March 2, 2014
One summer day in 1969 I was sitting on the lawn at U.C.L.A. reading my Bible when a barefoot young man came up and began to talk to me. I eventually asked what his name was and he said, “Thomas.” That’s a common enough name, of course. But with all sincerity, this fellow informed me that he was none other than the apostle Thomas, the one who had at first doubted Christ’s resurrection! He said further that Christ had sent him on a mission to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” So, without money, sandals, or staff, he was going around U.C.L.A., walking up to Jewish-looking “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and announcing, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Then he would walk away.
Having grown up in California, I knew that it was “the land of fruits and nuts,” and it didn’t take extraordinary discernment to figure out that this guy was a true native! I assure you that I did not, even for a fleeting second, wonder, “Could this really be the apostle Thomas?” I shrugged him off as a nut case, as I’m sure everyone else did.
What if a man proclaimed (John 8:12), “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life”? Would you believe him? What if this same man had already proclaimed (6:35), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall not thirst”? He also said (7:37-38), “If any man is thirsty, let Him come unto Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” Would you not have to conclude, either, “This guy is a deluded religious nut”; or, “This is no mere man; this is God in human flesh”? Jesus’ bold claims to deity demand a response!
Note that in John 6, Jesus is the manna in the wilderness who provides for His people’s hunger. In John 7, Jesus is the water from the rock in the wilderness, providing for their thirst. In John 8, Jesus is the pillar of fire in the wilderness, providing protection and guidance by His presence with them. Thus Jesus is the all-sufficient Savior, providing for His people’s every need, even when they are traveling through a barren wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world demands that you respond by following Him.
Background: Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles. During that feast, as we’ve seen, the Jews performed a ceremony where a priest went to the Pool of Siloam, drew water in a golden pitcher, and returned in procession to the temple, where he poured it out at the base of the altar. It commemorated God’s provision of water from the rock that sustained Israel in the wilderness. It was in connection with that ceremony that Jesus proclaimed whoever drank of Him would have rivers of living water flowing from his innermost being.
At that same feast, the Jews performed another ceremony where they lit four huge candelabras or torches in the Court of the Women in the temple, commemorating the fact that the Lord had been a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to protect and guide Israel in that desolate desert for 40 years. That cloud appeared on the day when Israel left Egypt, standing as a barrier between them and Pharaoh’s armies on the night before they crossed the Red Sea. Then as it went with them in that wilderness, it was a graphic symbol of the fact that the Lord God was with His people.
If, as we saw last week, the story of the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11) was not a part of John’s original Gospel, then the incident before us, where Jesus claims to be the Light of the world, took place either during or just after the Feast of Tabernacles, when the spectacle of these huge torches being lit in the temple would still be fresh in people’s minds. John 8:20 tells us that Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, as He taught in the temple. The treasury was the place, in the Court of the Women, where people could put their offerings into some trumpet-like receptacles. So, in the same courtyard where the torches were lit, Jesus boldly proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world.” How would you have reacted if you had been a Jew listening there? How should you respond to this astounding claim today?
Note four things about this remarkable claim:
I had a letter last week from a Jehovah’s Witness man in Georgia who said that he has enjoyed my sermons and that they have helped him understand the Word in preparing for his teaching assignments in his congregation. He claimed that Jesus is his Lord and Savior, but then proceeded to try to convince me that Jesus is not God. He felt that my lumping his group with the cults and accusing them of heresy is unkind. He views the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the true remnant and the rest of Christendom, which affirms Jesus’ deity, as being deceived by Satan!
Well, of course, I beg to differ vigorously! The whole point of the Gospel of John, is that we all would join Thomas in proclaiming the risen Savior as “my Lord and my God” (20:28). Contrary to the explanation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Thomas was not swearing! Jesus would have rebuked him for that. Instead, Jesus commended him for believing the truth.
As I said, in the Old Testament, the Jews recognized the pillar and the cloud as the Lord (Exod. 13:21; 14:19-25). Furthermore, light is often used as a metaphor for God. Psalm 27:1 proclaims, “The Lord is my light and my salvation ….” In a prophecy about Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:16), Isaiah 9:2 predicts, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” In Isaiah 42:6 & 49:6, the Lord tells His Servant, the Messiah, that He has appointed Him to be “a light to the nations” (or, “world,” in John 8:12).
In Isaiah 60:19-20, God says to His people, “No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light.” This is fulfilled in Revelation 21:23-24, where instead of the sun and moon, the nations have the Lamb as their lamp, and that Lamb is identified as “the Lord God” (22:5). Also, 1 John 1:5 tells us, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” This reveals that God is absolutely pure and holy. Since Jesus is the light, He is without any sin (John 8:46; Heb. 7:26). Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world is a claim to be the Lord God in human flesh.
As Jesus states (John 8:14), He has come from the Father and He is returning to the Father. As He will further reveal, He and the Father are one (10:30). The one who has seen Him has seen the Father (14:9). John 1:18 put it, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Thus Jesus uniquely reveals to us the truth of who the Father is and what He is like. If you have trouble getting your brain around the fact that God is invisible and that He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), then look to Jesus. He reveals the truth about God to us. We can only know the Father through the Son (Luke 10:22).
As we saw in John 2:24-25, Jesus knew all men and He knew what was in man. The fact is, apart from Jesus Christ, we don’t even know ourselves. The fallen human heart is deceptive and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). When we do not know God, we call evil good and good evil, substituting darkness for light and light for darkness. We are wise in our own sight (Isa. 5:20-21). Jesus says here that if we do not follow Him, we walk in the darkness. We think we know where we’re going, but we’re wrong. We deceive ourselves and end up ruining our lives and the lives of those around us.
Jesus also implies here the truth that other Scriptures plainly state, that apart from Him we’re dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1, 4). Paul combines the imagery both of darkness and spiritual death when he says (Eph. 4:18) that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” Jesus states it positively, if we follow Him we “will have the Light of life.” This means the Light that imparts life (see 1:4).
When you’re spiritually dead, you need God’s resurrection power to impart new life to your soul. Exhortations on how to improve your morals are of no use to a corpse. He needs life! Jesus promises that if you follow Him, you will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light that gives life.
Jesus is not just the light of the Jews, but of the world. And He is the only light of the world. Other religions claim to enlighten and give spiritual insight, but they don’t deliver. Philosophers speculate about the great questions of life, but they can’t offer any true insights, because they’re in the dark. Paul says (Col. 2:3) that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. That wisdom and knowledge applies to all people, whether to primitive, illiterate tribes or to highly educated intellectuals.
When Jesus says that He is the light of the world, He does not mean that all people innately have enough light to respond to Him. Apart from Him, people are in spiritual darkness. Neither does He mean that people can figure out spiritual truth apart from His followers taking the gospel to them. As you know, just before He ascended, the risen Savior gave the Great Commission, telling us to make disciples of all nations. As Paul said (Rom. 10:14-15a), people can’t believe unless we go and tell them the good news. But when we go with the gospel and pray that God will open spiritually blind eyes, He does so as He reveals the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4, 6).
The Bible says that we who know Christ shine as lights in the world (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15; Eph. 5:8), but only Christ is the true light. We just reflect Him. He’s like the sun; we’re like the moon. He is the source of light; we only shine as we reflect His image. As people see Christ reflected in us, we can point them to Him.
So Jesus makes this astounding claim: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” That claim inherently calls for a response:
First, we need to understand what it means to follow Jesus:
You won’t follow someone you don’t trust. Suppose that we’re hiking in the woods and there are many trails going in different directions. I say to you, “Follow me; I know the way out of here.” The key issue is, do you trust me? Do you trust that I know what I’m talking about? If I have a track record of getting lost or of getting confused about directions, you’re not going to follow me. But if I’ve been in these woods many times and have guided people out of them successfully every time, and you know my reputation, you’ll follow me. If you say that you’re following me, but wander off in another direction, you’re not really following me. To follow someone means to trust him and to obey him.
So do you trust Jesus and obey Him? Do you trust His many claims about Himself? Do you trust the apostolic witness to Jesus? Do you trust that He died for your sins and was raised from the dead? Do you trust His promise to come again in power and glory and to judge the living and the dead? And does your trust translate into obedience to His commands?
When you trust in Jesus as your Savior and obey Him as your Lord, there are many benefits:
If I listed all the benefits of following Jesus, we’d be here all week. But limiting myself to the picture of the pillar of fire and cloud that’s behind Jesus’ claim here, we see these three benefits: His presence, His protection, and His guidance.
Exodus 13:21 states, “The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” Throughout the time that Israel was in the wilderness, the cloud hovered over the tabernacle and symbolized God’s presence with His people.
In the same way, Jesus promised us His presence, especially as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19-20). The Bible tells us that we’re in Christ, but also that He is in us. Jesus promises (John 14:28), “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” He also promises (Heb. 13:5), “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
Also, the cloud and the fire protected Israel both from Pharaoh’s advancing army and later from the fierce desert sun by day and the dark and cold at night. In the same way, Jesus is our protection. He shelters us from the wrath of God that is coming on unbelievers. He protects us from the spiritual enemies that wage war against our souls. Just as He protected Jesus here, even though His enemies wanted to seize Him (8:20), so He protects His children until it’s our time to be with Him.
Also, the cloud guided Israel through that harsh, untracked wilderness. When the cloud moved, the people followed (Num. 9:17-23). He guided them to springs of water. He charted their course to the Promised Land. And, the Lord guides us through His Word, His Spirit, and the wise counsel of mature believers. He gives us wisdom in trials as we ask Him in prayer (James 1:3-5).
I wish I could end the message here and we could all go our way basking in the goodness of the Lord toward those who follow Jesus as the Light. But our text (in fact the major part of it!) shows us that the right response to Jesus isn’t the only option.
The Pharisees retorted to Jesus’ astounding claim (8:13), “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” They were ignoring Jesus’ many miracles, His amazing teaching, the witness of John the Baptist, and the many Old Testament prophecies that pointed to Jesus and rejecting Him based on the superficial reason that the law stipulated that to be valid in court, a claim had to be backed by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). I can only skim these verses, but note two things:
The Pharisees are going back to Jesus’ statement in John 5:31, “If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true.” The translators have added alone; Jesus actually said “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not true.” In the context, He meant that if He acted independently of the Father, His witness would be invalid. But in that same context, He showed that the Father testified of Him through the witness of John the Baptist, Jesus’ works (miracles), and God’s Word. But here, the Pharisees are not raising honest questions. Rejecting the witness that they had been given, they were desperately looking for any excuse they could find to reject Jesus’ claims. Jesus replies (8:14-18),
“Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”
Jesus came from heaven and He was returning to heaven. That’s why He can claim to be the Light of the world. But the Pharisees were in the dark. They judged Jesus outwardly, according to the flesh. He did not judge people that way. When He judged people, He did it in truth because He depended on the Father who sent Him. Conceding their point about two witnesses, Jesus claims that He has not only His own witness, but also that of the Father.
Then the Pharisees retorted (8:19), “Where is Your Father?” They were probably thinking of Jesus’ human father, and may have been questioning His paternity based on rumors of His mother’s pregnancy before she was married (8:41). But Jesus answers (8:19), “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” The only way anyone can know the Father is through the Son (Luke 10:22). By refusing to follow Jesus, these religious leaders remained in spiritual darkness. But in their minds, they had “biblical reasons”! Unbelievers always come up with “reasons” why they don’t follow Jesus. Sometimes, as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witness who wrote to me, they’re even “biblical” reasons. But they’re always superficial excuses, not valid reasons.
As we saw in John 3:19, “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Those who do not follow Jesus are living in spiritual and moral darkness. The evidence of spiritual darkness is that you want to get rid of Jesus from your life (8:20). But eliminating Christ from your life does not eliminate God as the sovereign of the world. He is sovereign over all things, including the timing of the death of His Son (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). One day every knee will bow before Jesus, either for rewards or for condemnation (Phil. 2:9-11). The root reason that people reject Jesus is that they love their sin. They don’t want the Light to expose their evil deeds.
So Jesus’ astounding claim (8:12), “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life,” draws a line and asks, “Which side are you on?” With the Pharisees, will you reject Jesus’ claim for some superficial reason because you don’t want the Light exposing your sin? Or, will you follow Him by trusting Him as your Savior and obeying Him as your Lord? He is either a religious crackpot or He is who He claimed to be. There is ample evidence that His witness is true, which means that you should follow Him.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation