52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #17. Healing the Blind Man (Part 2): “I Am the Light of the World
Several really important themes converge in John 9 when Jesus heals the blind man. One of the famous “I Am” statements is uttered. One of the important “Signs” is witnessed. And the theme of New Creation which John has been echoing from the beginning of the book emerges again. You see all of this come together when Jesus describes what He is about to do: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (John 9:4-5). “Light” in John has very little to do with lumens, watts, or photons. It describes the spiritual vision that Jesus is bringing the world. In this short section we see three pictures which describe the spiritual state of humanity: sight vs. blindness, light vs. darkness, and day vs. night.
Throughout the Gospel of John there is a call to not be blind, but to actually see and behold. When the Word became flesh, “we saw His glory” (John 1:14). John was told the Messiah was the One on whom “You see the Spirit descending and remaining upon” (John 1:33). Two times John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36). Jesus tells two disciples, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39). Philip says to Nathanial, “Come and see.” Jesus tells Nathanial “I saw you” and “You will see greater things than these” and “you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:48, 50, 51). During Passover, “many believed in His name, seeing the signs which He was doing” (John 2:23). Jesus warned Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Regarding John the Baptist, “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies” (John 3:32). The Samaritan woman told her city, “come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done” (John 4:29).
This list of passages could go on and on and on (John 19:35; 20:8, etc.). This concept will literally be on every page of you turn in the Gospel of John. Which makes the ending so ironic, and beautiful, and incredible: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). This is a message to the reader who cannot literally “come and see” but many years later has come to believe anyway.
But what of this blind man? Is He able to “come and see?” On his own He never could. But he is about to meet, “the Light of the world” (John 9:5). This is one of those foundational “I Am” statements of Jesus which are so popular in John. The “Light of the World” is a picture of New Creation. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the Light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:3). Compare that with the beginning of John: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1), “in Him was life and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5).
Remember in Genesis the Light was created on Day 1 but the sun wasn’t created until Day 4. So, what was that light? I’m not speaking scientifically here, but hinting at something theological: Jesus takes for Himself the role of giving light to the world.
In Genesis the “heavens and the earth” were in “darkness,” (Genesis 1:2) but God gave it light which “was good.” That same story is being told in John. When the light of the world comes, He “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5) and gives light and sight. The critical tension, however, is that “the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).
Jesus will be loved by some because they once were blind but now they see. Jesus will be hated by others because He will reveal them for what they truly are. That very thing happens in the healing of the blind man (John 9:39).
Going back to Genesis, “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (Genesis 1:5). Darkness comes over the world at night time. Two times we are told that Nicodemus, seemingly out of fear, came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2; 19:39). When Judas goes off to betray Jesus there is a small little note added by John which says, “And it was night” (John 13:30). Why does this matter? Because “if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:10).
So again, what does all this actually mean? There is far more to the story than just a physical miracle, Jesus is the embodiment of the “Light of the World.” He is the only hope for the world to leave darkness, blindness, and night. While Jesus is on earth, as the Light of the World, it is daytime. But night is coming (Remember, His betrayal and crucifixion are at night). So He must work now. What work must He do? Give light and sight to those who are blind and in darkness. He does this physically in John 9, and spiritually for the rest of time. Some will certainly hate Him for it. Others will rejoice. John 9 is not just about giving light to a blind man, but it also shows how his neighbors, his parents, and the Pharisees respond to that light. They all respond in darkness. What a tragedy to see a great sign of Jesus, to see Light from God, and choose to be blind. The blind man chose sight. All who saw it chose blindness.
*A strange final note about that phrase “I Am the Light of the World” is that Jesus applies it to Himself in John. But terrifyingly, Matthew says, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). I like John better. I’d much rather that burden be on Jesus. He is a bit more qualified than me and you. Nevertheless, the job of bringing the spiritual vision of God into the world is not solely upon Jesus. It’s on each one of us called by His name.