21 July 2017

John 8:12-20

“I am the light of the world.” (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 39


Today's passage forms part of a longer section of John's Gospel that starts at the beginning of chapter 7. Jesus has come down to Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles). Despite the fact that some of his opponents are already looking for a way to kill him (John 7:1), Jesus has bravely gone to the most public place in the city, the temple, to preach and teach. While there, he enters into a series of disputes with the religious authorities, many of them centring on how to interpret the scriptures, especially the law. Much of this chapter reads as if Jesus is defending himself in a trial; today we have references to both witnesses (verse 17) and judges (verses 15-16). According to the law, two witnesses were required for a successful prosecution in some crimes (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 19:15) but Jesus claims that God himself is his star witness (verse 16).

Jesus' bold assertion that he is "the light of the world", with its echoes of the beautiful prologue to John's Gospel (John 1:4-5), could have had many associations for his first audience. In the Jewish scriptures, light was associated with Wisdom and Torah (Psalm 119:105), both of which dispelled the darkness of ignorance and falsehood. The Feast of Tabernacles, which was being celebrated at this time, also included the lighting of four very large lampstands in the court of the temple, which allegedly illuminated much of the city. Many other scriptural allusions are possible, especially if John 7:53 - 8:11 was inserted later into the Gospel, as many scholars think (see, for example, Isaiah 9:1-2). Even more significant, though, could have been the use of the "I am…" phrase, a formulation that appears seven times in John's Gospel. When Moses asks God for his name in Exodus, God famously responds "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14). If the allusion is correct, then it is a very bold and public statement indeed by Jesus about his intimate relationship with God the Father.

To Ponder

  • How do you understand Jesus' statement, "I am the light of the world"?
  • What does this passage tell you about who exactly Jesus was?
  • Can anyone truly never "know" God unless we "know" Jesus Christ (v. 19)? What does "know" mean in this context?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.