Thursday, May 1, 2014

Jesus Christ-The Light of the World

Jesus Christ-The Light of the World

John 8:12--Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”[1]

In John 8:12 we find Jesus still in the midst of teaching during the feast of the Tabernacles (Lev 23:34; John 7:2)  The testimony of Scripture is that all of the Old Testament, while certainly having a genuine historical significance, was pointing forward to the coming Messiah who is the Lord Jesus Christ(Luke 24:27).  This would include the feasts and festivals, including the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) that the nation was celebrating at this time. 

Tabernacles was celebrated from 15 to 21 Tishri…The feast followed shortly after the Day of Atonement and marked the conclusion of the annual cycle of religious festivals that began with Passover and Unleavened Bread six months earlier. Originally a harvest festival, Tabernacles (or Booths) recalled God’s provision for his people during the wilderness wanderings (Lev. 23:42–43). Festivities lasted seven days, culminating in an eighth day of special celebration and festive assembly…Immensely popular, it was simply called “the Feast” by the Jews (e.g., 1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8; Neh. 8:14, 18; Ps. 81:3; Ezek. 45:25). Josephus called it “the greatest and holiest feast of the Jews.”[2]

So it is not surprising that Jesus used imagery that would point his audience to how he was the fulfillment of the very celebration in which they were currently engaged.  In this section of teaching Jesus develops, in a way that could hardly be incidental or haphazard, a wilderness motif that leaves his audience with no doubt as to the claims he is making about himself.

“(W)e have a striking succession of three great wilderness images in chapters 6, 7, and 8 of John’s Gospel. In 6, Jesus is the new manna sent down from heaven. In 7, he is the water miraculously provided from the rock. In 8, he is the cloud.”[3]  Jesus is clear with his audience: “In the same manner in which God provided in the desert wilderness, there is now a greater provision among you.”  And this provision was the Christ.

So what did the cloud provide for the Israelites in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt?  The cloud provided God’s presence (Exodus 13:21-22), God’s protection (from enemies and the elements), and God’s guidance from Egyptian bondage to the land which he had promised his chosen people. (Numbers 9:17-23).

But notice that Jesus did not say “I am the Light of the Israelites.”  He said “I am the Light of the world.”  Putting aside the culture shock this would have induced in an audience that was certain the Messiah’s primary purpose was to come and crush Roman oppression and restore the nation of Israel to its rightful prominence, the actual Messiah said he was not simply the Light of the nation of Israel, but he was even the Light of those Roman oppressors who would follow him.  Jesus said that he was “the Light of the world”, Jew and Gentile alike, and any who would follow him would find the same blessing bestowed upon them that the cloud of God’s glory provided the Israelites in the wilderness.

Those who would follow the Light would find the very presence of God.  Throughout the Scriptures, and explicitly in the writings of John, we see Jesus equating himself with eternal God.  Over and again he says things that can only be honestly understood as claims to divinity.  His use here, and elsewhere, of the phrase “I am” reminds the hearers of the personal name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.  Coupled with this imagery of the cloud from the wilderness, it is difficult to think Jesus was saying anything other than, “I am eternal God” and, in addition to that, “I will be with you”.

Not only does he promise to be present but to protect those who are his.  The cloud in the wilderness protected the Israelites from would be attackers and from the very real, and quite extreme, elements that would have proven virtually impossible to survive without the provision of the cloud.  Jesus Christ promises this same protection to those who follow him.  There is a temptation to think wrongly at this point.  It would be easy to fall into the trap of believing that to follow Christ means every bump will be smoothed, every hurdle lowered, every obstacle removed.  But that is not the case for us in the same way it was not the case for the Israelites.  While the Israelites had what they needed, they were not spared hardship.  They were not spared difficulties.  They were not spared the reality of living in a world rocked to the core by sinful rebellion.  And neither are we.  But they had the protection that comes from the presence of the Almighty One.  And so do we.

The cloud in the desert wilderness provided the Israelites with the presence of God and the protection of God, but it served one more important purpose.  It guided God’s people.  This cloud of God’s glorious presence led the Israelites through the wilderness, away from slavery in Egypt and ultimately, to the land of promise. 

Jesus, the Light of the world, does this same miracle in the lives of those who follow him.  He guides the believer away from the darkness of bondage, away from the slavery to sin, and guides us every single step until he leads the believer ultimately across that Jordan River that separates this life from the life to come.  We know that, because he is the Light, we can no longer walk in the darkness of sin. Will we sin?  Sadly, yes.  But that sin will be exposed by the Light of the world and those who are his will be granted the repentance to continue their fleeing of the darkness and seeking after the Light.  The presence of God will expose sin, the protection of God will offer us away out of sin and the guidance of God will move us away from sin, closer to the Savior.  Because we are being led by the glory of the Lord, by the cloud of his presence the Lord Jesus Christ, while we may be “prone to wander…prone to leave the God (we) love,” we are ultimately sealed for His courts above. [4]  We are “bound for the promised land” because the one who purchased our forgiveness and won our freedom is the Light of the world who leads us out of darkness.

But we cannot forget that this promise of God’s presence, protection, and guidance is not for everyone indiscriminately.  It is for those who would follow after the Lord.

When the Lord Jesus Christ claimed to be the Light of the world he was claiming to be these three things for his people—God with them, the source of protection, and the One who guides. These are great claims. But we must not overlook the fact that they are only for those who follow him. He said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” To follow Christ is almost synonymous with believing in Christ; for in another, parallel passage Jesus uses the same image in declaring, “I have come into the world as a Light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). Faith in Christ is following Christ, or at least leads to following Christ. And following Christ is possible only for those who have faith in him.

Do you have faith in Christ? Are you following him? You should; for if you are, you have Christ’s promise that you will no longer be walking in darkness but will possess the Light of life….Christ himself.[5]

And what is there better to have?

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Jn 8:12). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (p. 452). Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos.
[3] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (p. 615). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
[4] Robison, Robert (1757) Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Public Domain
[5] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (p. 618). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.