The Gospel of John – I Am The Light of the World

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Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus makes the powerful statement beginning with the phrase “I am.” These comments echo the words of God to Moses in Exodus 3:1414 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”. There, when Moses asks who he should say has sent him to Israel, God tells Moses to tell the people “I AM WHO AM…Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” This phrase implies the simplest expression of God’s nature: He just is, He must be. When Jesus uses this phrasing, He is deliberately invoking that same essence.

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Dispute Over Jesus’ Testimony

12 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.”

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

14 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. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

19 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.” 20 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.


Dispute Over Who Jesus Is

21 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.”

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

23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 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.”

25 “Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “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.”

27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 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. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him. John 8:12-30

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What happened?

This incident occurs during the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Jesus uses the festival rituals as analogies for His role as the Messiah (John 7:37–3837 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”). Lamps would be lit using wicks made from priestly garments as part of this major festival,. In addition, light was a powerful metaphor in Hebrew thinking.

Psalm 84:11 – For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless; Malachi 4:2 – But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.

“Light,” for the Jewish person, was the ultimate ideal, a representation of salvation, knowledge, and goodness. For Jesus to claim to be the “light of the world” was no small thing. In fact, it is a claim to equality with God. Even further, the Greek of this passage indicates Jesus’ claim to be “the” light, not merely “a” light. In the text’s original Greek, Christ says “Egō eimi to phos tou kosmou,” which explicitly claims He is the single, solitary source of “light.”

Escalating conflict

This statement sparks a dialogue which continues to escalate, until the Pharisees are enraged enough to attempt to kill Jesus then and there.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus was challenged by religious leaders for proof of His claims. There, Jesus agreed that it was necessary to have evidence—a person could not simply take someone’s word when they made bold claims. In that exchange, not long after healing a man crippled for decades, Jesus offered three separate lines of evidence supporting His ministry (John 5:30–47). In that context, and for those issues, Jesus agreed that other evidence was not only available, but necessary. This is the same basic argument being made here, this time by the Pharisees.

However, the information being discussed here is not the same kind of knowledge for which Jesus offered human evidence. Those were issues such as eyewitness to miracles and the content of the Scriptures. Here, as Jesus will respond in the next verse, only one person has ever actually seen the truths being claimed, so only that person can speak of them.

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Jesus is his own witness

Some time ago, Jesus had debated with local religious leaders over His teaching and healing ministry. At that time, Jesus appealed to three separate lines of evidence to support His claims (John 5:30–47). At that moment, the topic at hand was a topic which other people had seen and witnessed. Namely, the content of the Scriptures, the occurrence of Jesus’ miracles, and the claims of other people. In the prior verse, after Jesus claimed to be “the light of the world,” the Pharisees have challenged Him with that standard of proof. Their claim is that this remark is just like Jesus’ earlier claims, and so He cannot “bear witness” about Himself.

For these statements, Jesus and Jesus alone had the authority to testify.

Here, however, Jesus takes an approach to evidence which is drastically different, but compatible with His prior remarks. In earlier debates, Jesus was discussing issues which the Pharisees had an equal access to knowledge. They could just as easily read the Scriptures, see the miracles, and hear from other people as anyone else. In this case, however, Jesus is speaking directly of things which no person on earth has first-hand knowledge of.

Judge Appropriately

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Something that I have always believed is this – judge not, unless that judgement puts a person back on the right track to Jesus.

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Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did not give a blanket command that Christians ought not judge at all. Rather, Jesus’ remarks about judgment were in the context of judging appropriately (John 7:24). Here, Jesus points out that the Pharisees are using flawed, unspiritual judgment.

He, on the other hand, is not yet executing judgment, even though He has the right and the authority to do so! At this point in His ministry, Jesus role is not to bring judgment for sin (John 3:17 – “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.“)—this judgment comes later, on those who reject Him and His message (John 3:18 – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.“; John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them”).

Jesus gives this response to the Pharisees who challenge His claim to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12 – “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.”). While issues such as miracles and Scripture are subject to human testimony (John 5:36–41), Jesus speaks of heavenly matters. On those, only He has true knowledge, so only He can speak truthfully about them. Even so, Jesus can point to two separate “persons” to support His claim: Himself and God the Father (John 5:18). The Pharisees earlier claim that Jesus’ “I AM” statement cannot be accepted, then, is missing the mark. Jesus’ unflattering remarks about these religious leaders are part of an escalating pattern in this dialogue, which will end with the Pharisees in a murderous rage.

Jesus is God

A common claim of those who reject Jesus’ divine nature is that “He never claimed to be God.” Verses such as this show that to be false. When a person claims to do what only God can do, or to know what only God can know, that is the same as claiming to be God. Jesus’ enemies know this all too well, and it’s the reason He is accused of blasphemy by those who seek to have Him killed. Jesus claims to speak with divine authority—that His judgment is identical to that of God the Father, and that He was in fact sent by God the Father.

This makes Jesus’ judgment, and His moral authority, far superior to that of the religious leaders who are opposing Him. Even by human standards, they are using the wrong kind of discernment: they are judging “by the flesh.” Jesus is not only using “right judgment” (John 7:24), He has access to judgment based in the very will of God.

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Testimony of two and himself

It is interesting that Jesus uses the phrase “your law”. Most likely, He is referring to Deuteronomy. Generally, when Jesus refers to the Old Testament, He calls it “the law” or “the Law of Moses,” or “the Scriptures.” The words used here means that Jesus is speaking of some other, non-scriptural Rabbinic law. In this conversation, the Pharisees will question Jesus’ birth (John 8:41), His sanity (John 8:48), and even try to kill Him (John 8:59). Jesus has already criticised the judgment of these opposing religious leaders (John 8:15). Later, He will claim that they do not know God (John 8:19), that they are children of the Devil (John 8:44), and that they are liars (John 8:55).

Specifically, the Pharisees have challenged Jesus claim to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12). This is quite a grand suggestion, implying that Jesus is the sole source of both salvation and spiritual wisdom. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus noted that some claims should be supported with earthly evidence, which He provided to prove His claims (John 5:30–47). Now, however, Jesus is speaking of heavenly issues, which no other person has seen or experienced. To testify about Himself, then, is perfectly legitimate. Even more so, Jesus has the testimony of a second person: God the Father (John 8:18).

Jesus is defending an inherently spiritual claim. Earlier, Jesus said He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12). This is knowledge which no other person could have—so for Jesus to testify about Himself is legitimate.

Further, those who oppose Him are using improper judgment in order to dismiss Him. Not only is it valid for Jesus to testify about something He alone has seen, He also has the support of an additional witness: God the Father. In this case, Jesus is once again pointing to the miracles He has performed as evidence that God supports His ministry (John 20:30–31). This is a key part of the gospel of John’s proof that Jesus is not only Messiah, but God incarnate. Even by the Pharisees own law and logic, miracles as proof of God’s approval should be an acceptable argument (John 3:1–2).

Of course, logic and law are not the primary goal of the Pharisees in this moment. Rather than wrangle this point, they will attempt to shift the conversation, challenging Jesus’ references to God as His father.

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Where is your Father

Jesus defends His claim to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12), Jesus claimed to have equal judgment to God, whom He called His “Father.” This was part of Jesus’ argument that, as the only man who had actually seen the heavenly things He was speaking of, it was acceptable for Him to “testify” about Himself. The miracles He performed were proof—by the Pharisees own logic (John 3:1–2)—that His mission was approved by God. In response, the Pharisees have diverted the conversation to question what Jesus means when He speaks of His “father.”

This terminology would have been both confusing and controversial for the Pharisees. They did not think of God in terms of a Father-Son-Holy Spirit trinity, and certainly did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. The question asked here might also be a subtle dig at Jesus. One of the insults these men will throw at Him later is an allusion to His birth, hinting that His lack of an earthly father was, in fact, because He was an illegitimate child.

Jesus continues to directly castigate these critics. Jewish people, especially those highly educated in the Law of Moses, prided themselves on “knowing” God. For Jesus to claim that they do not know God is a cutting remark. Beyond that, Jesus adds to His claims of divinity. Those who know Jesus Christ know God (John 1:14), and those who reject Jesus Christ are turning away from God (John 3:36).

His hour had not yet come

The conversation between Jesus and his critics—in this case, the Pharisees—continues to escalate. Jesus is directly condemning their judgment (John 8:15) and their spirituality (John 8:19). After claiming to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12), Jesus says that these men do not know Him, nor do they know His Father.

Despite suggestions that Jesus never claimed to be God, this is part of Jesus’ consistent pattern. In this conversation, He professes to have the judgment of God (John 8:16), to have knowledge only God can know (John 8:26), and to be the sole source of spiritual truth (John 8:31–32). That controversy is not lost on Jesus’ opponents, who often attempted to have Him arrested (John 7:32). In some cases, they even became angry enough to attempt to stone Him (John 5:18). Here, as in some other cases, the Bible gives no specific reason why they are not able to take Jesus into custody. Whether by natural or supernatural intervention, or simply out of fear of the crowd, Jesus’ enemies are not yet able to silence Him.

From God’s perspective, of course, the reason Jesus is not yet being taken captive is simple: this is not yet His time. That moment will come (John 17:1), but for now, God the Father has other plans for His Son.

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These men do not know Him, nor do they know His Father

The conversation between Jesus and his critics—in this case, the Pharisees—continues to escalate. Jesus is directly condemning their judgment (John 8:15) and their spirituality (John 8:19). After claiming to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12), Jesus says that these men do not know Him, nor do they know His Father.

Despite suggestions that Jesus never claimed to be God, this is part of Jesus’ consistent pattern. In this conversation, He professes to have the judgment of God (John 8:16), to have knowledge only God can know (John 8:26), and to be the sole source of spiritual truth (John 8:31–32). That controversy is not lost on Jesus’ opponents, who often attempted to have Him arrested (John 7:32). In some cases, they even became angry enough to attempt to stone Him (John 5:18). Here, as in some other cases, the Bible gives no specific reason why they are not able to take Jesus into custody. Whether by natural or supernatural intervention, or simply out of fear of the crowd, Jesus’ enemies are not yet able to silence Him.

From God’s perspective, of course, the reason Jesus is not yet being taken captive is simple: this is not yet His time. That moment will come (John 17:1), but for now, God the Father has other plans for His Son.

Jesus specifically condemns the Pharisees and their lack of faith. Sooner or later, their time to accept Christ would end, and even though they might seek Him, they’d be damned for their sins. Later, Jesus will re-emphasize this point, telling those who reject Him that they are destined to die for their spiritual stubbornness (John 8:24).

You are from below; I am from above

Jesus not only makes grand claims about Himself, He also directly attacks the spirituality of the Pharisees, His primary critics. This conversation will continue to escalate, with Jesus making His claims more outrageous, and His attacks more pointed. The Pharisees will counter with insults and accusations of insanity, before once again attempting to have Jesus stoned for blasphemy.

Jesus has recently referred to Himself as “the light of the world,” which implies that He is the one, single source of spiritual truth. Jesus has also claimed to have been sent by God the Father (John 8:16), as evidenced by miracles. For this reason, Jesus claims to be able to speak of things which others on earth have never seen. Here, He makes a similar remark. The men attacking Him are part of the “the world,” which carries a dual meaning in Scripture. “The world” can refer to the human, fallen, sinful mindset. It can also mean this physical realm. Both descriptions apply to the men Jesus is debating, but primarily, He means that this lowly place is where these men are from—where they were born. Jesus has His home in heaven, and is not bound by the sins and errors of His detractors (Hebrews 4:15).

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One way to Salvation

One way sign with copy-space.

Once again, Jesus professes to be the one and only option for salvation. Earlier, when claiming to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12), He made the same suggestion. Then, while debating with the Pharisees, Jesus directly said that those who reject Him “will die in [their] sins” (John 8:21). Since Jesus is sent by God the father (John 8:16), comes from heaven (John 8:23), and does the will of God (John 7:28–29), those who reject Him cannot be saved (John 3:36). To turn your back on Christ is to turn your back on God Himself (John 6:29).

This is the context of Jesus’ recent comments about going where He cannot be followed. First and foremost, this means returning to heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection (John 20:17). However, it also reflects the fact that these men are running out of time to accept their Savior. At some point, they’ll realize they need to seek Christ, but it will be too late (Luke 16:19–31).

Interestingly, Jesus once again uses the “I AM” phrasing here. In the gospel of John, there are seven highlighted moments where Jesus describes Himself using this specific expression. While this is not one of those, the meaning is the same. When God stated His identity in Exodus 3:14, He referred to Himself as “I AM,” using a Hebrew phrasing implying necessary existence and absolute truth. When Jesus states in this verse that one must believe “I am he,” it’s yet another instance where He does, in fact, tell others that He is God.

Walk away…eventually

It’s important to note that, at this point, Jesus does not offer additional proof or argument. This is a useful principle for modern Christians to keep in mind: at some point, those who ask for even more proof are not being honest. Those who refuse to accept what they’ve been given won’t benefit from being given even more (Matthew 7:6). As Jesus will point out in the next verse, there is much more which could be said, but hardened hearts like theirs would make such efforts a waste of time.

All of this, sadly, is lost on the men attacking Jesus. As the next verse indicates, they simply do not understand. At the same time, Scripture makes it clear that a person’s intent comes before their ability to understand. The evidence is there, and the truth is there, but those who do not want to understand cannot understand (John 7:17). Jesus is not going to waste additional time giving proofs or evidence to those who have no interest whatsoever in truth (Matthew 7:6).

The men debating with Jesus are not interpreting His words with an understanding that He is the Promised One. Nor do they understand that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Knowing this clarifies both their resistance, and some of the questions and challenges they are posing. When Jesus speaks of His “Father,” their minds jump immediately to an earthly, biological father. For them, it is confusing to hear Jesus speak of God, and then use the term “father,” in this debate.

However, simple misunderstanding is not the root cause of their disagreement. This is not unintentional ignorance—this is purposeful, stubborn refusal to see the truth. As Jesus has said before, only those who want to do the will of God can truly understand His words (John 7:17). This means, simply, that a person’s intentions are more powerful than someone else’s evidence. The Pharisees do not want to know Jesus, and that is why they cannot understand His message.

Lifted up

Jesus predicts His own death, lays claim to being the fulfillment of prophecy, equates Himself both with Messiah and God, and professes that His words and actions are those of God Himself.

In Jesus’ day, crucifixion was considered to be so vile, so brutal, and so shameful that people rarely spoke of it directly. Instead, they would use various metaphors, such as being “lifted up.” This is particularly common reference for Jesus, who often speaks of how the Messiah—Jesus Himself—must be “lifted up” in order to accomplish His mission (John 3:14; John 12:32).

The term “Son of Man” was one Jewish listeners would have immediately recognized. In Daniel, the Messianic figure is described as “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13–14). When Jesus uses this phrase, His audience knows precisely what He is referring to. Many of them, also, know that Jesus was fond of using this expression in reference to Himself (Matthew 8:20; Mark 8:21; Luke 12:10; John 3:13–14).

In verse 24, Jesus had used the expression “I am he” in reference to His role as the One source of salvation (John 3:16–18). This echoes the famous words of God, who identified Himself to Moses by stating “I AM WHO I AM…Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” Jesus echoes this same claim often. In the gospel of John, seven such statements are given special attention, including one earlier in this very conversation (John 8:12).

Jesus also makes another comment linking His words and His teachings, to those of God the Father. In the next verse, Jesus will continue to explain how He is eternally, continually in communion and agreement with His heavenly Father.

Sent by God

A major theme of Jesus’ teaching in this debate with the Pharisees is the fact that He has been sent by God. The miracles Jesus has done, in and of themselves, should tell these critics that He is operating with the blessing of God (John 5:36). Jesus has also been consistent in professing to have God’s judgment (John 8:16), power (John 5:19), and knowledge (John 7:16). He has overtly stated His role as the one and only source of spiritual truth (John 8:12). And yet, critics such as the Pharisees reject Jesus—they fail to grasp His message (John 7:17), not because they cannot know, but because they do not want to know.

Even when human friends abandon Him, Jesus will still be with God the Father (John 16:32). This ties directly into Jesus’ constant reminders that His mission is to do the will of God (John 6:38). This makes those who reject Him all the more rightly condemned; to reject Jesus Christ is to reject God Himself (John 3:36).

Believe but not truly believe

Many, if not most, of the people listening to Jesus in this particular moment will not maintain their support for Him in the coming days. Just as some expressed a shallow sort of “belief” after Jesus fed thousands (John 6:22–25), but then turned away when they did not like His teaching (John 6:66), the people Jesus speaks to know will, for the most part, turn their backs on Him as He continues to confront Pharisaical attitudes towards God.

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath

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