John 8:12 – “I Am the Light of the World”

In John 8:12 Jesus makes the remarkable claim that he is the “Light of the World.” This phrase is very common in Christian worship today and it is possible our familiarity with these words obscures what Jesus meant by them when he spoke them during the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.

As readers of John’s Gospel, we have known this fact since the prologue. But now Jesus declares to crowds gathered to celebrate the Feast of Dedication that he is the True Light.

MenorahJesus makes this statement at the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, a festival celebrating the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean Revolt in 165 B.C. After Antiochus desecrated the Temple, the Jews fought a war to re-capture Jerusalem. When the Temple was secured, the altar was replaced so sacrifices could begin again. There was not enough oil consecrated to light the menorah and it would take seven more days to consecrate more oil. They used what oil they had and it lasted for the whole eight days. This is the miracle remembered during the feast by the lighting of menorahs in homes and in the Temple.

First century Jewish historian Josephus described the feast as the “festival of lights” although some scholars doubt this description as accurate. The story of the miraculous light is not found in 1 Maccabees, so the origin of the “light” aspect of Hanukkah is not clear (ABD, “Dedication, Feast of,” 2:124). Since this saying takes place in the public courts, Jesus may very well be contrasting himself with the lights of the festival. As people are celebrating the liberation from their oppressors by the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, Jesus stands up and declares that he is the true light of the world!

By declaring he is the Light of the World, Jesus is alluding to several texts from the Hebrew Bible. There are a number of texts which describe God as light (Ps 27:1, 36:9) or the Law as light (Ps 119:105, Prov 6:23). I think it is likely that Jesus’s allusion is to the light of the Torah in this saying. The Torah is God’s word, and it is by God’s word that the the world came into being.  This resonates with the prologue ion John 1 as well, since the Word was with God in the beginning and through the Word all things have been created. For a Jewish teacher to declare that they are the “light of the world” is to claim something which goes beyond what might be expected, he is claiming to be God.

Since Jesus says everyone who follows this light has life, it is possible this is also an allusion to Israel in the Wilderness. This was obvious in John 6 when Jesus provided food in the wilderness. When Israel was in the wilderness, the light is the pillar of fire which led Israel when they traveled in the wilderness.

In either case, that Jesus is the light of the world is a major theme in John’s gospel. Those who follow Jesus walk in the light, those who reject Jesus walk in the darkness. Light exposes what is hidden in the darkness. Light is always associated with truth, lies with darkness. By the end of this chapter Jesus makes it clear that to reject him is to willingly choose to remain in the darkness, those who follow Jesus are walking in the light.

If Jesus is alluding to the light of the Torah or the light provided by the glory of God in the wilderness, how does that help the reader of John’s Gospel to understand who Jesus is? What is John claiming about Jesus is this well-known saying?

13 thoughts on “John 8:12 – “I Am the Light of the World”

  1. John throughout the Gospel is claiming that Jesus is the light of the world and that he is the creator because he is God. He uses the phrase as a “parable of the Pharisees spiritual blindness,” (Kostenberger, 97). The Pharisees are spiritually blind because they do not see the miracles that Jesus performs because they do not grasp the idea that he is the Messiah which is why he performs signs. John compares Jesus to this spiritual darkness by showing that life without Jesus is a life lived in spiritual darkness. The Pharisees were living like this because they did not have Jesus in their hearts. This leads to the fact that John also claims that Jesus is the life. Because Jesus is light he is life, because without Jesus, there is no life. And without life their is no light. As John puts it, Jesus is the light of life, (John 8:12, NIV). To have light, you must have Jesus and without Jesus, your life is dark. Those who are living in dark crave the light, and this is why people who are in a dark place, they crave something more. Sometimes they do not know what because they have not heard the Gospel, but deep inside they are craving the light which is Jesus. Once you believe that Jesus is the creator and that he is light, he comes into your heart and shines a light in on your darkness.

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  2. This helps the reader understand that Jesus is this Light that God has been elluding to for so long. It is showing, just as John wants to show, that Jesus and God are one, that Jesus comes from God. The connections to the Hebrew Bible show his readers that this man is who they have been waiting for, he is who God says he is. Johnis saying that without Jesus, people are in complete darkness and if they are in complete darkness, they would know this to being without God. If God’s word is this light, and Jesus is the light that he is saying he is, the there is a connection to God. Jesus is the light that will lead us, but not only is Jesus the light for the israelites, but he is the light of the world, implying that the whole world will need him and follow him.

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  3. The metaphor that is best used to describe Jesus is this: Jesus is the light. Here is why I think this metaphor fits the way it does. First off there are a few different verses that support the claim that this metaphor makes. “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 (John 8:12).” That is what Jesus is a light to the darkness of the world. 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. Jesus is the light that could not be put out, his light continually shines. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).” The light of God came into this world and neither the world nor the power of Satan extinguish that light. The followers of Christ also reflect the light that comes from Christ, and they too are made to be a light in the world also. “You are a light to the world, a city that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14-15).” Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

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  4. I believe Jesus is alluding to the glory of God when he talks about the light. Because in the very beginning of John he describes Jesus as the light of the world. This also helps us understand that Jesus and God are one yet separate. John is consistent with this point throughout his gospel and that point is that Jesus is the Messiah whom the people have been looking for. John knows that the people of Jesus’ day including his own people would not only reject but crucify him. What blows me away is that knowing all that Jesus still went through with his death for all man kind. He died for the Judas’ of the world and the Barrabas’ of the world. He knew some would never accept or acknowledge his light and yet he came for me and for you!

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    • I would have to agree that Jesus went through all the persecution and crucifixion even though he knew there would always be people who would not accept him into their hearts because he loved us just as God loves us. You would think that when Jesus performed his miracles, everyone would be impressed. Instead, some people, more particularly the Pharisees were appalled by Jesus performing his miracles because they refused to believe that God would send someone who would come down and question everything they had learned throughout their lives and careers. Today some people will ask themselves why the Pharisees would even question Jesus’ authority given that he stated on more than one occasion he was the Son of God. I have even questioned this when I was younger. At the time I did not understand how someone could even think Jesus was a bad guy when he did so much good. I wondered why the Pharisees got so upset because Jesus performed miracles on the Sabbath when it seemed they worked on the Sabbath themselves. I still think they worked in some way on the Sabbath because they were in the Temple and I thought they were teachers. Even though people do not seem to rest on the Protestant’s Sabbath, Christians are still expected to go to church and rest, pastors are working on Sundays by preaching. Then it was brought to my attention by my parents that pastors may work on Sunday, but they have their own day of rest during the week.

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  5. John’s Gospel goes out of its way to use allusions to the Old testement as ways to describe Jesus. it would make complete sense that John would not simply be making a statement but rather that he is calling back to things like the Torah. the fact that he does this builds a better case for what he is saying to be true. it gives legitimacy to what Christ is saying and helps the reader to understand that John is saying Jesus is God. John starts his book with identifying Jesus as the word of God made flesh and this idea of Jesus being the Light of the world just as God has been a light to Israel only strengthens John’s overall narrative about Jesus

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  6. Light it self was a completely different thing back in Jesus’ day. Today we can’t completely understand it because we live our whole lives living with lights. In Jesus’ day light could be associated with life, because the sun provided the necessary light to grow food for many people. When the sun set, the darkness fell and there was little people could do, the only “defense” people had against this was oil lamps, lighting them in the dark could light a whole room. Yet I think that Jesus was talking more about shining in the darkness. There could definitely be a connection between Jesus claiming to be the light of the world, and Jesus also being the key to Eternal Life. But I think that Jesus was trying to shine a little light on the situation, and let the Jews know that He is in fact the SOn of God.

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  7. Jesus’s saying of being the light of the world shows the relation between Him and the Father. Through this saying, readers should get the idea that Jesus and God are one and share the same attributes. As in the wilderness, God showed the people of Israel light and provided safe passage throughout their journal. Those who understand the story of the wilderness could better understand who Jesus is because of the attributes God demonstrated in the wilderness. The people of Israel walked in darkness before God brought them salvation and guidance in the wilderness. The same connection could be made about Jesus as He has come to bring people out the darkness and save them from the sinful natures of the world. Everybody should follow the Light because that is the way to live faithfully in Jesus. According to Köstenberger, one thing John claims about Jesus is that the light is a moral contrast between spiritual life and spiritual death (Kostenberger, 104). To walk with Jesus means that you know the moral implications of sin and you have been opened to Jesus’s salvation and eternal life. Johns uses the word light to introduce Jesus as the one who has come from the Father. Being that God is the creator of Light and Jesus is described as the light in John gospel should tell readers He comes from God. The Son who has come down to earth to spread the word of God and to walk men through the light instead of the darkness.

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  8. Jesus came to be the light to this fallen and broken world. One of Jesus’ purpose here on earth was to proclaim the glory and splendor of God and the new life we have in him through the work of Jesus here on earth. Although people at Jesus’ time did not think that he was the actual Messiah they were unable to see Jesus and God’s work on earth. Throughout John’s gospel he was vividly showing us that Jesus was the messiah and the people just did not get the message that Jesus was giving. These people and pharisees so much didn’t like Jesus’ ministry that they put him on a cross to die. And Jesus being fully human but also the son of God knew all well that he would have to die paying the ultimate sacrifice for men. I think that would be extremely hard as I would think why they should deserve what I am doing for them? but Jesus went through with it as it was God’s will for it to be the light and savior of the world. Jesus came to be the light of the world and that’s what he did. He came to save us for our sins as we were the ones that deserved death.

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  9. With Jesus being the light of the world, we can see that this is a metaphor for protecting us against the darkness. Throughout the Bible we can see the darkness is quite obvious. Yet, Jesus came down to live here, and provide the light for us. Paul tells us to be like Christ, holy just like he is holy, and yet we find ourselves always living in darkness. John claims that Jesus is a contrast bewteen spiritual light and spiritual death. We can tell that Jesus came into the world to save the world, and not be apart of the world. This simple fact is why John uses the phrase light of the world. Jesus came into the world to save people from the darkness, the ultimate goal, and give his life so that we may clearly see.

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  10. It is in John chapter 8 that we see Jesus declaring that He is the light of the world; and as Christians today we have heard this said lots of times, but where does this comparison actually come from? While this does take place during the festival of lights, it is not likely that this is the types of light that Jesus is comparing himself to. More than likely Jesus is referring to what the Torah says about light. Going back to the prologue of the book of John, it is comparing Jesus to the Word of God which brought light into the world, and within this Jesus is claiming to be God. There is also one other possibility and that is that Jesus is alluding to the fact that the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by a pillar of fire. A light that was used to guide the way for the people to the promise land. What Jesus is comparing himself to might not be what John was trying to get at when he added this story to his gospel. It might just be the fact that in saying this Jesus is claiming to be God, and John’s goal is to tell of who Jesus really is. If anyone else were to try and claim this than people would think that they are claiming to be God, and Jesus is God therefore why He is saying it and why John has included it.

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