Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
During the evenings of the Jewish feast of tabernacles, the people participated in a light ceremony. If you remember, when the Hebrews went through the wilderness wanderings, God led them through the desert via a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Since the feast of tabernacles is a feast that reminded the Jews of that time in their history, they made their own pillar of fire in the evenings. They accomplished this by lighting two enormous candelabras in the temple courts. It is said that those candelabras were so bright that their light shined over all of the city of Jerusalem. When the fire was lit, the people would dance, sing, and remember how God led them with his marvelous light.
As the people celebrate that God, God himself, led the Israelites through the desert by being their light, Jesus stands up and makes a huge claim, “I am the light of the world.” He’s not telling them that he will show them the light. He is not claiming to be a guide to lead them to the light. Jesus simply says that he personally is the light of the world.
How significant is it that Jesus says that he is the light of the world? What is Jesus claiming to be by being the light of the world?
By claiming to be the light of the world in this setting, Jesus is claiming to be God. He is not claiming to be a little lower than God. He is not claiming to be like God. Jesus is claiming to be God.
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic,
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Notice that, in all those verses, God is the light. It was God who led Israel as a pillar of fire. It was God who confused the Egyptians as the pillar of cloud. It is God who is called my light and salvation in Psalm 27:1. So, if Jesus, in the context of the feast of tabernacles is claiming to be the light of the world, Jesus is claiming to be God. He is claiming to be God the Creator. He is claiming to be God who rescued Israel from Pharaoh. He is claiming to be the great I Am. He is claiming to be Jehovah, Yahweh, the one true and living God.
Is it a significant thing for a man to claim to be God? You bet it is. And so, as C. S. Lewis challenged us years ago, we must do one of three things with what Jesus said. Is he a liar, a villain, and totally deceiving us for evil purposes? We don’t think that about Jesus. Or, perhaps he is a fool, confused, insane? Perhaps he is like a guy in a mental institution who claims to be the Pope or Michael Jackson? No way, not the Lord Jesus. No one thinks that of him. There is only one alternative left. Jesus really is God. He knows who he is and he is telling us. And, if this is true, if Jesus really is God, we have no alternative in life but to worship him, honor him, and obey him.