John 8:12–30: I Am the Light of the World
A few notes, before I get into the actual passage:
- Given the ESV’s warning that earlier manuscripts don’t contain verses 7:53–8:11 (making them less reliable than the rest of John), I skipped over them.
- This whole passage is a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, so I’ll just go through it without the usual Passage / Thoughts distinction I usually do.
- I won’t bother to include the links to Bible Gateway for every passage; the entire passage can be found here.
The passage starts with a relatively simple point from Jesus:
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (verse 12)
When I say “simple,” I guess what I mean is that Jesus’ metaphors seem to produce less confusion when they’re not food-based. 🙂
- “I offer you living water!” Ooh, gimme that water! I hate having to go to the well every day. “No, what I mean is…”
- “I am the bread of life!” Wait, so we’re supposed to eat you? “No, what I mean is…”
- “I am the light of the world.” Gotcha.
I’m being very flippant—and it’s not like Jesus said any of these things and then was surprised by the confusion!—but it’s interesting that as soon as one of his metaphors does’t involve food, people immediately know what he’s talking about.
Which means that the Pharisees skip right over the whole “what do you mean by ‘light’” part of the conversation, and get right to the fact that they think whatever Jesus is saying is meaningless, because he’s bearing witness about himself. They’re referring to the rules set out in the Old Testament Scriptures that nobody should be put to death on the evidence of just one witness; there should be at least two witnesses in any “capital” trial. They tell him “your testimony is not true” (verse 13), though I think they’re stretching the point; just because testimony might not be accepted in a court of law, since it’s only one witness, it doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
In verses 14–18, Jesus digs into this argument.
|Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness 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.”||I’m not going to claim to be a legal scholar—far from it—but when I read this I go back to what I said above about “what is appropriate for court” versus “what is true.” Jesus is making big claims about himself and his relation to the Father—but Jesus is actually from Heaven, sent by the Father. He knows things the Pharisees couldn’t possibly know. Regardless of what they will accept, his testimony is true. He simply knows more than they do.|
|“You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.”||I think Jesus is drawing a line here between the judgement to come and what his ministry on earth as a person involves. As long as Jesus was here, as a man, his job was not to judge, it was to save. The Pharisees (and other religious leaders), of course, judge “according to the flesh”—they have only human means to judge guilt or innocence.|
|“Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”||Pretty self explanatory. If Jesus were to judge he’d have a perfect ability to do so, and He will in the final judgement when it is His job to judge. In fact, while Jesus’ ministry here on Earth wasn’t one of judgement, there are isolated instances of him making specific judgements about people, and calling them out on their sins but, to the larger point, even when he does it’s part of a larger effort to bring that person to faith.|
|“In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”||Although the Pharisees aren’t going to accept it, there are actually two witnesses bearing witness about Jesus: himself, and the Father.|
But if the Father is the second witness on Jesus’ behalf, where is He?
They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (verse 19)
It’s interesting to compare Jesus’ interactions with different people. He has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at her well and points her sin out to her, but the reader never gets the impression he is being harsh with her, he just needs her to repent so that she can become a true believer. He heals a man on the Sabbath and the passage seems to indicate that the man’s infirmity might be caused by his own sin, yet Jesus heals the man without any “strings” attached, and only later does he even bring up the topic of sin. Yet Jesus can’t seem to resist opportunities to tell the Pharisees that they don’t know God, which I have to believe would have been really insulting to a group of people who were known for doing nothing but studying the Scriptures!
But in the middle of these teachings, Jesus predicts his death:
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” (verses 21–22)
And… in a sense the people asking this question are right. Jesus didn’t commit suicide, but he did come to be sacrificed, and there’s a sense in which he could have prevented them from killing him—except that then he would have been disobeying the Father, which in another sense the Son couldn’t do.
And then this passage ends with Jesus going deeper into who he is, and his relation to the Father:
|He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”||A point that’s so obvious that it bears repeating: Jesus was a man, but not just a man. He came from Heaven. He is God. If the Pharisees can set aside rules and regulations about court and giving testimony and just listen, they’d hear directly from God’s mouth what salvation looks like.|
|“… I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”||This is much easier for the modern-day Christian to read and understand than it would have been for Jesus’ listeners at the time.|
|So they said to him, “Who are you?”||If this is an honest question, it’s the right one. Jesus just said, “unless you believe that I am he,” so yes, the right question in response to that would be “Who are you?”|
|Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.”||Although the question of “Who are you?” may be the right question to ask, it had already been answered. There’s a point at which you’re no longer looking for proof or argumentation, you’re simply refusing to believe what you don’t want to believe.|
|“… I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”||I read this as Jesus saying, “I could judge you, and there’d be a lot to judge, but it’s more important and timely for now that I pass on to you what I’ve heard from the Father.”|
|They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “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 authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”||Despite all this talk about witnesses, the real proof that Jesus is who he says he is will come at the cross—and, just as importantly, three days after that, when he rises up again.|
|“… And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”||I bring this back to the point about the Pharisees judging according to the flesh, and Jesus judging truly (if/when it’s His responsibility to judge). God the Father is with God the Son, in a way that He has not been with anyone in the history of the world. He wasn’t with Moses like that, He wasn’t with Elijah like that, He wasn’t with David like that; the Father and the Son are one.|
And, it should be noted, not everything Jesus said was ignored; the passage ends on a good note:
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (verse 30)