Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel), by Rosie Moore.
There are seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Last week we looked at the first—“I am the bread of life” from John 6. Today we look at the second “I am” statement. Jesus said,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
In this statement, Jesus doesn’t merely point to the light. He points to himself and says that He is the light of life to all those who follow him.
What extraordinary claims Jesus made! Imagine one of our world leaders making statements like this today. Most promise safety, peace and prosperity, but I’ve never heard a political or religious leader dare to call him/herself the light of the world! Don’t you wish for a godly ruler who epitomizes truth and holiness? A leader who is good, pure, honest and reliable? A King who leads his followers to flourish, rather than a tyrant who controls his subjects for self interest?
John is particularly fond of this language of light and darkness. First let’s look at the immediate context of Jesus’ claim in John 8:12:
When Jesus made this stunning claim, he was speaking in the part of the temple where the offerings were placed (John 8:20), where candles burned to symbolize the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the desert (Ex 13:21, 22). It is in this context that Jesus claimed to be the light of the world. Jesus was plainly identifying himself as God’s promised Messiah King. And even more than that, He was claiming to be God himself.
God is light.
The Old Testament is brimming with pictures of God and his Word as light. Here are just some of them:
The pillar of fire represented God’s presence, protection, guidance and faithfulness to his covenant people.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? (Ps 27:1).
“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Ps 56:13)
“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).
“The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2).
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart, The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Ps 19:8).
And then, there are the prophesies of Isaiah, likening God’s promised Messiah to light. The gospel writers are in no doubt that these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus:
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2; Matt 4:16).
“I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa 42:6-7; Luke 2:32)
Let’s pray before we even begin to think through Jesus’s statement, “I am the light of the world:”
Lord, as we sit at your feet to listen to you, give us light to understand your amazing claim. Shine your light in our hearts, so that we can see you for who you are and worship you as the only One who can bring us out of darkness into your wonderful light. Show us your truth and holiness. Teach us how to live as children of the light and to shine as lights in our world. Amen.
It’s tempting to come to Christ’s statement with a whole bunch of esoteric ideas of our own: “I think light is this, or that…”
But John says,
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Light represents what is pure, true and holy about God, while darkness represents what is sinful and evil. Jesus says that we must follow Him if we want to walk in the light. We don’t get to define the light for ourselves. Throughout the Bible, light is associated with two main ideas: God’s Truth and God’s Holiness.
Contrary to postmodern thinking, Truth (with a capital T) is not something we decide for ourselves, nor can we discover it through science, medicine, sociology, politics or any human philosophy. God the Creator is the only source of divine truth, and so, only He can reveal Truth to us. We need his divine revelation to know truth.
Although we all desire to be wise, just like our ancient ancestors in the Garden (Gen 3:6), the reality is that we have all turned our backs on God, refusing even to acknowledge Him as Creator or give thanks to Him as Lord. As a result, our human hearts are darkened and foolish (Rom 1:21-23). Paul says that in professing ourselves to be wise, we actually become fools.
Jesus’s claim to be the light of the world stands in stark contrast to our own heart of darkness. Our thought processes, assumptions and logic are instinctively distorted, dark and hostile to God. By nature, we think in ungodly and crooked ways, so that even the most intelligent intellectuals can be fools. We all need God to shine the light of his gospel into the darkness of our futile thinking. We need divine enlightenment.
Only through God’s lens of Truth, revealed to us in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, can we make sense of our world. This includes our understanding of human identity and sin; race and ethnicity; justice and law; gender and sexuality; the gospel and the Church; marriage and family; work and the environment; our bodies and health; every ethical issue we need to grapple with. Only Christ and His Word can provide the worldview that we need to see clearly, so that we don’t stumble about in the dark, imbibing our culture and making things up as we go along.
As CS Lewis famously said,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
We need the revelation of God’s truth to see clearly. But we also need the light of God’s perfect holiness.
No other human being has ever claimed to be perfectly pure and good, yet Jesus stood in front of all these people and pointed to Himself as the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness. After claiming to be the light of the world, He then asked the audacious question that no sane person would dare to ask, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:45).
If we are even half honest, we will see that we cannot even look at God and live, because He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16; 1 John 1:5). But Jesus, the perfect God-man, gives us access to God’s light. He experienced the horrific darkness of sin in our place when He died on the cross and brought God’s truth and holiness down to earth, purifying believers from all our sin. In response, His followers ought to walk in His light and live by His truth (1 John 1:6-7).
That’s why Paul can urge the Philippian church (and 21st century Christians), to “shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15). We are empowered to display His light and lead others to Him by our lives and conversations. We are like lighthouses guiding people away from the rocks of darkness and destruction. Like fairy lights adorning a dark world (Matt 5:14-16).
The Light of the world.
In his prologue, John introduces Christ as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
Jesus’s light is not restricted to a certain group, but is for everyone in the world. In Isaiah’s language, he is a light for the nations. But in the next few verses, John reminds us that not everyone will receive Christ. Even many Jews who saw his miracles and heard him say, “I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world” would reject Him as the Christ (John 1:10-11).
Whoever follows me…
Jesus’s inclusive invitations are never unconditional or everlasting. Jesus clearly says that we must follow Him if we want to grasp the light of life. But those who don’t take a step into the light and put their trust in Christ, will not find light anywhere else. In this sense, Christ’s light is exclusive to those who follow Him.
A few chapters later, Christ made an urgent appeal to his hearers in the first century, as He does to us today:
“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35).
Jesus calls you and me to respond in obedience to the light of the gospel that we’ve been shown. None of us knows if we will still have tomorrow to turn to Him as the light of life.
Sometimes it’s not pleasant or comfortable when our life is being exposed by the light of Christ. By nature, we are drawn to darkness, even if it means that we don’t know where we are going. It’s easier to hide in the darkness of our own sinfulness and confusion. The truth is that we love the darkness more than the light: “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19).
But isn’t it infinitely better to be exposed now, rather than to walk in a permanent state of darkness, not just in this world but for all eternity? There is a consequence to every choice, and there’s a frightening consequence if we persist in rejecting the Light of the world. Light and life always go together. But so do darkness and death.
When we follow Christ, we step into the light of repentance, forgiveness and freedom. Listen to how John describes this wonderful light of repentance:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness….if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world…” (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2)
Living in the light.
The apostle John has reminded us today that it is only in Christ that humanity will find the true Light of the world. Satan and his henchmen will continue to masquerade as angels of light, cunningly crafting noble lies and shining false lights for the world to follow, just as they’ve done since Genesis 3. But as Christians, we are called to follow Christ alone, who has revealed Himself through the pages of Scripture.
Walking in the light means being people of truth and holiness. It means refusing to live by lies, but instead placing all things under the scrutiny of God’s Word, our source of truth. Living in the light means rejecting false narratives, false assumptions, false ideologies and false emotions, exposing fake ‘lights’ and replacing them with the truth. It means speaking up when people bear false witness against someone else. It means living in the purity and holiness of Christ, in love and fellowship with other believers (1 John 2:10). And when we sin, it means that we don’t conceal our sin, but confess it to the Lord. The light is not just a decoration, but needs to be switched on by Christ’s followers.
As people of light, we must not rely on books, articles, preachers, social media platforms and so-called experts to find truth on issues we face. It’s good to read widely, but we must turn to Christ and His inerrant, sufficient Word to shed truth on every issue, to convict our conscience and equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).
No matter how dark and confused our world is right now, when we turn to Christ and His Word day-by-day, God’s light invades our thinking and opens our eyes of understanding. We will never be lost or wander in futile circles if we know who we are, how much we’ve been forgiven, and where we are going. Jesus Christ is the world’s only light, in this life and the next.
John’s final words about light in the new world were written down in the book of Revelation. What a wonderful picture of Christ as its lamp, with darkness and deceit banished forever!
“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there (Rev 21:23).