John chapters seven through ten forms a unit where the events all take place at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. This feast commemorates the wilderness wanderings and God’s faithfulness to Israel by directing and sustaining the nation during their 40-year sojourn in a very inhospitable land, during which the pillars of fire and cloud guided and protected them through the night and the day. It is at this feast that Jesus made another “I AM” statement, utilizing a very common symbol, after He made three strategic claims about Himself.
First, He claimed to be light for a dark world (8:12-20). Most of the feast’s activities occurred in the temple courts. The outer and largest court was known as the Court of the Gentiles. Anyone could enter this area. It was where money was changed, animals were inspected and spiritual discussion often happened. Within the Court of the Gentiles was the Court of Women or the Treasury. Only Jews could enter this court but both genders were allowed. According to verse 20, this is where Jesus was teaching.
Four huge candelabras were ignited each night to provide light for the temple grounds and a large part of the city. The Jews were saying, “God is our Light; God is our Guide.” The people sang, danced and celebrated throughout the week, but on the last day of the feast the priests extinguished the lights, communicating “God has not sent our Messiah yet!” The people may have recited Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” It was at this time that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (12) The religious leaders bristled at this statement and the Pharisees said, “You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.” (13) Jesus agreed but essentially said, “Look I know what I am talking about. I know where I came from and where I am going.” (14) Jesus said His Father also agreed with His witness and proclamation. Those who won’t recognize the Son can’t recognize the Father. The religious leaders had no sight or insight–they were blinded to the Light!
Secondly, Jesus claimed to be liberty from spiritual bondage (8:31-48). In the Gospel accounts, we see a phrase that is used twice here– “believed in Him” (30, 31). There were those who believed on Jesus and became true disciples. However, the usage here is that they gave mental assent to much of what Jesus said, but didn’t change their heart or life! They believed that being Abraham’s descendants meant they were God’s children and recipients of eternal life (33, 39). Jesus said whoever commits sin is the slave to sin (34) but the Son can make you free (36).
Are you a slave to something other than God? Something that occupies a place of devotion above our Lord? Jesus calls that sin. It could be worry, money, status, alcohol or drugs, pornography, food, a hobby, a career, or even family. The good news is Jesus came to break the bonds that bind and entrap us and set us free! You may have a wonderful heritage like these Jews, but have you been liberated from sin?
The Jews were angry and under conviction. “We were not born of fornication; We have one father–God!” (41) Jesus replied, “You are of your father the devil…he was a murderer from the beginning” (44). Then Jesus challenged them, “Which of you convicts [prove] me of sin?” What a challenge!
Lastly, Jesus claims to be life for a dying race (8:21-30; 49-59). The Jews were not dying out physically, but spiritually (21-24). Sin had pronounced its judgment; there seemed to be little hope. But Jesus offered the solution, “If anyone keeps my word, he shall never see death.”(51) The Jews (and everyone else) had to be willing to believe the words, the clear claim that Jesus is God and Savior of the world–a very exclusive claim. All religions are not the same; all faiths don’t lead to Heaven! In this passage, Jesus declares undeniably that He is deity.
Abraham lived around 2100 B.C. Jesus said in verse 56 that Abraham rejoiced to see Him. The Jews reply, “You are not yet 50 years old, and have you seen Abraham?” When Jesus’ claimed, “Before Abraham was, “I AM!,” (59) He used the sacred, personal name for God from the Old Testament to refer Himself and the Pharisees sought to stone Him for it!
Let’s summarize what we have learned from this text. First, if Christ is the light, we need not walk in darkness. Humans adapt to their surroundings. We go along to get along. The world claims there are no absolutes, everything is gray, and everyone is okay. No! There is black (darkness) and there is white (the light of Christ). Every person must choose to walk in dark or light.
Then, if Christ is the liberator, we need not live in bondage. Sin shackles people. Jesus said the truth shall set you free (32). God has provided the divine enablement to set you free from every habit and sin that may dominate your life and to help you walk in the Spirit.
Finally, if Christ is the life, we need not be haunted by death. Lately, our church family has felt the chill of death. Most of us fear the unknown; we grieve because of loss. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live.”