After redeeming the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:4), Jesus proclaims to the crowd, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). This was the second of His seven “I Am” statements in John. To recap the scene, the woman’s accusers, the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:3), brought her to Jesus demanding He decide what was to be done with her (John 8:5). “Does she live or does she die. What do you say, Jesus?” They were not concerned about her or her sin, but had used her to set a trap in order to test and discredit Jesus among the people (John 8:6). But, as usual, Jesus was one step ahead of them and would not take their bait.
He simply wrote in the sand while they spewed their self-righteous, hypocritical venom towards the woman. Finally, when He had heard enough, Jesus stood and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Conviction set in. Her accusers realized they were unfit, in the eyes of God, to judge her adultery since their sin was much greater. And they “went out, one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (John 8:9).
Jesus then turned to the woman and spoke the words of redemption to her. He said, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11; Rom. 8:1). It was at this point our Lord proclaimed His second “I Am” statement.
“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
I Am the Light of the World
This description should not surprise us since Jesus has been compared to light since the first chapter of John. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). He spoke of the light six times in that context. In John 3:19 we read: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” And again, light is used another 5 times in this context. John MacArthur says: Jesus Christ alone brings the light of salvation to a sin-cursed world. To the darkness of falsehood He is the light of truth; to the darkness of ignorance He is the light of wisdom; to the darkness of sin He is the light of holiness; to the darkness of sorrow He is the light of joy; and to the darkness of death He is the light of life.
But there’s even more.
During the Feast of Tabernacles there were two main ceremonies the Jews celebrated. One ceremony took place each morning of the eight day feast when the priests of Israel joined with others to draw water from the pool of Siloam in golden pitchers. Then, when they returned to the temple, the priests poured the water on the altar of sacrifice while singing and chanting Isaiah 12:3 and Psalm 114:7-8. This water ceremony was in remembrance of God providing water from the rock during their wilderness wanderings. And it was most likely during this ceremony, on the last day of the feast, that Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
There was also a lamp lighting ceremony whereby, after the sun had gone down, four huge candelabras were lit in such a way the light would illuminate the sky like a searchlight. This ceremony, accompanied by singing and dancing and holding torches, served as a reminder of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21-22). And it was against this backdrop Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the “light of the world” (John 8:12).
But most amazing is the structure of John’s gospel that presents Jesus as manna (John 6), then water (John 7), and now light (John 8). Jesus is the manna that fed God’s people in the wilderness, He was the water flowing from the rock to quench their thirst, and He was the light of fire by night to guide their way. Jesus is our Provider, our Source of Strength, our Protector, our Guide, and our Light along the way.
This is the mighty God we serve.
Fire by Night
When we examine the cloud that protected the Israelites during their wanderings we can learn much about Jesus. For example, the first time the cloud is mentioned in Exodus it is associated with and identified as the literal Presence of God (Ex. 13:21-22). This means the Israelites, all during their generation of wanderings and troubles and doubts, always had the Presence of God with them. All they needed to do was look up and they could visibly see God in their midst. They were not alone (John 14:18).
And neither are we. Why? Because Jesus now dwells among us (John 1:14).
The cloud, the Presence of God, also protected the Israelites from their enemies and from the elements themselves. We see the cloud standing between Pharaoh’s armies and God’s people— protecting them until they could safely cross the Red Sea (Ex. 14:19-20). The cloud also provided shade for them as they camped in the desert for close to 40 years. With temperatures during the day reaching 140 degrees and at night falling below freezing, without the cloud, the very Presence of God, they would have all perished. Without Jesus, we likewise would perish. After all, “He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
The cloud also communicated to the Israelites when they should go and when they should stay. It was the primary means by which the Lord guided His people during their wanderings. When the cloud moved, they moved. If they stayed when the cloud moved, they would die from the scorching heat since their protective shade was removed. If they ran ahead of the cloud— same problem. In the same way, Jesus said we live and breathe when we stay connected, abiding, in the vine (John 15:4). “For without Me,” Jesus said, “you can do nothing (John 15:5).
When Jesus said He was the light of the world He was proclaiming to them, and to us, that He is the very Presence of God, their source of protection, and the One who guides in all truth.
Again, that is the mighty God we follow.
What Does it Mean to Follow?
But what does it mean to follow?
The last part of Jesus’ second “I Am” statement reads: “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). But what does that mean? The Greek word for follow means “to accompany, to go with” and can apply, in a general sense, to the thrill-seeking crowds that followed Jesus just for the entertainment value (John 6:2). But it also can refer to a true disciple (John 1:43, 10:4, 27). In this context, Jesus is speaking about true discipleship and not casual followers. He’s talking about coming to Him on His terms, and on His terms alone, and not like the ones who said:
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:19-22).
Or the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-27. As you recall, the rich young ruler walked away from following Jesus because the cost was too high. Remember, we come to Jesus on His terms— and nothing else.
Jesus summarized what it meant to follow Him like this: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Are you following Jesus? Is He the Light of your world? Have you denied yourself, picked up each day the instrument of your own death, and faithfully followed Him?
You should. You need to. Why? Because He is our Protector, our Provider, our Light, and Our Guide. If He’s not your Lord, you will spend eternity in Hell, in torment, alone, separated from the love of God, paying the penalty for your own sins.
And, in case you didn’t know, eternity is long time.