John 8:12-20 – Yeshua is the Light of the World

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POSTED 05 NOVEMBER, 2017

“Then Yeshua 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.’ So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.’ Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.’ So they were saying to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ Yeshua answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.’ These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come.”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Yeshua the Messiah delivered some very significant statements about His mission, identity, and even nature during the scene recorded during the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Previously, it has been narrated how during the water drawing ceremony or Simchat Beit ha-Sho’evah (rejoicing of the house of water drawing), that Yeshua bid all to come to Him so that they would never go thirsty (John 7:37-39). Following this, in what are statements familiar to all Bible readers, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light which gives life” (John 8:12, CJB/CJSB), it is commonly and rightly concluded that the light of truth and salvation is found in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth. Following Yeshua as His disciple not only involves being redeemed from the powers of darkness, but experiencing a great life of fulfillment and blessing.

What can often go overlooked by your basic Bible readers, is how with the water drawing ceremony of Sukkot or Tabernacles in the background, that Yeshua’s statement of “I am the light of the world” in John 8:12, was quite apropos. The Mishnah records how Sukkot in Jerusalem was not only a significant time of fellowship and rejoicing, but how lamps would be lit all over, illuminating the crowds:

“Flute playing is for five or six days: This refers to the flute playing on bet hashshoebah, which overrides the restrictions of neither the Sabbath nor of a festival day. They said: Anyone who has not seen the rejoicing of bet hashshoebah in his life has never seen rejoicing. At the end of the first festival day of the Festival [the priests and Levites] went down to the women’s courtyard. And they made a major enactment [by putting men below and women above]. And there were golden candleholders there, with four gold bowls on their tops, and four ladders for each golden candlestick. And four young priests with jars of oil containing a hundred and twenty logs, [would climb up the ladders and] pour [the oil] into each bowl. Out of the worn-out undergarments and girdles of the priests they made wicks, and with them they lit the candlesticks. And there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem which was not lit up from the light of bet hashshoebah. The pious men and wonder workers would dance before them with flaming torches in their hand, and they would sing before them songs and praises. And the Levites beyond counting played on harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, and [other] musical instruments, [standing, as they played] on the fifteen steps which go down from the Israelites’ court—corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents which are in the Book of Psalms—on these the Levites stand with their instruments and sing their song. And two priests stood at the upper gate which goes down from the Israelites’ court to the women’s court, with two trumpets in their hands. [When] the cock crowed, they sounded a sustained, a quavering, and a sustained note on the shofar. [When] they got to the tenth step, they sounded a sustained, a quavering, and a sustained blast on the shofar. [When] they reached the courtyard, they sounded a sustained, a quavering, and a sustained blast on the shofar. They went on sounding the shofar in a sustained blast until they reached the gate which leads out to the east. [When] they reached the gate which goes out toward the east, they turned around toward the west, and they said, ‘Our fathers who were in this place turned their backs toward the Temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, and they worshipped the sun toward the east (Ez. 8:16) But as to us, our eyes are to the Lord.’ R. Judah says, ‘They said it a second time, “We belong to the Lord. Our eyes are toward the Lord”’” (m.Sukkah 5:1-4).[1]

Of course, a city of Jerusalem widely basking in the light of lamps during Sukkot, is not the only significant factor in play when Yeshua declared “I am the light of the world.” There are significant Tanach descriptions to be recalled, such as the pillar of fire which guided the Ancient Israelites in the Exodus (Exodus 14:19-25); in Psalm 27:1, David issues the exclaim, “The LORD is my light and my salvation”; light is representative of the saving activity of God (i.e., Isaiah 60:19-22; Ezekiel 1:4, 13, 26-28; Habakkuk 3:3-5). The Servant of the Lord is prophesied to display light of truth and redemption to both Israel and the world (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 51:4). Among Tanach passages traditionally considered during the Feast of Tabernacles would have been Zechariah 14:5b-7:

“Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light.”

Advocates of either a high Christology of Yeshua being God, or a low Christology of Yeshua being a supernatural yet created entity—do both agree how Yeshua the Messiah in His mission and declarations, embodies all of the hopes represented by these Tanach passages. Believing in Yeshua is surely the means by which people can fully participate in God’s light. Yet, when one encounters the source text of John 8:12, Yeshua’s placement within the Divine Identity is certain: egō eimi to phōs tou kosmou, “I AM the light of the world” (PME). This invokes the “I am” formula spoken by the LORD or YHWH at the burning bush theophany of Exodus 3:14, which itself was obviously a light shining forth.

The Pharisees present question Yeshua, stating, “You are testifying about Yourself, so Your testimony is not valid” (John 8:13, TLV). They were likely reminding Yeshua of a previous statement that He had made: “If I testify about Myself, My witness is not valid” (John 5:31, TLV). And so, Yeshua having just stated something very strong and forthright about His mission and identity, informs His detractors that their motives for questioning Him are dishonorable:

“Yeshua answered them, ‘Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony is indeed valid; because I know where I came from and where I’m going; but you do not know where I came from or where I’m going. You judge by merely human standards. As for me, I pass judgment on no one; but if I were indeed to pass judgment, my judgment would be valid; because it is not I alone who judge, but I and the One who sent me” (John 8:14-16, CJB/CJSB).

Yeshua informs His detractors that He knows where He is from and the mission that He is on (John 8:14b), even though they do not (John 8:14c), because they are only capable of judging according to the flesh or human standards (John 8:15). Even though Yeshua had the authority from His Father to judge (John 5:22), Yeshua’s mission in coming to the Earth was not one of judgment, but rather in bringing salvation (John 3:17; 12:47). Yet, reflective of His Divine origins, Yeshua tells His opponents that “if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone” (John 8:16, NIV). Yeshua is not an independent actor, “because I am not~alone” (Brown and Comfort),[2] hoti monos ouk eimi, but He acts in accord with having been sent from the Father. Yeshua the Son acting in accord with the will of the Heavenly Father who sent Him, is based in a Torah ethos—the same Torah that these Pharisees doubtlessly held in high regard—as seen in Yeshua’s statement, “And even in your Torah it is written that the testimony of two people is valid” (John 8:17, CJB/CJSB). Multiple human witnesses being required for the confirmation of facts is an imperative dynamic of the Torah (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15), and from this basis, the words and activities of Yeshua are done in conjunction with His Heavenly Father, confirming Yeshua’s authentic service and mission.

What can easily escape English readers, of John 8:18 following, is how a repetition of the “I am” formula from Exodus 3:14, appears. Yeshua says, “I AM He who bears witness of Myself [egō eimi ho marturōn peri emautou], and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (PME). As Beasley-Murray observes of this, “Two complementary ideas are presented here: on the one hand the unity of the Father and the Son in the testimony and judgment declared by the Son and on the other hand their distinction.”[3] It would not have been inappropriate, in confronting a corrupt religious system, for Yeshua to have exclusively said that His self-witness is true; but Yeshua also has a witness from His Heavenly Father. And at the same time, Yeshua’s self-identification is so strong, that He can invoke the “I am” terminology used by the LORD or YHWH to Moses at the burning bush.

As this dialogue closes, at best many of the detractors of the Messiah were confused as to what He had just told them. Given the fact that their motives were fleshly (John 8:15a), all they can ask Yeshua is, “Where is Your Father?” And, all that Yeshua can tell them is, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (John 8:19). There is an abrupt end, as it is narrated, “He 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” (John 8:20, NIV). Further exchange does take place between Yeshua and these Pharisaical critics in the record which follows. Whether this happened immediately, or there was a brief pause, with Yeshua moving on and then encountering these persons moments later, is unknowable. But it would seem likely to this reader, at least, that much of the interchange of John 8, took place during the course of activities at the water pouring ceremony over multiple hours.


NOTES

[1] Neusner, Mishnah, pp 288-289.

[2] Brown and Comfort, 352.

[3] Beasley-Murray, 129.

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