Sometimes when you’re reading through the Gospels, you come to a statement of Jesus and you just put the brakes on. You’re like, “Hold on—why did He say that?” We know Jesus had a purpose for everything He said, but the context doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance. At least, that’s the way it was for me when reading John 11.
John 11 is one of my favorite passages in the Gospel, and there’s so much in it. You have the raising of Lazarus a. You have Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The list goes on and on.
But as I was working through the passage recently, I came to a part that really stumped me. Lazarus is deathly sick, Martha and Mary have sent a message to Jesus, and He stays put for a few days. Then He “said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again’” (John 11:7). When the disciples balk at that, He then returns with this—
“Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”John 11:9,10
The next thing He says is explaining that He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. But this middle portion here, how does it fit into this whole thing? Light is a theme in John, but what does that have to do with the situation with Lazarus? Quite a bit, actually.
Let’s flip back a few chapters. During the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), Jesus cried out, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). This caused some disturbances among the religious leaders, but Jesus builds upon this in the next chapter.
In response to a question about a blind man, “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 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 9:3-5).
What needs to be seen here is that Jesus is tying the idea of His being light with accomplishing the works He was given to do. There were tasks He was given, and there was a certain time to do them. Objections or squabbles about theological concepts could not distract from that work (the disciples were asking the reason behind the blindness, but didn’t seem to do anything to help the man).
So let’s pull that back to John 11. When Jesus announces His plan to go back to Judea, the disciples object by pointing to the fact that the Jews had just tried to kill Jesus. This was forefront in their minds, for when Jesus reaffirms His intention, Thomas resignedly says, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). They were concerned for Jesus, but also for themselves. They were afraid of the consequences of returning so near to Jerusalem.
But Jesus was telling them, “Don’t let your fear cripple you. Keep your Eyes on Me and follow where I lead.” The question about how many “hours [are] in a day” speaks to the window of opportunity, and “the light of this world” refers to Jesus (John 11:9). The concept of stumbling speaks to falling, to sin, to destruction. The person who follows Jesus will see the path clearly. However, someone who turns away, who “walks in the night,” he will not prosper (John 11:10). He has turned away from the Light.
In other words, we are called to remain fixed upon Jesus. The way may seem incredibly dangerous, and we may not understand what He is doing or why we are called to follow. But if we want to avoid stumbling, we will follow. We will trust Him to lead. He knows what is best.
So while these verses may seem to come out of left field, they are actually the further development of the Light theme in John. They teach us the importance of trust even in the face of fear. And taken in their greater context, they make perfect sense as to why they were spoken when they were. The Bible is true and is to be trusted, and even details like this show its unity. Therefore, we must keep our eyes on Jesus and follow where He leads.