“I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12 )
This is such an astonishing verse. It’s like a prophetic word that performs what it declares. As such, it is transformative, and life-changing, if I will but allow it space to grow and time to seed inside me.
John Piper said that, “Following Jesus is more than tagging along behind him. It means following him for who he is [and] being so taken with him that you join yourself to him.”
When We Follow Him, We Have Him
And when I follow him, I “have” him as the light of life. “I am the light . . . Whoever follows me . . . will have the light . . .” You will have me, he says, as your light. If you follow me, you have me.
I am yours.
This, of course, is one of the I AM sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Like the other sayings, it declares who He is and what He does. And third, the I AM sayings tell us what He gives. It reminds me of that old hymn line, “All I have needed, your hand hath provided….” I am the Good Shepherd (for your protection); and I am the Bread from Heaven (for your provision); and your Sacrifice and your Living Water and your God, and your Light.
For “You will have the light of life.”
But what’s the connection between light and life? John 1:4 replies: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The life gives the light. The life Jesus has, and the life he shares with those who follow him, gives them light.
That is, we are dead and blind to the light until the life of Jesus is imparted to us by God’s Spirit, and then we see. The eyes of our hearts are opened, and light streams into these dusty closed rooms. And we have the light of life. The light that comes from new, spiritual, eye-opening life — the life that gives sight to the blind soul, eternal life giving eternal sight. Once I was blind. Now I see for real.
And I cannot unsee what I have seen. The sight has changed everything.
The Light of the World
But what about the phrase “light of the world“? “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.‘” What does “of the world” mean? The whole world is not being lightened — at least not yet. In fact, Jesus adds, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” Which means that if we don’t follow him, we do walk in darkness.
And where is that darkness?
It is both in the world and in our hearts.
We can read four clear implications from this verse:
- Jesus’ being “the light of the world” means the world has no other light than him. If there is going to be a light for the world, it will be Jesus. It is Jesus or darkness. There is no third alternative. No other light.
- It means, therefore, that all the world, and everyone in it needs, Jesus as their light.
- It means that the world was made for this light. This is not a foreign light. This is the light of the owner of the world. When this light comes, it not only makes sin plain as foreign and ugly, but it also makes everything good in the world shine with its full and true beauty. This world was made to be illumined by this light. This light of Christ is native to the world.
- And finally Jesus being “the light of the world” means that that one day this world will be filled with this light as the waters cover the sea, and all darkness, and all the works of darkness, and all the sons of darkness will be cast out. That’s why Jesus called hell “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). In that day, all will be light. Jesus, the radiance of the Father, will fill the world, and everything will be beautiful with the light of Christ.
That lovely Tim Hughes song “Light of the World” picks up many of these themes and responds appropriately – the only possible response is to say “Here I am to worship.” That is to say, I receive you as the I AM who is the light of the world, so please receive me now as the I am who is worshipping.
Pic: “Untitled” Lightbulbs Installation by Gonzales-Torres at MoMA, New York