Chapter 9 of John’s gospel belongs to a much longer passage that begins in chapter 7. This entire section takes place in and around the temple during the Feast of the Tabernacles, one of the three annual festivals which Jews from throughout the world were supposed to attend. John’s readers, who would have been familiar with the temple rituals associated with the pilgrim festivals, would have seen some things in John’s story that we most likely will miss.
First, during the Feast of Tabernacles water was drawn from the pool of Siloam. The water, according to some sources, was mixed with wine and poured out at the altar to sanctify the temple and to recall the water God provided in the desert during the Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
So John tells us that Jesus stood up at the end of the festival and announced,
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (7:37)
Jesus is the true living water, more central to the life of God’s people than the water drawn from Siloam’s spring, more central even than the water Moses provided in the desert.
Second, a number of giant lamp stands illuminated in the temple during the festival. It was said that they were so powerful that they lit up the entire city of Jerusalem at night.
So John also reports that Jesus proclaimed,
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (8:12)
Jesus is the light of the world, much more so than the lamp stands that illuminated the whole city during the feast.