By Bruce James
The gospel of John gives repeated attention to Jesus as being the Light of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And in John’s introduction to his gospel he says of Jesus that “in him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4, 5).
I believe that it is safe to say that every religion in the world gives “light” a prominent place in its creed. In fact, it is commonly believed that the first idol ever worshiped was the sun. And for all men the light is something to be loved and the darkness is something to fear. But the background of the usage of it in John’s writings came from that at which it was aimed: The idea of Jesus as the Light of the world had its basis in the Old Testament (Psalm 27:1; Isa. 60:19; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1). In the religion of the heathens or pagans, light and God were synonyms for one another. And it may be even more relevant to note in the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran community, the title of one of them is The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.
With all this as a background, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” But, let us also be reminded of the occasion of the statement. Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2, 10). At evening, during this feast, four great candelabras were lit. There was enough light from these candelabras to light the streets, court and square in the city of Jerusalem. This helps us that much more to see why Jesus used this figure of speech as His being the Light of the world. And the feast itself commemorated the journeyings of Israel through the wilderness. It was called the Feast of Tabernacles because during its seven days the people lived in little booths or “tabernacles” made of branches to remind them of the days when they had no houses and when they lived in tents in the wilderness. It was during that time that they had been guided by the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). The light from the candelabra reminded them of this guidance Divine. In light of these things, the people must have been reminded of Isaiah’s words: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2).
Jesus could not have chosen a greater time or place to make His claim that He was the Light of the world. This was a tremendous claim, for in it, He was saying that He was the Messiah, the divine guide of God. But this was exactly what Jesus did as He made manifest so many persons and things. He revealed the true character of God (John 1:18). He made manifest our true condition as sinners being unable to save ourself through any scheme we May divise. And, so, He revealed the way of Salvation, that through our faith and obedience to His gospel we have hope of heaven. He made manifest the necessity of living holy lives. He revealed the high calling and privileges of His followers. He made manifest their future home and glory. These are some of the things Jesus revealed as “the light of the world.” Are you one of those who love darkness rather than light (Jn. 3:19), or are you one of those who have received “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)? Jesus is the light of the world and only in His light can men find the way to goodness and to God.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 41, pp. 660-661
October 18, 1979