Bible Answer

Why does Jesus say “12 hours” of Daylight?

What is the significance of the "daylight" mentioned in John chapter 11? Why does John refer to daylight as 12 hours?

In John 11, Jesus says:

John 11:7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “ Let us go to Judea again.”
John 11:8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking  to stone You, and are You going there again?”
John 11:9 Jesus answered, “ 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.
John 11:10 “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
John 11:11 This He said, and after that He  said to them, “Our  friend Lazarus  has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”

We need to note the details of this parable carefully to understand Jesus' teaching. First, He makes a comparison between someone walking in the day by the light of the sun. That person will walk confidently because his path is illuminated by the sun. The man's walking ability hasn't improved, but because he has the benefit of the sun's light, he can walk without fear.

On the other hand, if that man walks at night without the presence of the sun, then he does have reason to worry. The path will be dark, and he will likely stumble and harm himself. Notice Jesus says that the man doesn't have the light inside himself. He can't produce light by himself. He depends on the light of the sun to make his walk successful. If he proceeds without the sun, he risks harm.

Now let's apply that parable to the situation of Lazarus and the disciples' concern about Jesus going to Jerusalem. The disciples say they are worried for Jesus. They say if He goes to Jerusalem, He may be killed, but Jesus knows their hearts. Jesus knows they are worried for themselves as much as they are for Him. They are His disciples, and therefore they risk persecution as well. So, they try to convince Jesus not to go.

Jesus tells the parable to explain why they have nothing to fear. If they go to Jerusalem with Jesus (Who is pictured by the sun), then they will have nothing to fear. Like the sun protects us from stumbling, Jesus will protect them from stumbling. If they were to go without Him (i.e., to walk in the dark), then they would have reason to fear the consequences.

Jesus' mention of "12 hours" of light refers to the limited time Jesus will accompany these men in the flesh. After a time, Jesus knew He would leave the earth and then the daylight will come to an end and a night will fall upon the earth. We can see this same principle reflected in another part of the Gospels:

John 9:4 “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.
John 9:5 “While I am in the world, I am  the Light of the world.”
Matt. 9:14  Then the disciples of John  came to Him, asking, “Why do we and  the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”
Matt. 9:15 And Jesus said to them, “The  attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

Jesus compares His time on the earth to "day" and the time following His death and resurrection to "night," when the world will wait for the return of the Light of the world. So as long as Jesus was in the world, He was the Light of the world, and while we await His return, the world remains in a period of spiritual darkness. Though the Gospel is being proclaimed and the light of God's grace is shining in hearts of believers, nevertheless the world persists in a state of spiritual darkness awaiting Jesus' return.

So Jesus uses the daylight (or daytime) as a picture of His physical presence in the world, and His notes that there are only "12 hours" of daylight to emphasize that His presence on earth was to be for a limited time. Just as the daytime only last so long (12 hours) and then night comes, so was Jesus' time on Earth. He was present for a time, and then He left for a time.

For the time Jesus was on earth (i.e., while it was "day"), then the disciples would benefit from His protection over them. They could walk with Him and enjoy Him and not fear. But when Jesus' time on earth was gone, then His disciples would mourn and darkness would come and they must be careful (see Luke 22:35-37).

So in summary, Jesus was telling the disciples that as long as Jesus was with them, they were to walk in His light, following Him without fear, knowing He was leading them in security while He did the work of the Father. Only after Jesus left the earth would they have reason to fear.