It was during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:14) that Jesus spoke to the crowds, informing them: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). This is the second of Jesus’ “I am” statements. His words echo John’s earlier comment that Jesus is the life and light of men (1:4).
When Jesus spoke of Himself as the light of men, those steeped in the Old Testament knew that Jesus was connecting Himself to a number of significant events in Israel’s history. God led His people through the wilderness of the Sinai in a pillar of cloud to guide them during the day and in a pillar of fire by night to light their way (Ex. 13:21–22).
Jesus’ listeners frequently sang the words of Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” They knew the words of the psalmist who said of the law of God: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105). The psalmist even said that Israel’s armies conquered by the light of God’s face (44:3).
Israel’s prophets also used the light metaphor regularly. Whenever God reveals Himself, the light of His glory is present (Ezek. 1:4, 13, 26–28). In Isaiah 60:19–22, the prophet tells us that in the age to come, God Himself will be light to His people, a point made by the prophet Zechariah as well (14:5–7).
One of the main themes of John’s gospel is that the coming of Jesus is the light that gives life to the world. The light overcomes the darkness (a metaphor for sin, ignorance, and the deeds of Satan). When Jesus spoke of Himself as “the light of the world,” He declared that He was the pillar of fire who led Israel through the wilderness. He was that one in whom Israel was victorious. When Jesus spoke of Himself as the light, He was identifying Himself as that one in whom the glory of God is revealed and who is both the Word of God incarnate and the embodiment of the righteousness of God as revealed in the Law. The very presence of Jesus in the age to come means that light has finally and forever overcome all darkness.
This is a remarkable statement that no mere man (especially a Jew, who knew his Old Testament) should have ever uttered. Unless Jesus is the Son of God, such words are blasphemy. To prove He was who He claimed to be, Jesus not only declared Himself to be the light of the world but healed a man who was blind from birth (John 9:7). Jesus made a man who could not see to see the light, while those who could see (with their eyes), could not see the light of which Jesus had been speaking. The irony is powerful and intentional.
When John was given the vision we know as the book of Revelation (1:1–3), Jesus appeared as the Light of the World in the midst of seven lampstands. Writes John: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (vv. 12–16). Jesus is the eternal light reflected in the face of God.
John’s reaction is understandable. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches’” (vv. 17–26).
While the image of the lampstand is drawn from a number of Old Testament passages (Ex. 25; 37; Num. 8; Zech. 4:2, 10), John uses this image to make the case that the church is the true Israel of God that derives its life from the presence of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of a lampstand is to bring light into a dark place. This indicates that the presence of the light of Jesus Christ in the midst of His churches is what gives those churches their life and their vitality. Jesus is the Light of the World, and His presence with His people is life itself.