Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
The gospel of John records seven times that Jesus said, “I am.” I am the Bread of Life; I am the good Shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection and the life….
And now here, I am the light of the world.
Jesus speaks of following Him as the light of the world. Do you follow this great light? It is extremely important that you do so! Those who follow Jesus as their light shall never walk in darkness but have the light of life. In turn, those who do not follow Jesus as their light will walk in darkness. And there are many who do so!
I am the light of the world!
What a claim Jesus makes for Himself. He alone can make such a claim.
Notice that Jesus claims first of all to be the light. “I am the light.”
On the basis of Scripture we can distinguish three different kinds of light.
First, there is physical light. This is the light that comes from the sun. The opposite of this light is the darkness of night caused by the going down of the sun.
Secondly, there is natural light. Natural light is intellectual knowledge. The opposite is the darkness of ignorance. In keeping with this we speak of the Dark Ages, that period of history when there was widespread ignorance. We also speak of the Age of Enlightenment, that period of history characterized by a resurgence of learning and knowledge.
Finally, Scripture speaks of spiritual light. Spiritual light is spiritual perfection and goodness. Spiritual darkness is sin and evil. This aspect of light is set forth in I John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” This means that God is the essence of all goodness and perfection. And there is to be found no sin in Him.
Jesus claims that He is the light. Jesus is that personally. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God in our flesh. Since He is God, Jesus is light. In fact, it is through the person and work of Jesus that the light of God’s perfections and goodness are revealed to men.
Jesus is not only light. He is the light of the world.
The term “world” is used often in the inspired writings of the apostle John. The most well known is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” By “world” John means all the nations of the world, in distinction from only the Jewish nation. In the Old Testament, God’s salvation was almost exclusively for the Jews. With the coming of Jesus Christ, salvation would be extended to all nations of the world. This is the emphasis of John’s gospel.
In keeping with this, Jesus indicates that He is the light of the world. This means that He is the One who enlightens the world. He it is who gives light to the world.
As the light of the world Jesus enlightens the world intellectually by giving the world the knowledge of God. God is the one great reality of life. If you will know what is real, you must know about God — His identity, His character, His will, and His purpose to save the world in Jesus Christ. The true knowledge of God is not something that mankind has naturally or innately. If man will know God, he must be enlightened. Jesus is the light of the world in that He imparts that knowledge to mankind. He did that in the Old Testament as the Son of God through the prophets. He did that during His earthly ministry. After His death and exaltation He continued to reveal the realities of God through the apostles.
As the light of the world, Jesus has also with great care preserved that knowledge of God in Scripture by the miracle of infallible inspiration. And as the light of the world Jesus continues to make known the true knowledge of God by calling men to the office of the ministry and sending them throughout the world to proclaim the true knowledge of God as recorded in Scripture.
But Jesus is also the light of the world in that He enlightens the world spiritually. It is not enough to enlighten mankind intellectually about the realities of God and salvation. On account of the fall, spiritual darkness has taken hold of mankind so that he repudiates everything that Christ makes known to him. It is sheer nonsense to him. He hates and despises all that he knows about God. If man will believe and embrace the true knowledge of God, he must be enlightened spiritually. This Jesus does as the light of the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and in connection with the preaching of the Word, Jesus so enlightens the hearts of men that they embrace the true knowledge of God and embrace Him as the Savior of their souls. Whom does Jesus so enlighten? Jesus enlightens the whole world of men whom the Father has given Him and for whom He also gave His life on the cross.
And those whom Jesus enlightens follow Him.
To follow Jesus is to be His disciple. In Bible times a disciple literally followed a teacher from village to village, sat at his feet to learn what the master taught, and so embraced his master’s teaching that it directed his whole life. Following Jesus today is much the same. It means regularly to sit at Jesus’ feet to receive His word. We do that when we sit under the preaching of the gospel, when we hear the instruction in the catechism room, when we study our Bibles, and when we receive the instruction of our fellow saints. But there is more. To follow Jesus also means that we receive and embrace His teachings so that they direct our whole life.
In a certain sense, following Jesus requires that Jesus has already enlightened us. The emphasis of Jesus in this passage is that following Jesus results in our being enlightened. But there must be a work of grace to enlighten us before we can even follow Jesus. This is because we are naturally controlled by the darkness of unbelief. To follow Jesus is an act of faith, a faith that we receive only after we are enlightened by the light of the world.
How important it is to follow Jesus as the light of the world.
Many who look for a guiding light in their life neither look to Jesus nor follow Him. They follow the light of science, psychology, philosophy, the opinion of the majority, and the learning of great scholars. What a disaster to follow lights such as these! How foolish to let these lights determine your belief, goals, attitudes, and judgments. All these lights ignore and even contradict the light that Jesus sheds on life. These lights of men are no lights at all. They have no true light to shed on your life. Follow these lights and you will remain in darkness.
As the eternal Son of God, Jesus alone is the true light of the world. He alone can show us the eternal realities of life. He alone has the truth concerning God and how to prosper under His blessing. We must follow Jesus alone as the light of the world. For that reason, we must judge everything we hear and learn in light of His teachings.
Those who follow Jesus as the light of the world shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
To walk in darkness is to live your life in ignorance and wickedness.
Those who follow the lights of this world will most definitely walk in darkness. They will be ignorant of the great realities of life as those realities center in God and His work of salvation in Jesus Christ. And in that ignorance their lives will be very sinful. They will live lives that eventually lead them to the destruction of God’s eternal wrath.
Those who follow Jesus will never walk in darkness. It is impossible truly to follow Jesus and walk in darkness. If you will avoid walking in the darkness of this world, follow Jesus.
On a positive note, those who follow Jesus as the light of the world will have the light of life.
They will have light. They will have the natural light of the true knowledge of God. They will have the spiritual light of God’s goodness and perfection. This is because Jesus enlightens all who follow Him.
And in that light they will have life.
Light is the key to all life.
This is true in the physicalrealm. Without the light of the sun, nothing lives. That is why God created light on the first day of the creation week.
But the same is true in the natural realm. Without the natural light of knowledge and learning, we could not live and survive in God’s creation.
Above all is this true in the spiritual realm. God is the living God. He is the living God in that He enjoys a wonderful life of friendship and fellowship within Himself as the triune God. God enjoys this internal life only because He is light. Were the three persons sinful and wicked (darkness), they certainly could not live together in the one divine being. There would be endless conflict and strife among them. But because they are perfect and good (light), they can and do enjoy a blessed life together. And that is also the key for our life with God. Only when we are light can we live a life of friendship and fellowship with the God of light.
This is the ultimate fruit of following Jesus as the light of the world. Jesus enlightens all those who follow Him in true faith. In that light they live. They live with God, eternally enjoying His friendship and fellowship.
What is your light? Who is your light?
Follow Jesus as the light of the world and live.