As we return to John 8, keep in mind, the Feast of Tabernacles had just come to a dramatic close the day before with Jesus specifically interrupting the solemness of a religious water ceremony on the Temple Mount by boldly declaring, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink!” The moment is significant and the responses from those present varied.
In chapter 7 we read that “many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Truly this is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ And some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.” In the end, not only were there divisions among the masses as to Jesus’ identity, but even the religious leaders seemed split on what to do next.
John transitions from chapter 7 to chapter 8 by telling us “this last, great day of the feast” ultimately closes with “everyone going to his own house” and Jesus retreating to the “Mount of Olives” for the night. John 8:2 then says “early in the morning Jesus came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.”
The scene John provides has Jesus in the Temple teaching when He’s interrupted by the “Scribes and Pharisees” who bring to Him “a woman caught in adultery!” As we noted last Sunday it was clear these men had no compassion for this woman, lacked any sense of decorum or decency, and had zero desire for justice to be served.
Instead, they were using this poor woman — who’d likely been set up as the man in the affair was oddly absent — as nothing more than a pawn to catch Jesus in a legal conundrum.
In verse 6 John unmasks their true intention as seeking to “test Jesus that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” To accomplish this aim, in verse 5, they ask Him, “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”
These men knew if Jesus said, “Don’t stone her for adultery!” He would have been directly contradicting the Law of Moses - adultery was a crime punishable by death. On the flip side, if Jesus said, “Stone her!” He would have been in violation of Roman law considering the Jewish right to enact capital punishment had been revoked some years before. In a stroke of genius Jesus instead invited “he who is without sin to cast the first stone.”
Not only is Jesus affirming this woman’s guilt and need for appropriate punishment, but He’s inviting any of her accusers free of a guilty conscience in this particular situation to step up to the plate and initiate the stoning. Obviously, Jesus knew they were all guilty.
John 8:9 says that “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one… And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”
Following what was a very personal interaction with the woman — an exchange whereby she affirms her faith in Jesus as her personal Lord, and one in which Jesus refused to “condemn her,” but exhorted her to “go and sin no more” — Jesus now turns His attention back to the crowd of onlookers who’d been listening to His teaching before this interruption.
John 8:12, “Then Jesus spoke to them again (this word “again” implies Jesus is returning to the lesson He was already in the process of teaching), saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”
As Jesus had done back in John 6 when He declared “I am the bread of life” — In saying “I am the light of the world” Jesus is not only using this phrase “I am” or “eimi ego” in order to attribute the divine name of God to Himself (“I AM who I AM”), but He’s seeking to reveal more of the character, personality, and purposes of Jehovah God to the people.
Keep in mind, while John opens his Gospel declaring, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” in John 1:14 he states of Jesus that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” If you want to know God — know Jesus!
In regards to this specific statement of Jesus being “the light of the world” please know He’s building off an idea already established in both John 1 and John 3. In his opening thesis John writes (John 1:4-11), “In Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John (the Baptizer). This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. John was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
Then in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus the idea of light emerges again. John 3:18-21, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 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. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Without question this idea of Jesus declaring Himself to be “the light of the world” plays on this theological precedent and obvious spiritual symbolism. And yet, while Jesus has used this picture privately with Nicodemus, He now making this declaration public.
For starters, in describing Himself as “the light of the world” Jesus is illustrating both His uniqueness in the world and overall transcendence from the world.
It’s interesting, but darkness only exists via the absence of light. In actuality, darkness and light cannot coexist. By its very existence light eliminates what is dark. Within a given space the more light the less darkness and vise versa. And yet, the two are not inherently equal. The amount of darkness in a space is completely dependent upon the amount of light.
You see in no way can darkness drive out light. Instead, darkness is what remains when light departs. In much the same way the inverse is true… The easiest way to remove darkness is to simply turn on the light — with the greater illumination of light yielding less darkness.
While there is much about light itself that remains a mystery to man, we do know there is a substance (photons) and energy to the physics of light. Again, there is no substance to darkness, but the absence of substance. Without completely geeking out on you, the simple and undeniable truth is that light is an essential building block for all living things.
Beyond the evidence of the conventional scientific thought of our day, in a world “without form and void” with “darkness on the face of the deep” and “the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters” Genesis tells us, “God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light!’” On the first day of Creation, God spoke light into existence and all life followed.
Sadly though, after sin entered the human condition because of the poor choices of Adam and Eve, it was this world separated from the light of God that then subsequently plunged into a state of spiritual darkness. The life in man yielded from the light of God was no more. Death filled the void. What resulted was both confusion, disorientation, and mayhem.
When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” He’s referencing something fundamental to Himself that had been missing in the world. A world spiritually dead could now come alive.
Jesus was the energy needed for spiritual life. Clarity could morph from confusion in the light of His presence. A world disoriented and lost could find direction, meaning arising from mayhem. As “the light of the world” the very presence of Jesus would eliminate the darkness.
One of the other fascinating aspects to light is that by its very nature light is luminous. Not only does light dispel darkness, but it reveals what is present. Literally, light is essential for your ability to see or for what you see to be knowable. Taking it one step further… It is how an object interacts with light that actually determines what it truly is or isn’t.
You see light brings with it needed clarity. Light takes the things that are hidden and brings them into view. It reveals the truth. Light exposes what was concealed by darkness and uncovers what might have otherwise been unknown. Beyond this, the greater our relationship with light the more we’re able to see and know the world around us.
While human beings have 3 color receptors in our eyes that allow us to see 3 spectrums of lightwaves (red, green, and blue), the mantis shrimp has an astounding 12 color receptors.
Their ability to have a greater interaction with light equips them with a greater capacity for sight. Sadly for the mantis shrimp, this benefit is completely lost because of the inability of their brain to process all of this complex data. They can see, but cannot comprehend. I love the fact Jesus not only enables the blind to see, but gives us the ability to comprehend.
Again, when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” He’s saying His very presence brings things from the darkness into the light. Jesus enables our ability to see and to really know the world around us. In a sense, as light, Jesus provides the necessary energy for life. And the greater our ability to interact with His light the greater our capacity to really see!
John was clear in His thesis that Jesus is the “glory of God.” His person and His life illustrates how far “all have sinned and fallen short” of this holy standard. Both the sinner and the moralist stand humbly exposed in the light of His righteousness.
And yet, this declaration of Who Jesus is also came with a promise. Jesus continues, “He who follows Me (continually joins or accompanies Him) shall not walk (or conduct oneself) in darkness, but have (possess) the light of life.” In its context, there is no question Jesus is speaking of the effects yielded through a continual relationship with Him - the light.
While light exposes sin, by it’s very nature this same light is also the essential component for life. Jesus not only reveals one’s true condition, but it’s remaining in the light of His presence that transforms a person from that true condition. As Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17:28 it is “in Jesus that we live and move and have our being.” Apart from Jesus there is no life!
Think of this process as being similar to that of photosynthesis. It is the very ability of a plant to absorb and process light that enables that plant to grow. You see, in much the same way, it is your continual interaction with Jesus that enables your spiritual growth.
Finally, it’s a truth that light is inherently self-evident. Light exists without your ability to explain its existence. Light simply is and is known — even if you can’t see it. As a result, light is unavoidable, undeniable, and in the end testifies of itself. It needs no another witness.
John 8:13-18, “The Pharisees therefore said to Him, ‘You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.’ (These religious leaders are pointing out Jesus’ claim lacked additional witnesses for validation.) Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.’”
First, I find it interesting these religious men were challenging Jesus because they fully understood what He was claiming about Himself. This is why they’re publicly attempting to discredit Him by pointing out He was making claims that were unverified by additional witnesses. Note: They’re failing to take into consideration the testimony of John the Baptizer.
Aside from the fact Jesus highlights their glaring ignorance (He says, “You do not know where I come from and where I am going”), responding to the accusation the law demanded “the testimony of two men to be true” Jesus points to “the Father” as His additional witness.
John 8:19a, “Then they said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’”
Understanding what Jesus was claiming they decide to bring up the controversy surrounding His parentage. “Ok, Jesus. Since You bring up Your Father as the additional witness for your claims, let’s get into that… Who really is Your father? We’ve investigated the claims. We’ve gone to Nazareth and talked to those who knew Mary and Joseph. Furthermore, we know Joseph isn’t Your dad as You were conceived before they were married. Who’s Your daddy?”
John 8:19b-20, “Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’ (Then John adds…) These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.”
It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t indulge the rumor-mill nor does He dignify His detractors with an answer. He knew they wouldn’t believe the truth of His virgin birth. This is why, in His response, Jesus get’s to the heart of the issue. Their hardened rejection of Him had really yielded an inability to understand spiritual things related to His Father. They couldn’t see Him as “the light of the world” because of their willful ignorance and resulting blindness.
John 8:21-22, “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.’ So the Jews said, ‘Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?”
First, what is Jesus actually saying? Amazingly, Jesus is telling these religious men that, because they were rejecting Him and therefore rejecting His Father who sent Him, they were going to “die in their sins” and not be able to go to heaven. He’s saying they’re going to hell. Again, what a radicle contrast to a modern church that avoids such condemnations.
Now in response to this statement “where I go you cannot come” they reply, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come?’” Because in the Jewish mind suicide was a one-way ticket to hell, they’re actually saying, “We don’t want to go where you’re going anyway!” Obviously, things have gotten quite heated with all this talk of hell.
John 8:23-24, “And Jesus said to them, ‘You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.’”
Clearly, Jesus is not backing down from this fight. For starters, in this public forum, He contrasts Himself with these men. “I am from above,” but “you are from beneath!” Then He adds, “I am not of this world,” but “you are of this world.”
Jesus is not mixing words, “I’m from heaven and are not tainted by this world, but you guys are from hell and are totally warped!” Later on Jesus will say their father was the devil!
Though Jesus has already predicted these men would “die in their sins,” He adds more of an explanation concerning the mechanism… “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins!” What a powerful statement not only in the moment and context in which Jesus said it, but with the larger and more lasting implications for all of humanity in mind.
First, you will notice in your translation the word “He” is in italics meaning it was added to the original text for clarity. Sadly, this was misguided. In the very faces of these religious men, Jesus is actually saying, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
Make no mistake about it… Jesus is again invoking the sacred name for Jehovah “I AM!” and specifically applying it to Himself! Jesus is claiming to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s claiming to be the very voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the One who delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, and gave the Law on Sinai.
Secondly, because He’s God, Jesus is also crystal clear that anyone who does not place their faith in Him as God will “die in their sins” and be eternally separated from His presence. Note: A rudimentary definition of hell is just that — an eternal separation from God.
Thirdly, in the statement itself, Jesus is making a profound connection. He’s saying your belief in Him as God is directly connected to the forgiveness and elimination of your sins. Think about it… If failing to believe in Jesus results in a person dying in their sins, it is a belief in Jesus that will save a person from the death their sin demanded.
Finally, Jesus is clear that God doesn’t send anyone to hell who hasn’t first made hell his destination. In actuality, for the person who rejects Jesus why would you even want an eternal existence in His presence? In such a dynamic wouldn’t heaven be a crueler form of punishment? In many ways hell is the greatest act of love a sovereign God can make.
In his book “The Great Divorce” C.S. Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”
John 8:25-27, “Then they said to Him, ‘Who are You?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.’ (Then John adds a bit of additional commentary.) They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.”
In response to their question “Who are You?” I can see Jesus shaking His head in abject disbelief! For two years He has been rather consistent concerning His identity! And yet, while there were “many things” Jesus wanted “to say and to judge concerning them,” He rightly understood these things had not been sanctioned in that moment by His Father.
John 8:28-30, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He (again “He” is not in the original), and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.’ As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.”
In response to all the things Jesus had been saying He provides the audience an event that will validate all His claims. He says, “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will know that I am!” While we realize in hindsight that Jesus is speaking of His crucifixion and all the events that will happen during these 6 hours, what’s interesting to me is the word Jesus uses.
This same word translated as “lift up” can also mean “to exalt.” Though these religious men would nail to Jesus to a tree attempting to humiliate Him, Jesus saw things much differently. Their rejection would, in the end, be the very mechanism by which Jesus was exalted!
I imagine this line “for I always do those things that please” the Father was Jesus’ way of tying everything that had just happened this morning together. He’s making it clear to these religious men as well as the larger crowd that had been present that God the Father was pleased with the way He handled that woman caught in adultery!
Most notably and in context to this reality, John says “as Jesus spoke these words, many believed in Him.” How revealing the words of Jesus yielded two very different reactions in the hearers. For one group willingly resisting Him, Jesus’ words served to harden their hearts; but for another, receptive to these things, His words brought about a saving faith in Him. Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
John 8:31-32, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”
While Jesus has been in a tit-for-tat with the religious leaders who opposed Him, John is clear that Jesus now directs this specific exhortation to a group of men and women who, standing there listening to what He had to say, had decided to “believe in Him.” In this exhortation Jesus will get more applicational to the entire idea of Him being “the light!”
The reason this detail is significant is that it provides an important context. When Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” He’s explaining the mechanism by which your faith in Him grows. Faith in Jesus doesn’t just begin by hearing His Word and believing, it develops through an abiding in His Word. What brings life develops life!
Since this “abiding” is essential to being a “disciple” of Jesus, we need to consider what it really means to “abide in His Word.” This word “abide” in the Greek is a verb (an action) that describes a continuance in something. In the Scriptures this word can be translated as to remain, dwell, continue, tarry, or endure. Understand, this word speaks to more than just reading your Bible, the idea implies a full immersing of oneself in its pages.
Writing in a completely different language, but articulating the same idea… Psalms 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” The idea of “abiding” and being “planted” communicate the same point.
While God’s Word is essential for spiritual life to begin, God’s Word remains the essential element for spiritual life to develop. The “light of the world” continues His work through His Word! Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
As Jesus continues His thought don’t miss what He says results in a person’s life when they choose to “abide in His Word” - He says, “You shall know the truth (the word “know” can be translated as “come to know” describing a continual process of gaining knowledge and understanding) and the truth shall make you free!”
Literally, the truth will set you at liberty. The results of “abiding in His Word” is a greater understanding of “the truth” which, with time, yields greater and greater freedom! We’ll take more time to unpack what Jesus means by this next Sunday.
As I wrap all of this up, may I ask… Are you abiding in God’s Word? Sure, reading God’s Word is a good first step, but the idea of abiding describes much more than this. Like a plant’s relationship with light, are you soaking up and rooting down into these words of life? Are you taking the time to allow “the light of the world” to leave His mark in your life as you marinate on the word of God?
Though a good second step is attending a church who’s fundamental mission is to be a grow lamp — a church that abides in God’s Word every Sunday, please know if this is the extent of your abiding, you’re likely dying! Never forget… What brings life — develops life!
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