“I am the light of the world . . . the light of life” (John 8.13-30)
This passage fits neatly into two sections (8.12-20 and 8.21-30), each introduced with Jesus speaking or saying to people. In the first section Jesus declares that he is the light of the world, the light of life. But the Pharisees immediately changed the subject by accusing him of witnessing concerning himself with the added biblical conclusion that such testimony is not true. Countering this, Jesus points out that his witness is nevertheless true because he knows where he comes from and where he is going. So he is not alone (8.16), he is with the Father who sent him and the Father joins him in his witness. Biblical Law states that ‘the witness of two people is true’ (8.17). Also in his witness all that he says is as the Father taught him. He neither says nor does anything off his own bat.
“I am the light of the world . . . the light of life” (8.12-20)
With his use of the divine name in another ‘I am’ statement (cf.8.28) Jesus again declares his divinity. As in John 1.1 Jesus, the Word is indeed God. Through him as the light, light came into the darkness of the world (Genesis 1.3). As John himself says, the light shines in the darkness not only of Israel, but of all humanity of all ethnicities (John 1.4-9). Reminding us of the fourfold use of the word ‘world’ in John 1.9/10, we read here that Jesus is the light of the world. As the “light of life” he longs to shine his heart-warming and life-giving light into all nations and peoples everywhere. Once again we note therefore the vital nature of worldwide mission.
“I am going away” (8.21-30)
In these verses Jesus continues his teaching in 7.33-36. Again and again in John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus was with his Father in glory before he was sent into the world and that he will return to the Father. With this teaching he further encourages his believing followers that they too will ascend with him to the Father’s glory, but unbelievers will only seek him in vain. Without living faith they cannot follow him and will not find him. Believers’ assured future of eternal life with Jesus in the glory of the Father stands out brilliantly against the dark background of unbelievers’ hopeless future in the darkness of life without the light of Jesus and his Father. Jesus warns unbelievers, ” you will die in your sin” (8.21) and almost repeats this in 8.24 with the further threat “you will die in your sins”. The singular “sin” denotes the overall character of sin which forms the very nature of a person. Sin characterizes their personality and attitudes. It also leads to the more specific outworking of actual “sins” (8.24). We all need a radical change of heart and inner nature which will then determine our actual daily behaviour. Sin leads to sins and faith must lead to sanctified good works.
Themes in John’s Gospel
In noting the various themes in this passage, we have already been reminded of John’s Prologue. In John 1.1-18 the whole teaching of John’s Gospel is foreshadowed. As we observe the various topics we shall therefore refer back to the Prologue.
Divinity and Relationship
We have already noted Jesus’ emphasis on his divine nature as one with his Father. John 1 not only places before us the bald claim that “the word was God” (1.1), but also underlines the intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and his Father (1.14, 18). In chapter 8 Jesus declares that he is not only sent into this world by the Father, but the Father also witnesses to him as if with the same voice (8.18). The Father is with him (8.29) and Jesus always does what pleases the Father. He only does the works of the Father and speaks the words of the Father (8.28/29). The unity of the Father and Son lies at the heart of John’s Gospel. This oneness in the godhead leads to our unity with the Father through our faith in the Son. And as believers in Jesus and the Father we become children of God and therefore sisters and brothers of each other. We become one family together, one body. Such loving fellowship comes as fantastic good news in our contemporary societies which are riddled with loneliness. Then, as we love one another in deep fellowship and unity, Jesus’ love spills out through us to the world.
True, truly and truth
Just in this short passage we find five references to truth (8.13, 14, 16, 18 and 26) – some times obscured by different English translations. “Truth came through Jesus Christ” (1.17) and indeed Jesus himself is the truth (14.6). It can hardly come as a surprise therefore that in a society which is turning its back on Jesus, truth begins to go out of the window – ‘the post-truth society’. Without truth society loses objective moral grounding, it becomes more difficult to trust people and their promises, isolated insecurity stalks ordinary everyday life.
“I am the light of the world”, Jesus affirms (8.12). The parallel with 1.4 is clear – the glory of life in Jesus shines out brilliantly and illumines not only Jesus’ own Jewish people, but all people in all the world (1.4; 8.12). Wherever darkness reigns Jesus longs to shine with his life-giving light. One with Jesus by faith, we too are called to fulfill that longing in the heart of Jesus. So he says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.14). We are called to shine with the light of Jesus in such a way that people “may see your good (= beautiful) works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.15). Both for Jesus and for us the ultimate aim is not for our own pride, but to bring glory and praise to the Father.
Life and Faith
Once again Jesus promises life to those who will believe in him (cf. 8.11). Having this “light of life” contrasts sharply with the horror of ‘walking in darkness’. But Jesus teaches that even Gentiles can join the Jews as children of God (John 1.12) if they believe in him, follow him (8.12) and change the whole direction of life from ‘walking in darkness’ to the abundant new life with Jesus and the Father. Such faith not only believes what Jesus says about himself as the one sent by the Father and now returning to the Father. It also introduces a new trust in Jesus and the Father because they are Truth and therefore utterly trustworthy. We now rely on the Lord for his gift of abundant resurrection life in this world and of eternal life with the ascended Jesus in the glory of the Father’s immediate presence.
Jesus sees himself as the agent who brings what he has heard from the Father and speaks it into the world (8.26). Once again we notice John’s emphasis on words of movement. As John 1 says, the Word comes into the world. Sadly we note both in John 1 and John 8, the world does not hear or receive this word. Although the Word comes into the world, it meets a blank wall of unbelief. But our passage ends with the warmly encouraging statement that “As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in (eis/into) him. The words that Jesus had learned from the Father (8.28) moved into the world and there was an appropriate response – many people moved towards Jesus in faith.
How encouraging that it was not just a few who believed in/into Jesus! The word “many” should move us to pray and work with the aim of multitudes coming to faith in Jesus. We are seeing such movements of the Holy Spirit in many countries, let us also beg the Lord to do this also in Europe.
Although the use of the preposition eis/into indicates a more gradual movement towards faith, the verb ‘believed’ is in the more Pauline Aorist tense. This signifies a specific once-for-all action in which they crossed the line between the darkness of sin and the light of faith in Jesus. In Paul’s letters he teaches about the definite event of our justification and redemption – we were justified and we were redeemed. Likewise in John 8.30 many did believe. Because this use of the Aorist is rare in John’s Gospel, it is all the more significant. We not only look for people to move gradually step by step towards faith in Jesus, but we also pray that they may come to the climax decision of putting their faith in Jesus and thus coming into his gift of life.