12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
(John 8:12-20 NIV)
After being so rudely interrupted by the Pharisees and their “test” with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus resumes teaching in the temple courtyard (v. 12, v. 20). Assuming for a moment that this is still the same day (the day after the end of the Feast of the Tabernacles), there are likely a few carryover worshippers who stick around to hear what Jesus has to say.
As we look at today’s passage, we see Jesus speaking of Himself as the light of the world. At first glance, we accept what Jesus was saying and move on. John assumes that his audience has a full grasp of the context of this statement, so he does not elaborate on what Jesus is referring to or saying. Let’s go back and fill in some of the historical contexts to better understand what John is saying.
In the larger picture of Jewish holidays, the Feast of the Tabernacles came after the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana [Jewish New Year] followed by ten days of penitence and ending with Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement]). In the High Holy Days, everyone repented for their sins and recognized and revered God as their sovereign leader and savior.
The Feast of the Tabernacles, then, was a celebration of the Jews’ restored relationship with God. The fact that all these events took place in and around the temple focuses on God’s presence in and dwelling among His redeemed ones.
With this context in mind, Jesus is still teaching in the courtyard temple area. The previous day was the last day of the Feast, and assuming this was a traditional Feast, everyone celebrated the Temple Light Show to commemorate the end of the Feast. The Temple Light Show was an incredible event, with dancing, eating and drinking, fun with family and friends to celebrate God living among His people again. The Light Show was a community worship celebration like no other, and Jesus was there in the midst of it.
While John does not explicitly say so, Jesus is likely referring to the Temple Light Show when He talks about being the Light of the World. Jesus had already spoken about offering Living Water (the Holy Spirit) back in chapter 7, verses 37-39, which likely referred to the Water Ceremony that was part of the Feast traditions. Referring to the Temple Light Show was a natural progression of events.
Of course, the Pharisees were right there, waiting to pick apart what Jesus was saying. They challenged Jesus on acting as His witness, as Jesus said, “I am…”. Jesus refutes them by claiming His Father in Heaven was the other witness.
The Pharisees argue with Jesus, again trying to box Jesus in as they interact with Him. If Jesus claims His Father is the witness, they ask Jesus to produce the father as a witness so he can bear testimony on Jesus’ behalf. We don’t know what happened to Jesus’ earthly father Joseph, but there is no indicator that he is around (or even living) at this point.
The Pharisees likely knew the situation with Joseph, and would call Jesus delusional if Jesus tried to produce Joseph as a witness. On the other hand, if Jesus were referring to Himself as Messiah and His Father as God, then the Pharisees had Jesus as a blasphemer (or so they thought).
In either case, the Pharisees were weaving another web they intended to catch Jesus in, and once again, Jesus disregarded their questions and cut to the heart of the matter.
What is our take-away, our faith lesson from today’s passage? Obviously, that Jesus promises eternal life as the Light of the World. As followers of Christ, we need to see Jesus in the context of the Feast of the Tabernacles – welcoming us into the community of believers and enjoying the celebration of having God in us and with us and living through us, just as He dwelled with the ancient followers in the Tabernacle.