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The Light of the World

John 8:12-59

In this meeting between Christ, the Pharisees and the crowd, Christ lays out for us the great division between those who follow him and those who oppose him.

12When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

13The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

14Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

19Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.

21Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”

22This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”

23But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be,£ you will indeed die in your sins.”

25“Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. 26“I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

27They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.

31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants£ and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.£

39“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would£ do the things Abraham did. 40As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

48The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

52At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. 53Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

54Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:12-29)

The claims of Christ

Light: the analogy

It is a fairly common metaphor even in our day: “I saw the light.” Hank Williams, a pained soul and one of the greats of country music, put the phrase into the English language. It came from the Scripture, as so much in country music does.

Light; its nature has fascinated mankind for millennia. Let us focus our attention on three aspects of light, by analogy.

  • Light is used for measurement. We say that we “hold something up to the light” when we want to know more about it. By such we mean that we are determining the true nature of a thing.
  • Light is used for direction. We say that an event “lit up the path” or “lit up the landscape” to mean that we obtained insight into which way we should go.
  • Light is used for understanding, particularly in time of trouble. We might say that someone “is my light” during troubled times.
Christ as light

In this passage Christ identifies himself as the light of the world. We can understand him in the same three senses:

  • Because he is righteous, he is qualified to judge us. He did not come to judge us, but by making this clear he also shows us that he could – and some day will. His precepts, therefore, should be our standard of measurement.
  • He knows the direction in which we should go, for he came from God and returned to him. All who seek eternal life must go to him.
  • Indeed, he sets us free, if we are his disciples. He is the light we look to in this troubled world.
Jesus, the Son of God

In this passage he explicitly tells us that he is indeed the son of God. He claims God as his Father – which, biologically, is perfectly true. It’s also perfectly true in any other sense. We see these aspects to Sonship here:

  • He tells us that God explicitly sent him to us. He is “from above” (that is, from heaven) as we are not.
  • We see also the perfect obedience of the Son. This is seen in two ways, both examples to us. First, Jesus does what pleases God. (Obedience is the key to understanding God). Next, what God tells Jesus, Jesus tells the world. Do we hide the light under a bushel basket?
  • God is “with” Jesus – as seen in the many miracles he did.
  • Finally – particularly because of the Crucifixion – God glorifies Jesus, the obedient Christ.

The family resemblance is worth noting.


In the very last section of this Scripture you see one thing clearly: Jesus of Nazareth claims to be God. Not just “a god” but the God Jehovah, the I AM of the Old Testament, the only God that ever was, is or will be. His enemies understand this clearly enough: they try to stone him. It is the Old Testament punishment for blasphemy. In any other mouth such a phrase is blasphemy (not to mention ridiculous). Only one man has ever made it stick.

His Opponents

It is useful to note that Jesus never inspired anyone to be a fence-sitter. When people meet the living Christ, they choose up sides quickly. In this passage Jesus lays out for us the characteristics of – indeed, the charges against – those who oppose him. See if you recognize anyone here.

Judgment by human standards

There is divine judgment and human judgment. Human judgment is seen here; it is the judgment which is most convenient to self.

  • It shows no mercy on others, but is very lenient to self.
  • It is very legalistic. It is unfortunate for others, but we must follow the law. One man’s loophole is another man’s escape.
  • In human judgment, appearances are everything. We fear to appear too lax on criminals, so our prisons bulge. But we are merciful to the beautiful.
  • Most important: the righteousness of our judgment is our own. We decide what is right and wrong. It is based upon us – and therefore crumbles when we are gone.
Do not know the Father

If you ever listen to the opponents of Christ, it will not take long to hear, “I don’t believe a loving God could ever….” Listen carefully; it is an admission that they do not know God. That’s why they are the opponents of Jesus and his church; they know only the imaginary God. God’s attributes, visible and invisible, can be known – but only by those willing to seek them out. Those who seek them out will soon see that Jesus is the human representation of them.

Where I go, you cannot come

It is an interesting way of stating it. Jesus tells them quite simply that where he is going (heaven) they can’t come – but they will look for him.

  • That they will look for him? Certainly they will. There is an innate desire in man to have fellowship with God. We are born with it.
  • But unless we follow Jesus, that innate desire will go unquenched. Seek as you might in this world, it cannot be done. How many do you know who constantly are looking for a new guru to lead them, this time one for life?
Your Father is not…

You see, all of this hinges on just which family you belong to. Are you of this world, or of God? Just who is your Father? (Kindly note: these people did believe in heredity! And they understood that you might be mistaken about the father, but not the mother).

  • You could be, in this time, a “child of Abraham.” The phrase means more than biological descendant; it means one who follows Abraham’s ways. Consider this: suppose you know and love someone who is very righteous. When the perfect righteousness comes along, you recognize it – because of your experience. So if you are such a child, Christ comes and you see your heart’s desire.
  • You could be, then and now, a child of God. Perhaps you have some imperfect revelation of God. When the real thing comes along, you know it. Following him is quite natural.
  • But you could also be a child of Satan.

How would you know? Jesus gives us three characteristics which Satan passes on to his children:

  • Satan is the accuser. Have you ever noticed that those who deny Christ are the first to accuse? The way you defend abortion is to demonize those opposed to it.
  • Satan is the father of liars – and the father of lies. May we take again the abortion movement? It was sold on the idea that there were 55,000 deaths each year from illegal abortions! How many were there? In the year preceding Roe v. Wade, there were 13. Not 13,000. 13.
  • Finally, they are murderers. Enough said.

You can see this in Jesus’ time too. They didn’t believe the truth when it was in front of them, but accused him of horrible things (demon possession). They could not do this in truth, but that posed no barrier to them. If you don’t like the message, kill the Messenger.

Promises to the disciples

We began with the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the very God in the flesh. We have examined the characteristics of his opponents; we now examine the promises he made here to his disciples.

Knowing the difference

First, how do you know you are his disciple? Anyone can go through the ritual of baptism. What’s the real indicator?

To understand the answer, you must first understand the slavery of sin. Sin holds us in a tight grip. Like the alcoholic, we cannot give up the sin that dominates us. We keep going back to it.

That gives us the test of Christ. If we continue to obey his teachings, the slavery of sin is broken in us. The true test of the disciple is obedience. Do we do what he commands?

Some might quibble; suppose this, or that. Remember that judgment is done “in the light.” Take the sin in your life to the Lord of Light; let him pass judgment on it and remove it from you.

The light of life

If we have light, then surely our three metaphorical ways of using it will still apply:

  • We will be able to measure accurately in all things spiritual. We will know if it fits or not.
  • We will be given direction
  • We will know how to escape the wrong and seek the right.

Indeed, beyond this, Jesus tells us that we will never see death. Life after this mortal body is guaranteed by the one who knows how.

Know the truth…. Truth will set you free

Verse 32 is inscribed on the Liberty Bell. What does Christ mean when he says we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free?

  • Freedom, in God’s terms, is the ability to do what we are designed to do. A dancer with a broken leg is not free. Each of us understands that freedom in a different way, but all of us were designed to be in fellowship with God forever. That is freedom; being what we were designed to be.
  • What, then, is truth? Pontius Pilate asked the question rather flippantly; we should be a bit more serious. Truth is one of the attributes of God. If you know truth, you know (at least in some measure) God.
  • How then are we set free? Well, how are prisoners set free? They pay the penalty of their crimes, and then some agency of the governor authorizes their release. We have a much better freedom. The penalty for sin is death – but Jesus has paid that penalty. Upon this, the authority (that is, God) pronounces our debt paid – and us free.

Walk in the light. Measure yourself always by God’s standards; seek his will and his Word to direct your paths. Do not lean on your own understanding, but the wisdom and power of God.

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