Readers of John’s Gospel are familiar with Jesus’ statement at the “time of the Feast of Dedication” (Jn 10:22)—otherwise known as Hanukkah—that he is the “Light of the World.” The Messiah declares, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12; cf. 9:5). While this declaration reminds us of God’s first creative words at creation, there is another biblical precedent for Jesus’ words. The start of Exodus echoes Genesis’ creation account to present Moses as the Light of the World.
According to Genesis, these are God’s first words to the world: “Let there be light (יהי אור; yehi ‘or)” (1:3). After speaking, “God saw the light—that it was good—and God separated between the light and between the darkness” (1:4). According to John’s Gospel, since Jesus is also the “Light of the World,” he is separated from the darkness so that anyone who follows him “will not walk in darkness” (Jn 8:12). Indeed, the separation between light and darkness at creation underscores John’s assertion at the outset of the Gospel with reference to the Word: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it” (1:5). In presenting Yeshua as the Light of the World, John alludes to the fact that the Messiah was the very first thought in God’s mind.
Yet, Jesus is not the first Jewish savior to be identified as the light of the world. In fact, the most famous birth narrative of the Torah presents Moses as the light of the world all the way back in Exodus. The Bible’s second book recalls Genesis in various ways, and its exposition of Moses’ origins is no exception. After Moses’ mother gives birth to her son, Exodus reads, “And she saw him (ותרא אתו; va’tere oto)—that he was good (כי טוב הוא; ki tov hu)—and she hid him for three months” (2:2). The Hebrew words in this verse parallel the description of God seeing the light in Genesis: “And God saw the light (וירא אלהים את האור; va’yar elohim et ha’or)—that it was good (כי טוב; ki tov)—and God separated between the light and between the darkness” (1:3). Just as God sees that the light is good, Moses’ mother sees that Moses is good. More, God separates the light from the darkness just as Jochebed “hid” (צפן; tsaphan) the child from those who sought to kill him—thereby separating the Mosaic light from the Pharaonic darkness. In John’s Gospel, Jesus recapitulates Moses as the Light of the World and alludes to the fact that, just as Moses saved his people from slavery, the Messiah will save his people from their sins.