their argument? Why does Phillips write that “unbelief is not an intellectual matter. It is always a matter of the heart.” Do you agree with Phillips? If you agree, how does this change the way you witness to an unbeliever?
John, vol. 2, James Boice, Baker.
John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.
The Gospel according to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.
John, vol. 1, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.