A metaphorical use of the word light
Jesus is not talking about physical light here, as many have sentimentally purported. Jesus is using symbolism here to communicate something that not necessarily everyone wants to understand. Why did Jesus use symbolism and parable so many times? Jesus told his close students:
"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'" (Luke 8:10)So we can see here that Jesus' intention as he used symbolism was to communicate to those who were serious about hearing his message. For those who were simply caught up with the excitement of his miracles or the large crowds, and not interested in hearing his message, they typically get snared within the language of the parable - completely missing the message being transmitted. This is the case with this verse.
Here Jesus is using the word light, translated from the Greek word φῶς (phōs) to symbolize his teachings.
This metaphoric use of the word light is confirmed in Thayer's Greek lexicon, which states that φῶς can be used metaphorically: "derived of truth and its knowledge, together with the spiritual purity associated with it."
And where are truth and knowledge coming from in the case of Jesus' life? Through his teachings. Jesus was saying this as he stood in the temple square in Jerusalem, with a large crowd surrounding him. What was he doing with this large crowd?
Jesus was teaching them about the Supreme Being.
He was speaking of the Supreme Being, glorifying Him and saying things like:
"The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25)In other words, Jesus was trying to teach those around him to focus their lives upon God, and not the trappings of the physical world. Jesus was trying to convince them to love God and serve God.
Jesus was using symbolism to illustrate the ability of his teachings to provide clarity, direction and happiness in our lives.
And because Jesus foresaw that his body was going to be murdered at the hands of the Romans and Jewish high priests, he was telling his students that soon they would no longer be able to directly hear his teachings.
So he proposes following those teachings after he has left them. This point is set up as Jesus continues the symbolism of light and darkness:
"The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going."
Walking in the dark?
Here the person who "walks in the dark" indicates someone going through life without knowing or following Jesus' teachings. Since light allows someone to see as they walk at night, Jesus is communicating that his teachings can illuminate our path in life, and allow us to see where we are going, even through the darkness of the physical world.
The physical world is compared to darkness here, and also with the statement in John 12:25 above because here in this physical world, most of us do not know who we really are, or what our purpose for existence is. This is why "who am I?" and "what is my purpose for living?" are the two most asked questions when one begins a serious search for happiness.
This is because we are falsely identifying with these temporary physical bodies. Just as a driver steps into a car and drives it, we, spiritual children of God, are driving these temporary bodies. But just imagine if we got into a Chevy Camero, and then thought "I am a Camero". This is the equivalent to identifying with our temporary physical body. This is ignorance or darkness.
Jesus, on the other hand, is offering a way out of the illusion of false identification. Getting out, however, requires trusting his teachings.
This is confirmed as Jesus says: "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." How can a person trust a light? What is there to trust in a physical light?
But when light is being used to symbolize Jesus' teachings, we can see how trusting in Jesus' teachings can provide clarity to one's life.
Contrary to sectarian teachings
Jesus never taught this teaching that sectarian teachers proclaim today: That all we have to do is accept that he died for our sins and we are saved. If this were true, why did Jesus ask us to pray to God to forgive our sins:
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." (Luke 11:4)In other words, Jesus' teachings were not intended to give us a free pass to heaven. We have to change. Jesus' is teaching us to change our consciousness, from being self-centered to being God-centered. Jesus wanted us to come to know and love the Person he knew and loved: the Supreme Being. This is clearly communicated by Jesus in his most important teaching, which, if we follow, will illuminate our lives, making each of us "sons of the light":
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement according to the Gospels of Jesus:
“For a little while longer, the light will be among you. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness will not overwhelm you. One who walks in the darkness knows not where he goes. Trust in the light while you have the light, so you may become followers of the light.” (John 12:35-36)