Sermon: John 8:12-20: Jesus, Light of the World

Reading of God’s Holy Word

“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.’ So the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I do bear witness 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 judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.’ They said to him therefore, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus 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; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” (John 8:12–20, ESV)


It is my opinion that the events described in this passage are a continuation of the events described in John chapter 7. Jesus, it seems, is still speaking in the temple on the last day – the great day – of the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). The text does not indicate a change in location or movement from one day to the next. We simply read in verse 12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying…” So this story seems to picks up where chapter 7 left off.

Notice that, in both chapters 7 and 8, Jesus is about the business of revealing his true identity to the people who were gathered around him in the temple.

Notice how the two passages mirror one another:

  • In 7:37 Jesus cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” He claims to be the source of life giving, eternally satisfying, water.  In 8:12 he makes a different claim. He says, “I am the light of the world.” He revealed himself as living water, and now as the light of life.
  • In 7:38 Jesus urged people to believe in him, saying ,“Whoever believes in me…” Likewise in 8:12 he urges people to follow him, saying,  “Whoever follows me…” In both instances he is pressing upon his hears to receive his testimony concerning himself and to believe in him.
  • In 7:38 Jesus offered people living water, saying, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” In 8:12 Jesus offers light, saying, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So 7:37-52 and 8:12-20 have these three things in common: One, they both make assertions concerning Jesus’ true identity. Two, they both urge people to respond by believing in Jesus. And three, they both highlight what Christ is able and willing to give to the one who believes – namely, living water and the light of life.

But notice how in both passages the claims of Jesus spark controversy. In chapter 7 the claims of Jesus give way to the people arguing amongst themselves. 7:40:

“When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” (John 7:40–44, ESV)

The same is true of chapter 8. The claims of Jesus give way to conflict. This time it is not the people divided amongst themselves, but the Pharisees, at odds with Jesus. Jesus’ declarations concerning himself are the spark which lead to the fire of conflict and division.

This morning I would like to first examine the fire of chapter 8 – the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees – before returning to a consideration of the claim of Jesus that sparked it all.

The Debate Between Jesus and the Pharisees

So what did the fiery debate between Jesus and the Pharisees center upon? The Pharisees essentially brushed to the side Jesus’ claims concerning himself and insisted that anything that Jesus said concerning himself was invalid because he testified concerning himself.

Look at verse 13: “So the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.’” (John 8:13, ESV)

In other words, we do not believe your claims – we do not accept your words, because you are bearing witness about yourself. Your testimony is not true; it is invalid.

Clearly, Jesus is on trial. Though he is standing in the midst of the temple and not in a courtroom, he is certainly on trial.

And isn’t it true that Jesus is on trial whenever the gospel is preached, even to this very day? People stand in judgment of him. They must decide if they are going to receive or reject his testimony concerning himself.

The Pharisees decided that his testimony was invalid because he was alone in his witness concerning himself. They insisted that someone else be brought to testify concerning the validity of his claims.

Listen to Jesus’ response. Verse 14: “Jesus answered, ‘Even if I do bear witness 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.’” (John 8:14, ESV)

His point is a good one. It is wrong to assume that a witness is saying something untrue  simply because he stands alone. It may be that a witness is very good, faithful and true even though he is the only one able to testify concerning something. In some cases, only one witness exists!

This is Jesus’ point, I think. Even though he stood alone in his testimony concerning himself, what he said was true. In fact, in Jesus’ case, no other human could adequately testify concerning him due to the fact that he came from above – from the Father. Who else could possibly give testimony concerning these things? Jesus himself knew where he came from and where he was going. This was something that man couldn’t know, in and of himself. The fact that Jesus came from above – from the Father – and that fact that he would return to the Father, sitting down at the right hand of God until his enemies are made his footstool, is not within the reach of man’s capacity to understand. Man, in and of himself, cannot know these things – he is unable to lay ahold of these truths on his own.  These truths, like many other truths, must be reveled to man from above, if they are to be known.

Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever taken the time to consider how limited we are in our capacity to understand truth, especially truth as it pertains to God? Man, if left to himself, and if only given access to the material stuff of this universe, can only reach so high in his quest for truth. His fleshly understanding can only take him so far.

It is true that Jesus stood alone in his witness concerning himself – concerning his true identity, origin, and mission. But it must be asked: who else could possibly stand with him? Who else would be able to say, yes, I saw him in the begging with God. Or, yes, I was there when the Father sent the Son, and the Son agreed to go and accomplish the work of redemption. Who on earth could possibly stand as a witness to these things? Jesus came from above to reveal the Father to us, and to the Father he would return. He alone was able to testify to these things.

The question facing the Pharisees is the question facing all who consider Jesus today: will we receive the testimony of Jesus concerning himself? Will we receive him as God’s revelation of himself to us.This is at the heart of John’s gospel, isn’t it? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, ESV) Much can be said about that opening verse. At the heart of it is this principle: Jesus is God’s Word to us. He reveals the Father to us. His testimony is to be received as true.


Jesus builds upon this in verses 15-16 saying, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.” (John 8:15–16, ESV)

When Jesus says, “you judge according to the flesh”, he means this: when you judge, you judge with a limited, flawed and incomplete understanding of things. Your judgements are flawed at best! This was particularly true of the Pharisees to who Jesus was speaking, but it true of all of us to one degree or another.

You’ve experienced this, haven’t you? You know what it is like to have to make a decision about something though your understanding of things is limited and flawed and incomplete. It can be frustrating. Sometimes I wish I were omniscient! Actually, I am glad that I’m not. I doubt I could stand it. But you have experienced the frustration of having to make judgments concerning something while lacking the ability to see all of the facts with clarity. We, because we are not all knowing, are alway dependent upon witnesses – upon the testimony of others.

An image comes to mind of me standing in the hallway with our four children gathered around (I really do have wonderful children, and I’m very, very, proud of them. But they are flawed like the rest of us). I can remember them having a conflict with one another – it was one of those days – and I can remember wanting so badly to get to the bottom of it. They all had a different perspective, though. And I can remember in that moment being profoundly aware of my limitations in regard to making a sound judgments. I was limited due to my lack of understanding. I was hindered because of my creatureliness.

That is Jesus’ point, I think. We are human (of the flesh), and we are limited in our ability to judge rightly. When we judge, we judge according to the flesh.

By the way, I think that is why the story of the woman caught in adultery was placed where it is. I will not rehash all that was said last week concerning that passage, but I will reiterate that the story of the woman caught in adultery illustrates profoundly the inability of the Pharisees to judge with right judgement. In contrast we see that Jesus’ was pure and perfect in his judgment. The Pharisees judged according to appearances – what they could see with their eyes (7:24). Jesus judged with right judgement.

We, as humans, are limited in our ability to judge truly and purely. That is not to say that we are never to judge. For example, judges and juries must judge in the court of law for society to function! It is only to say that judgement is difficult for us given our creaturely limitations. How much more difficult it is when we consider our fallen condition.

You know, we live in a age dominated by the philosophy of relativism, as you know. The popular thing is to say that we humans cannot possibly know what is true. It is viewed as arrogant to claim that you know the truth. The thought occurred to me that relativism makes a lot of sense once you reject the idea that God has revealed himself in human history. Relativism – that is the belief that humans cannot know for certain what the truth is, and are arrogant to claim to know the truth – does indeed harmonize with Jesus’ statement, “you judge according to the flesh.” Relativism is right to notice that human beings, if left to themselves, and if judging according to flesh, are severely limited in their ability to see truth with clarity and with certainly.

But we believe that there is more to the story, don’t we? One of the core tenants of the Cristian faith is that we believe God has revealed himself to us. We believe in a speaking God – in a God who has determined to make himself known to his people. We believe that God has revealed himself. He has revealed himself to all, in a limited way, through the creation (Romans 1). More to the point, we believe that God has revealed himself clearly and particularly in human history, speaking at various times and in various ways. And we believe that God has revealed himself most supremely through the sending of his Son, the eternal Word of God. This is how the author of Hebrews began his sermon, saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The significant thing is this – God has spoken! Our ability to judges is limited, it’s true. And I agree that it would be impossible for us to come to any firm convictions concerning truth if left to ourselves, for we are limited by our creatureliness, and we are further limited by our fallenness. But we cannot ignore this fact: God has revealed himself to us. God has spoken to us. He has not left us to stumble around in the darkness.

This is, in fact, where Jesus’ argument goes. After saying in verse 15, “you judge according to the flesh”, he says, “I judge no one.” I will not linger long here. This statement is consistent with what is said elsewhere, that Jesus did not come the first time for the purpose of judging the world, but to save (John 3:16-18). He will indeed judge, but that activity will primarily be reserved for his second coming, though it has in some was begun even now.

He then says, “Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.” Here is why Jesus’ judgment is true – here is why Jesus’ testimony concerning himself is to true: he and the Father are perfectly united in their judgement.

It was long believed to be true among the Jews that God was the Judge of all the earth, and that his judgements were most holy and pure. I think of the way that Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorra. He said,  “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25, ESV) He pleaded in this way knowing that God, the Judge of the earth, was perfect in judgments. Here Jesus maintained that his judgments are true because he is perfectly united with God the Father in his judgements.

And why are God’s judgments always true and pure and exact? Two things come to mind:

One, he is omniscient. He know all things. He knows himself completely. And he knows everything that exists outside of himself. He sees all things. Nothing is hidden from his sight. You are I are severely limited in this regard. We can only see what is right before us. We even struggle to know ourselves! God sees all and knows all.

Two, God is perfect in his judgements because he is holy. He knows all and sees all and therefore has all that he needs to make right judgements! But more than that, he is holy and just. He does what is right concerning what he sees and knows – he speaks what is true. You and I are also severely limited in this regard. Even if we knew all things we would not judge rightly given the corruption of our hearts.

Jesus insists that his judgements are true because they are not his judgements alone, but the judgments of the Father who sent him.

Let’s consider verses 17-18 as the argument advances. Jesus says, “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (John 8:17–18, ESV)

At first Jesus made the point that his testimony was true even though he stood alone. No other human could possibly testify concerning his true origin, identity, and mission. But here he reveals that there are in fact two witnesses concerning him. This makes his testimony valid in accord with the law of Moses. He himself was one witness, and the Father who sent him was the other.

You may be thinking to yourself the same thing that the Pharisees were thinking. Verse: 19: “They said to him therefore, ‘Where is your Father?’” In other words, that doesn’t count, Jesus.You can’t just say that the Father testifies concerning you. Anyone can claim that! Where is your Father? If he testifies concerning you, then have him come forward as a witness. It’s not that the Pharisees didn’t understand what Jesus was claiming – they knew he was speaking of the heavenly Father. They simply weren’t willing to receive his claim.

“Where is your Father?”, they say.  This language sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Philip, one of Jesus’ own disciples would eventually say to Jesus,

“‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:8–11, ESV)

So, according to John’s Gospel, in what way does the Father testify on behalf of the Son, that he is indeed the eternal Son of God, and that life is found in his name? Through the works of Christ! Though the Pharisees, and Philip for that matter, could not see the Father, or hear his voice, they could listen to Jesus’ words, and they could examine his works and see that, in fact, the Father was testifying concerning Jesus through them. Think of the miracles of Jesus. He turned water to wine; he multiplied bread and fish; he raised up and invalid; he would raise a man who was dead and buried three days in the grave; and he himself would rise from the grave. What were these things for except to serve as signs? These signs were, among other things, the testimony of the Father that this Jesus was indeed something other than a mere man. He was the eternal Son of God – the eternal Word of God – come in the flesh, life being found in his name.

Jesus answered them in verse 19, saying, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’” (John 8:19, ESV)

This is an incredibly important statement. You cannot know the Father except through knowing the Son. If we are to have a right relationship with God we must go through Jesus Christ. He is the only mediator between God and man. John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6, ESV)

We are told in verse 20: “These words he spoke in the treasury (probably in the court of the women), as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” (John 8:20, ESV)

This was quite an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. The words might seem insignificant at first, but they get to the heart of the difference between true and false religion. True religion builds upon the foundation of God’s revelation to us. False religion builds upon the foundation of man’s opinion, or judgment, of things.

I’d like to look for a moment at the claim of Jesus which sparked all of this as a way of bringing things full circle.

Jesus’ Claim Concerning Himself – I Am the Light of the World

What lead to this fiery debate? Jesus made this simple claim: “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, ESV)

This is a simple claim, but it is profound.

This is one of the great “I am” sayings of Jesus found in John’s gospel – “I am the light of the world”, Jesus said.

Notice that he does not simply claim to have some light within himself – he claims to be the light. Furthermore, he does not simply claim to be the light of a particular people – he claims to be the light of the whole world. This is a simple claim, but it is a very big one indeed. It’s no wonder that the Jews were stirred up as they were.

We would do well to remember that Jesus spoke these words in the temple on the last day – the great day – of the Feast of Booths. We should pay attention to the was the historical setting. I made much of the historical setting when teaching through chapter 7 on Jesus’ offer of living water. He uttered those words with the great water pouring ceremony of the Feast of Booths fresh on the peoples minds. His words were linked with the festivities of the day. Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of those ceremonies. The same is true of Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world. Every night during the Feast of Booths the Jews would light four huge lamps in court of the women in the temple, the very place where Jesus likely uttered these words. According to D.A. Carson, “‘Men of piety and good works’ danced through the night, holding burning torches in their hands and singing songs and praises. The Levitical orchestras cut loose, and some sources attest that this went on every night of the Feast of Tabernacles, with the light from the temple area shedding its glow all over Jerusalem.” It was with this fresh on the peoples minds that Jesus uttered the words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The lighting of the lamps in the temple was filled with symbolism.

It reminded the people of the pillar of fire which lead Israel through wilderness placeless under Moses. I hope you are learning to read the New Testament against the backdrop of the Old. Jesus had recently fed 5,000 in the wilderness – this should remind us of the mana from heaven given to the people of Israel. Jesus claimed to be the source of living waters – this should remind us of how God provided the people of Israel with water from the rock in the dessert place. And here Jesus claims to be the light of the world – should we not also remember the way that God led the people of Israel in the wilderness and protected them by a pillar of fire. Christ is the fulfillment of these things.

The lamps in the temple also reminded the people that God is their light.

Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 119:105:  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

The lamps also looked forward to the time when God would drive away all darkness and establish everlasting light.

Isaiah 60:19: “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”

Revelation 21:22-23: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”

Jesus is claiming to be that light! It was the eternal Word of God who lead Israel in the wilderness. It was the eternal Word of God who has given light to the people of God in every age. And it will be the eternal Word of God who fills the new heavens and earth with light in the consummate state. Jesus is claiming to be that light. It is not that he was ushering in that consummate state in its fullness at his first coming – he will usher it in fully at his second coming – but nevertheless, he claimed to be that light. He is the light of the world.

But what does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world. We are obviously using metaphorical language here. Jesus is not really composed of physical light. Light was created. Light is a part of this physical universe. But light symbolizes something.

First of all, light gives life. Plants do not grow apart from light. The light that Jesus gives produces spiritual life. He is the light of life.

Light reveals truth. Some of us were looking at a building last week. The electricity was off and the windows were covered. We walked into the room and could not se it for what it was. The darkness consumed the room. The darkness hit the truth of the room from our eyes. We brought flashlights and lanterns, though. And when turned those on we were able to see how things really were n that place. It is this way for humans living in this world. It is true, the world is filled with physical light. And it is true that we can see things in the daytime. We can observe the natural world. But apart from Christ we cannot see things as they really are. We walk in darkness as it pertains to our spiritual condition. We walk in darkness as it pertains to the heavenly realm. We walk in darkness as it pertains to our relation to God. Christ is the light of the world. He is the one who alumnus these things that we might see them for what they are.

It is interesting, I think, how light has the power to drive out darkness and reveal the truth of things, but nothing except light can reveal light itself? Light bears witness concerning itself. And so it is with Christ. He is the light of the world. No one, apart from God himself, can testify to Christ. He bears witness concerning himself. He is self attesting.

Lastly, light enables us to walk as we ought to walk. Imagine what it would be like to trapped in place of utter darkness and to be have to walk in that place perpetually. That would be a most tortoise thing. And yet that is our spiritual condition apart form Christ. We, in our natural state, walk in darkness. More than that, we are also filled with darkness. When Christ comes to us, we begin to see as we ought to see. We see ourselves for who we are, we see the world for what it is, and we see God as he is. The way of life becomes clear to us when Christ shines upon us. The light of Christ enables us to walk as we ought to walk.

These are truths symbolized by light concerning Christ as the light of the world.

Application and Conclusion 

Let’s apply these truths briefly before we conclude.

One, receive the light of God’s revelation of himself to us in Christ Jesus.

Two, bask in the light of God’s revelation of himself to us in Christ Jesus.

Three, walk in the light of God’s revelation of himself to us in Christ Jesus.

“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.” (1 John 1:5–7, ESV)

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