The background to Jesus declaring “I am the light of the world” was the increasing opposition to His ministry. This meant that, initially, He went up to the Festival of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in secret (John 7). Then, about halfway through the festival, Jesus began teaching in the Temple courts. The people were speculating about who He was and the dispute and division among them was growing.
The Light Shines in the Darkness
There were so many different roles, and titles, that the people wanted to impose on Jesus. But the chief priests and Pharisees, who headed the opposition, wanted to silence Him. They sent temple guards to arrest Jesus. These men, however, were amazed at Jesus’ teachings and did not carry out their orders. Instead they reported back to the Pharisees that ‘no-one ever spoke the way this man does’.
Jesus responded to the dispute and debate indirectly. The next time He spoke to the people, including the Pharisees, He revealed the second of His identity statements. The first had been I Am the Bread of Life. Jesus’ next description of Himself is “I Am the Light of the World”. Why would He choose that image? What was the message He wanted to convey?
Pillar of Fire by Night
Jesus’ listeners would all be familiar with the image of God’s visible presence with them during the exodus from Egypt. This story was part of their national history, of God providing light to lead and guide them through the darkness.
“After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”Exodus 13:20-21
I AM the Light
The Pharisees would certainly grasp the meaning of Jesus’ statement. He was identifying Himself with God’s personal Name to Israel, ‘I AM’. He was stating that He was now God’s visible presence among them. And not only among them, but to the world.
We live in a dark world – darkness is the absence of light, and without the Lord Jesus we are lost and without hope. He came to bring light, the full revelation of the truth of God’s word. And with that insight, and understanding, to bring life to all who would receive Him and believe in Him.
In the Old Testament scriptures there were hints and glimpses of the role of Messiah. From the very beginning God had a plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. But it is only in Jesus, His birth, life, death, and resurrection that the salvation plan is fulfilled.
“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
The Light of Life
The revelation that was to come after Jesus’ death was that God’s salvation plan was for all of mankind. The mystery that had been hidden from many, that Jesus would also bring light to the Gentiles. There were ‘clues’ in the Old Testament Scriptures, but the possibility of the full measure of God’s plan, had not been grasped or understood.
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”Isaiah 49:6
In the New Testament, after Jesus’ birth His parents presented Him in the Temple, and Simeon prophesied as to the true role of the Messiah.
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”Luke 2:31-32
The Gospel – Good News!
The gospel of John begins with affirmation of Jesus’ deity and recognition of the hope that He offers to all mankind. Jesus is the light who brings spiritual illumination and the gift of eternal life (John 1: 4-5). The full revelation of the mystery of Jesus as the ‘Light of the World’ was a cause of wonder, and joy, to the apostles and the early church. It was a dramatic shift in their way of thinking, and in their understanding. The God of Israel had sent His only Son to welcome the whosoever, those near and far. Jesus reconciles all who choose to believe in Him, to God the Father.
“remember at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”Ephesians 2:12-13
The beginning of a new covenant, a new era, and a new unity.
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”Ephesians 3:6
‘I Am the Light of the World’ is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the revelation of the truth of God’s salvation plan, with the gift of eternal life, to all who believe in Him.
Walking in the Light of God
Jesus promised, that when we follow Him, we will never be lost and unable to find our way forward. We are released from fear! There is light for the next step, as we move into the freedom and possibilities, the fullness of life, that He has won for us. And Jesus calls us to continue His work, that we are to be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16).
Children of Light
Scripture exhorts us to be careful in how we live, to choose wisely and walk as children of light. Jesus calls us to follow after Him and remain in Him, in the light. As we confess, love, obey, and rely on Him, we reflect His light to those that He has placed around us.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.Ephesians 5:8-10