When I was a kid, there was a game we sometimes played during children’s ministries. Two people from each team were selected. An obstacle course was set up. One team member was blindfolded while the other was appointed as guide. Simultaneously, all four guides shouted instructions to their blindfolded teammate. Blindfolded players listened through the din to the voice of their teammate, whose task was to guide them through the course. Kids from the other teams tended to shout at the same time, making it all the more difficult to discern the one voice for which you were listening.
I hated the game. Of course, I still made kids play it when I became a leader at children’s ministries. The psychological scarring ran deep!
If you’ve ever played the game, you know how difficult it can be. It is not easy to walk in darkness and to listen for the right voice in the midst of contrary voices. Sometimes, that’s what it feels like as you’re making your way through this world. To everyone else, you appear to be a responsible adult. Inside, you feel like a blindfolded kid desperately listening for direction.
Jesus spoke directly to this tension (John 8:12–20). To people walking in darkness, he declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We are told that he spoke these words “in the treasury.” This gives us a clue as to the occasion.
The “treasury” was a large courtyard in the temple, where massive collection containers were placed for various offerings. Once a year, a ceremony known as the Illumination of the Temple took place there. Enormous candles were lit in celebratory remembrance of God leading his ancient people in the wilderness by the pillar of fire. It was likely during this ceremony that Jesus spoke these words, essentially claiming that he was himself the pillar of fire to lead his people. He was the shekinah glory.
In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud served at least three purposes. By claiming to be the light of the world, Jesus claims to fulfil these same three purposes for his people.
First, the pillar of cloud was given as a sign of God’s presence for his people. As long as they saw the fire (or, during the day, the cloud), they knew that God was with them. Jesus, likewise, is the seal of God’s presence with his people. Before ascending to heaven, he assured his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). By his Spirit, Jesus is always present with his people. There is no dark valley through which we can walk, in which Christ does not walk with us. He is with us always—in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth, in affliction and joy, in trial and victory.
Second, the pillar of cloud was given as a means of protection for God’s people. When the Egyptians were advancing and Moses parted the Red Sea, it was the pillar of fire that separated Israel from Egypt and offered protection to God’s people. So, too, Christ stands as the protector of his people. Elsewhere, Jesus likened himself to a mother hen, gathering her brood under her wings (Luke 13:34). He stands as our eternal advocate, protecting us against the accusations of the enemy (1 John 2:1). His protection is not a promise that we will never face trouble in this life but is a promise of ultimate protection to eternal life, even if we do face affliction, disease, and even death in this life.
Third, the pillar of cloud served to guide God’s people. In the same manner, Jesus said that, if we follow him, we will not walk in darkness. He offers us guidance through his word, his Spirit, and his church. He offers wisdom to navigate the obstacles of this world.
Significantly, Jesus said that those who follow him will “have the light of life.” This is true in at least two senses. On the one hand, we receive the light we need from him to walk in this dark world. At the same time, and on the other hand, we “have” light in the sense that we become lights in this world to point others to Christ.
Those who reject the light continue to stumble in the darkness. But we who have embraced Jesus as the light of the world do not walk in darkness. Do you have the light of life? If so, rejoice that, even in the darkest of times, you benefit from Christ’s presence, protection, and guidance.