Years ago, Patty, Andrea, who was seven at the time, and I were on a road trip to visit some of Patty’s family in Vermont. While traveling through the ‘Black Hills’ of South Dakota we spend a number of days there exploring. One of the things we did was to go down into some caves and reach the bottom of one where there was a total absence of light. As we were guided down, lights were mounted on the walls of the cave, and when we reached the bottom, the guide explained that he was about to turn the lights off and we were not to move. He warned that this could be very dangerous, and we could easily be injured, as we would lose all sense of direction. It was a very disorienting experience. 

Light is a critical aspect in life in order to see and in the spiritual realm to perceive. Blindness plunges our life into darkness. Here at this particular moment while attending the feast of tabernacles, Jesus makes this amazing declaration that He is the light of the world. 

The Feast of Tabernacles was designed to be a reminder of God’s provision and care for the nation during the wilderness wanderings. The pillar of fire by night and cloud by day guided them in their journey. The feast also pointed ahead to the new promised Messianic age. This is the context of Jesus’ great declaration, that ‘He is the light of the world.’ One of the aspects of the festival was the lighting of the huge lamps in the Temple that illuminated the city. D. A. Carson describes the excitement and joy in this feast.

He who has not seen the joy of the place of water-drawing has never in his life seen joy’: this extravagant claim stands just before the description of the lighting of the four huge lamps in the temple’s court of the women and of the exuberant celebration that took place under their light (Mishnah Sukkah 5:1-4). ‘Men of piety and good works’ danced through the night, holding burning torches in their hands singing songs and praises. The Levitical orchestras cut loose, and some sources attest that this went on every night of the Feast of Tabernacles, with the light from the temple area shedding its glow all over Jerusalem. In this context Jesus declares to the people, I am the light of the world.[i]

In the context of such powerful ritual, Jesus’ declaration must have come with stunning force. …There is an immediate consequence: Whoever follows me (an appropriate thing to do with light if it is the glorious pillar of cloud setting out the way in the wilderness) will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.[ii]

What an incredible moment for Jesus to announce who He is. Jesus is making a profound statement as to His nature. Here we have one of the great ‘I am’ statements found in John’s gospel that leads to dealing with the significant questions regarding life. The most important element in finding the answers to the right questions is the basis or authority upon which they rest. In a world that denies absolutes and often despises authority, we need to build upon an enduring foundation for our lives. Let me qualify that authority is different from authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is absolute obedience at the expense of all personal freedoms, while healthy authority facilitates freedoms by establishing healthy boundaries. In John 8:12-30, we discover two key elements that leads to an amazing life based upon the authority and origin or nature of Jesus.  


Jesus makes this great declaration at the Feast regarding His nature, that He is the light of the world, and it is only through God’s light that we can have life.

A. The nature of moral light in experiencing God’s eternal life.

The Psalmist declare this truth in Psalm 36:9. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

We need God’s illuminating revelation or light in order to grasp the nature of God; His ways and the life that He gives to us.

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.[iii]

It is only as we come into the light and follow that light, which Jesus is, that we can have this kind of life. When we consider how difficult it is to walk in darkness, where things that can be easily seen in the light and avoided become major obstacles upon which we easily stumble, gratitude is the right response for the avoided heartaches.

How many have made horrific decisions because they were stumbling in the darkness, but now as a child of God, living in the light of God’s word and love, realize that those past steps now are to be avoided?

B. The symbolism of the Temple lights representing God’s direction and protection in our lives.     

Those great torches in the temple symbolized the Shekinah glory. In effect, Christ was reminding the people, “do you remember the pillar of fire that came between the Israelites and the Egyptians in the Red Sea and protected the Israelites on their wanderings in the wilderness? I am that Light of the World. I am identified with the Shekinah glory!’ Jesus was claiming to be God.[iv] 

Jesus is basically saying that He was that light guiding His people through the wilderness experience; even as He is the light of our lives, guiding us through this wilderness called life.

C. The conflict between light and darkness.

The conflict described in the ensuing argument is essentially the conflict of the light of revelation and the darkness of prejudice produced by ignorance and sin.[v]

John had earlier in his gospel, argued this reality, that sin blinds people from the truth.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.[vi]

What keeps us from seeing the truth is that we are blinded by our own sinfulness. We choose to live in denial, rather than address the problem within our own soul. There is an interesting irony to life. Those who are in darkness generally think of themselves as okay. While those in the light of God see themselves in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.

D. Pharisees appealed to legal grounds trying to negate Christ’s testimony.    

The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.[vii]

What were they actually saying? They were arguing that on legal grounds, a witness could not testify on his own behalf. Jesus had earlier stated that fact, himself.

If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.[viii]

However, having said that, Jesus now includes the testimony of His father, but also moving past a legal approach, that what Jesus says about himself is true, because He is truth, and knows who He is. Jesus has the answers to life’s greatest mysteries.

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.

You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.

But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.[ix]

Even if I bear witness of myself, my testimony is true,’ meant that He had shifted His argument from the basis of abstract legality to the principle of His personal competence.[x]

Jesus now points out the human inability to make accurate judgments. Notice the contrast between what He knows versus what His opponents do not know. Jesus knows where He came from and where He is headed, they do not know either. They judge by human standards which are limited and often wrong. When Jesus judges, it is always absolutely correct and right. Can you imagine the absurdity of what they were doing? They were judging the One who one day they would stand before as their judge. If that is not frightening enough, consider how many today are doing the very same thing. People are making judgments about Jesus for which they will one day stand before Him and be accountable for their judgments.

These contrasts between Jesus and His enemies were not intended as vilification, but as a sober judgment on the inability of the latter to discern His real identity. …Jesus’ knowledge of Himself was strong at the precise point where man’s is weak. Humanity knows nothing of its origin and spiritual destiny beyond what has been revealed.[xi]

The significant question of where we originated as humans and where our ultimate destination lies is fundamental for living a right kind of life. Most people today, ignore both questions, and live in ignorance and darkness. Many people live for the moment and live primarily for themselves and their own personal interests.

E. Jesus’ legal and personal appeal.

In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.

I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.’

Then they asked him, ‘Where is your father?’ ‘You do not know me or my Father,’ Jesus replied. ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’[xii]

This is another shocking statement. As religious leaders, they thought they were representing God, but because of their inability to recognize who Jesus is, they really did not know the Father. As Jesus put it, if they knew the Father, they would immediately recognize that Jesus and the Father are One. 

We realize that we can only know God if He has revealed Himself to us. If we think that this is too much to ask of these people that He is speaking to, then we need to consider some of the people in the biblical narrative who were able to identify who Jesus is. There was Simeon, who was a righteous and devout man, whom God revealed that he would see the Messiah before he died.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,

Simeon took in in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’[xiii]

We could speak of Anna, or the shepherds, and again the disciples who, as Peter confessed, declared that Jesus was the Messiah. To this, Jesus explained that ‘flesh and blood’ had not revealed this to him, but the Father in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:17).

Jesus was speaking these words at the Temple and as John summarizes, the results of his challenging comments did not cause immediate arrest.

He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.[xiv]

The hour spoken of here is the time of his arrest, crucifixion and ultimately His resurrection.


Where is Jesus from? Jesus’ authority comes from his origin, not in the sense of time, but speaking of His eternal nature and union with the Father. Jesus is one with the Father and here explains that He will soon be returning to the Father.

A. Jesus challenges these religious leaders to embrace the opportunity that is presented to them.

Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”[xv]

            F. F. Bruce explains the nature of what Jesus was offering them.

The incarnate Word is to be on earth in a visible form for a limited period only. This limited period is their opportunity if they accept him for what he is, then they will receive the right to become God’s children; eternal life will be theirs. But if they let the opportunity slip, it will not recur. The time of his visible presence with them will have passed, and they will seek him after that in vain. Instead of enjoying eternal life through faith in him, they will die in their sin–without having their sin removed. The sin is (singular) is preeminently their failure to believe in him (cf. John 16:9), their refusal to come to the light while it is available.[xvi]

B. The ultimate question is raised.

This made the Jews ask, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, “Where I go, you cannot come?’”[xvii]

Jesus explained that where He was headed, they could not come because they were still in a natural and materialistic state of mind. While earlier in the gospel Jesus had mentioned that He was leaving and they could not come, the assumption was made that Jesus was leaving the area to preach to the Jews in the dispersion or possibly to Gentiles, but now this group wonders if Jesus is going to commit suicide. In relating this comment there is tremendous irony to us as a reader of the gospel. We know that Jesus will be met with a violent death by crucifixion and those now questioning him are responsible. Jesus knows that the issue is one of origin. They are not spiritually alive, but are being influenced by their unregenerated state of being. They are of this world. The word world is translated from the Greek word, kosmos which speaks of a world in rebellion against God’s values.          

But he continued, ‘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; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’[xviii]

Bruce explains the shift, from sin to sins.

The plural ‘sins’ is used in verse 24, as against the singular ‘sin’ in verse 21; if the singular expresses the root sin of unbelief, the plural expresses those particular attitudes, words and actions which make up its fruit.[xix]

‘Who are you?’ they asked. ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied.[xx]

This is the question that we must all face. ‘Who is Jesus?’ How we answer that question determines not only the quality of our earthly life, but even more importantly our eternal destiny.         

C. Jesus’ faithful proclamation in complete compliance to the Father’s message.

‘I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’[xxi]

The contrast between what these Jewish leaders think and what God thinks is evident. Even though Jesus came not to condemn but save, when the gift of salvation is rejected, all that is left is judgment.

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.

So Jesus said, ‘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 but speak just what the Father has taught me.[xxii]

They did not understand what Jesus was saying about his relationship and message from the Father. Jesus closes the conversation with the means by which they will discover who He is.

When will the full disclosure of who Jesus is take place? …That will occur when the Son of Man is lifted up. The double force of the verb is maintained. When Jesus is ‘lifted up’ on the cross, he is being ‘lifted up’ to his Father’s presence, returned to the glory he enjoyed with the Father before the world began (17:5). …One of the functions of the cross is to reveal who Jesus is.[xxiii]

D. The response to Jesus’ teaching here.

The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

Even as he spoke, many believed in him.[xxiv]

Here we see that belief comes to many as they hear the message of Jesus. While some remained in opposition to Jesus’ message, faith does come by hearing God’s word, and so we see those whose hearts are open, receive this life changing message. What is true then is still true today. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

How will we receive the message? What do we think regarding the origin of the human story and our final destiny? Do we see life as created by God for a purpose or do we think that this universe is here by random chance and therefore we are unaccountable to anyone? Do we put God on trial not realizing like those who rejected Jesus in His day, that the one they judged by mere appearances, will one day be their judge and ours? The fundamental sin is unbelief that finds many different types of expression. When we address the root issue, then it affects the results. As a culture, we never speak of our problems and difficulties as sin. We are busy trying to curtail the results of our sins to no effect. What is needed is far more radical. We need to come to Jesus as Lord and Savior, so we’ll not need to later come to Him as our Judge.

[i]       D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 337.

[ii]       Ibid, 338.

[iii]      John 8:12, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iv]      Kent Hughes, Behold The Lamb: Expository Studies in the Gospel of John 1-10, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1984), 146.

[v]       Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 144.

[vi]      John 3:19.

[vii]     John 8:13.

[viii]     John 5:31.

[ix]      John 8:14-16.

[x]       Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, 144.

[xi]      Ibid, 145.

[xii]     John 8:17-19.

[xiii]     Luke 2:26-32.

[xiv]     John 8:20.

[xv]     John 8:21.

[xvi]     F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 191.

[xvii]    John 8:22.

[xviii]   John 8:23-24.

[xix]     F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 192.

[xx]     John 8:25.

[xxi]     John 8:26.

[xxii]    John 8:27-28.

[xxiii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 345.

[xxiv]   John 8:29-30.

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