Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

111. The Light of the World (John 8:12-20)

Just as the ceremony of water-pouring at the Feast of Tabernacles was intended to remind the people of Israel of the smitten rock in the wilderness, so also another ritual during that week was designed to recall the way in which God protected and guided His people by the pillar of fire and cloud—the Shekinah Glory. In the Court of the Women were two great golden candelabra. These were lighted, some rabbinic authorities say only on the first evening of the feast, others say every night except the last.

There can be little doubt that as Jesus had appropriated the first symbol, to call men to himself as the true source of "living water", so now he similarly alluded to the other: "He that followeth me (as Israel were led by the Glory in the wilderness) shall not walk in darkness, bil shall have the light of life." The "darkness" referred to is not, as might be expected, tin darkness of spiritual ignorance, but of divine displeasure. When Israel came out of Egypt the Glory was "a cloud and darkness to tin Egyptians, but it gave light by night to Israel," There is no lack of other examples of this darkness signifying the anger of God (Mt. 27:45; Ps. 18:8-14; Is. 9:19).

O.T. Anticipations

In a wonderful prophecy of Messiah, Isaiah had earlier made use of the same figure: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth (the Light of the World). . . that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves" (49:6,9). Here there follows a lovely pen picture of the blessings of God in the wilderness, including these words: "He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water (the smitten rock) shall he guide them."

Another prophecy of Isaiah uses similar language as it looks forward even more obviously to the days of the Messiah. Chapter 3 ends with a picture of Jerusalem as a wretched and forsaken woman: "she being desolate shall sit upon the ground." Here the LXX uses the identical expression by which the adulterous woman is described in John 8:9, where, by the way, the word "standing" is not in the original text. Perhaps this passage may be taken as indication that actually she had subsided on the ground in a posture of hopelessness. Chapter 4 continues: "And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let thy name be called upon us (i.e. consecration); take thou away our reproach ... every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem: even he that remaineth in Jerusalem: when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion... by the spirit of judgement. And the Lord shall create over the whole habitation of mount Zion, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the Glory shall be a canopy" (4:1,3-5). The close connections here with the phrasing of John 8 will be readily discerned.

"The Light of Life"

If there is any kind of uncertainty as to precisely what Jesus meant by "the light of life", help is to hand from the Old Testament source of it: "Lo, all these things doth God work, twice, yea thrice, to bring back his soul from the pit, kit he may be enlightened with the light of life" (Job 33:30).

It may be presumed that this "Light of the world" discourse was a good deal more than the two brief sentences which John reports. Then (and for the rest of chapter 8) Jesus is found in controversy with the Pharisees again. The words: "These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple" (v. 20), imply that the discourse on "the Light of the world" was interrupted by arrest, for the treasury was no place for public teaching but was an important centre of temple administration, next to the famous Hall of Unhewn Stone. Here Jesus was not on trial, but the assembly may well have been intended as a judicial enquiry, with intention to put him on trial later. The encounter has something of that flavour. But (as in John 5) the Lord used the occasion to put his adversaries on trial.

By whose authority?

The enquiry was, ostensibly, to question whether Jesus had the right to claim divine authority for his teaching:

"Thou bearest witness of thyself; thy witness is not true."

It was the experience of Moses all over again: "Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?" (Ex.2:14)-implying 'God didn't', whereas God certainly did. And there was also the implied jibe: 'A born Israelite? Not you! Ask Pharaoh's daughter where you came from!' And there was now the same innuendo about Jesus: 'A mission from God? Your claim is hilarious! You are not even a true-born man of Israel. Begotten by one of our overlords!'

It was a mean, nasty-minded calumny. As though they had not witnessed authentication in abundance of the claims of Jesus! Miracle after miracle of healing, the cleansing of the temple, discourse of unique power and ability-yet they must needs harp on a theme they had already tried before: Messiah has his Elijah; your forerunner was no Elijah, see how he died! So you are no Messiah. Reduced to bearing witness concerning yourself, how can you be?

Yet, had they stopped to ponder, they would have known that the signs of authentication given to Moses were even more eloquent regarding himself: the serpent-power firmly grasped, and turned into the token of divine authority; and the sin-disease of leprosy in his own bosom proved to be powerless and clean.

But they demanded, as their colleagues in Galilee had done, a sign from heaven: 'You have just been talking about the Glory of the Lord, and have dared to identify yourself with it! Then show us that vivid Shekinah brightness, and then we will believe!'

Jesus replied by first putting his finger on the root of their rejection of his claims: "Ye judge after the flesh." It was another way of saying again: "if any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." The bent of their minds was deliberately and of set choice antagonistic. They, the appointed arbiters of truth among God's people, had shown themselves to be riddled with prejudice.

Again, Jesus and Moses

Yet this could in no way alter the facts: "I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither 1 go." There was double meaning here. They had sneered at what they thought the disreputable circumstances of his birth. Here was their answer. But the real emphasis was on his divine authority. Not only could he say: "I know whence I come, and whither I go", but he also knew whence they came, and whither they went: "Ye are from beneath" (v.23)-not Abraham's seed (v. 33), but the seed of the serpent (v. 44); "ye shall die in your sins" (v. 24).

At Sinai Israel had been familiar enough with the comings and goings of Moses, but precisely what he experienced on those occasions they never knew: "As for this Moses, we wot not what is become of him." And now, with the one greater than Moses, there was a like situation. That such a man as Jesus should claim such high authority was to them a stark impossibility.

There was a shouting contrast between their attitude and his own: "/judge no man (after the flesh)." The ellipsis must be supplied in this way, for at that very time he was judging and condemning the men before him, in sharp contrast with his refusal to condemn the woman lately brought before him for judgment.

But in the sense of inflicting judgment, his words were literally true, for he was leaving such penal measures to the Father, as Moses also did (Num. 16:28-30). –

True Witness

Apparently on the eighth day of the Feast the temple service included Psalm 82. Jesus was surely alluding to it, time after time: "God (in the person of Jesus) standeth in the congregation of the Elohim (the nation's leaders) . . . How long will ye judge unjustly? ... They know not neither will they understand: they walk on in darkness."

"For I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me." Again the incomplete sentence must be filled out: "I and the Father that sent me.-we agree in our judgment." It was a declaration, readily verifiable, that all Jesus taught was according to the Old Testament, already given them by his Father. The Father had already provided an abiding witness to His Messiah.

The witness of Moses was not always free from blame. "Hear now, ye rebels, must we (Jehovah and I) fetch you water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10). But Jesus could and did bear witness to his own high status without any hint of the near-blasphemy which brought such a penalty to his great predecessor.

Accordingly, Jesus went on to underline this fact by specific use of the Old Testament: "It is a/so written in your law, that the witness of two men is true" (Dt. 17:6; 19:15). Then how much more irrefragible the witness when the two are divine, and not ordinary men! Years later, with this situation in mind John was to write: "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater" (1 John5:9).

That "also" seems to imply that Jesus had been making allusion to some other Scripture, besides the one specifically quoted. Then, which? Possibly, the very striking LXX reading of Isaiah 43:10: "Be ye my witnesses-and I am a witness, saith the Lord God, and my Servant whom I have chosen—that ye may know and believe and understand that I am."

Or was the Lord referring to Moses' charge to the judges appointed to administer justice: "Judge righteously between every man and hi brother ... Ye shall not respect persons in judgement... for the judgement is God's; am the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me (Moses), and I will hear it" (Dt. 1:16,17). In bringing the adulterous woman to Jesus, they had (so he reminded them) inadvertently admitted Jesus to be the prophet like unto Moses. But in their assessment of him and his origin, how they needed the exhortation to "judge righteous judgement."

When Jesus insisted: "the Father that sent me beareth witness of me", it is not clear just what witness he was referring to. Clear and strong in his own mind was the recent reassuring witness of the Transfiguration: "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear him". There was the witness borne him by "signs and wonders and divers miracles." But in this context most probably it was the testimony of the Scriptures to which Jesus pointed these scribes and rabbis, In them the Father was bearing the plainest witness possible, if only these men of learning would pluck off the blinkers from their eyes.

Instead these unscrupulous men saw their chance to score a point, and leaped to the attack: "Where is thy father?" They fired the derisive question at him repeatedly. By deliberately misunderstanding him they thought to avoid his accusation of them, and to turn tin tables on him; as who should say: "Nobody knows who or where your father is. Then how can he be a witness on your behalf?"

Jesus ignored the jibe, and brought the discussion back to its proper level. "Ye know neither me, nor my Father: if ye knew me; ye would know my Father also." It was a terrible indictment, that these men, the nation's highest authorities on all religious questions, should be so caustically described as wallowing in ignorance!

There the discussion ended for the time being, Ms adversaries vengefully eager to get him condemned and punished, but not daring to do so because of the crowd. As always, in this gospel especially, there is point in the mention that this encounter took place in the treasury. This, and the constant repetition of the words "judgement, witness" are doubtless intended to take the reader yet again to the graphic prophecy in Malachi 3 which had already been the backcloth to so much in these Temple encounters: "I will come near to you to judgement; and I will be a swift witness against" all the evil doers (3:5).

The same prophecy continues: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings . . . Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse . . . and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing" (3:8-10). Tabernacles was a time when, according to Deuteronomy 26:1-11, the people of Israel were to bring their harvest thanksgiving to the Lord. What Jesus now sought in the Treasury was not payment to God in kind or in cash but in their open-hearted acceptance of himself as "the messenger of the covenant." But he looked for this in vain.

Notes: John8:12-2

The figure of "Light" comes several times to John, but the basis of the figure is not always the same:

12:23,36: the allusion, as here, is to the Shekinah Glory.

9:4,5: the light of the sun, daylight.

1:4-9: light in the beginning of Creation(Gen.l).

1 Jn. 1:5,6;2:9-11: the darkness of Judaism is contrasted with the light of the Gospel.
Thy witness is not true. The same attack in 5:31; 7:18,28; 8:54.
The witness of two men. Dt. 1:17 is modified here to point the contrast between having men and having God as witness. Note how frequently in Scripture this legal principle is appealed to: Dt. 19:15; 17:6; Num. 35:30; Mt.l8:16;2Cor.l3:l;lTim.5:19

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