Summary: This is one of Jesus I AM statements in John. See how this fits in with the Feast of Tabernacles
I AM the Light of the World
This text picks up logically and thematically from the end of chapter seven. The woman caught in adultery seems to break it up. We talked about this last week and why I do believe it is genuine. I will leave whether it was misplaced there or not to the critics.
Exposition of the Text
The text starts out by Jesus speaking again to them. This indicates that Jesus was picking up from a past conversation. The last words of Jesus prior to this in the Gospel was his invitation for the thirsty to come, that is, those who believe on him were to drink from Him. This was at the Feast of Tabernacles on the last great day of the feast. This verse then would also seem to have some connection to the feast as well.
If one understands what went on during the Feast of Tabernacles, one is well on the way to understanding the Gospel of John as a whole. The people sheltered for the week in tents to remember that their ancestors dwelt in tents in the wilderness. One of the celebrations was remembering the manna the Lord brought down from heaven to feed them. The counterpart of this experience is found in the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, where Jesus tells them the next day “I am the Bread of Life”. This was actually set near Passover although it is a Tabernacles theme. This is because the Bread of Life would lay down His life at Passover. As I said, the themes are interlocked in a complex arrangement.
So Jesus has already been presented as the living manna which came down from heaven. Those who ate the old manna were long dead. But this bread was to eternal life. In chapter 7 which occurs during the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus compares Himself to the water which came from the rock to slake the thirst of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. This too was remembered at Tabernacles .Another thing that was remembered was the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night which guided Israel through the wilderness. In a sense, the pillar acted as the feet of Yahweh which they were to follow. This is what Jesus seems to be picking up at this point.
Jesus begins by using the words “I AM”. Although this can be a simple statement of description, the Greek makes the way this is stated very emphatic. It is written in a way to make us think of Yahweh’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses asked for His name, the LORD replied “I AM that I AM. The first I AM in the Greek translation of Exodus is exactly in the same form Jesus uses here. There are seven of these I AM statements in the gospel. Because of the way it is written, it seems to state that the Yahweh of the Old Testament is none other than Jesus who was making this declaration in the Temple, in the midst of Israel.
So Jesus is portrayed in John as the Manna, the water from the rock, and the pillar who led Israel through the wilderness. The picture of the person of Jesus is made complete when we go back to the beginning of the Gospel: And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In the wilderness, the Tabernacle of God was in the center of the camp, in the midst of Israel. They beheld the glory of the LORD descend upon the tabernacle. Now if I told you that the Greek word for “dwelt” is actually “tabernacled”. We read further in John: “And tabernacled among us. And we beheld His glory” Do you now see the connection? Yahweh became flesh and dwelt among us in the midst of the people. He is the Shekinah of the Old Testament. This is why He can cry out in chapter 2 at the Temple: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John says that Jesus was speaking of His own body. As I said, understanding the Feast of Tabernacles and how Jesus fulfills everything in it is vital to the understanding of the person of Jesus.
So Jesus invites all who will hear to follow in his footsteps. He is the One who will lead them to the Promised Land. But just like the wilderness generation, not all were willing to be led by the Lord. The Pharisees immediately stepped into the shoes of the grumblers in the wilderness. They tried to discredit Jesus’ testimony by saying there were no collaborating witnesses to His testimony. The Book of Deuteronomy in the 19th chapter does indeed require 2 or three witnesses to agree on testimony before the accused could be convicted. It is a stretch to make it apply to one’s statements about himself.