Jesus—His Life and Message: The “I Am” Sayings

February 13, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

The Light of the World

The second of Jesus’ “I Am” sayings is found in John chapter 8.

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.”1

Understanding the context of when and where Jesus made this statement adds extra insight to its meaning. The eighth chapter of John begins with the story of the woman who was caught committing adultery,2 and then moves on to Jesus’ statement about being the light of the world. Most commentators consider the story of the woman to be out of context within the story line of the Gospel. If one skips over the first eleven verses (the story of the woman), then the second part of chapter eight seems to flow from chapter seven. Let’s take a closer look:

Chapter seven begins by stating that Jesus was in Galilee and that the Feast of Booths was at hand. (This feast is also sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles, and is still practiced today in the Jewish faith. It’s called Sukkoth.) The Feast of Booths is a seven-day festival celebrated in September or early October during which believers dwell in “booths.”3 At the end of the festival, there is an eighth day of rest as per God’s command:

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. ... You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.4

Jesus delayed going to Jerusalem for the feast, and when He did go, He did so privately.5

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.6

His teaching stirred controversy, as some who heard Him thought He was the Messiah while others wanted Him arrested. It’s at this point in the story where the woman caught committing adultery enters the picture, but once that story ends, the account returns to Jesus speaking at the festival. While it doesn’t specifically state that He was still at the festival, what He said suggests that He was.

There were two ceremonies associated with the Feast of Tabernacles in Jesus’ time—the “pouring out of water” and the “temple illumination.” On each day of the festival, the priests drew water from the Pool of Siloam and brought it in a procession to the temple with the joyful sounding of the trumpet, which celebrated God’s supply of water from a rock during the desert wandering of Israel.7 In chapter seven, we read that On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.8 Jesus speaking about living water during this festival would have been understood within the context of the water procession.

Another part of the festival was the temple illumination. During the festival, in a part of the temple complex called the court of women, four huge golden lamp stands, each with four large lamps, were lit in an evening ceremony. The bright light from the lamp stands lit up the whole temple area. This ceremony commemorated the pillar of fire which led the Israelites in the wilderness:

The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.9

When Jesus made the statement I am the light of the world in John chapter eight, it was probably in this setting. Within this chapter, this is a stand-alone statement, as once He said it, the Pharisees began disputing with Him. However, John includes several references to Jesus being light, especially in the first chapter:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God10

… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us11

… in him was life, and the life was the light of men12

… the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.13

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.14

Later in this Gospel—when the crowd asked Jesus, How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?15—Jesus responded in a manner that once again pointed to Himself as light:

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. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.16

The call to believe in the light is the same as Jesus saying, “Believe in Me.” Becoming sons of light means becoming people who belong to God.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.17

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.18

In John chapter three, right after saying that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus referred to Himself as the Light:

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. 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. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 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.19

Those who do not believe in the Light are condemned, while those who believe aren’t; just as Jesus had said earlier that whoever believes in God’s Son should not perish but have eternal life,20 but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.21 Believing in the Light is required for salvation, and that Light is Jesus.

In the Old Testament, light is sometimes used as a metaphor for God’s presence:

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.22

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!23

There are also many references to God’s light, for example:

The LORD is my light and my salvation.24

Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!25

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!26

Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.27

With you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.28

In the book of Isaiah, when speaking of the coming age of the kingdom, reference is made to the “Servant of the Lord” who would be as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,29 and that the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.30 In the book of 1 John, we read:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.31

God, who is Light and the giver of light, sent His Son Jesus, the Light which has come into the world,32 to bring life. Those who follow this Light will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.33

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.34

Jesus likens those who believe in Him to stationary light sources: a city on a hill, a lamp on a lamp stand. Our light, as believers, reflects the light of Christ, the Light of the world, the Light which has come into the world. As we walk in His light, we reflect Him and are a witness to others.

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).35

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.36

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.37

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.38


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 John 8:12.

2 John 8:1–11.

3 A “booth” or as it’s known today, a sukkah, is a temporary structure which is built on the ground, an open porch, or balcony. It has three walls and is positioned so that all or part of its roof is open to the sky. The roof covering, known as s'chach in Hebrew, must consist of something that grew from the earth but is currently disconnected from it. Palm leaves, bamboo sticks, pine branches, wood and the like can all be used for s'chach. Many people hang decorations such as streamers, shiny ornaments, and pictures from the interior walls and ceiling beams of a sukkah. Some families also line the interior walls with white sheeting, in order to recall the “Clouds of Glory” that surrounded the Jewish nation during their wanderings in the desert (Wikipedia).

4 Leviticus 23:39, 42–43. See also Deuteronomy 16:13–16.

5 John 7:10.

6 John 7:14.

7 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 372, 388.

8 John 7:37–39.

9 Exodus 13:21.

10 John 1:1.

11 John 1:14.

12 John 1:4.

13 John 1:5.

14 John 1:9.

15 John 12:34.

16 John 12:35–36.

17 1 Peter 2:9.

18 Ephesians 5:8–9.

19 John 3:18–21.

20 John 3:16.

21 John 3:18.

22 Psalm 90:8.

23 Psalm 4:6.

24 Psalm 27:1.

25 Psalm 43:3.

26 Psalm 4:6.

27 Isaiah 2:5.

28 Psalm 36:9.

29 Isaiah 49:6.

30 Isaiah 60:19.

31 1 John 1:5.

32 John 3:19

33 John 8:12.

34 Matthew 5:14–16.

35 Ephesians 5:8–9.

36 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

37 Romans 13:12.

38 2 Corinthians 4:6.