Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
Two Prefatory Observations
As you’re turning to John 8 this morning, I want to preface this Scripture reading a bit with two prefatory observations to help orient ourselves, here in John 8:12.
Here’s the first prefatory observation for us. If you’re paying attention to our journey through John’s gospel, you’ll notice that we are skipping John 8:1–11, the woman caught in adultery. I don’t have any serious problems with the story. It’s a great, fascinating story. However, I can say that I’m not entirely confident it’s original to John or the apostles—and therefore, I cannot say with confidence that it is God’s word. Now, you look in your Bible and say “but Peder it’s in my Bible, what do you mean it’s not God’s word?”. I mean that many godly, smart, conservative-thinking Christians believe the story of the woman caught in adultery was not written by John, and that it was later added into John’s gospel by some scribes, and therefore it’s not original to God’s word. That’s why you’ll see editorial footnotes in many of your Bibles concerning this passage. Let me read what a commentator says about this. This is D. A. Carson—
These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek miniscule manuscripts, but they are
absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing
great diversity of textual traditions… All the early church Fathers omit this narrative… No
eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century… Moreover, a number of the
(later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating
hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency
of textual variants.
So, there’s an argument against the woman caught in adultery being God’s word. But, to lay all the cards on the table, there are many godly men who believe this is a story which is original to John—or, at least, that it’s original to an apostle. Some say this story was written by an apostle, has apostolic authority and was inspired by God, but we aren’t exactly sure what gospel it goes with. Perhaps it goes in Luke’s gospel, others say John. Some say it goes here in John 8, I believe others say it goes at the end of John. These are conservative, respectable Christians having this discussion. Whatever the case, I’m fine with you being convinced that it’s God’s word. However, if I’m going to stand up here as God’s spokesman, expected to read God’s word, and say “this is the word of God” after the reading, I better be certain. I’ll just say I’m not there yet, personally. So, that’s the first prefatory observation for us as we open to our scripture lesson in John 8:12. We’re skipping John 8:1–11 because I cannot in good conscience read that to you and declare, “this is the word of God”.
Now, the second prefatory observation is just the natural consequence of what I just said. If our passage in 8:12 is the next verse following chapter 7:52, then chapter 7 gives us the context for what we’re reading here in 8:12. In other words, yes, Jesus is still at the feast of tabernacles. Yes, Jesus is still making crazy and unbelievable claims to be the fulfillment of the feast of tabernacles. And yes, theres a natural transition from the last verse in chapter 7 verse 52, and chapter 8 verse 12.
At the end of chapter 7, the pharisees are scolding some people who are beginning to wonder if Jesus is telling the truth. So, they say ““Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (verse 52). That’s setting us up for a great irony in the first verse of our passage, in chapter 8 verse 12. Just think—what kind of prophet comes out of Galilee, if we “search and see” in the scriptures? We just read it in Isaiah 9—a “great light” will come out of “Galilee of the nations”. And now, John follows that remark with what Jesus says later in the feast. He’s the great light of the world from Nazareth—which as we’ll see, isn’t just a reference to Isaiah 9. It’s a reference to the feast of tabernacles as well, which Jesus is claiming to fulfill. So, those are the two prefatory remarks. (1) I can’t say confidently that 8:1–11 is the word of God, so I’m not going to go there this morning, and (2) there’s a natural, seamless transition from 7:52 to 8:12 which sets Jesus up as the light of the world, the great light who would shine forth from Galilee of the nations.
So, with that in mind, let’s read our passage in John 8:12–20 this morning.
A Universal Metaphor for Truth
Have you ever heard someone speak of their “inner light”? It’s all over the place, folks. It’s classic Disney stuff, it’s what my generation was raised on. “Follow your heart, allow that inner light to be your guide and it will move you unto life and blessings!”. What do people mean by that? Do people mean, simply, “follow your intuition?”. Do they mean “follow your conscience?”. Yes, and yes—and so many other things. Honestly, it’s used so widely in our culture that it really doesn’t mean anything except “do what feels right to you”. Follow your inner light.
Other times, people don’t speak of “following” your inner light, but “discovering” or “finding” your inner light. Have you heard people talk that way? Many speak of discovering your inner light as though its a journey, a pursuit, of discovering that light which will make you happy and free. Yet I’d venture to say that the point people are after is that you need to discover your inner light. People who are feeling lost, depressed, confused in darkness—well, they just haven’t found their true self yet. Somewhere, deep down, they have an inner light that needs to be uncovered. This is the kind of stuff that’s fueling our cultural revolution, today. “John, or Jack, or Jimmy—you’re inner light is that you’re actually a woman, you just never knew it. But now, be happy and freely express yourself. Let your light shine.”
Eastern religions like Buddhism speak of finding a light. Much of the new-age spirituality we see in culture today is based off eastern religions. “Just find that inner light which unites us all—we are all god, after all. Remember that true happiness is found when we empty ourselves and our minds and tap into that universal god-consciousness”. Eastern meditation—finding that inner light—is the new and growing religion of America, in many ways. I’m continually shocked by how much of it I see when I ask people in society about their religious beliefs. Now, where does all this light-seeking come from?
Don’t miss it, folks. The Bible talks about light. Yes, the Bible even gives us a framework to talk about light in a transcendent, spiritual, way. Obviously, as we see in our passage, the Bible defines “light” very differently from our new age and eastern neighbors—although, the Bible affirms that “light” is an apt metaphor to speak of something that is transcendent, true, life-giving, and spiritual.
“Light”, folks, is a universal metaphor for “truth”. It’s a universal metaphor for truth, wisdom, life, salvation—and yes, “darkness” is a universal metaphor for falsehood, foolishness, death, dare I say sin. I don’t care what society you look to—past or present. This is a universal metaphor. And I’ll say from the start, here, God made light to be such. God made light and darkness to visibly demonstrate the fact that there is a difference between truth from falsehood, and such. It’s a most perfect and fitting metaphor because God made it such, and we’ll talk about that this morning as we consider Jesus himself being the light of the world.
First, we’re going to look directly at Jesus’s statement that he’s the light, there in verse 12.
We’ll spend most of our time in verse 12, this morning.
Second, we’re going to look at Jesus’s testimony. Anyone can say they’re the light, right?
Jesus did—and, the Pharisees said “prove it”. So, Jesus provided his testimony—his
defense—concerning his light.
That’s where we’re going. His statement that he’s the light of the world; and his testimony that he’s the light of the world.
Jesus’s Statement: “I Am the Light of the World”
So, let’s look at his statement, there in verse 12. Look at it, and take it in at face value. This is rich, folks. Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This is one of those great “I AM” statements in John. We get a number of those—and, they often correspond to something that’s happening around Jesus at that given time. Jesus doesn’t simply stand up and say randomly, “I am the bread of life”, or “I am the light of the world”, or “I am the good shepherd”, or “I am the resurrection and the life”. He says that because he’s connecting himself to either a miracle he has performed, or to something that is going on around him. In this instance, Jesus is at the feast of tabernacles. Some say this was the biggest and most widely attended Jewish feast of the year—and, it celebrated the Jewish Exodus from Egypt to the wilderness and the promised land. The people at that time were sojourners—they were pilgrims. They were nomadic people, living in tents or “tabernacles” rather than permanent homes. And yes, they lived that way because God had freed them through impossible means. He defeated Egypt. He split the sea. He literally fed them and gave them water in a desert—a massive nation, folks. It was no small feat. It’s a massive display of God’s provisions. So, it was worth an annual festival so that God’s people would remember who truly gives them food and water. As God provided water for them in a desert from a rock, so the people had all sorts of water ceremonies at this feast to remember that God provides life-giving water to them. So, in chapter 7, Jesus claims that territory. He claims ownership over that provision of water. “If anyone should come after me, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. Jesus completely takes the reigns on that one and says “all that water and provision is ultimately about me. I give the living water, I satisfy, come to me”.
The Light of the Exodus: Guidance and Truth
And now, Jesus pulls out this “I AM” statement, concerning God’s light. He said this because at this feast, not only were there water ceremonies, but also torch lighting ceremonies. There were ceremonies that played with light. Let me ask you—where does light come into play at this feast of tabernacles, which celebrates the exodus? Where do we see light in the Exodus story, that God’s people should make a big deal out of flaming torches and such?
Remember Exodus 13:21, describing this Exodus story? “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” God led them with—quite literally—a pillar of fire (or light) by night. So long as that light was lit by God’s glory, and so long as it went before them, they knew the way to the promised land.
This is a wonderful picture of God’s guidance by light, folks. And yes, that light took them to his word—his written word, did it not? The pillar of fire took them to Mount Sinai, where God’s light would really be manifest on a fiery, burning mountain and with Moses’s shining face that nobody could behold. What was happening at Mt. Sinai? God was giving his people his word. He was giving them his truth—his precepts, his sacrificial system, his law, and yes even his promises.
“Light” is a universal metaphor for “truth”, “guidance”, “wisdom”—is it not? We’ll see even more so in a moment, but I fully believe God intended that to be so. “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”, Psalm 119:105. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple”, Psalm 119:130.
It should not surprise us that a pillar of light would guide God’s people to a mountain that’s lit by fire (which also, yes, is communicating the severity of God’s wrath). At that mountain, as Moses’s face begins to shine with the brilliance of God’s glory, Moses and Israel receive God’s word. Do you realize that some the words you are holding, when you hold your Bible, were first delivered from God to his people by a man whose face was literally glowing? What do you think that tells you about these words? What do you think that tells you about their author—about God? This is life, folks. This is God-inspired, infallible words of direction and wisdom and life and salvation, if we would only believe it to be so and read them carefully to glean from them by faith.
So, at the Exodus, we see a lot of light shining from God as he gives his words and promises truth to Israel. At the feast of tabernacles, then, which celebrates this event, the Jews had torch-lighting ceremonies in order to tip their hats to God’s truth, God’s glory, God’s direction and guidance. What does Jesus say? He stands up and claims that territory, just as he did with the water ceremonies. In fact, some believe he said this near the end of the feast, as the torches were being extinguished. Wouldn’t that be something? He stands up, it’s getting darker, and he says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” So, Jesus is claiming he’s the light of the Exodus—and everything which that meant for Israel. It meant God is their guide, their giver of truth, their giver of promises. He leads them beside still waters (yes even in deserts), he prepares a table before them in the presence of their enemies. His word, which he gave them on Mt. Sinai, is life—it’s the difference between light and darkness. Jesus is claiming to be all of that in the most ultimate sense, for all eternity. This is extremely good news for us, folks, today. Are we not in a dark, dark world? Do you at times feel the darkness as you look at sin within you, and sin around us every day? Keep in mind, folks, that such is the darkness we’re talking about in the Exodus. I love the imagery of the 9 th plague in Egypt, just before the death angel came. It was three days of darkness—and, do you remember how Exodus described that darkness?
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘stretch out your hand toward the heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt’” (Exodus 10:21). That’s dark. That’s curse. Yes, it’s a vivid imagery of the sort of darkness we feel every day in this cursed world—and, God doesn’t need to hide the sun for us to feel it. Sin and the curse hurts, folks. It’s deeply encouraging to me to know that when Jesus said “I am the light of the world”, he said it in the context of the
feast of tabernacles. He’s saying “the light which led Israel out of that darkness which could be felt, that’s me”. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness…”. Do you believe that?
Jesus’s Light Means No Darkness
Jesus’s words, there, were emphatic. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness”. The original Greek has the double negative construction, “ου μη”, there, so that Jesus says “whoever follows me will not not walk in darkness”. In English, a double negative reverses the negative to a positive. “I’ll not not jump on the couch again”, a child might say with a glimmer in his eye. “Tricked ya”.
In Greek, a double negative doesn’t reverse a statement to a positive. It makes a statement emphatic. “Whoever follows me will not never, ever walk in darkness”. Think about that. Let that sink in, folks. Jesus is saying that if you follow him, and trust him, you will never have to walk in darkness ever again for all eternity. Do you believe that?
Notice, this isn’t saying you’ll never sin again. It’s not saying you’ll never experience pain again. It’s saying you’ll never walk in darkness again—meaning, he’ll send his Spirit to always convict you and shine a light on your sin when you do sin. Jesus’s Spirit will be there to shine a light on evil, and expose it as evil, when you do experience many evils. You’ll be saved from the misery of stumbling in the darkness and calling evil good, and good evil. You’ll be saved from the misery of calling your own sin “good”. If you follow Jesus—if he’s got his hold on you, by faith and through his Spirit—that wisdom and direction and conviction will ever be upon you. It’ll drive you to the cross.
It’s encouraging, especially as we’re forced to navigate the muddy waters of this broken, sinful world. There’s a lot to stumble on out there, folks. You may even still stumble—do you not stumble in the light, at times? We’re clumsy, careless, weak—yes sinful—people. But by the grace of Jesus, we’ll have the light to see it.
It’ll be uncomfortable, too, won’t it? Is it not uncomfortable when light exposes your sins or weaknesses? Of course it is—but, it’s better than living with them in the darkness. It’s better knowing about them so you can deal with them through a merciful Savior at the cross—rather than not knowing and living in darkness. Darkness is an awful thing, folks. Ignorance is not bliss—it means you stumble and you don’t always know it. It means you have food in your teeth, and your teeth are rotting, and you think your smile is shiny and bright. It means you stink, and there’s a musky stench that can be felt and seen in the air, but you can’t see or smell it in the dark room you’ve enclosed yourself in.
Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Light of the World, the Light of Life
By the way, notice that he’s not saying he’s simply the light of Israel. He’s the light of the world—and, he’s the light of life. He’s saying, here, that he exists to shine his light of life onto the world. He’s the pillar of light that guides people to life, to salvation. Follow him, walk in his light, and you’ll have life. He’ll guide you directly to his truth, his righteousness, his cross, resurrection and ascension, where all his blessings and salvation are made known. He’s the light of the world, and the light of life—and, it’s necessary to actually follow him, by faith, out of your darkness, with repentance, or else you will die in your darkness.
It’s worth noting that we’ve seen John’s gospel speak of Jesus this way before, saying that even as he is the light of the world, and the light of life, that necessarily means he’s the light of judgment as well.
John 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was
in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the
darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does
wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be
exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen
that his works have been carried out in God.”
This is a most hopeful, desparate, wonderful thing. The light of life shines, and welcomes you to walk by faith and repentance in its light. Yet, this is a very severe, serious matter. It’s light or darkness, folks. There’s no in between. When it’s time to repent from darkness, and turn to the light, don’t even keep a toe in the darkness. This is the light of life we’re talking about.
So, we’ve seen from Jesus’s statement in John 8:12 that (1) he’s claiming all the glories of God’s light which guided the people of Israel to salvation, and also (2) he’s claiming to be the light of the word and the light of life, so that he offers a path to salvation for all men in the world. Then of course, (3) if you follow him, you will never walk in darkness. What a great promise, folks. May his mercy never cease in this, as we’re surrounded by a darkness that can be felt. It’s a mercy when his light is shining on you, exposing your sin. It’s the light of life. Turn to it.
Now just so we don’t miss it, as I said earlier, it’s possible that these Jews understood Jesus to be hinting at a claim to be the Messiah. I do think John is intending us to see that. “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (John 7:52). The next verse, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world’”. It just so happens that Isaiah describes the coming Messiah as a light to the world who comes from Galilee. In fact, as you continue to read Isaiah, the coming of the Messiah is often associated with the coming of God’s light to the nations. That’s a strong thread through Isaiah. So Jesus, here, is claiming to be the light of the world, the light of life—blessings which would come alongside the Galilean Messiah.
So, there’s a lot at work in what Jesus is saying, here in John 8:12. Yes, he’s likely making a hint at being the Messiah. Yet more, in claiming to be the light of the world, he claims to be truth, to be that which exposes falsehood. He’s claiming to be the standard for what’s right and wrong. He’s claiming to be the supreme guide to life and blessing and happiness. Again, is that not how we use the metaphor of “light”? It’s a universal metaphor, here. “Follow your inner light”—that which you
think in your inner self is true, fulfilling, helpful, wise, salvation. Follow that. Only, Jesus here is saying that the light of the world is not you. He’s saying that he light of the world is not “love”, or some spiritual, new-age “consciousness” of the cosmos which we’re all a part of. Jesus is saying that the world and everyone in it is darkness—that you and I, outside of him, are walking in darkness, and that only he is the light. That’s the point of the “I AM” statement. Something to think about with all the “I AM” statements in John is that they all are ways Jesus is claiming exclusivity. I AM—and I alone am—the bread of life. I AM—and I alone am—the good shepherd. I AM—and I alone am—the light of the world. That’s a big statement.
Now, let me ask you this question. If someone made those claims to you, what would you say? “Prove it”, right? That’s a massive claim. So, “prove it—then I’ll walk in your most holy, perfect light.” That’s what we see in the next verse. Verse 13, “So the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.’” So, Jesus has to provide testimony to his claim.
As we’ve now considered Jesus’s statement, let’s briefly consider his testimony.
Jesus’s Testimony: “My Testimony is True”
When you read the next few verses in our passage, you may find that your mind spins in circles a little bit. Did you feel that way, even a little, when I read this passage earlier? Jesus, defending himself and providing a testimony to his statement, says “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.” (Verses 13–14). So, he basically says “I know my testimony, you don’t, and my testimony is true because I know where I came from”.
Folks, it sounds cryptic but it’s not. Jesus knows his testimony is true because he knows where he came from. Where did he come from? He came from God! He himself is God. He is the light of the world. Would you dare say that God’s testimony is false? That’s what we’re talking about, here.
Then verse 15, “ 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” So, Jesus tells them that they make judgements according to the world, according to the flesh. He himself doesn’t make judgment claims about anyone. Verse 16,
16 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. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I
am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness
So, if Jesus judges, his judgment is true because it’s in coherence with the Father—with God. That even stands up in their court of law, which requires two testimonies. Well, Jesus and the Father fit. Jesus bears witness about himself, and the Father likewise. So, believe in him.
Does that sound a bit esoteric, far-fetched, strange to you? Would that hold up in today’s court of law, if someone needed to provide a testimony to their claims? “My testimony is true because I’m from above, and the Father above testifies too”.
It’s circular reasoning, folks. It is. Jesus is using his word to testify to the validity of his word. Yes, he’s calling God down from heaven. Although the Pharisees didn’t even see that. They say in verse 19, “where is your father?”, to which Jesus says “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” It’s circular reasoning—and I’d even say it’s very strange reasoning! He just keeps saying the same thing—if you want to know me and my words, you need to believe my words. I can call my Father down to testify but you don’t know him because you don’t even know me.”
Folks, he’s claiming ultimate authority, ultimate truth. How can ultimate truth validate its own claims? It literally has no higher standard to appeal to. Think about it this way—how can God prove that what he calls “good” is actually “good”? How can he prove that what he calls “evil” is actually “evil”? He can’t, except to simply say “I have said so”. He’s the standard. He’s the proof, the truth, the supreme light which shines and infallibly exposes good from evil, life from death.
Jesus, folks, says “I am the light of the world”. This is where this all comes full circle, folks. Light is the perfect metaphor for supreme and ultimate truth. How do you know that light is shining? Does light need an external, higher appeal to testify to it’s claim? Does it need to prove that it’s light? No. We just know it’s on. Does it need to prove that what it exposes is real? No, we look at the chair, or the person in front of us, and we don’t question what we see because we see it from the light. Light is where the buck stops—it’s the perfect metaphor for ultimate truth.
And yes, God made it that way. Has it ever bothered you that God made light before he made the stars and the sun and the moon to shine light onto the world? That’s how the creation narrative works. Folks, he’s the light. He made light and darkness to remind us that he is the light of truth which definitively reveals everything, and that’s good. It’s not something to fight. It’s something to surrender to, even as Jesus himself is the light of the world. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
So, Jesus’s statement in John 8:12 reminds us that Jesus is the light of the Exodus—even the light of guidance and truth and salvation from darkness. His statement also reminds us of his mercy that whoever follows him, by faith, will not walk in darkness. Yes, by the way, he’s even shed his blood for our sins, so that our sins may be exposed before God and be forgiven.
Then, of course, his Jesus’s circular testimony reminds us that he is the ultimate standard of truth, and that his word is to be trusted because, quite simply, he is God.