|John 8:12-20||Read Online|
Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”
When God speaks, He always does so in a real time and place. The time and place are important, because He chooses to speak in settings that have meaning to us. God always speaks in a context.
In this case, the context is the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Like the Passover (held in spring), this festival required the Israelites to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) took place in early fall, after the harvest.
During this festival, the Israelites remembered the years God had led them through the wilderness, camping along the way to the Promised Land. There were many festival rituals to guide their celebration. They made tents or “booths” of tree branches and camped outside, remembering when their forefathers lived in tents and moved from place to place as God led them.
Another celebration was the procession each day from the temple to the Gihon Spring, where a priest filled a gold water pitcher with water, returned to the temple and poured out the water on the great bronze altar. This ritual reminded them that God had provided spring water from a rock (Numbers 20:8-11), and it pointed forward to the Messiah’s coming. It was during this ritual that Jesus stood and cried out, offering Himself as the Living Water (John 7:37-39).
In today’s passage, John says that once again Jesus spoke to them, revealing Himself to them, and the context is important. Jesus is still speaking against the backdrop of the Feast of the Tabernacles.
One of the most spectacular celebrations of this festival was the lighting of four giant lamps in the Women’s Court (or Treasury) of the temple. The men and women lit torches and sang and danced, remembering how God led them through the wilderness in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This celebration illuminated the Temple complex, shedding its light down on the dark city below. In the midst of this setting, Jesus declares to the people, “I am the light of the world.”
In the scripture, light is always a metaphor for spiritual insight, the kind of spiritual insight that gives eternal life. (Read John 1:1-9.) Darkness is a metaphor for spiritual blindness, for stumbling and being lost. Jesus not only reveals Himself to be the Light of the World—the same Light that led the Israelites through the wilderness—but promises to lead those who follow Him in the same way God led His people to the Promised Land.
Here’s something else we should know about God: when God speaks, He’s consistent with what He’s said and done in the past. This is a good way we can recognize that it’s God speaking. In the midst of remembering God’s revelation in the past, surrounded by reminders of His light and life-giving presence with them, the Pharisees should have recognized the word pictures Jesus was employing. But they didn’t.
God speaks in ways we can recognize and understand—but only if we respond by faith. What we learn from looking back at the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness is that their ability to follow was determined by their faith in God's ability to lead and provide.
Whenever they doubted that He was capable or good, when they looked over their shoulders back to Egypt, they stumbled and their lives were in danger. When they doubted, the wilderness looked dark; they felt alone.
But they were never alone. God was always with them, revealing Himself, speaking and leading—just as He is with you, willing to shed light and life on your journey. Can you see Him?
- If God speaks and leads in the context that means most to us, then how and where is He most likely revealing Himself to you?
- What do you struggle most with: recognizing Christ or having faith in Him?
- When the Pharisees questioned whether Jesus could fulfill His claim, what proof did He offer? (See verses 14-18.) Does this persuade you that Jesus is capable of leading you—that He can give you life? How?
- Jesus doesn’t say He will show us the way; He says He is the Way. (See John 14:1-11.) What’s the difference?
- Reread today’s key verse. If you believe Jesus is the light of the world, what does He ask you to do in response?