The Light of the World
Light serves as a reference point for observable science; it provides a measuring rod for everything that we can physically observe about the Universe. According to Einstein, it remains constant in a world of relativity and is unaffected by the variables of time and space. Massive distances can be judged by the travel of light and unimaginable velocity can be measured in comparison with the speed of light. Light is foundational to creation, which comports with the biblical record.
Light came first in God’s creation (Gen 1:1-5). Before there was day and night to record the passage of time, God crafted light. The expanse, water, land, living organisms, human beings, even the sun and the moon all came after light. Thus, before there was time and space, there was light. Unwittingly, Einstein’s theory dimly reflects a biblical reality: light holds a place of preeminence in God’s world.
Given the importance of light in the created order, it is not surprising that light plays such a prominent role in the Bible’s description of God. The analogy of light is so important to our understanding of God, that 1 John 1:5 proclaims, “God is light.” It does not take a physicist of Einstein’s caliber to realize that God is not literally light; this is analogical language. Light represents something about the essential character of God, whereas, the darkness represents the core of evil. What is it specifically about light that makes it an apt illustration for the nature of God?
For one thing, the Bible uses light to represent moral purity—to be in the light is to be pure, and to be in the darkness is to be in sin. We see this use of light in Romans 13:12: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” There is an irreducible purity to light that reflects the impeccable purity of God. Darkness cannot pollute light, since darkness is the absence of light. You can’t pollute what isn’t there! Similarly, the darkness of sin cannot pollute God’s nature because the two are immiscible—so far separate that sin cannot defile God. Thus, to say that God is light is to say that there is no darkness in him, He is perfectly pure.
At the same time, the Bible also uses light as an illustration for truth—to be in the light is to be free from the darkness of error. We see this use of the analogy in places like Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Just as a lamp sheds light on physical realities, the truth illuminates spiritual realities. Apart from light, there is nothing that we could perceive about our world, and apart from truth there is nothing we could perceive about God. Conversely, just as darkness hides the world around us, error veils spiritual realities. Like a warm sunrise teeming into a cold moonless night, God’s truth breaks into the darkness enlightening our minds and warming our hearts. It provides the clarity we need to see what is good and beautiful. Thus, to say that God is light also points to the illuminating truth that comes only from his revelation.
Thus, the Bible employs light as a word picture to speak of the purity and clarity consistent with God’s nature, which is why it is not surprising that this analogy is frequently used to describe Jesus:
- “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
- “So Jesus said to them, ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them” (John 12:35-36).
- “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
- “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).
As the light of the world, Jesus reveals all that is pure about God and clarifies all that is true about God. He is the embodiment of divine light, the perfect image of God’s radiant being. Just as God spoke light into existence at the creation of the world, Jesus is the Word that brings spiritual light into a spiritually dark world. As the apostle Paul put it, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.