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 these words from Jesus are reported here in verse twelve of the eighth chapter of John, it is quite likely that is should actually be the first verse of the chapter. In truth, it should be a part of the story of the seventh chapter, as with His words, Jesus appears to be addressing an issue raised in chapter seven. Of course, it is very much worth noting that until more than a thousand years after the composition of John’s Gospel, there were no set chapter divisions. In this case, the chapter division provides for a rather unnatural and perhaps ultimately unhelpful break in the narrative flow.
At any rate, the primary 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 and thrown before Jesus for judgment, which appears in the section from John 7:53 through John 8:11, is actually not contained in what are recognized to be the earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Thus, it was almost certainly not originally a part of John’s Gospel (though the story may certainly have been known in the community for/by which the Gospel was composed, and some manuscripts have even placed the story 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, as something to which has previously been alluded, the inclusion of the story of the woman taken in adultery appears to interrupt a singular train of thought being communicated by the author, thus artificially and unfortunately disconnecting what is presented in chapter eight from what is presented in chapter seven. What is it that is going on in the seventh chapter? In it, Jesus has secretly come to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. This is one of the three fall feasts of the Jewish calendar (generally referred to as Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles), that mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year.
There, it can be read that Jesus “went up, not openly but in secret. So the Jewish leaders were looking for Him at the feast” (7:10b-11a). It is safe to say, and the author probably intends to communicate, that there was an aura of expectancy around Jesus, and accordingly, “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, the expectancy concerning Him was palpable, with Jesus causing a stir and making an impact.
So, making His appearance in Jerusalem and making Himself known in spite of the inherent and apparent danger in doing so, Jesus bursts on the scene in the middle of the feast, making His presence felt by teaching in the Temple courts. His wise words are reported to have provoked astonishment amongst the leaders of the people. With what is demonstrated to be a keen sense of discernment, Jesus says, “My teaching is not from Me, but from the One Who sent Me” (7:16). With this, we find that His public speaking being all the more astonishing, in that with these types of words, he is provoking great personal risk in its undertaking. We are able to learn that (or have that sense confirmed) 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 certainly imagine how quickly talk of such words would spread through the crowds, thereby bringing the inevitable conclusion of “Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ?” (7:26b) This, however, presented a firm dilemma, because as it pertained to the messiah, there appears to have been a generally held proposition that “Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from” (7:27b). The dilemma is confirmed when the people are to be found saying, “But we know where this man comes from” (7:27a). Thus we have here an indication of doubt concerning the potential messianic status of this Jesus character. Added to this doubt however, was the growing consensus about Jesus, and the growing number of those that believed Him to be the Messiah, which is reflected in the question of “Whenever the Christ comes, He won’t perform more miraculous signs than this Man, will he?” (7:31b).