It is helpful, to fully appreciate this metaphor, to understand the timing of Jesus’ words. The Feast of the Tabernacles had just occurred (John 7:2, 14, 37 cf. 8:2). Zondervan’s Pictorial Dictionary describes this feast saying, “It… historically commemorated the wanderings in the wilderness. During this feast people lived in booths and tents in Jerusalem to remind themselves of how their forefathers wandered in the wilderness, and lived in booths” (p. 280). The description is accurate (see Leviticus 23:33-44; Nehemiah 8:13-18). This feast had to do with remembering the journey to the Promised Land. Remember, they were guided to the Promised Land by a “pillar of cloud” in the day, and a “pillar of fire” in the night (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 14:14; Nehemiah 9:12, 14; Psalm 78:14; Psalm 105:39). The commentator Hendriksen indicates that during this feast, “There was the illumination of the inner court of the temple, where the light of the grand candelabra reminded one of the pillar of fire by night, which served as a guide through the desert (Numbers 14:14)” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. This is quoted by Dub McClish in the Eighteenth Annual Denton Lectureship book, p. 372).
There was another Jewish custom of which you should be made aware. The Jews added a custom following the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles. They lit lamps and placed them where the sacred books were ordinarily kept in allusion to passages like: (1) Proverbs 6:23, “The commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life”, and (2) Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (This custom is explained by Adam Clark Vol., 5, p. 577). They evidently understood that God’s Word was to guide the feet through life and into that ultimate Promised Land.
Back to Jesus’ words: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). His words are bold. He is declaring that he is our guide to the Promised Land. He is the Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13) lighting the way to the Promised Land.
Let us soberly ask the question: “Are we humbly following his lead?” He promised, “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Another point to consider is this: “Are we a light that others can follow to the Promised Land?” Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV). Can we say such to others in good confidence, and with a clear conscience? Jesus wanted us to be a light for others in this world of spiritual darkness. He said, “You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Paul urged brethren, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights, holding fast (forth KJV) the word of life…” (Philippians 2:14-16). The world needs to see: (1) The light of Christ (John 8:12); (2) The light of the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Corinthians 4:4); (3) The light from our lives in both word and deed (Philippians 2:14-16; Matthew 5:14-16). Ponder the words of Tillit S. Teddlie’s song, “Into our hands the Gospel is given, Into our hands is given the light; Haste let us carry God’s precious message, Guiding the erring back to the right.”