This will be the last post until Monday, December 29th.
Dispute Over Jesus' Testimony
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.
A few months ago I had the chance to watch the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games while my oldest son, my wife and I were in South Africa. The opening ceremony is always an incredible display that seems to transcend the moment. They get bigger, more elaborate, and more impressive each year. The opening ceremonies are especially important because they symbolize all that is supposed to be good about the Olympics. This is the time when the nations of the world forget all of their problems, tensions, and even wars, and look to a time when there is real peace between the nations. After the many dances and incredible performances, it was time for the torch lighting ceremony. The torch lighting ceremony not only signals the opening of the games but it is symbolic of the hope of peace and unity of the Olympic games that will hopefully never be quenched. Imagine if, after all of the pomp and circumstance and ceremony of the opening show, right after they lit the big torch that would burn throughout the games, someone got up and, with their voice booming through a microphone, declared that they were the true flame of peace. They had the only genuine solution to what the world hoped for and what was symbolized by the Olympic games. That would be a heady claim and would be quite a memorable moment.
What Jesus did as the Festival of the Tabernacles drew to a close was every bit as stunning as our imaginary Olympic scene. The Festival of Tabernacles was, in many respects, the biggest festival of the Jewish religion. It was the big moment of the year full of pomp, ceremony, circumstance, and memorable moments. Everything that took place at the Festival meant something that usually hearkened back to God’s glory in the past and looked ahead to His might hand working in the future. Jesus, like any Jew of his day, knew the meaning of the symbols of the Festival quite well and used them to his advantage to teach the people. The hopes that the most awesome moments of the Festival of Tabernacles pointed to, were all embodied in Jesus. In a move just as stunning as someone grabbing a microphone and making such bold claims about themselves during the Olympics, Jesus declares to the people of Jerusalem that he is what they have been waiting for. Everything they hoped for and celebrated during the Festival was right there in front of them if they would only believe.
Verse 12 comes right on the heels of 7:52, which took place on the final morning of the Festival of the Tabernacles. You might have noticed that, in this study guide, we have skipped 7:53-8:11. It’s not a mistake. That section, although inspiring, was clearly not present in any of the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. In fact, it did not appear in any manuscripts until the fifth century, and even then it was only slowly added into the Gospel. Nor did any of the early church leaders seem at all aware of this passage in John until the fifth century. It also appeared in at least five different locations, including after John 7:36, 44, 52, at the end of the Gospel or even after Luke 21:38 (the section clearly interrupts the flow between 7:52 and 8:12). It seems, then that this passage bounced around and may have even come from a non-cannonical work called the Gospel to the Hebrews. Even though it is possible, then, that this passage happened in Jesus’ life, it was clearly not in the original Gospel of John and we cannot rightly ascribe inspiration to that passage. With that in mind, we will pass over that section with no comment and move on to the present passage.
Chapter 7 ended during the morning of the water pouring ceremonies on the last day of the Festival. It is quite possible that verse 12 picks up about eight hours later that evening. The illumination ceremony was, along with the water pouring ceremony, one of the two great moments that took place daily during Tabernacles, although the illumination ceremony began on the second night of the Festival and continued through the end. In Hebrew the illumination ceremony was called simhat Beit ha-Sho’eva, which means the rejoicing at the place of the water drawing. Yet, interestingly it did not occur where the water was drawn but inside the Temple itself, in the area called the Court of the Women (John carefully tells us in verse 20 that this took place in the court where the treasury was located, which was the Court of the Women, giving a strong indication that this scene did indeed take place during or shortly after the lighting ceremony).
The Levites and priests, along with musicians with instruments of all kinds moved from the Court of Men through the Nicanor Gate and down the steps into the Court of Women. As they made their way through the Temple, the processional of people following them would sing songs from Psalms 120 through 134, known as the Psalms of the Ascent. Inside the Court of the Women stood four huge candelabras, which according to the Talmud, towered above the Court, standing 73 feet high. At the top of each candelabra were four bowls for lamps that were filled with oil. Wicks made from the priest’s worn-out robes were carried up ladders by young priests who then lit these giant lights. As they were lit, the entire Temple was illuminated by these candelabras. At the moment that they were lit, the priests and Pharisees picked up torches and danced around with joyous abandon, mimicking the way King David once danced in celebration of God. This jubilant dancing and singing would continue late into the night, until three loud trumpet blasts were sounded. At that moment, the people would all turn to the East and declare, "Our fathers who were in this place stood with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord and their faces toward the East and they worshiped. But for us, our eyes are turned to the Lord." This was the way the Jews fulfilled Deuteronomy 16:15 and it’s command to make their joy complete.
The illumination ceremony was far more than just a celebration, though. Like everything else in the Festival of Tabernacles, it had deep and profound meaning. The candle lighting ceremony was a symbol for the Jews of the presence of YHWH, the God of Israel. It was He who, during the time in the wilderness, graciously led the Israelites with His presence through the pillar smoke and cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night. The light signified the Shekinah glory of God that had once inhabited the Temple, and declared the desire of the Jewish people to see the Temple once again filled with God’s glory.
Imagine, then, that it was at this moment, perhaps just after the candles had been extinguished that Jesus once again declared to be the fulfillment of an element of the Festival. He was the light of the world (the second of Jesus’ "I am" statements in the Gospel of John). He was, in other words, the Shekinah glory, the presence of God, the pillar of fire. He was the one who fulfilled the messianic role of God’s servant in Isaiah, the one who would be the light to the world that Israel was supposed to be, but had failed to do so (Isa. 49:6; 60:1-2). Jesus was in no uncertain terms, claiming to be the Messiah and the very presence of the almighty God, but he was also doing something else. One of the criticisms against Jesus was that he could not be the Messiah because no Messiah would come from Galilee. Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world, pointed directly to Isaiah 9:1-2, "In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned." Jesus was informing them that they were wrong, the Messiah could come from Galilee (John, of course, expects us to put all of this together and see how Jesus was the fulfillment of this passage and Micah 5:2 which intimated that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem). In a fell swoop, Jesus has answered questions about himself and made an incredibly bold claim.
In John 5:31, Jesus claimed that if he served as his own witness, then his testimony could be disregarded. The Pharisees jump on that as a chance to put Jesus on trial and convict him by his own words. Jesus is not contradicting himself, but moving his critics on to a new understanding of who he is. In chapter 5, Jesus descended to human standards and offered other testimony, but now he is showing them that he is the light, and he can testify about himself. It all has to do with the fact that he has come from God’s presence, heaven, and will return there one day soon. Jesus stands as one with the Father, so the Father’s testimony is his, and his testimony is the Father’s. The Law declared that in order for anything to be considered valid, there must be two witnesses, well here thy are. Jesus’ has narrowed down the witnesses that to him matter, he and the Father alone. Yet because he has come from the Father and is one with the Father, then his testimony is just as valid. If they want to follow the law and demand two witnesses, they have them. The Pharisees then demand that Jesus produce this father that will verify his claims, but in doing so they make Jesus’ point. They think they represent God’s interests, but they don’t even know Him, because they don’t know His Son. If they truly knew the Father, they would know that the light of the world was standing in their presence.
Can you ever identify with the Pharisees here? Do you truly accept Jesus as the light of the world? It is easy to forget just how deeply the darkness can run through each one of us. It is easy to start out with a calling to be God’s people, but to somehow turn that calling into privilege for ourselves. When we do that, we have rejected the light of the world and embraced our own will rather than God’s.