Scripture: 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.” These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
John 8:12-30 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, John tells us that Jesus entered the temple early the day after the feast, where a crowd gathered to receive his teaching. Setting a trap to incriminate Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees usher a woman caught in adultery before Jesus and tell him of the woman’s sin. In the hope of accusing Jesus, they question him about what should be the woman’s punishment. Jesus ignores their question, bends down, and writes on the earthen floor with his finger. The religious leaders persist in interrogating until Jesus responds, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7). He then continues to write, ignoring them as each walks away. Once all have left, Jesus asks the woman where her accusers are and if any have condemned her. Relieved, she addresses Jesus as her Lord and confirms that no one has. So Jesus affirms that neither does he and commands her to go and sin no more.
Today’s devotion continues Jesus’ teaching in the temple. Again, crowds gather around him as he announces his second “I am” statement: “I am the light of the world.” Using the sun’s light as a metaphor, Jesus speaks of spiritual matters as he declares that all who follow him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life (v.12). The Pharisees take umbrage of such a lofty claim and argue that Jesus bears witness about himself (invalid according to Levitical law, see Deuteronomy 17:6) and contend he speaks falsely. So Jesus rebuttals that the Father who sent him bears witness about him, providing the second witness. Taking a new tack, the Pharisees question, “Where is your Father” (v.19). But Jesus sidesteps their question and accuses them of neither knowing him nor his Father. (As a side note, John then tells his readers that, again, no one arrested Jesus because his time had not yet come.)
As the dialogue continues, Jesus tells them that he is going away, and even though they may seek him, it will be too late (i.e., to repent), and, thus, they will die in their sin and fail to obtain eternal life in his kingdom. Jesus then exposes their polar opposite orientations: they are of the world, and he is from the heavenly realm. And to further clarify why they will die in their sins, Jesus tells the Pharisees it is because of their lack of faith in him. So they ask Jesus to reveal who he thinks he is, but Jesus avoids fully disclosing his identity and instead refers to “he who sent him” as the ultimate truth, and, thus, Jesus only speaks what his sender tells him (v.26).
As expected, the Pharisees fail to understand who is “he,” so Jesus transitions to cryptic references regarding his soon crucifixion and resurrection, which will verify that he has come from the Father and solely speaks what the Father has taught him. Moreover, the one who sent him (i.e., the Father) is with him always, and Jesus always pleases him (v.29). John then notes that many (those gathered around the discourse) believed in Jesus.
Takeaway: The above story echoes an earlier exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders after he healed a paralytic on the Sabbath at the Bethesda Pool (5:23-24, 37). And like the above interaction, the Pharisees, who strictly observed outward obedience to the law, pressed Jesus to account for his bold messianic claims. But as theologian Leon Morris contends, “no human witness can authenticate a divine relationship. Jesus, therefore, appeals to the Father and Himself, and there is no other to whom He can appeal” (New International Commentary: John, p.443). Nevertheless, these relentless Pharisees continue to pepper Jesus with questions that appear to communicate bewilderment. But as theologian Merril Tenney notes, in the ancient Near East, “to question a man’s paternity is a definite slur on his legitimacy” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John, p.93). Undoubtedly, since the authorities could not arrest Jesus, they intended to discredit him.
That said, two questions remain with this text. First, what exactly does it mean that Jesus is the light of the world? In John’s prologue, he tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4-5 ESV). Not only is Jesus our source of spiritual nourishment (Bread of Life), but he illuminates truth and exposes lies. And when we come under his light of spiritual discernment (through the Holy Spirit’s revelations), we distinguish between mere appearances and genuine truth. And our divine “Truth” is eternal. Indeed, while the temple priests would light the Menorah at the Feast of Tabernacles (that cast its light over the Court of the Internationals, where Jesus often taught), they would also extinguish its candles at the feast’s end. Here, though, Jesus identifies himself as the embodiment of eternal light. And John confirms this reality in his Revelation of Christ’s return, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5, ESV).
Secondly, what constitutes unbelief in Jesus as the Great “I am” who is the “Light of the world”? It is not a lack of knowledge, which the scribes and Pharisees had in spades, but, as Tenney states, “it is resistance to the revelation of God in Christ. Not only did they repudiate his claims, they completely rejected his person” (p. 93). The same holds for each subsequent generation. When we resist the truth, we ultimately reject the person who is the truth. Thus, aligning with the truth requires submitting to the source of the truth. And to do so means to surrender our rights to judge between good and evil (which Adam and Eve failed to do as they opened the gateway to original sin).
Our takeaway? We must walk in the “Light of the World” to avoid stumbling over sin that, otherwise, clings to and weighs us down (Hebrews 12:1). In his first epistle to the church, John builds on his Gospel prologue by encouraging God’s children to fellowship with the apostles by walking in the “light of God,” where we practice the truth by confessing our sins and receiving his forgiveness (1 John 1:7-9). And we must be single-minded in our focus, lest we trip and fall. So if we grow weary of groping in the darkness, of running laps around the same sin patterns of life that lead to sorrow and despair, then we must move beyond our idealized images of ourselves, the lies we tell ourselves, and embrace the “Truth” who unconditionally loves us as attested by his substitutionary death when we were formerly God’s enemies (Romans 5:7-8). Indeed, we must walk in the “Light of the World” by keeping our eyes fixed on him, who joyfully endured his cross for us and now reigns over all his creation (Hebrews 12:2), interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son, the “Light of the World.” And thank you for your Holy Spirit that reveals your Son’s light to us. We confess, though, that we sometimes prefer the cloak of darkness to hide our rebellious and selfish thoughts and deeds. So would you motivate us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit to more consistently walk in the light, focusing on your Son where we readily practice his truth by confessing our sins and receiving your forgiveness? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling