Summary: Jesus is the light of the world who can lead us to eternal life.
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“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
What did Jesus mean when He said, “I am the light of the world”?
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
The setting is very important to understanding the full significance of Jesus’ words.
1. The Occasion – The Feast of TABERNACLES
LIGHT was an important symbol during this Jewish festival:
a. During the festival, the people enjoyed a LIGHT CEREMONY.
Four large stands each held four golden bowls; these were placed in the temple’s Court of Women. These sixteen golden bowls (reached by ladders) were filled with oil and used the old garments of the priests for wicks. When they were lit at night, all Jerusalem was illuminated. In a world that did not have public lighting after dusk, this light must have been spectacular. (Burge, John (NIVAC), pp. 255-256)
b. During the festival, the people remembered the PILLAR OF FIRE that guided their ancestors in the wilderness.
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 13:21; cf. Numbers 14:14; Nehemiah 9:12, 19; Psalm 78:14; 105:39).
The Israelites followed the pillar of fire and were led to the land of Canaan. Jesus says that those who follow Him, “the light of the world,” will have “the light of life”—light that leads to life, eternal life.
c. During the festival, the people anticipated a day when GOD would be the light of Jerusalem.
Zechariah 14 was probably read during the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. This chapter speaks of the day when the Messiah would come to Jerusalem.
It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime—a day known to the Lord. When evening comes, there will be light (Zechariah 14:7).
Zechariah’s prophecy has been partially fulfilled. Jesus, God in human flesh, was in Jerusalem. Though the light of His glory was veiled, He still claimed to be “the light of the world” who is able to light up the lives of all who trust in Him.
2. The Place – “The place where the offerings were put” (v. 20)
“He spoke these words will teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put” (v. 20).
“The place where the offerings were put” was located in the Court of Women. This was the same place where the lamps were lit for the light ceremony. Jesus was probably standing under the lamps as He declared Himself to be not only the true light of Jerusalem, but of the whole world!
3. The Time – Around the time of the AUTUMN EQUINOX when the people would be expecting the coming winter darkness
The autumn equinox is one of two times a year when the day and night are of approximately equal length. This year (2008) the autumn equinox will fall on September 22, and the Feast of Tabernacles will take place from October 13-20.
The days were getting shorter. Darkness was arriving sooner each night. But Jesus taught that people are constantly living in darkness—spiritual darkness. The light the people needed could not come from a lamp. It could only come from Jesus, “the light of the world.”
ESCAPING THE DARKNESS
Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” What does it mean to “walk in darkness”? In the Gospel of John, darkness represents at least things that Jesus can lead us out of:
1. Jesus can lead us out of the darkness of CONFUSION.
When you walk in darkness, you can’t see where you’re going.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night…” (John 3:1-2). In the darkness of confusion, Nicodemus misunderstood the new birth.
Illustration: Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door.
2. Jesus can lead us out of the darkness of HOPELESSNESS.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20:1). In the darkness of hopelessness, the followers of Jesus thought this was the end.
“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour [from noon to three in the afternoon], for the sun stopped shinning” (Luke 23:44-45a).
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb” (Matthew 28:1).
The darkness of the crucifixion led to the light of resurrection morning.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). No matter how dark life becomes, every follower of Christ has hope. There is a brighter day coming.