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 8:12)
Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” This is the second of Jesus’ seven metaphorical “I AM” statements contained in the Gospel of John. The first was “I Am the Bread of Life” (John 6:20). The phrase “I Am” is from the Greek words ego eimi. This particular phrase is found 23 times in the Gospel of John (John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). It refers the reader back to Exodus 3:14 and is an explicit statement by Jesus that He is God. It is also here, as in John 6, that Jesus will join His “I Am” statement with a metaphor, or a comparison, which expresses His redeeming relationship to the fallen world.
It is important not to forget the immediate grammatical context in which we find John 8:12. We have noted that John 7:53–8:11 was more than likely not originally found in the location where it appears in most of our English translations of the Gospel of John. That additionally means that John 8:12–20 occurs right after John 7:52.
The importance of this observation is that Jesus’ “light of the world” discourse would have occurred at the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. During the seven day festival, except for the last day, the great candelabras in the temple were lit, resulting in much rejoicing under their light. By announcing that He Himself the light of the world, Jesus was pronouncing that He fulfills the Feast of Booths. He is the light under whom people can truly rejoice. He is the presence of God who guided the people of Israel in the wilderness, the journey that the festival commemorated (Ex. 13:21; Lev. 23:33–43).
The result of this declaration is a promise Jesus gives. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We see here a preceding causal statement (“Whoever follows me”), followed by two effects (“will not walk in darkness” and “but will have the light of life.”
The word follow, “ἀκολουθέω; akoloutheo, means to be a committed and exclusive follower to the one followed. The word contains the idea of a complete commitment and not a half-hearted one (Matthew 8:18-22; 10:38-39). It is to be a present and active act on the part of the disciple.
The first effect, or promise, is that such a follower of Christ “will not walk in darkness.” To walk (περιπατέω; peripateo) means to live. Darkness (σκοτία; scotia) represents the evil and fallen world. Therefore, to walk in darkness means to continually live a life patterned by sin and rebellion to God. Those who follow Christ and possess His light of salvation, will live a life consistent with the light.
I John 1:5-7 says, “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. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The second effect, or promise, is that such a follower of Christ “will have the light of life.” Possessing salvation and blessing from God (i.e. light) is not the result of not walking in darkness but rather the cause of such. As such, there is a growing light of holiness which occurs in the soul of the believer.
The Apostle John explains it this way in I John 2:7-8: “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”
The passing darkness and the shining light is not only in the world, but also within the soul of each believer who is fully committed in following the Lord and living for Him and for His glory. As each of us increasingly seeks to honor and live for Christ, the darkness within us, and by extension within the world, recedes a little bit more. Additionally, it only takes a little bit of light to cause darkness to flee.
John Calvin explains, “For when we learn that all who allow themselves to be governed by Christ are out of danger of going astray, we ought to be excited to follow Him, and indeed, by stretching out His hand, as it were, He draws us to Him. We ought also to be powerfully affected by so large and magnificent a promise, that they who shall direct their eyes to Christ are certain that, even in the midst of darkness, they will be preserved from going astray; and that not only for a short period, but until they have finished their course.”
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.”
Live boldly for Christ today, beloved. Glorify Him by the light He has given you. Become an agent of light in a world of darkness.
Soli deo Gloria!