For Jesus to declare himself as Light of the Cosmos was just too much for the Pharisees, who were in the background, taking this all in.
Therefore, the Pharisees said to him, “You testify concerning yourself! Your testimony is not real, or true.”The Pharisees to Jesus, John 8:13
In response,Jesus reminded them that whether or not there were other witnesses who could verify his claim, he spoke the truth. Light bears witness to itself in a dark place because of its very nature.
Think about it.
You can see even the tiniest light, there is no question what it is.
You can do this experiment yourself, anytime. Grab a flashlight, find a closet, go in there, and shut the door. Pretty dark in there, is it not? You know exactly what to do next. Turn the flashlight on.
You do not need anyone else to explain to you what happens when light shines in the darkness, you can see it for yourself. What is more, the light will always overpower the darkness all around it. No matter how tiny the pinprick of light is, you will instantly see it, in the dark, and it can guide you to come closer. The closer you get, the more you notice how the light illumines your way.
What Jesus said next is definitely a double entendre in English, though I do not know if it was also in koine Greek, in Jesus’ time.
Even if I testify concerning myself, my testimony is genuine, true and real. Because I perceive and know where I came from and where I am going. And you do not perceive nor know where I am coming from, nor where I am going.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:14
What I hear Jesus saying is that
- Jesus is God the Son, come in the flesh, as a human being. His origins are in eternity, he is of the same essence as God, both one with God and one God. Jesus comes from God and he would be returning to God.
- Because he is eternal, and his existence from eternity is God in heaven, Jesus, Light of the Cosmos, comes from and returns to heaven, where he sits enthroned, sustaining and governing the entire cosmos by the power of his word, and of himself.
- Jesus was also saying the Pharisees had no idea of Jesus’ perspective—where he was “coming from” —and they had no understanding of Jesus’ intentions and ultimate purpose—where he was going with what he was proclaiming.
The Pharisees were judging Jesus based on their standards, human standards, when they had no right to judge Jesus really at all.
If we keep to the idea that the story of the woman caught in adultery does belong right before this scene, then the way they had used her proved they did not understand God’s law, and they did not acknowledge their own sinfulness.
Jesus, on the other hand, had not come to judge, even though he alone had that right, being one with the Father
You judge according to the flesh, I do not judge any person at all.Jesus to the Pharisees, John 8:15
The truth was, however, the Pharisees had misjudged even by human, worldly standards, because Jesus did actually have a corroborating witness: God the Father.
To the surrounding onlookers, Jesus seemed both patient and authoritative, for he spoke calmly yet with the vigor and fervor of a teacher of the Law.
From the moment they had heard Jesus’ claim that he was the Light of the Cosmos, his audience’s eyes had rounded in awe and surprise. Who would claim such a thing? Was Jesus the candle that had been placed in the ark as a symbol of God’s word? Was he the very Debar of God, the precious spoken sibilance of God’s words?
When the Pharisees challenged Jesus’ testimony as invalid, some nodded.
Of course, there would need to be the witness of Scripture, the witness of previous rabbis’ revelation and interpretation, there would need to be the witness of the prophets. It was not enough for there to be miraculous signs and wonders. Did not the Samaritans and Phoenicians have their magicians? Yes, without these witnesses unique to their own Hebrew faith, no one could make such a claim.
The Pharisees had only begun to draw themselves up to full stature, ready to speak from their prodigious grasp of the holy writings and the teachings of famous rabbanim. They were simply waiting for Jesus to stop speaking. But he continued.
“Yet even if I were to judge, my judgment is true, for [it is] not me alone, but rather I and the Father who sent me.”
There must have been a moment of confusion, as bystanders and Bible scholars alike tried to sort through what Jesus had just said. Why would Jesus move from spiritual matters to earthly matters, by bringing in the witness of his father? Was he talking about Mary’s husband Joseph? Was he talking about some shadowy figure in the background, his ‘real’ father?
Women began to catch at their head scarves, and men their prayer shawls, as the wind picked up. Robes rippled and clung as the wind buffeted through the crowd. Trees at the foot of the temple mount bent with the gusts, their leaves rustling, some flying free.
Jesus raised his voice to carry in the air’s current.
“Now even in your own law it is written that the testimony of two people is genuine and true.”
Everyone nodded, for this was right.
“I myself am the one who testifies concerning me and the Father who sent me testifies concerning me.”
Who could Jesus mean?
Pharisees’ faces darkened, some clutching at their cloaks as the wind tugged. If they responded with what they knew of the scriptures, then Jesus would be proven right. For did not the Psalmist say, as the mouth of God, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”
Everyone knew this was a prophesy of Messiah.
They shifted uncomfortably, shielding their faces from the wind and sun while looking at each other sideways, aware of what they were all thinking. Then one Pharisee brightened, made a great show of looking throughout the crowd around them, then asked in exaggerated loudness, “Where is your father?!”
He grinned in pleasure as people laughed appreciatively. He had made Jesus, whose hair was flying and his worn prayer shawl flapping, look like a boy from the country in need of his poppa, his Galilean accent and lack of formal education on display.
With what voice did Jesus answer? With gentle sorrow? Quiet dignity? Prophetic finality?
“You all perceive neither me nor my Father: if you all had known me, then my Father you all would also have known.”
Even as he spoke, the laughter died away along with the waning wind. Some looked down, ashamed. Others watched the Pharisees’ increasing discomfort and aggravation, as they growled and spat in frustration. A few of the religious authorities began to disperse the crowd, for they were now blocking the treasury and trumpets from worshipers seeking to leave their tithes and offerings. Another waved his arm for the temple guard to step in.
“But,” John wrote, “Not one apprehended him, because his hour had not yet come.”
Jesus had already taught—clearly and without subtlety—he and the Father were one, that Jesus was of the Father, the same essence.
If these adherents to every “jot and tittle” of God’s word had also truly known God, which is to say, not just known the scriptures and Law, but had truly known God, then they would have sensed God’s presence there before them.
But because they had no knowledge of the Father, no perception of the Father, they were a priori unable to know the Son.
They were, in fact, Jesus’ Exhibit A, his illustration of what it means to be in darkness. John would never forget that exchange, nor how profoundly important it was to understand that
Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life
The Pharisees wanted to control God’s word by using it to their advantage. But the light of life only comes by inviting God’s word into our inner beings and living by it.
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