The Festival of Tabernacles celebrated the glory of God that guided the Israelites in the wilderness as a bright cloud and pillar of fire. Giant menorahs placed in the temple complex lit up the city of Jerusalem.
In John 10, a division occurred among the Jewish leaders regarding the character and nature of Jesus. Some leaders recognized that a demon could not open the eyes of the blind (John 10:22).
The Apostle immediately noted that the next event in the life of Jesus involved a direct question from the Jewish leadership: “If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). The question came on the Festival of Dedication.
The Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah or Festival of Lights) was not a biblical festival. Dedication celebrated the cleaning of the temple in 165 B.C. from the pagan pollution caused by a pagan king. Hanukkah involved blazing lights that lit up the Jerusalem night.
The lessons from the emphasis on Jesus as the light of the world in chapters eight through ten is clear. As Jesus possessed the power to bring sight to one born blind, likewise Jesus possesses the power to bring light (sight) into the lives of individuals born in spiritual darkness. Further, Jesus is the great divider of humanity. Response to Jesus determines whether a person remains in spiritual darkness or experiences spiritual light.
What lessons does John 9 teach us about spiritual light and darkness?
First, Jesus saw people as spiritually blind (John 9:1). Perhaps as Jesus exited the temple (8:23), he saw a blind beggar situated outside the religious center of the nation. Others “saw’ the man as an object of pity, but Jesus truly “saw” him. The Greek verb translated “saw” means to perceive one as an individual, a studied look. While humans look on the surface of an individual, Jesus “sees” into the very soul of the person.
Second, Jesus criticized theological debate in the context of spiritual darkness (John 9:2-3). Rather than “seeing” the man, the disciples engaged in a theological debate about the cause of the man’s condition.
The disciples adopted the position of Job’s friends—sin caused physical suffering. They debated whether the man’s physical condition resulted from the sin of the parents or some act of prenatal sin.
Jesus refused to engage in theological debate on this issue. Jesus acted to help the man rather than debate the man’s condition.
Third, Jesus called the disciples to join Him in a ministry of bringing light (John 9:4-5).
Although Jesus performed the miracle, He called the disciples to join Him in a mission of bringing light into the darkness. This mission comes from the One who sent Him. The same divine necessity (must—a compulsion) exists for followers of Jesus today. The One who sent Jesus also sends us as light reflectors of the light of the world into the darkness.
Moreover, Jesus used the imagery of light/dark to express urgency in the task. The dark hours of His death soon approached when He would not be on earth. Likewise, disciples have only a limited time to bear witness to the Light.
Fourth, believers can penetrate the spiritual darkness with their powerful testimonies. The Jewish religious leaders see physically but they were blind spiritually.
In contrast, the former beggar has experienced spiritual sight. He provided a model testimony for every believer—“I was blind but now I can see!”
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