Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 (NET)
Though this is verse twelve of the eighth chapter of John, it should actually be the first verse of the chapter. In truth, it should be a part of the seventh chapter, as with His words, Jesus appears to be addressing an issue raised in chapter seven. The reason that it should be the first verse of the chapter is that it is generally agreed upon that the story of the woman caught in adultery, which appears in the section from John 7:53 through John 8:11, is not contained in the earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. It was almost certainly not originally a part of John’s Gospel, and some manuscripts even place it after Luke 21:38. Now, this is not to say that the account is not true or that it did not occur, but that it should not rightly be found here in this Gospel.
Indeed, it appears to interrupt a singular train of thought on the part of the author, artificially and unfortunately disconnecting what is presented in chapter eight from what is presented in chapter seven. What is going on in the seventh chapter? Jesus has secretly come to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. This is one of the three fall feasts of the Jewish calendar (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles), that mark the beginning of the New Year. We are told that Jesus “went up, not openly but in secret. So the Jewish leaders were looking for Him at the feast” (7:10b-11a). There was an aura of expectancy around Jesus, and “There was a lot of grumbling about Him among the crowds. Some were saying, ‘He is a good man,’ but others, “He deceives the common people’.” (7:12). Either way, Jesus was causing a stir and making an impact.
So Jesus bursts on the scene in the middle of the feast, making His appearance and teaching in the Temple courts. His wise words provoked astonishment amongst the leaders of the people. Sensing this, Jesus said, “My teaching is not from Me, but from the One Who sent Me” (7:16). His public speaking was all the more astonishing in that there was great, personal risk in its undertaking. We learn that when we read that “some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Yet here He is, speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him’.” (7:25-26a) One can imagine how quickly such words would spread through the crowds, bringing the inevitable conclusion of “Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ?” (7:26b) This, however, presented a dilemma, because as it pertained to the Messiah, there was a generally held proposition that “Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from” (7:27b). The dilemma is to be found in the people saying, “But we know where this man comes from” (7:27a). Added to this was the growing consensus about Jesus, and the growing number of those that believed Him to be the Messiah, reflected in the question of “Whenever the Christ comes, He won’t perform more miraculous signs than this Man, will he?” (7:31b).
As we progress through the chapter, we reach the final day of the feast, on which “Jesus stood up and shouted out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and let the one who believes in Me drink. Just as the Scripture says, “From within Him will flow rivers of living water”’” (7:37b-38). With these words, Jesus quotes prophecies from Isaiah and Zechariah that are unmistakably messianic in nature, as they are connected to God’s redemptive actions on behalf of His people. It is for this reason that, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, ‘This really is the prophet!’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ!’ But still others said, ‘No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does He?’” (7:40-41) It was words like these that prompted the chief priests and Pharisees to want to seize Jesus with the intention of putting Him to death. In addition, this issue of Jesus’ place of origin was a sticking point. With that piece of information alone, believing themselves to be fully cognizant of the full story when it came to Jesus place of birth and residence, His opponents seized on this piece of information.
From there, we go on to read about Nicodemus, who first appeared in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus, having obviously become a believer, defends Jesus, saying “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” (7:51). Their response to this was “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (7:52) They were certain that the Messiah would not spring from that region, which brings us to our main point, and the fact that, with the elimination of the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is immediately following these words that the author has Jesus diffusing the entire “Galilee issue” by saying, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). How so?
Turning to Matthew, we find him quoting from Isaiah in regards to Jesus and the fulfillment of messianic hopes, as he writes, “Galilee of the Gentiles---the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned” (4:15b-16). To “Galilee of the Gentiles” and the associated “great light,” we can add Simeon’s prophecy from the second chapter of Luke, in which he calls the Messiah “a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (2:32). While we know that Jesus is the light and hope of the world, His words in this context were pronounced with a clear, prophetic and historical referent. This was not simply a spiritual saying, disconnected from the very realistic situation that Jesus was addressing. By saying what He said, He was making it clear that He was the Messiah, but only for those with ears to hear.