Meditating on Great Themes in John: 14. The Light of the World
John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
If John was writing his Gospel as a college dissertation today he would probably get 2 out of 10 for style. I say this because we come on to this amazing declaration by Jesus which comes in this form, first here and then in 9:5 but what gets worse, the miracle emphasising this is wrapped round that latter verse but there have already been numerous references to Jesus being light. How much better today, we might think, if it was all neatly packed together in one bundle, but the Bible is not like that, it brings it out bit by bit as it occurred in the various circumstances, so let’s check out these ‘light’ references.
We saw the first references in the Prologue: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:4,5) i.e. the source of all life was in Jesus and he himself was like a light that shone gloriously in this dark, sin-tainted world, and he was not recognized or understood. But then came, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn1:7-9) John’s job was to point out the life that brings light to every human being.
Then we saw in what we called John’s Recap, John summarizing Jesus ministry as follows: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21) This light – Jesus – reveals hearts. Those who are open to God allow his light to shine in and transform. Those who prefer evil shy away.
We have seen previously that the background to this part of John was the Feast of Tabernacles and now Jesus has come to the temple courts to teach (8:2). The fact that they bring a woman to him here (8:3-12) suggests he was teaching in the Court of the Women. On the first day of the Feast there was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple in which four great candelabra were set up and lit at dusk, producing such a great illumination that light was spread far and wide.
Whether those lights continued throughout the Feast and afterwards is uncertain, but even if not, the candelabra were probably still there and so Jesus possibly stands alongside them (being early morning the light would now be out) and makes this claim which might be interpreted as him saying, “Well, you’ve seen the great light that has been here but I am a light that lights up the entire world. If 8:1-12 was indeed part of the original writing, he is speaking straight after the dismissing of the charges against the woman caught in adultery and it is like he is also saying, “I am the light that shows up the imperfections of every man and woman but I have come to dispel their darkness with my light.
After ongoing discussion and argument Jesus leaves the temple precincts (8:59) and as he goes he comes across a man who had been blind from birth (9:1). Rather than get into a debate with his disciples about the cause of this man’s blindness, he simply heals him (9:2,3,6,7) but not before he has declared, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:4,5) Perhaps we can simply suggest he is saying, “We must do the Father’s works while we still have the opportunity. There will come a time where the light of the world will appear to be snuffed out (temporarily at least) and it will be dark and these works will be halted, but while I am still here in person, I will shed light into the lives of all who come to me.”
The fact of this man having been blind from birth makes the picture even more vivid. It is like Jesus is showing through this miracle that he comes to bring light and therefore revelation to all those who have been spiritually blind since birth – as we all were. He alone opens our eyes so that we can see; that is part of his work and that of the Holy Spirit.
After a lot of discussions, arguments and provocations by the Jews and specifically the Pharisees who were against Jesus, he declares, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Jn 9:39) I like the Message Version’s rendering of this: “Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretence of seeing will be exposed as blind.” Those who have been spiritually blind will be enabled to see the truth when they come to Jesus but those religious people who thought they were the ones with the truth, will be revealed as actually being spiritually blind. This is what this light actually does – provide sight for those who recognise their blindness and reveal the true state of those who are self-sufficient and think they see it all – but don’t.
Later on, in further light references, Jesus declares, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:36) and “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (Jn 12:46) The wonder is that we can become light bringers when we come to him and when we do come to him his light shines in and through us so that darkness (sin) not longer has a place in us. The word ‘light’ appears 24 times in John’s Gospel and again it is all about transformation, us being changed from living in darkness to become and living in light. How wonderful.