John’s Gospel: Chapter 8:12-32 (“I am the light of the world”)

We skip the next few verses for a moment. The story of the woman taken in adultery is almost certainly not part of John’s original manuscript. It’s written in a different style (very much like Luke, the experts say), and is out of context here.

This raises all sorts of interesting and important questions, but also interrupts the account of Jesus and the Feast of Booths. And I just don’t want to interrupt the narrative. We’ll come back to the verses we skip.

(John 8:12-13 ESV)  12 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.”  13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”

Somehow, the authorities seem to have found Jesus, so that the conversation now shifts from Jesus shouting to the crowd to a dialogue between Jesus and that Pharisees.

This makes the “again” in v. 12 a bit of a surprise, unless John considers Jesus’ shouted words about the Spirit as aimed at those in authority as well as the crowd — which would make sense.

“Light of the world” is a reference to –

(Isa 42:6-7 ESV)  6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Jesus was claiming to be Israel. It was the nation that was charged to be a “light for the nations,” and yet they’d plainly failed. Jesus said, in effect, you aren’t honoring God’s purpose for you in this world, and so I’m going to do your God-given job for you!

Because he is the true light (rather than Israel and its corrupt, self-seeking rulers), only those who follow Jesus (rather than the Pharisees and their like) would walk in light.

The Pharisees respond with a legal technicality. The Oral Law stated that no one could testify for himself. Therefore, Jesus’ own testimony about himself would not be admitted in court. You can hear the implied “So, there, Nicodemus!” Nicodemus had suggested a fair trial, and the others tried to show that a trial would be pointless because the only witness would not be allowed to testify! This is the logic of the desperate.

(John 8:14 ESV)  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.”

Jesus states the obvious: just because their rules wouldn’t let him testify, the fact is, his testimony is true. You can’t just presume him to be a liar!

Moreover, Jesus challenged them, by stating the other obvious point. Jesus knows where he’s from, and the Pharisees quite obviously do not. Had they known he was born in Bethlehem, their whole argument would collapse.

Notice that John does not record Jesus’ birth story. He presumes that his readers already know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

(John 8:15-16 ESV) 15 “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  16 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 another audacious declaration, Jesus says that he judges truly because his judgment is made along with God himself. Again, he makes himself equivalent to God, claiming to judge by a higher standard than mere flesh.

Jesus then makes a technical legal argument –

(John 8:17-18 ESV)  17 “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.  18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

Jesus calls God the Father to the stand! The Law of Moses compels that decisions be based on the testimony of two or three witnesses, and does not exclude the testimony of the one accused (Deu 17:6; 19:15). Therefore, Jesus has two witnesses — himself and God.

Notice how Jesus says “your Law.” It was, of course, Jesus’ Law, too. He’d helped write it! But the Pharisees were distorting it to their own ends, making it theirs and not Jesus’ anymore.

(John 8:19 ESV)  19 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.”

The Pharisees played dumb, asking “Where is your father?” as though Jesus were speaking of Joseph. They wanted to induce Jesus to speak more plainly so they’d have even better grounds to arrest him.

Jesus uses their words to accuse them. If they knew God they wouldn’t be asking where he is!

Imagine the reaction of the crowd as this exchange took place. The crowd knew the Pharisees had ordered Jesus’ arrest and that the guards had refused. The crowd knew that Jesus had made a spectacle of himself and repeatedly claimed to be God (indirectly but plainly) — and yet the Pharisees were powerless to shut him up.

The Pharisees resorted to their supposedly superior knowledge of the Law, only to find themselves up against the author of the Law. They tried to trick him, only to find their own words used against them.

The crowd was surely laughing in amazement.

(John 8:20 ESV)  20 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.

The “treasury” was where offering were made, and women were allowed there. This was a very public place, very crowded, and filled with ordinary people as well as the rich and powerful.

And being a place where large amounts of money might be found, it was surely a place where the Temple guard had a prominent presence, and yet there was no arrest — because God is in charge of this world and it wasn’t yet time for Jesus to be arrested.

Thus, John gives both an earthly reason (the guards were amazed at Jesus’ words) and a heavenly reason (his time had not yet come) that Jesus remained safe despite doing more than enough to get himself arrested.

(John 8:21-22 ESV) 21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”  22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

It was unimaginable that Jesus might be executed, given the impunity with which he dealt with the powerful men in Jerusalem. And so the crowd assumed he was speaking of suicide.

(John 8:23-24 ESV) 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Jesus again claims to be “from above” and insists that there is no forgiveness except by belief in him.

(John 8:25-26 ESV)  25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.  26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

“Who are you?” The crowd had stopped listening to the Pharisees, but they wanted Jesus to speak plainly. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus responds obliquely: “Just what I’ve been telling you.” Really? Read closely, he’d been claiming to be God in the flesh, but the crowd wasn’t ready to accept this quite yet.

Jesus then says he was sent by God to bring God’s message to the people. This sounds like a claim to be a prophet (at least).

(John 8:28-29 ESV) 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.  29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

The crowd, evidently like the Pharisees, had taken Jesus’ words about his Father to be a reference to his physical father. After all, Jews did not speak that intimately about the Lord of Hosts.

(John 8:30-32 ESV) 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.  31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Here’s one of the most famous statements in the Bible, and yet it’s been profoundly misunderstood. We’ll consider the true meaning in the next post.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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