In the creation story, the first thing God said was, “Let there be light.” This light immediately separates day from night. Yet if we read on in the first chapter of Genesis we learn the sun was not created until day four. How could we have light in the world – dividing day from night – before the sun was created? There are various theories and ideas about this. Some ancient rabbis believed that the ‘light’ of Genesis 1:3 was the Messiah and that this shows God – from the beginning of creation – understood that the Messiah was to come to God’s people. (The Apostle Paul shared this belief – see 2 Corinthians 4:6)This is part of what Jesus was referring to when he said, “I am the Light of the world.”
Jesus made this extraordinary statement in the Women’s Court of the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles. In this courtyard were four huge bowls filled with oil, from which four smaller bowls of oil were suspended. These were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles at sundown, and worshippers danced for joy in their light. These blazing lamps represented the ‘fire by night’ that led the Israelites through the wilderness. Jesus was probably standing in the light of these great lamps when he said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”
John’s Gospel begins with an account of John the Baptist and the Gospel writer says this: “God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Where was John baptizing? In the Jordan River – the dividing line between the wilderness the Israelites wandered in and the Promised Land they were to call their home and it was to this very river that the “pillar of fire” led them. When he says, “I am the light of the world” Jesus is hearkening back to thousands of years of Jewish history while indicating that he is still the one to lead us to our ‘promised land’ today.