John 8:12-30

John 8:12-20     Jesus' Offer 2 - Light of the World

12 Jesus said to them once more,
“I am the light of the world!  
Those who follow me in no way walk about in the dark,
but have the light of life.” 

A clear memory of the Festival of Tabernacles, dear to the Jews dispersed throughout the Diaspora, was of the spectacular lights burning in the temple courtyard in the Jerusalem evening, and around which they had gathered and danced joyfully. From the evening of the first day of the festival until the second last day, four large lamp stands were lit in the temple’s Court of Women, and stayed lit most of the night. Their combined light was strong enough to illuminate most of Jerusalem. Against this nostalgic background, the Gospel portrayed Jesus identifying himself as the light, not only of Jerusalem, but of the world

The text took up the theme introduced in the Gospel’s Prologue:

In him was life,
and the life was the light of humanity.  
And the light shone in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overpower it...
..He was the authentic light
which, coming into the world,
enlightens every human person.  
He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him,
and the world did not recognise him.  
He came into his own
and his own people did not accept him.  
Some did receive him;
to them, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the power to become children of God ... [John 1:4-5,9-12].

The ensuing dialogue would illustrate the points raised in the Prologue. Initially, the discussion would be conducted between Jesus and the Pharisees, the Jewish leadership, rather than with the common people. The degree of hostility would intensify.

13 The Pharisees then said to him,
“You are giving testimony about yourself.  
Your testimony is not reliable.”

The Pharisees ignored Jesus’ message. They challenged him on a point of law (on which they considered themselves experts), unable to see their own inconsistent attitudes to law. Immediately before the incident of the adulterous woman, Nicodemus had reminded them of their willingness to ignore law and condemn Jesus in his absence [7:51]

Dynamic of Exclusion

What was it that so possessed this group of Pharisees as to lead them to reject Jesus and to be prepared even to murder him? The text would soon give a theological answer to that question.

There is also a sociological answer. In their unredeemed state, people in typical hierarchical and patriarchal systems instinctively value power and status/honour. They do so without question, assuming them to be obvious to anyone with intelligence. Instinctively, they see themselves as different from others, and their ways of doing things superior. They pride themselves on being objective, rational and logical. They assume that “God is on their side”.

It is impossible, of course, for all in any group to be equally powerful or honoured. Since their desires for such things are unlimited, unconsciously they see others as rivals. Envy lurks hidden beneath the surface and, feeding it, suppressed anger.

Unity within the group is necessary, but inherently fragile. Anything likely to threaten it must be suppressed, and anyone stepping too far out of line rejected or removed. Potentially destructive envy and anger must be projected outwards, away from the group, onto external enemies or internal scapegoats.

The power of the system is so addictive that its members are typically unable to see inconsistencies - totally convinced, as they are, of their own correctness and objectivity.

14 Jesus said to them in reply,
“Even if I give testimony about myself,
my testimony is reliable
because I know where I come from
and where I am going.  
You know neither where I come from
nor where I am going.

In a different context, Jesus had accepted that his testimony about himself was not legally admissible [5:31]. Yet, it remained certainly reliable. Jesus could do no more than restate the ultimate basis for his own uniqueness. He had come from God and, by his resurrection – where I am going – he would be vindicated by God.

15 You judge by human standards; 

The literal translation is “according to the flesh” – “flesh”, in this instance, having the meaning of human nature as immersed in the immediate things of the world and closed to the transcendent. To intuit the uniqueness of Jesus calls for an openness to the spirit, to the transcendent and to wonder. (The translation is unfortunate because openness to the transcendent reflects what is truly and deeply human. To judge by the deeper human standards would lead the open-minded to recognise and respond to the uniqueness of Jesus.)

The observation went to the heart of the problem in the whole controversy. Consciously or unconsciously, Jesus’ opponents were afraid to face the deeper issues. They stayed on the surface, consistently introducing distracting and irrelevant academic and legalistic objections. They were not listening to, or seeing the truth of Jesus.

… but I judge no one. 
16 If I do judge, my judgment is reliable,
because I am not alone,
but I am with the Father who sent me,

The insistent refrain continued: Jesus spoke and acted as he did because he knew who he was – the one sent by the Father.

17 … and in your law it is written
that the testimony of two persons is reliable.
18 I witness about myself,
and my Father who sent me witnesses to me.”

By empowering and motivating the works of Jesus, the Father attested Jesus’ integrity.

This issue of witnesses to Jesus had been addressed in the earlier dialogue following Jesus’ healing of the crippled man [5:31-38]. 

19 So they said to him, “Where is your Father?”  
Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.  
If you knew me,
then you would know my Father.”

The dialogue returned to the critical issue: Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Every other consideration was secondary. But to know Jesus would call for a readiness to go deeper, to abandon the familiar, to get in touch with their deep thirst for the transcendent. In short, they would have needed to “remain” in Jesus. For that, they would have needed to break free from the powerful influence of the group dynamic that blinded them and held them captive.

20 He said these things when he was teaching
in the temple in the treasury area.  
No one arrested him because his hour had not yet come.

The author’s repeated reference to Jesus’ hour served as a subtle reminder that whatever was happening was unfolding within the gentle providence of God. Jesus was not the powerless victim of powerful others.

John 8:21-30     Jesus Foretells His Death

Jesus had been speaking to the Pharisees. In the brief dialogue that follows, the audience seemed to broaden out to a wider, but unidentified, group whom he would simply refer to as the Jews.

21 He said to them again, “I am going away,
and you will search for me;
and you will die in your sin.  
You are unable to go where I am going.”
22 So the Jews said, “Surely he will not kill himself,
when he says ‘You cannot go where I am going’”?

Jesus would not kill himself. Their leaders would be the murderers.

The real issue was not one of where Jesus was going, but to whom. It was a question of relationship. The human Jesus was destined to eternity in the loving embrace of God. In the meantime, during his historical existence, he embodied the loving truth and mercy of God. The sin of his adversaries was to refuse to accept Jesus as that revelation of God. In rejecting him, they rejected God. Until they could become aware of the prejudices blinding them, they would never come into the experience of personal intimacy with the Father towards which Jesus was going.

Judging by human standards, they stayed at the surface and failed to grasp the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words.

23 He said to them,
“You are from below; I am from above.  
You are from this world; I am not from this world.
24 I have told you that you will die in your sins.  
If you do not believe that I am,
you will die in your sins.”
25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” 

Being from this world, being from below, implied being under the power of sin. For the author, the world to which he referred was the world as it concretely existed, embodied in the human constructs of social and religious systems – all, sadly, distorted and clouded by sin. Until people could see through their illusions and detach themselves from the power of their various groupings, they would remain blinded by the sin of the world.

The message of the dialogue intensified. The way out of their blindness was to begin to listen to Jesus. He knew he possessed no power other than the impact of his own integrity and nonthreatening love; so he invited them to look again at that integrity and allow themselves to be touched by it. As he had done before in other contexts [4:46; 6:20], Jesus claimed for himself the name reserved exclusively for God: I am. Not only did Jesus come from God; not only was he going to God; he was of God. Until people were sensitive to Jesus’ deepest reality, and were prepared to surrender to that in faith, they would die in their sins, rather than live for eternity in the embrace of God. 

Jesus said to them,
“What I told you from the beginning
and what I am telling you now.

Scholars differ in the way they translate, and understand, what is rendered here as: What I told you from the beginning and what I am telling you now. The text seems to infer that Jesus was simply protesting that everything returned to the same point: he kept repeating the same refrain simply because he was what he was.

26 I have much to say about you
and to pass judgment on;
but the one who sent me is reliable
and I tell the world what I have heard from him.”
27 They did not realise that he was talking to them about his Father. 

The word translated as pass judgment on had occurred earlier [verses 15-16], and picked up again the reference made there to the Father. Jesus does not condemn; but his integrity becomes the standard according to which people pass judgment on themselves, depending on their choices for or against the values revealed in Jesus.

28 So Jesus said to them,
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will realise that I am;
and that I do nothing of myself,

The lifting up of the Son of Man referred to Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross. By freely allowing himself to be murdered, rather than to be and to live as other than he was (the embodiment of God’s faithful love and mercy), Jesus would show to the world the heart of God and the depth of God’s commitment to save. Jesus lived with irrepressible hope. People might not listen to him now, but his death and resurrection were still to happen. In the light of them, he hoped people would finally come to realise the truth of this divine reality: I am, and be drawn into the dynamic of freely given divine love in which he himself was immersed.  Succinctly and effectively, Jesus had revealed why he was able to face his threatening death with equanimity.

… but that I speak just as the Father has taught me.
29 The one who sent me is with me;
He has not left me to myself,
because I always do the things that please him.”
30 As he said these things, a number of people believed him.

There was hope: some people were changing.

Next >> John 8:31-59