John 7:53–8:11, we have seen, likely was not originally placed at the location where it appears in most of our English translations. That means John 8:12–20 occurs right after 7:52, which concludes a lengthy chapter describing Jesus’ teaching at the Feast of Booths during His earthly ministry. During the Feast of Booths, except for the last day, the great candelabras in the temple were lit, and there was much rejoicing under their light.
That gives us additional background for today’s passage, which records words that Jesus would have spoken on either the last day of the Feast of Booths or shortly thereafter. By proclaiming Himself the light of the world, Jesus was announcing that He fulfills the Feast of Booths. He is the light under whom people can rejoice truly, the presence of God who guided the people of Israel in the wilderness, the journey that the festival commemorated (Ex. 13:21; Lev. 23:33–43).
Light also appears in the Old Testament as representing several different things. It is a metaphor for the salvation that the Lord provides to His people (Ps. 27:1). Light also symbolizes the guidance that the law of God offers (119:105). Isaiah 42:5–9 uses light as a representation of Israel and, preeminently, the Servant of Israel, who are given to the nations for the sake of blessing. All of these uses inform Jesus’ declaration as well. As the light of the world, He is salvation, the true guidance for His people, and the source of blessing to the world.
The Pharisees could not accept this. They told Him that His witness was not true—not legally acceptable. It could not confirm itself (John 8:13). Their accusation was based on the principle that at least two witnesses are needed in a legal setting to prove a claim (see Deut. 19:15). The accusation also superficially agrees with the words of Jesus in John 5:30–47 that His testimony about Himself was not true if He alone bore witness to it. But recall that Jesus was not saying that His witness by itself was invalid. He meant that in light of His claim to do only what the Father does, a second witness was necessary. The Father had to confirm that Jesus was doing only what the Father does because only the Father knows perfectly what the Father does (vv. 19–29).
John 8:12–20 describes a different context, so Jesus could say that He needed no testimony besides His own to His being the light of the world (v. 14). But though additional witnesses to Christ were unnecessary, Jesus’ proclamation actually had a second witness—the Father Himself, who is known through the Son (vv. 15–20).