Summary: What did Jesus mean when he declared "I am the light of the world?"
Back in the Old Testament, we read that the Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years, much of that time as slaves. Finally, when the time was right, God sent Moses to lead the people out of their slavery… into freedom. And for the next 40 years, the Israelites wandered in the desert, being led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. And during those 40 years, the Israelites had lived in tents. But ultimately, they came out of the wilderness into the Promised Land, and God gave them fields they hadn’t planted, wells they hadn’t dug, and cities they hadn’t built.
In the Law, God created a special festival for Israelites to observe so that they would remember what they’d been through during those 40 years. It was called the Feast of the Tabernacles. For 7 days in the month October the Israelites were required to come to Jerusalem and live in tents (another name for tabernacles). And they still do that today.
By the time of Jesus, this Feast of Tabernacles had gotten to be quite an elaborate affair. According to the Mishnah – which is a Jewish commentary on the Law (Sukkah 5:2) “At the close of the first Holyday” (of the Feast of the Tabernacles) the priests would descend from the Court of the Israelites down into the Court of Women. In that court. four huge candelabras were placed, each “with four golden bowls at their tops and four ladders to each one.” The Talmud says that each were fifty cubits in height (Sukkah 52b - http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Papers/John7-9.3.pdf)
Essentially, these candelabras were 75 feet tall!!!! Each of them had 4 bowls at the top filled with 10 gallons of oil. And each night during the festival, these were set ablaze at Sundown and burned so brightly that it lit up the entire city. This ritual was called the “Illumination Of The Temple.”
Now, this wasn’t a solemn occasion. This was literally a festival. They sang and they danced. The religious leaders praised God, and sang songs of joy, while musicians played harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets. (Brian Bill)
They were having themselves a party!!!
On the 7th day of the festival - at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the High Priest would lead a procession through the streets of Jerusalem down to the Pool of Siloam to fill a golden pitcher with (what they called, since the water was from a flowing source of water) “living water” from that pool. (Mayim Chaim)
Then, returning to the Temple, the High Priest took the golden pitcher of water, along with a silver pitcher filled with wine and he poured both of them out before the Lord. And then he prayed: “God in heaven, send Your Messiah soon and in our days. We cry out for our Messiah now" (https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Hebrew_Roots/Holy_Days/Tabernacles/Tabernacles/Hoshanna_Rabbah).
The Rabbis had long taught that the Messiah was to be referred to as “The Light.” They would look to passages like:
Isaiah 42:1 & 6-7 “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations… "I am the LORD; I have called you (the chosen one) in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, A LIGHT for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Isaiah 60:1-3 “Arise, shine, for YOUR LIGHT has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
AND Malachi 4:2 “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings…”
The Messiah was seen as the Light who was come into the world. So, why am I telling you all this? Why is this important? Well, I’m telling you all this because there are many scholars who believe our text this morning may have taken place on the LAST day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The candelabras had been set ablaze for 7 nights, and the High Priest had prayed that God would send the long awaited Messiah. It was at this time that Jesus stood up and declared: “I am the Light of the World!” I am the light that was to come. I am the Messiah who had been promised. I have come into a dark world to give you light.
Now, is that cool, or what?