The Light of the World
“Jesus,” claimed Mikhail Gorbachev, “was the first socialist;” “Christ,” claimed Vincent van Gogh, was “a greater artist than all other artists;” “The Lord,” penned Adolf Hitler, “(advanced a) terrific…fight for the world;” and “Jesus,” claimed Albert Einstein, “is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers.” The list goes on. Those who have heard of Jesus have formed opinions about Him that run the gamut. Are they right? How do we know?
The Gospels give us the clearest picture of who Jesus is. In particular, the last forty-seven verses of John chapter eight give us a window into who this unique man claimed Himself to be. These claims tell us how He Himself viewed His identity and purpose. As a primary source, this chapter gives us a firsthand understanding of the true persona of Jesus without the distortions—well-meaning though they may be—of individuals who claim to know something about Him. So, who is Jesus?
“I am the light of the world,” begins Jesus (John 8:12). “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The central theme of the Bible describes a conflict between goodness (describing God) and evil (describing all that rebels against God) occurring in the spiritual realm, which has infected and influenced humanity and the material world. The concept of ‘light’ used in the Bible characterizes the former, and ‘darkness’ symbolizes the latter.
Jesus not only associates Himself with the light side of this conflict, He claims to be the light. The phrase “I am the light” is a thinly veiled self-description of Deity. Further, Jesus makes a bold claim—even a promise—that those who follow Him will access complete immunity from the darkness of rebellion against God. Instead, followers of Jesus will have the Creator of life as their personal protector and moral guide in this life, and enjoy eternal life to come.
To “never walk in darkness” may remind us of God’s historical judgment upon the enslaving nation of Egypt c.1500 B.C. when, through His representative Moses, God imposed a three-day plague of darkness, while the Israelites continued to experience the usual diurnal rhythms in the communities in which they lived. Later, as the Israelites journeyed on their exodus from Egypt, God is described as going ahead of the procession “in a pillar of fire by night to give them light” (Exodus 13:21).
Like all peoples then and now, though, the Israelites were unable to maintain God’s high standards for the light of moral goodness. In spite of God’s provision of a leader, a Law, and a supernatural phenomenon to guide them, the people failed repeatedly and miserably to experience real personal transformation. The core human problem of the ubiquitous sinful human nature remained a barrier to the goal of moral excellence God designed all people to have.
Jesus’ reintroduction of the light and darkness issue emphasizes and foreshadows His long-planned solution to the problem: through Jesus’ redeeming self-sacrifice on the cross, his forgiveness and subsequent indwelling of any who would become His followers, the new children of God will never again walk in darkness. Jesus claims His rightful role as the Source of light and invites His listeners to respond as ransomed new creations with ever-increasing characteristics of light. This invitation exists for all people today. We may even say this is the core task of each human being: first, to hear Jesus’ claim to be the source of all that is true and good, and secondly, that we turn from the inborn tendency toward moral rebellion and darkness, choosing rather to entrust our transformation to Jesus, the light of the world.
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