Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal have done the Christian world a good turn by writing a layman-friendly book about the festivals observed by Jewish people, both biblical and extra-biblical. The descriptions and most of the ideas below are based (either directly or indirectly) on their book, The Feasts of the Lord unless otherwise noted.
Imagine a small city on a hill, lit by the soft light of a full moon on a clear autumn night. At the top of its highest point is a temple, whose large court is illuminated by four huge lampstands so tall it takes ladders to refill them with the pitchers of oil consumed by their brightly-glowing lamps. On the east side rise 15 semicircular steps. An army of priests gathers at the top of the steps, armed with lamps or torches. They sing Psalm 120, accompanied by every conceivable stringed, blown or percussive musical instrument. When the psalm is finished, they step down one step and sing Psalm 121. So it goes until they have finished all 15 of the Psalms of Degrees (120-134). It looks like the shekinah glory of God flowing down from the Temple proper into the courtyard to mix with the people of God.
The celebration is lively. There’s dancing in the streets and in the Temple courtyard. Jerusalem’s Temple Mount shines out into the countryside as a beacon of hope and joy every night of the eight days of the Feast. Wow. What a party!
It is in the context of this kind of celebration that John writes these words spoken by Jesus, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). This seems to have been on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when he first frees the woman condemned for adultery, then heals a blind man (something just “not done” on a weekly or annual sabbath). Again, the healing of sight ends up being a function of Jesus illuminating role in the world. The contrast between Jesus’ freedom-bringing light and the dark hearts of the religious leaders is stunning in the context of Jerusalem’s festival celebrations focusing on light.
There are echoes of 1 Ki. 8 (Solomon’s Temple inauguration), Ezek. 10:18 and chapters 43 and 44 in the ceremony. There are also echoes of Is. 24:23-24 and Is. 42:6, where the Messiah is hailed as a “light to the gentiles” in Jesus’ words on that action-packed day of the Feast.
Jesus is telling them in no uncertain terms that He is, in fact, the very God who filled the Tabernacle with glory in the days of Moses and the Temple with His glory in the days of Solomon. The blind simply do not see Jesus for what and who He is – and they don’t want others to see either. Those of us who see Jesus’ light do want others to see what we see in Him.