What does it mean for Jesus to be light?


The word “light” is such an important word in the gospel of John. It traces a very central theme throughout this gospel. John states multiple times that Jesus is the light of the world. Let’s look into this word a little closer to get a better idea of what John meant.

Creation and Light

In continuing with his connexion to the creation account in chapter 1, John links Jesus with the God of creation even further by describing him as “The Light of the World.” Remember Genesis?

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen 1:1-5)

It is almost as if John is describing a second creation account; a re-creation. Just like the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep at the time that God created the world, the world was once again full of darkness in need of light at the time that the Word became flesh.

In John’s theology, this world is void and covered in darkness and has no hope unless Jesus, the light of the world, comes and brings light to men, and exposes the works of men, and lights the way so that those who believe in the light may become sons of light and see where they are walking so that they don’t stumble.

But where is John drawing this theme from? As we saw earlier, he wants his readers to see a clear connection between God’s creative power and Jesus himself. But the idea of light continues to run through the Old Testament making John’s allusion to light even deeper.

The Deity of Christ

Another important idea that John wants his readers to see is that Jesus is God. He communicates this by calling Jesus, “the light of the world.” In the Psalms, God is linked over and over with light (cf. Ps 27:1; 104:2; 44:3; 4:6; 139:11-12). John, in more than one way, very unapologetically, states that Jesus is God. The proclamation that Jesus is the light of the world should immediately link Jesus with Yahweh in the mind of every Jewish (cf. 1 Jn 1:5-7).

Light Life, and Salvation

For John, light and life are deeply connected. In fact, in the preface of his gospel he states, “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” (1:4-5) and life, of course is deeply connected with salvation. These themes, once again are coming from the Old Testament. In Psalm 36, a Psalm that speaks about God’s love and salvation, David sings,

“How precious is your steadfast love, o God!…

For with you is the fountain of life;

In your light do we see light (vv. 5, 9).

In John’s gospel, to believe in the light and to walk in the light is equal to having life; and to have life is to have salvation. There is only salvation in the light of the world. Apart from him, there is only darkness, night, emptiness, damnation.

Light, sanctification, and eschatology

For John, and for Jesus, of course, light also has a lot to do with the way people live. Light exposes the works of people (cf. Jn 3:19-21). Those who do evil works hate light because the light exposes their behavior. But those who do what is true come to the light so that it is obvious that their works are being carried out in God.

If we want to live a life of holiness, the key is to walk in the light. The key is to let Jesus, the light, shine on us and reveal to us what is evil so that he can deal with it. He shines on our path, in him we live as in the day getting rid of the passions of the flesh. When we follow him, we do not stumble because we are able to see the way.

Jesus tells his disciples that they have to walk in the light. But he also tells them that he will eventually leave the world. So they need to take advantage of his presence and walk while they have the light. When he leaves, it will be night.

He, however, gives them a solution; “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (cf. Jn 12:35-36). Jesus is gone. It is night, the night is advanced, Jesus is coming and the day is at hand once again. But in the meantime, our hope is to believe in the light so that we can be children of light. Our hope is to put on the armor of light; to put on Jesus himself (cf. Rom 13:11-14).

“When [Jesus, the] light comes, it not only makes sin plain as foreign and ugly to what God has made, but it also enables us to see everything good in its true light. Without the light of Jesus, you don’t see anything the way you should see it” (John Piper).

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