The Light of the World

“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.’” (John 8:12)

During this advent season, my church has been preaching through Biblical texts that describe light. We have seen how light signifies revelation and purity, how it is strongly connected to the temple, and most importantly, how this imagery of light in the Old Testament climaxes in Jesus himself. Thus, in John 8, we learn about the second of Jesus’s seven “I am” statements: “I am the light of the world.” There are several clues in the context of this passage that help us understand what Jesus meant by this.

The story begins in John 7:14 with Jesus going up to the temple and beginning to teach. It ends in John 8:59 with Jesus’s departure from the temple. Throughout the story, several themes present themselves, including Jesus’s viability as a teacher/prophet and as the Messiah, his truthfulness, the law of Moses, the ability to make proper judgment, life and death, Jesus’s relationship to the Father, and his upbringing. The emphasis in the passage is on Jesus’s message — that is, his revelation given to him by the Father — but it also highlights that the division among both the crowd and the Pharisees primarily emerges from whether they believe or reject Jesus.

Immediately after this second “I am” statement, Jesus unpacks it. He explains that those who follow the “light of the world” will not walk in darkness. They will not be wandering blindly as they walk the path of life. However, the contrast he gives is not walking in darkness versus walking in light, but walking in darkness versus having something — namely, the “light of life.” Light is associated with life; darkness with death. To follow Jesus, to have the Light, is to gain life.

The rest of the paragraph addresses the mixed response of the Pharisees and the crowd. They question Jesus’s truthfulness, and Jesus responds by pronouncing his heavenly ability to render judgment, the Father’s witness to his truthfulness, and the inability of the Pharisees to know the Father due to their rejection of Jesus. The vast majority of the Pharisees will “die in their sins,” a reality Jesus connects to the darkness in his initial statement. So, to walk in darkness means death.

Jesus’s initially divided reception ultimately leads to his outright rejection. The pharisees are unwilling to listen to reason, even from within their own ranks (John 7:45–52). Many in the crowd wish to arrest or kill him (John 7:19–20, 30, 44) while others believe he is speaking the truth (John 7:40–43). Many believe in him (John 8:30), but even those who do believe cannot fully follow him when he claims that he himself is divine. In the end, they seek to kill him since they believe he has a demon (John 8:31–58).

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the light of the world”? At least two concepts seem to be presented to us in the text. First, Jesus is the source of true revelation, even when it seems unbelievable. Jesus makes outrageous truth claims about himself, especially that he is the great “I am.” To reject Jesus is to reject what is true. There is no middle ground.

Second, Jesus is the source of true life. To follow Jesus—that is, to believe and be satisfied in him (John 7:37–39)—is the only way to have life. To reject Jesus is to “die in your sins” and remain in darkness. And in that darkness, you are blinded to the reality of who Jesus really is.

These two concepts, true revelation and true life, are interconnected in the text. Only Jesus brings true revelation, and those who walk in darkness are blind to it. “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). How is anyone able to follow Jesus if they can never see him for who he is? Jesus gives us the answer: But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:45–47). The only way to hear Jesus is to be “of God.”

John has already made all this clear to us at the beginning of his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 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. . . .The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1–5, 9–13, emphasis added)

Jesus came into this world born as a babe, born as the light of the world. Our only hope is for that light to shine into the darkness to set us free from our sins (John 8:31–38) and for the Father to give us new birth by his Spirit.

Advent isn’t simply a time to wax eloquent about joy or peace or generosity or love. It is a season that reminds us of our desperate need and calls us to undying loyalty, and ignites our immense joy in a King born in a cattle stall, a King who makes the Father known to us, a King who is the “light of the world.” Pray that at Bethlehem College and Seminary we would never lose sight of that King.

Lance Kramer, Th.M.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies

Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray for our students, faculty, and staff would find hope and rest this advent season in the “light of the world.”
  2. Pray for the Twin Cities, that we and our students would shine the light of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see him.
  3. Pray for the full funding of the Serious Joy Scholarships that support our students and faculty.