Thematically, John chapter 8 still seems to be placed in the Festival of Booths setting of Chapter 7.
There were two ceremonies performed every day for seven days during Sukkoth. Every morning sacrifices were made and a golden pitcher of water was collected from the Pool of Siloam to pour out before the altar, reminding the people of God bringing water from a rock.
Every evening giant menorah were lit up that caused the whole gold-covered temple to radiate light out into the city of Jerusalem, reminding people of God’s Shekinah, the Lord’s incandescent glory in the pillar of cloud and fire that led them through the wilderness.
On the first day, according to one historian, a ceremony was held, called “Celebration of Joy for the Law.” The books of Law were taken out of the ark in the temple and replaced by a single candle, symbolizing the many passages in scripture which referred to God’s word as a light to our path. Here are just a few:
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,Proverbs 6:23, Psalm 119:105, Isaiah 9:2 and 60:1 (NRSV)
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
As the candle was put in the ark, everyone would pray “O Lord of the universe, You command us to light lamps to You, but You are the Light of the World.”
So, imagine this backdrop as Jesus taught. It is fresh in the people’s minds, the ceremony of placing the candle in the ark, as the living light. Every night, as the sun gently descends the priests emerge from their gate, carrying torches. Each wick on the menorah is carefully cleaned and the giant bowls replenished with oil from the first press—virgin, pungent, the incense of its fruity olive scent rising and spreading on the wind.
A hush comes over all those who are there, standing in the great outer court, watching as the priests, one by one, light each of the seven arms of the holy candelabra. As the sun’s rays grow every dimmer, the whole temple bursts into glorious splendor. Every evening the audience gasps with fresh a I74dmiration, for there are no words to describe the rush of wonderment.
It is for many as though the Lord God is palpably present in full resplendent Shekinah radiance, the brilliance of God’s grandeur.
Imagine the Lord Jesus, humble in his peasant’s garb, his prayer shawl a simple affair, and already well-worn, his cloak plain and modest. He is sitting on one of the many marble benches along the Court of the Women, where he is wont to preach.
There is a moment, here. A teachable moment, as people gaze in reverent longing at the dazzling magnificence of the temple.
Jesus has been speaking, in his gentle yet powerful and authoritative way, unique among all scribes, rabbis, and teachers of the law. Now, as his eyes are also drawn to the massive menorah and its breathtaking glow, he says:
I AM the Light of the Cosmos.Jesus, John 8:12
Did the light come on for John, in that moment? For they were all lambent with the reflected glow of the temple’s luster, and perhaps especially Jesus, through John’s eyes of love, was shining with luminescence.
Thirty odd years before, the spiritually righteous and devout Simeon had held the infant Jesus in his arms, and guided by the Holy Spirit had said over him,
Master . . . ‘my eyes have seen your salvation,Simeon quoting Isaiah 42:6, Luke 2:29-32 (NRSV)
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
It had been only forty days after Mary had given birth, her first child, and her time of confinement had come to an end. Now, Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus to the temple where Mary would make her sacrifices to God, completing her purification rite after giving birth.
Mary and Joseph must have been deeply stirred, as the Lord God continued to affirm this tiny infant boy was indeed God’s Son. For, the rabbis taught that the original light God wrapped God in would be lit in the Messiah, and that God was saving this very light under God’s throne for that day.
As people turned to Jesus in startled amazement at such a bold pronouncement—the meaning of which could not be clearer, as Jesus explained.
The one who follows me will not ever walk in the darkness, but rather will have the Light of Life.Jesus, John 8:12
With this “I AM” statement, the Gospel of John has now presented Jesus using four Exodus images:
- The Passover Lamb
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29-35
- The Manna
“I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus had been explaining the meaning of the miracle symbolized in feeding of five thousand men along with their families.
- Water from the Rock
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Jesus’ voice had rung out on the temple steps. He had been referring to the water that flowed from the rock struck by Moses, commemorated every year during the Festival of Booths.
- God’s Shekinah
“I AM the Light of the Cosmos: the one who follows me will not ever walk in the darkness, but rather will have the Light of Life.” Jesus made this astonishing connection between himself and the light of God’s words in scripture, as well as the brilliant light emanating from the menorah and magnified by the gleaming gold of the temple’s exterior.
Just as the ancient Israelites followed the cloud of God’s glory through the desert, so now Jesus was saying that to follow his light would be to walk in the light of God’s word, the scriptures, rather than in the darkness of sin.
To follow Jesus means to believe Jesus, and also to believe in him, to trust Jesus.
Jesus would later say that all those who trust him, who love him, will be willing to do what he teaches.
But it means so very much more than just that.
To follow Jesus is to have his life and light within us
enabling us to live out his teaching, and also to sense Jesus’ guidance.
[Light of the World | Background by pixy.org, CC0]