The I AM Statements in John: The Light of the World

Our previous article helped us determine that our study of these sayings is enriched when the details of their context are considered. This helps with their interpretation and lends weight to each expression’s role in revealing Jesus of Nazareth as Jehovah. When the Saviour said, “I am the Light of the World,” the location was deliberately chosen, the audience intentionally selected and the timing calculated. Seeing this helps us understand what the listeners on that day envisioned as they heard His words, and it may lead us to consider some things that they may have missed. The first in this two-part study examines this claim in its symbolic and dispensational significance, with the second article focusing on its practical teaching. In both writings, we will notice how this statement is illuminated and illustrated by its context.

The Feast of Tabernacles was a major religious event in Israel’s calendar. Every male appeared before the Lord in Jerusalem for this harvest festival that ran for one week, with the eighth day being observed as “an holy convocation” (Lev 23:36).[1] This celebration of the vintage and olive harvest served to remind each generation of the Lord’s goodness in bringing them up out of Egypt (v43) and proved to be dispensationally symbolic of the future millennial kingdom, with the eighth day picturing the eventual establishment of the eternal state. As with many other Jewish rites, the ceremonies had been altered and augmented to include extra-biblical practices, each with meanings drawn from the oral traditions. Two of these customs were used by the Lord Jesus to present Himself to the nation, namely, the pouring out of water and the illuminating of the temple.

During the festivities, each morning a priest would lead a procession to the Pool of Siloam to fetch water, carry it to the temple and pour it out at the base of the altar. While the water was being poured, the singing of the Hallel would begin,[2] which to us would be Psalms 113 to 118. Included in these lyrics of praise were words that reminded them of Jehovah’s provision in the wilderness: “[Who] turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters” (Psa 114:8). With this as the background, the Lord Jesus proclaimed, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (Joh 7:37). This declaration implied that He was Jehovah who had provided water in the desert. Furthermore, in their context, these words had overtones of prophecy, for Isaiah had spoken of water to predict the giving of the Spirit of God. “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isa 44:3). With this assertion, He definitely had their attention.

Continuing to listen as the Hallel was coming to a close, they would hear, “God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light” (Psa 118:27). Then, as they remained in the temple until evening, they would watch as four golden candelabra were lit, and men with burning torches began to rejoice in dance.[3] The glow of this nightly spectacle[4] would fill the entire city of Jerusalem with light, reminding all of Jehovah’s miraculous role in their history. God had been the light in their dwellings during the plague of darkness in Egypt. He had been the pillar of fire illuminating their path and leading them through the Red Sea and the wilderness. His presence was seen as a devouring fire when Moses met with Him on the mount, and fire marked the Shechinah glory as God dwelt among His people in the tabernacle and the temple.

With the sounds of this joyous celebration of light still ringing in their ears, the Despised Galilean announced, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Joh 8:12). To the keen and learned people present, there was no doubt that the Lord intended to draw the parallels and identify Himself as the same One whose light permeated the pages of Israel’s past. But look closer: He didn’t just use the imagery of light and its significance to the nation; He further established His Messiahship by including the phrase “the world.” Again, the Jews would quickly remember Isaiah’s prophecy, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6).[5]

They showed their certainty by not addressing the claim’s clarity but its verity. Instead of asking for an explanation, they attacked His character by appealing to the law[6] and insisting that, unless there are witnesses, the assertion cannot be authenticated. Moreover, as the Lord Jesus submitted the Father as a witness, they were well aware that the man in their presence was either Jehovah incarnate or a blasphemer. Their vehement hostility and rejection reached their climax when they tried to stone Him in rage!

Now, what can we discern from these words that those people may have missed? Believers with a complete Bible can now easily see the Lord Jesus as the Light of the World (John’s writings especially are full of light, as will be shown in part two of this article). But for now, let’s just consider this eighth day of the feast. Knowing that this speaks of the future eternal state, we appreciate Christ’s utterance even more. Not just looking back now to the historical import of the Light, we look forward to the age when, instead of in the tabernacle or temple, the glory of God’s presence will lighten the eternal city as He dwells with His people, and “the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev 21:23).

As we move into the next meditation, we continue to wonder at the fulness and harmony of the Scriptures, as phrase after phrase weave seamlessly together into God’s great tapestry, thus proving that the One we have trusted is the faithful covenant keeper from all eternity.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.

[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ (London: James Clarke & Co., 1959), 279.

[3] Edersheim, 283.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 337.

[5] cf. Isa 9:2; 42:6; 60:3

[6] Deu 19:15