We must understand the whole flow of a passage to understand its individual parts. How do we make sense of John 8.12-20? Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” and the next thing we know, Jesus and his opponents are arguing about the nature and requirement of proper witnesses. What is going on?
I understand the theme of these verses to be the great statement that Jesus makes in vs. 12, which is his second “I am” statement recorded in John: “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.”” (John 8:12, ESV).
Christ’s opponents, rather than considering what Jesus’ statement means, quickly raise an objection. Jesus’ statement is illegitimate, they argue, because he is testifying about himself and everyone knows that by the Jewish rules of testimony, one needs two witnesses to verify anything.
Jesus makes two responses to that objection:
- First, he says that his testimony is true. He grounds this claim in the fact that he is the Son of God. (vv. 14-15)
- Second, he points out that—if they are inclined to make silly technical arguments—he does have a second witness, that witness is God the Father (vv. 16-18).
We can learn a couple of things about this exchange. First, if we are inclined to use silly technical arguments to “reject” Christ’s words, it is we who are at fault, not Christ. Second, in this whole back and forth, Christ’s opponents completely miss his central point. He is the light of the world!
Do not, dear reader, miss the central claims of Christ because you prefer to make silly objections about the peripheral issues. This is your loss, and a serious one at that.