Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12The Gospel of John is well known for containing the “I am” statements of Jesus. In these declarations on His nature and divinity, our Lord more fully develops concepts and themes that were known to the people by way of both typology and fulfillment. One such theme concerns light and His definitive statement, “I am the Light of the world.” Immediately we might ask, in what way is Jesus THE Light? And similarly, what light?
By way of refresher or for those not already familiar with the I am statements, the little Greek phrase here, ego eimi translated I AM, has long been considered the equivalent to the similar Hebrew phrase yhwh, which of course is the covenant name of God – Yahweh. When Jesus makes the declaration, I AM, He is literally referring to Himself as Yahweh. As it relates to this particular declaration about light and what exactly might be in view here, we needn’t turn to far to find that John, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has already introduced the theme and has much to say concerning Jesus as the Light.
Turning back to John 1, we find the introduction of the concept of light as referenced to our Lord
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-4If we follow the logic of this passage we find that the Word, who is the Son of God, was with God – distinct in person, and was God – unified in essence, and is the Creative Agent. We read that in Him was life and that this life was the light of men. Here we find the Spirit through John expressly developing the concept of light – which we understand first in a natural, physical way – in order to convey the spiritual nature of light, darkness, and life. To do this, he begins with the same opening phrase as Genesis, “In the beginning,” in order to introduce Christ the Creator. Moving from here, we note then that the “in Him was life” is specifically connected with His function as the Creative Agent. In other words, Christ has the ability to grant and bring forth life, which He did at creation (1:3) and can and does do again, spiritually. In this way, the life most likely referenced here (1:4) is spiritual, is imparted to men, is called light, and is contrasted with darkness. Said differently, when Christ grants spiritual life to men it enlightens them, opening the eyes of their now regenerated heart to see, especially to see the difference between light and darkness or we might say good and evil; righteousness and sin. The light of Christ is supreme over the darkness. This is not light vs. darkness. No, it is light over darkness. We might recall again the supremacy given to Christ in creation.
As the chapter develops, verses 6-8 are an interlude introducing the forerunner ministry of John the Baptist, yet nevertheless continuing the theme of light. John’s primary purpose, as prophesied by the angel to his mother and fulfilled in his life, was to bear witness to the light, i.e. Christ. In verse 9 we return to our theme of light, now with specific reference to the incarnation of Christ.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:9-13As light develops here, we find the universal nature or maybe said better the indiscriminate nature of Christ’s light – meaning it is the exclusive light for everyone. So much for all paths lead to God (see also John 14:6). The second phrase, was coming into the world is a parallel from the chapter opening and an indication that Christ, as both Word and Light, was pre-existent prior to creation although here we begin to see His intrusion into that creation by means of His incarnation. This is stated even more clearly in verse 10, as world is used three times to highlight His intrusion into creation, His creation, and then creation’s ignorance of Him. In verse 11, the circle narrows to Christ’s specific ministry among Israel – came to His own. Similar to the world who did not know Him, here His own people did not receive Him. In contrast to both the statements of ignorance and rejection is the affirmative statement that there are/were/will be those who did receive Him and believed in His name. These are called children of God, though they are not born of the flesh nor by right of birth, nor even by their own will. No, their (re)birth, which granted the ability and desire to believe and receive Christ was solely based on the will of God. At this point in the introductory chapter, the emphasis shifts back to Christ as the logos or Word, but that is not all to be said about Him as the Light.
In John 3 we find Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemas, at night no less, where He describes His own early ministry in terms of light coming into the world.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:16-21In this passage we find further development on the concept of light specifically that the coming of the Light into the world was judgment. Again, highlighting the contrast between light and darkness, the latter is mentioned with respect to the evil deeds of men. Christ the Light came into the world and exposed the darkness, i.e. the works of evil, and it doing so pronounced judgment and the need for repentance and faith in Him. In verse 20-21 the apostle develops a type of test, which he uses frequently in his first epistle to distinguish genuine faith from false faith. Here, it is not so much a test of genuine faith, instead it creates a distinction, a dividing line if you will, of believers and unbelievers or those who do wickedness in the darkness vs. those who are walking in the true Light.
This leads us to our definitive statement from chapter 8 cited above, “I am the light of the world.” (see also John 9:5)Here, in essence, Jesus firmly supports all that has been said concerning Himself thus far in the gospel account as the light. Additionally, He picks up the “test” and pronounces it again in the form of a promise that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness, but instead will be walking in the light. There is a practical application being developed with reference to Jesus as the light. We see it in the test presented in chapter 3 and again here in chapter 8. Further, we find it restated again in chapter 11:
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” John 11:9-10And again in chapter 12, though with some added revelation to the concept of Jesus as the light
35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:35-36Here, in addition to the practical application of walking out of the darkness and into the light, we find hints of Jesus’ ascension, “the light is among you for a little while longer,” and implications that faith unites one to the light as sons. The final mention of this theme in John’s gospel account is in this same chapter and reiterates Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. John 12:46The theme of light begins in Genesis 1:3-4 with God speaking light into existence and separating it from darkness. We ought to note that this was Day 1 of creation and that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until Day 4. In the Pentateuch we find the importance and significance of light with reference to the lamps and lampstands in the tabernacle. In the Psalms light certainly is a prominent theme with God as light, truth as light, and God’s Word as a lamp. Throughout the prophets, we find promises of the coming Light, specifically in the prophet Isaiah and most notably Isaiah 42:6, ” I am the Lord; I have called you 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….” With the earthly ministry of Christ, we have the fulfillment of those promises, as noted, as well as picking up on the typology of the other lights mentioned. Finally, in Revelation and the prophecy of the New Heavens and Earth we read that the Lamb is the Lamp and is the light by which the nations will walk. Then, as the capstone to the theme of light we have the language of Eden and creation applied to the New Heavens and Earth and a new creation. In the new creation, however, there will be no need for the sun or lamp, because the Lord God will be the Light.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5Having traced this glorious theme, we ought not forget the application from above for genuine believers to walk in the light and not in darkness. What was introduced in John’s gospel is further developed and applied in his first epistle. Specifically we should meditate on 1 John 1:5-10 and 1 John 2:7-11.
Soli Deo Gloria