Jesus: The Light of the World
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12
In this verse Jesus declares himself to be “the light of the world.” This is the second of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements1. While the expression appears simple and straightforward on the outside, the imaginary is an actuality rich and multilayered. John, in his prologue, set the stage for the importance of light imagery2. The imagery of light reminds the reader of descriptions from the Old Testament. How does this imagery remind readers of the Old Testament and what Old Testament passages would they be reminded of?
- Genesis 1:3-4: God’s first creation was light.
- Exodus 13:21-22: God’s presence with his people after they departed Egypt was symbolized in the pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.
- Psalm 27:1: Light symbolized salvation.
- Psalm 119:105: God’s Word was depicted as a light to guide his people.
- Isaiah 49:6: God called Israel to be a light to the Gentiles.
- Isaiah 60:14-22 and Zechariah 14:5-7: The prophets predicted that light would shine forth from the temple in the last days.
The presence of Jesus as “the light of the world” means people had and still have one of two choices. They can follow him in discipleship and know the light of God’s life, presence and protection. Or they could reject him and live in spiritual darkness. And if one reads the very next verse one will see a group of people who did exactly that.3 This group argued that Jesus’ testimony was invalid because he had no other witness to confirm it. But this group was conveniently forgetting the very prophets that they claimed to believe, because the prophet Isaiah in particular stands as great witness to the truth and the validity of Jesus’ statement.
Of the many passages that could be used as witnesses to the truth and validity of Jesus’ statements about himself, there are two that apply specifically to John 8:12 and Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world.” The first is found in Isaiah 8:19-9:7.
When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.4
The first section of this passage, 8:19-22, lays out the fact that the time will come when the people will want the words of mediums and spiritualists, but this kind of inquiry dishonors God. The people of God should be seeking their God. And they should believe what he has already revealed, and they should take seriously the warnings God has spoken through his prophet5. But the people’s spiritual state will not improve. Why? Because their hearts will be full of rage, and they will curse the king and God. The people will see distress and darkness, which reflects their spiritual need and helplessness.
However, in Isaiah 9:1-7 God gives people a hope. How does God give people a hope? Into the darkness, that was discussed and outlined in Isaiah 8:19-22, God will shine his everlasting light. The fulfillment of the hope these verses give reaches far beyond Isaiah’s day. How? The land of Galilee will experience God’s gracious light, such that people in the land of darkness will witness the dawn of something new.6 What God does will mean joy and peace.7 This hope and dawning light again concern the birth of a son. But Isaiah’s son is not in view here. The Lord promises a son who will rule and whose titles include Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.8 This son is the promised offspring of David9, the son whose reign will never end10. Though Israel had not yet had a king who practiced perfect justice and righteousness, one would be born in fullness of time, when the incarnation of God’s Son fulfilled the hope of Isaiah 9:1-7. After Jesus went to live in Capernaum in the land of Galilee, Matthew tells us that this fulfilled what Isaiah wrote: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.”11 Jesus is the light of the world, so wherever Jesus went, the dawning light of deliverance shone.
The second passage, also from Isaiah, is Isaiah 42:1-9.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the LORD says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”12
Like Isaiah 8:19-9:7 this passage from Isaiah can also be split into two parts. The first part is found in verses 1-4, where one sees the “servant” language that is found throughout Isaiah continuing. Yahweh or the Lord will uphold his servant, his chosen one, in whom he divinely delights. This servant figure will be anointed by the Spirit and have a mission to establish justice.13 Earlier in Isaiah’s prophecy, the prophet spoke of a future king who would establish justice, and the same figure is referenced here in Isaiah 42. The coming Son of David is the anointed servant. He will conduct himself gently, wisely, effectively and faithfully.14 He will bring justice to the world that has been broken by sin and death, and he will see the job through to the end. The New Testament tells the story of the servant’s arrival and ministry. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke from heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”15 Being well pleased with the Son, who at that time was anointed with the Spirit, alludes to the language of Isaiah 42:1, which speaks about a Spirit-anointed servant in whom God delights. The Father’s declaration about the the sonship of Jesus in Matthew 3 is remarkable. When Isaiah 42 is seen in light of Isaiah 9 and Matthew 3, we can conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s anointed servant who is also the Son of David and the Son of God.
The second part is found in verses 5-9, where one sees the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who fills creation with the breath of life, raises up the anointed servant. This figure is different from Cyrus16, who will be the people’s political savior. The nation of Israel and the nations of the world need a spiritual savior, a redeemer, in addition to a political deliverer. God will make this servant-savior “a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”17. Jesus is the light of the world, and he established the new covenant.18 His ministry of healing was anticipated in Isaiah 42:7, which states that the promised servant would open the eyes of the blind and liberate those in darkness. The servant does not diminish God’s glory; he displays it. The work of God in his anointed servant is for the cause of true praise and worship. He who holds the future will not concede his glory to idols. Salvation is needed, but the idols cannot grant it. The idols cannot free the captive. But the servant of the Lord-Jesus-can.
The big take away that one should take for all this is very simple: Jesus is the true and complete revelation of God’s light; he removes spiritual darkness and deception by shining his light upon the right path to God and be revealing the opportunity for spiritual salvation through faith in Jesus. In addition to that primary take away there are also two secondary take aways.
- All those who accept Jesus’ forgiveness, abandon their own way life and follow Jesus are freed from the darkness of sin, the world and Satan. Those who do not follow Jesus are choosing to remain in spiritual darkness.
- The phrase “Whoever follows me” is a present participle, indicating a continuing action-“Whoever keeps on following.” Meaning that true Christian discipleship (i.e., following and becoming like Jesus) must be a way of life.
Today’s Bible Readings:
Daniel 11:2-35, 1 John 3:7-24, Psalm 122:1-9 and Proverbs 29:1
- See post “Through the Bible in One Year: Day 134” for references to what the Jewish people would have heard when Jesus used the phrase “I am”. upstatechristian.com/2022/05/14/through-the-bible-in-one-year-134/
- John 1:4
- “The Pharisees challenged him, ‘Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.'” John 8:13 (NIV)
- Isaiah 8:19-9:7 (NIV)
- Isaiah 8:20
- Isaiah 9:1-2
- Isaiah 9:3-5
- Isaiah 9:6
- 2 Samuel 7:12-13
- Isaiah 9:7
- Matthew 4:16 citing Isaiah 9:2
- Isaiah 42:1-9 (NIV)
- Isaiah 42:1
- Isaiah 42:2-4
- Matthew 3:17
- The Persian king who set the people of Israel free from their captive in Babylon.
- Isaiah 42:6
- John 8:12, Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Luke 22:20
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