“I Am the Light of the World”
John 8:12–20; 12:44–46
John 8:12–20; 12:44–46
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List ways in which Jesus was and is a source of light in our dark world.
2. Explain Jesus’ use of the “light” metaphor as proof of his unique authority.
3. Change one habit to better reflect Jesus’ light.
How to Say It
Judaism. JOO-duh-izz-um or JOO-day-izz-um.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 22—Promises for God’s People (Isaiah 35:3–10)
Tuesday, Jan. 23—Jesus Brings Light (Matthew 4:12–17)
Wednesday, Jan. 24—Jesus Heals a Blind Man (John 9:1–11)
Thursday, Jan. 25—Who Is Jesus? (John 9:35–41)
Friday, Jan. 26—Knowing God’s Will (Ephesians 5:15–21)
Saturday, Jan. 27—Jesus Is the World’s Light (John 8:12–20)
Sunday, Jan. 28—I Have Come as Light (John 12:44–50)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Why Teach this Lesson?
In John 3:19 Jesus speaks about those who “loved darkness instead of light.” This appears to be truer in the spiritual realm than in the physical. Thieves love darkness, but most people can’t wait until the power is restored during an outage. In such times people quickly become impatient waiting for light in the midst of the darkness. People grope around seeking candles and flashlights. Light switches are flipped, to no avail. When it comes to spiritual darkness, however, many of these same folks are amazingly unconcerned. They blunder on, seemingly unaware of, or totally indifferent to, the darkness in which they live and move.
But light is available to those walking in darkness! Christians become a source of light in the world by reflecting the eternal light of the Son. This light gives boldness to the Christ-follower to maintain the walk, even through the valley of the shadow of death. It is vital, though, that the Christian stays plugged into the source of this power for light. This lesson describes the means by which this power connection stays in place.
A. The Power of a Match
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is one of the largest complexes of underground passages in the world. Many of the cave’s farthest recesses have yet to be explored, but the largest known entrance is home to a national park. On one of the guided tours, rangers lead guests to a cavern deep below the surface and ask them to remain silent while they turn off the lights.
The resulting darkness is overwhelming. It is impossible to see anything at any distance. The ranger then illustrates the power of light by striking a single match. I have been on this tour several times, and on each occasion I find that it is impossible to look away from this tiny spark of light. Human beings were not made to live in utter darkness. We readily grasp for anything to light our way.
Darkness is a powerful figure of speech. At least part of the reason is because we fear the dark and what may be lurking there. The Bible often uses the imagery of darkness to describe the spiritual state of those whose lives are not directed by God. A few such passages are Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5; and 1 John 2:11. In today’s lesson Jesus discusses his role as the light of the world.
In that role, he is the one who brings hope by revealing God to us. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
B. Lesson Background
John 8 seems to follow directly on Jesus’ teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles. There he promised the gift of “living water” (the Spirit) to those who believe in him (last week’s lesson).
Up to that point the crowds were divided on his message. Some had concluded that Jesus was the “Prophet” (Deuteronomy 18:15–18; John 7:40). Others thought him to be the Messiah or Christ (John 7:41). The chief priests sent the temple guards to arrest him, but they returned empty-handed after being overwhelmed by his authoritative teaching (John 7:45, 46).
Some of the leading Pharisees, including Nicodemus (compare John 3:1–10), debated among themselves about Jesus’ identity (7:50–52). Jesus then explicitly identified himself as the one sent to reveal God in the midst of a dark world.
Visual for Lesson 9
Use this illustration to help understand and answer
the next two “What Do You Think” questions.
I. Light of the World (John 8:12)
A. Jesus’ Identity (v. 12a)
12a. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.
Jesus’ illustration here, one of John’s great I am sayings, is likely drawn from the celebrations during the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast four huge lamps are lit in the temple courts. People then dance through the night with burning torches, singing songs of praise, accompanied by the music of the temple orchestra.
The glow from these festivities can be seen all over the city of Jerusalem. It is against this backdrop that Jesus proclaims himself to be the true light of the world.
B. Our Response (v. 12b)
12b. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus’ claims probably reflect two aspects of his ministry. First, he brings light by revealing God and his nature in a fallen world. This revelation is vastly superior to the Old Testament system, for Jesus comes as the unique Son of God rather than as a mere prophet or priest. He thus shows people the way to eternal life through faith in him. “The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Isaiah 60:19).
Second, Jesus’ teaching and example provide moral guidance, showing believers how to live in a way that pleases God. Ancient Israelites should be very familiar with such imagery. They undoubtedly know Isaiah 42:16: “I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”
Follow the Light
When the children of Israel left Egypt, they were led by God in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to give them light (Exodus 13:21). The cloud and the fire were important, for they were the evidence of God’s leading.
Equally important, however, was the fact that the people had to follow. They could have stayed in one place and enjoyed the phenomenon of the cloud and fire. No one had ever seen such a thing before. Perhaps they could have built a viewing stand and sold tickets. They could have advertised far and wide for people to come see this strange event—a pillar that changed from cloud by day into a fire by night! What a marvelous thing it would be!
All that would have been pointless, of course. The pillar was not there to fascinate them or become another one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The purpose of the pillar was to lead them out of Egypt into the promised land. But by the same token, the pillar was not a magic carpet. It would not instantly transport them from Egypt into Canaan. In order to get from Egypt to Canaan, they would have to travel—on foot, every step of the way.
All that should be obvious. The pillar would lead them; but they must follow. Jesus is the light of the world. But we too must follow where he leads. —J. B. N.
II. Testimony of the Father (John 8:13–20)
A. Pharisees Challenge Jesus (v. 13)
13. The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
Not valid means that Jesus has not, in the opinion of the Pharisees, sufficiently substantiated his claims about himself. Rabbinic law assumes that such testimony will be biased. The Law of Moses requires that testimony and truth claims in criminal proceedings can be accepted only on the testimony of multiple witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). The Pharisees therefore plead that they, and everyone else, are allowed to dismiss Jesus’ claims about himself.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do people still say not valid when it comes to Jesus? Why do they do this?
B. Jesus Refutes Pharisees (vv. 14–18)
14. Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.
Jesus begins his defense by arguing that his case is unique, simply because no other human being is in a position to testify on his behalf. This verse looks ahead to John 13:3. That passage specifies that Jesus had come from God and was in the process of returning to God through death and resurrection.
Obviously, no one has ever seen God (John 1:18). It would therefore be impossible for anyone to verify or challenge Jesus’ claims in the sense of being “witness” to his preexistence. For this reason Jesus does not depend even on the testimony of John the Baptist (John 5:31–36). This is so despite the fact that John was a prophet who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29–36).
Instead it is Jesus’ unique origin and destiny that establish his credibility. His origin (where I came from) is from the Father (John 5:36, 37; 16:28); his destiny (where I am going) is to go back to the Father (John 13:1; 16:28; 17:5). Those hostile to Jesus know nothing about either. They are spiritually blind.
15, 16. “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
In Jesus’ view, the Pharisees’ objections simply reveal that they are unable to perceive spiritual matters. Instead they are stuck in judging by human standards. When the Pharisees look at Jesus, they see a man from Galilee who has remarkable abilities but unorthodox teaching. He doesn’t fit their understanding of a prophet or the Christ. They are therefore unable to recognize the source of his power (John 7:52; 9:29).
What Do You Think?
What causes people to reject Jesus as their source of spiritual guidance in favor of something or someone else? How do you protect yourself from making this kind of mistake?
As a result Jesus disqualifies the Pharisees from passing judgment on him. He appeals instead to God as the ultimate witness to his identity. Jesus judges no one in the way that the Pharisees do.
17, 18. “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
Jesus reminds his accusers that Moses had taught that two witnesses are sufficient to establish guilt or innocence (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). On the topic of his identity, Jesus has testified on his own behalf, and he now calls the Father to the stand in his defense. The Father’s testimony here most likely refers to the works that Jesus does by God’s power (John 5:36). The Gospels use Jesus’ miracles as signs of his identity; the signs establish his credibility (John 2:11; etc.).
In the “purpose statement” of this Gospel (John 20:30, 31), the apostle makes clear the reason for the signs. When people watch Jesus turn water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead, they should see the evidence for his claims about himself.
Several times I have been a witness in court cases. Once was for a traffic accident that I saw. I was asked to describe what I had seen, and it was used as evidence in the case. Another time I appeared on behalf of one of the parties to a suit because of my academic studies in a particular area. I was asked to give my assessment of the issue because I was considered an “expert” in the field. (I enjoyed that label, but my wife was not particularly impressed.)
A witness is a person who gives testimony in court proceedings. I appeared either because I had personally seen the incident or because I had special experience with the nuances of the situation. The task of witnesses is to relate to the judge and/or jury the facts that they know. The judge and jurors were not present at the incident, and they need to know exactly what happened. Or there may be some technical depth to the case, with the judge and jury needing an impartial, objective “expert” to interpret the situation and give an opinion on it.
Jesus relates that he can be a witness to himself, and even God the Father can be a witness on his behalf. The Pharisees of verse 13 were not willing to accept his testimony, not knowing that he did indeed have first-person experience of the situation. Jesus knew some technicalities of the situation that they did not. He was an excellent expert witness, even though they failed to recognize that fact. Do we recognize it? —J. B. N.
C. Know Me, Know My Father (vv. 19, 20)
19. Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
The Gospel of John often follows the “theme of misunderstanding”: frequently, no one, not even the disciples, can figure out what Jesus is talking about. No matter how obvious his remarks seem to be (to us!), usually people “just don’t get it.”
If John is following this theme here, then the Pharisees have missed the point of Jesus’ remarks entirely. Thus they ask him where they can find his father, meaning Joseph, so that they may question him about Jesus (compare John 6:42). They are still thinking “by human standards” (John 8:15, above).
Jesus’ answer implies what the reader already knows to be true: the Father of whom Jesus speaks is God, not Joseph. The fact that the Pharisees either cannot understand or will not accept Jesus does not discount his role as the light of the world. People may choose to close their eyes, but their decision to do so does not say anything about Jesus. It reveals, rather, that they do not know the God whom Jesus came to reveal more fully.
20. He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.
The implication of no one seized him, because his time had not yet come is that hostility is building but has not yet reached the boiling point. Jesus’ time in the Gospel of John refers to the time of his arrest and crucifixion. That is when he fulfills his task of dying on the cross (John 7:30; 12:23, 27; 17:1).
Jesus has complete control over his destiny (John 10:15–18). Jesus’ enemies can do no harm because he still has much more to do.
What Do You Think?
How does God’s protection of Jesus provide spiritual encouragement to you? What are some dangers of directly applying this example to our own lives?
III. Escape from Darkness (John 12:44–46)
A. God’s Special Agent (vv. 44, 45)
44, 45. Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.
John 12:37–50 is sometimes referred to as a “saddle” or “bridge” in the outline of this Gospel. The reason for this designation is because it is here that John summarizes Jesus’ public ministry before moving on to the private teachings to the disciples in the upper room (chapters 13–17). In John 12:35, 36, Jesus urges the Jews one last time to believe in the light. This exhortation leads John to express disbelief at the Jews’ inability to understand who Jesus really is (John 12:37–43).
What Do You Think?
The lesson describes John 12:37–50 as bridging Jesus’ public and private ministry. How does his example help us balance concern for the crowd with concern for the individual?
As a closing refrain to his public teaching ministry, Jesus warns the Jews once again. His warning is that it is impossible to believe in God (the one who sent me) while rejecting the Son. There are many different religious systems that claim to reveal God in a variety of ways, yet John insists that none of these, not even Judaism, can really lead us to a true vision of God’s love and power. God’s true nature is perfectly revealed in Jesus alone, making it essential that people accept him.
He Who Sent Me
Major General George G. Meade was commanding officer, Army of the Potomac, as it faced the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. On Meade’s staff was Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren, Chief of Engineers.
Acting on his authority as chief engineering officer, Warren was scouting the front lines on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. He came to the southern end of the Union line on a rocky hill called Little Round Top, where he saw that it was undefended. He also saw a large segment of the Confederate army moving toward the same hill. He knew that if the Confederates seized the height they could roll up the entire Union line, bringing disaster to the entire army.
Warren sent couriers down the hill, and they soon met the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent. Warren ordered him to go up, defend the hill, and prepare to repel the Confederates. Vincent instantly obeyed, and the defense of Little Round Top became famous. Yet it was a near thing. The Union forces beat the Confederates to the top by only fifteen minutes.
What if Vincent had argued with Warren? He could have said, “You are not my immediate commanding officer; why should I obey you?” Vincent knew that Warren represented the authority of General Meade, and that was sufficient for him. Jesus said that if we believe him, we are really acknowledging the authority of God. To refuse to accept the words of Jesus is to refuse that authority. —J. B. N.
B. Leaving the Darkness (v. 46)
46. “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
The world is spiritually dark in two senses. First, most people do not adequately understand the nature of God himself. As a consequence they do not really understand who they are as people created in God’s image. Of course, the Jews of Jesus’ day claim that they are God’s elect people, blessed with a special revelation of his true nature. Even they, however, are walking in darkness because only through faith in Christ can they truly know God’s nature (compare John 12:35, 36).
Second, the world is dark in the sense that people do not live lives that please God. Instead they stumble blindly in pursuit of worldly pleasures that ultimately leave them longing for fulfillment (compare Romans 1:18–32). Like a thirsty man who is given saltwater instead of refreshing water, this pursuit only increases the thirst. Jesus came to rescue us from this ignorance and despair—for eternity.
What Do You Think?
How can we get people to accept the idea that there is such a thing as “spiritual darkness”? How important is this in getting them to see their need for Jesus?
A. Piercing the Deepest Darkness
The image of Jesus as light is a powerful theme in the Gospel of John. Physical light has some marvelous characteristics that allow this image to function beautifully as a description of Christ. Consider this example: you can go into an utterly dark room and light a tiny birthday candle, and all the darkness of that room cannot stop the little light from shining. The smallest candle can dispel the deepest, blackest darkness.
On the other hand, you cannot go into a brightly lighted room with a box of darkness, open the box, and expect the darkness to dim the brightness. Darkness cannot overcome light (John 1:5). This is the case because darkness is, by definition, the absence of something—the absence of light.
When we speak figuratively of the dark world in which we live, we are highlighting the fact that the world is missing or ignoring God. Just as light always overcomes darkness, God’s purposes will always overcome evil in this world. Of course, some people choose to close their eyes. But those who open their eyes will find a way through the darkness to eternal life and peace.
B. Avoiding Counterfeit Light
The issue of “light vs. darkness” is well defined. Spiritually mature Christians clearly recognize the choice. But another issue we face is what we may call “true light vs. counterfeit light.” We face this problem since “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Many sincere Christians are determined to avoid the darkness of sin, and Satan knows this well. So instead of offering those Christians something that is obviously in the category of dark, he offers something that seems, at first glance, to fit within God’s light.
This deception can take many forms, and Satan is very crafty. For example a harmless hobby that provides needed rest and relaxation can become an obsession and an addiction, wrecking the family budget. Eating that extra piece of pie at the restaurant buffet can be rationalized as “good stewardship” since “I’m getting my money’s worth.” Remember, when Satan offered certain temptations to Jesus, he even backed up his ideas with Scripture! (See Matthew 4:1–11.)
So how do we recognize and avoid counterfeit light? The first line of defense is to know the Scriptures thoroughly. Jesus is our example here, since that was how he refuted Satan during the temptation in the wilderness. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
The second line of defense is prayer. Jesus saw this as an important part of avoiding temptation (Mark 14:38). A third line of defense is mutual accountability. Invite a fellow Christian to point out your spiritual blind spots. Then consider his or her counsel very carefully!
Thought to Remember
The light of Jesus can—and does—pierce the deepest spiritual darkness.
Lord, we live in a dark and confused world. Sometimes it is hard even to know what we should do, much less to do it. Please light our way as we seek to serve you, and please also help us shine the light of Christ on others. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007