Jefferson Vann reflects on the significance of Jesus’ statement in John 8:12. This is the 8th in a series of articles tracing the promise of resurrection life in John’s Gospel.
life from above
The Gospel of John is the most thematic of all the canonical Gospels. The narrative is tied together by evidences that Jesus is God’s solution to the problems of human lostness and mortality. One of the indications of this is that the word life (Greek ζωή) is peppered throughout the text.
John 8:12 This was why Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”
This verse jumps out at the reader because it does not appear to address any issue germane to the woman caught in adultery narrative (7:53-8:11). That story is very popular among preachers, but has long been discounted by Bible scholars since it does not appear in most ancient NT manuscripts. Even Kaczorowski, who argues that the woman caught in adultery pericope is an inspired text, admits that it is not Johannine.1
The statement by Jesus fits well as a response to the criticisms of the Pharisees in 7:45-52, and has been recognized as naturally connected to that pericope. The Pharisees had claimed that Jesus did not qualify as the Messiah, since he and most of his disciples were from Galilee. By their estimation, the northern province was a lost cause, and anyone from there was theologically and morally suspect. A Galilean could not even be a prophet, much less the Messiah.
But Jesus argued that his Galilean connection actually enhanced his credibility, rather than injure it. Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would appear in that northern province, and that he would be both God’s great light, and heir to David’s throne (Isaiah 9:1-7). So, Jesus admits that he is that great light, available not only for Galilee, but for anyone who follows him. But he claims to possess more than light for our darkness. He offers the light of life.
In John’s Gospel, the only other instances of the articled phrase “of life” (τῆς ζωῆς) are the references to the bread of life.
- John 6:35 Jesus told them “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will not at all be hungry, and the one who trusts in me will not at all ever be thirsty.
- John 6:48 I am the bread of life.
The bread of life was Jesus as the new Manna – a miraculous gift (like the old Manna) which sustains those who are dying. And the anarthrous genitive of ζωή (ζωῆς) is found in two other places.
- John 5:29 and go out– those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life (ζωῆς), but those who have done worthless things, to the resurrection of condemnation.
- John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, whom would we go away to? You have the words of permanent life (ζωῆς).
I think it significant that John only uses the genitive of ζωή to refer to the destiny of being raised to life by the Messiah at the end of the age. He does not use the term for any intermediate state, but uses it to reflect the promise of Christ to raise believers on the last day.2
The bread of life in John 6 is the same thing as the light of life in John 8. Both metaphors refer to Christ himself. Both suggest that only Jesus supplies what is lacking in those who are dying. The bread of life supplies sustenance to the starving. The light of life supplies direction to those who are lost in darkness. Without Christ, both the starving and the lost will die a permanent death. But Christ offers a resurrection unto permanent life.
There is another connection as well. The Scriptures attest to the fact that the Manna was “bread from the sky.”3 Likewise, although Jesus claimed to be the light of the world, he claimed to come “from the sky” and “from above.”
- John 3:31 The one coming from above is over all things. The one being from the ground is worldly and is speaking in worldly terms. The one coming from the sky is over all things.
- John 8:23 He also told them “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
Jesus was not the light “from the world” but rather the light of the world, from the sky above. His light did not originate with us. For that reason, the life that he offers is not the limited mortal life of which we are familiar. The life that he offers is the immortal permanent life which only can come from above.
By contrast, those who refuse to follow Christ will not see this permanent life. What is this permanent life? Is it going to heaven when we die? No, it is not. Jesus had told his enemies that they would not be able to follow him to heaven:
- John 8:21 That was why he said to them again, “I’m leaving; you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I’m going, you do not have the power to come.”
But later, he told his own disciples the same thing:
- John 13:33 Children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you: ‘Where I am leaving for, you cannot come.’
Jesus does not just give us bread from the sky, he is the bread from the sky. He doesn’t just give light to the world, he is the light of the world. The secret of our permanent destiny is not something we get from Jesus, it is Jesus. Our hope is not getting saved by Jesus, our hope is the permanent presence of Jesus himself. That light that illuminates the holy city, new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation is the Lamb himself.4
That is why it is important to understand the Bible’s timeline. There are many today who talk about looking forward to “being with the Lord” at death. But the Scriptures promise that we will “be with the Lord” when he reappears to be with us.5 That is when our bread from the sky will feed us with permanent life and we will not at all be hungry. That is when the light from above will shine on us forever, because in that holy city it will always be daytime.6
Previous articles in this series:
- Christmas light December 15, 2017
- The desert snake January 5, 2018
- having life, or awaiting wrath January 23, 2018
- Spring up, Oh Well February 8, 2018
- The dead will hear, and come out February 13, 2018
- sustenance and sacrifice March 13, 2018
- tripping over words November 29, 2018
- Scott J. Kaczorowski, “The Pericope of the Woman caught in Adultery: An Inspired Text inserted into an Inspired Text?” JETS 61/2 (June 2018) 321-337.
- John 6:39, 40, 44, 54
- Psalm 78:24.
- Revelation 21:23-24.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
- Revelation 21:25.