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The Light of the World

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." But what does "light of the world" really mean? Dr. Sproul looks at how Jesus is this light, and explains the sense in which we all benefit from it, though there are only a few who acknowledge and come to the light.

From the series: Knowing Christ: The I AM Sayings of Jesus

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Light of the World

  2. article

    The Light of Glory

  3. article

    The Lord of Light and Love

The Light of the World

Many opinions about the person of Christ circulated during His public ministry. Some thought He was the great eschatological (end-times) prophet (John 7:40), while others thought He was indeed the Messiah (7:41). These opinions almost caused Jesus to be arrested because of the chaos they caused (7:41-43). But “no one laid hands on Him” because “His hour had not yet come” (7:30, 44). The second “I AM” saying of Jesus follows these events. Face-to-face with an adulteress and Pharisees, He declares, “I am the light of the world” (8:12).

Light and darkness are important motifs found throughout Scripture. Light is often used to describe God and his glory. In his epistles, John tells us that “… God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Jesus, by calling Himself the light of the world, is once again making reference to His deity. Lest there should be any doubt about His claim, there are two other places in the gospels where it is clear that Jesus shares the exact same light as God the Father. The first of these is found at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1–13) where Jesus radiates the refulgent glory of God from within. That Jesus shares the same light with His Father is also made clear in John 1. We are told that the Word is God (1:1) and that this Word who became incarnate in Christ Jesus is the Light shining in the darkness (1:4).

Jesus’ reference to darkness in 8:12 is notable because the Bible often uses darkness as a metaphor for spiritual blindness (Ps. 107:10; John 3:19). Such blindness cannot subdue the glory of God in Jesus Christ because the darkness will never overcome the light (John 1:5).

Though the darkness of sin will not finally obscure Christ’s glory, some men just will not see who Christ is. In John 8:13–20, the Pharisees rejected Christ’s testimony about Himself because they said it lacked the second witness required by the law in order to verify its truth. Jesus answered them saying that even if His witness were alone, it would be sufficient because He knows where He came from and where He is going. Jesus came to fulfill the law, and He told the Pharisees that there really are two witnesses, the Father and the Son. The Pharisees, however, missed this because they were concerned only with the details of the law and not the Person to whom the details of the law pointed.

The Light of Glory

Burk Parsons

Humanistic historians and secular sociologists are eager to assign their carefully crafted, far-reaching labels to just about anything. Centuries-long periods of history and entire generations of people have been adorned with meaningless titles and simplistic definitions. From the so called “baby-boom generation” to the “me generation” and “generation x,” our society has determined that bestowing a general category upon an entire population based on age is appropriate. Similarly, entire periods of history are known for the type of metal prominently used during that particular period, for instance, the “Bronze Age.” We have “golden” ages and ages of “enlightenment,” the “Age of Reason” and the infamous “Dark Ages.”

Although modern historians have generally done away with using the term “Dark Ages” (AD 476–1000), it is still a label that is stuck in the minds of most of us when we think of the early Middle Ages. We too often forget, however, that the dark ages did not begin in the fifth century in Europe, nor did they end at the turn of the first millennium AD. The dark ages began long ago in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against the Lord and fell into a corrupt state. And while no respectable historian would ever assign the title “Dark Ages” to the larger part of the history of civilization, since the fall, man has witnessed a dark age.

Nevertheless, ever since the fall, the Lord has shed the light of His gospel upon the world. In Genesis 3:15, we hear the words of the first gospel spoken to our great ancestors, and throughout history we see how God has brought His light to His people in their darkest hours. In the Old Testament, we read the christological prophecy of Isaiah in which he heralds the coming Light of the World: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (9:2). In the New Testament, we witness the fulfillment of that proclamation: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Although the history of sixth-century civilization is much darker than secularists can comprehend, there is a glorious light that shines in the darkness. In the sixth century as well as in the twenty-first century, the Lord enables His light to shine through us so that we might live coram Deo in a dark world.

The Lord of Light and Love

Chris Donato

What is God? One of the most common answers today is, “God is love,” evoking images of a grandfatherly, cuddly type. The problem here is not the phrase itself but the meaning we attach to the word love. According to at least one apostle, “love” cannot be understood apart from “light,” and given our culture’s warped view of love, this comes as a healthy corrective.

Every Christian knows that the character of God has implications for everyday life. That is to say, whoever God is and however God acts is for us the perfect picture of what we are supposed to be. It is no wonder, then, that a good many believers practice a spineless “tolerance” simply because love, to them, is equivalent to uncritical acceptance. Thus, God is love, or, put differently, God is He who uncritically accepts everyone and everything they believe.

The apostle John, however, had a different understanding of what it means to say, “God is love.” We can get at what he meant by that by looking at what he wrote about God four chapters before the love passage (1 John 4:7ff.).

“This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5). This one verse sets up the central message of the entire epistle: God’s character demands that we live a certain way. If we want to develop our Christian character, then it would behoove us to look at this “God is light” a little closer.

While “light” is deeply rooted in the Old Testament (which we shall visit shortly), Saint John is writing to claim back, as it were, the pagan slogan that “god is light.”

The Roman pantheon has many examples of this slogan. Sol, the son of Jupiter and Latona, was the sun-god, while his twin, Diana, was the goddess of the moon. Both were hailed as gods of light. Not least, the emperor of Rome himself was deemed a god and worshiped as the presence of divine light on earth. Gnostics (early Christian heretics who denied the goodness of creation) got in on the fun too, constantly referring to the human soul as light, that it came from light, and that it must return to the light. All of these mistook the created — the light — for God, and so they worshiped it instead of Him. The apostle, however, asserted that the Person, God, is light, and he knew full well the challenge couched in that simple phrase, “[The God of Israel] is light.”

Even though many ancient religions long before Rome worshiped gods of light, the people of Israel had their own, distinct tradition with respect to the God who is light. At its core, Saint John’s thinking (in 1:5) is latent with Old Testament symbolism. Light was a common symbol for Jehovah, chosen by God Himself. On various occasions, God revealed Himself in fire and light. His clothes were light and glory (Ps. 104:2; see also Hab. 3:3–4 and 1 Tim. 6:16). Also, God is light in two ways: in revelation (Ps. 27:1; 36:9; Isa. 49:6) and in holiness. The light is transcendent glory; thus its antithesis, darkness, is sin and impurity (see Isa. 5:20). Light symbolizes the absolute perfection of God, as well as the revealed truth of God (Prov. 6:23; Ps. 119:30). Darkness, therefore, is the absence of revelation.

Lightness and dark- ness were frequently associated with good and evil in ancient times. During the inter-testamental period, a Jewish sect by the Dead Sea exhorted its members to love all the sons of light and hate all the sons of darkness. More importantly for us, however, are the writings of Saint Paul in this regard (Rom. 13:11–13; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:8–14; 1 Thess. 5:4–8). One gets the impression that the Apostle to the Gentiles understood this imagery well. Notice, too, that in 1 John 1:5 the writer quickly adds for emphasis after the statement “God is light” that “in him there is no darkness.” In other words, God is revelation, salvation, and holiness, and in Him there is no befuddlement, cloudiness, impurity, or abandonment. The point is that living in the darkness is incompatible with claiming to be in fellowship with the God of light (1:6). As was typical, we see that lightness and darkness are given an ethical emphasis, which leads us to see that the apostle is unpacking a moral test that he expects every one of his readers to pass.

This test, this message, is not to be taken as the whole doctrine of salvation (as if our works saved us). Rather, the apostle John simply argues that if we desire to partake in the blessings of Christ and be in union with God, it is required of us to be conformed to God in a life of holiness. John Calvin quotes from the letter to Titus (2:11–12) at this point in his commentary on 1 John: “Appeared has the saving grace of God to all, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live soberly and righteously and holy in this world.” We need to understand that Saint John is saying the same thing as Saint Paul, just in metaphor: walk in the light, because God is light.

Learning about God, then, is to learn how to live. So if we are to love, because God is love, then we must first understand that He is a blazing glory. Far from being a huggable old fellow, our Lord is a glaring light, devouring flame, burning bush, pillar of fire.

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