“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”‘ (John 8:12).
Six months after declaring “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35), Jesus reluctantly journeyed from Galilee to Jerusalem. It was the last time He would attend the Feast of Tabernacles before His death. He urged His brothers to attend the feast without Him, explaining “for Me the right time has not yet come” (John 7:8). However, two verses later, John notes that Jesus changed His mind: “After His brothers had left for the Feast, He went also, not publicly, but in secret” (7:10). Jesus not only changed His mind. He attended the feast in disguise.
The occasion provided the setting for three of the eight “I Am” proclamations. During this seven-day festival, Jesus declared “I Am the Light of the World” (8:12 and 9:5),”I Am the Gate for the Sheep” (10:7-8) and “I Am the Good Shepherd” (10:11,14).
This celebration was one of the three Jewish Feasts of Obligation. God commanded that “three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles” (Deut. 16:16). All males within a day’s journey of Jerusalem (approximately 20 miles) were required to attend the feast.
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, in Hebrew) celebrates the 40 years that the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, living in booths or tabernacles. The feast was a time of magnificent pageantry and thunderous rejoicing. Rabbis say that “he who has not seen the Feast of Tabernacles does not know joy.”
JESUS CALLS HIS FOLLOWERS TO
BE “SONS OF LIGHT,” AND TO
RECOGNIZE HIM AS MASTER,
COUNSELOR, JUDGE AND TEACHER.
Water was the important element in the celebration of the feast. Each morning a white-robed priest drew water from the Pool of Siloam in a golden pitcher. He carried the pitcher of sacred water on his shoulder as he processed up the vast Temple steps. The crowd opened a way for the priest to walk through the expansive Court of the Gentiles and into the Court of the Women. Levites standing on both sides of the 15 steps leading to the Court of the Israelites intoned Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The priest paused on each step. Reaching the top, he passed through the giant Nicanor doors and proceeded straight to the altar. After ascending the ramp to the top of the altar, the priest poured the water and a flask filled with wine into silver vessels that hung over the altar. As he poured the water and wine, the entire congregation chanted Psalm 118:25: “O Lord, save us; 0 Lord, grant us success.”
The daily water libation symbolized a memorial, a prayer and a forecast. Water represented a memorial to God for His provision in the desert, a prayer that God would again give water for the next harvest and a forecast of the days of the Messiah.
It was on the last day of the Feast, Hoshana Raba (“The Great Day of the Call for Help”), that “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him”‘ (7:37-38). Could it be that the priest carrying the final water libation heard His shout?
Later that same day, Jesus again startled the crowd. John records that “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”‘ (8:12). On the last day of the feast, Jesus boldly proclaimed that He alone was the Light of the World. Jesus was the Light, and to His followers He gives the light of life.
Jesus not only stated the fact that He is the Light of the World, but He went on to explain why the world needs the Light. Whoever follows the Light will never stumble, for he or she will “have the light of life” as a beacon in a dark world.
The important verb in Jesus’ proclamation is “follow.” The Greek word is akoluthéo (pronounced a-kolu-theh-o). Of the 77 times this word is used in the New Testament, only once does it signify following someone other than Jesus (Mark 14:13). Every other time, this word describes following Jesus. Akoluthéo carries five primary meanings. It describes (1) a soldier following his captain, (2) a slave accompanying his master, (3) a person accepting a counselor’s opinion, (4) a citizen giving obedience to the laws of a city or state, or (5) a student following a teacher’s line of argument. All five meanings apply to the believer following the Light of the World. Christ calls us to follow Him as His soldier and recognize Him as Master, Counselor, Judge and Teacher.
Jesus is the Light of the World, and He calls His followers to become “sons of light”:
“You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light” (John 12:35- 36).
Children of Light—let your light shine!
Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.