Jul 3, 2024

How Is Jesus the Light of the World?

4 Min Read

A few weeks ago, I was cutting wood in the small patch of forest beside our home and noticed how trees reach for the sun: in the center, trees grow taller, and at the edges, long branches strain toward life-giving power. I then remembered that Isaiah foretold the effects of Christ’s preaching:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor . . .
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Isa. 61:1, 3)

God spoke light into existence, saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light—a substance neither pure energy nor matter, still remaining a mystery to us (Gen. 1:4). God also made light-bearers: “The greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (Gen. 1:16). The greater light—the sun—is a nuclear fusion reactor of staggering dimensions and energy that bathes the earth with bewildering power. We easily forget this—busy and distracted with things of lesser glory or no glory at all—until we find ourselves groping through a dark night, or long again for the lengthening of dark winter days into springtime life and long summer glory. Light is life.

But light was also made to picture salvation. The pillar of fire was salvation for Israel, but Egypt lived in darkness (Ex. 14:20). The lampstand shone on the twelve loaves, a scene explained by the Lord’s blessing the tribes of Israel: “The Lord make His face to shine upon you” (Num. 6:24–27). The psalmist exclaimed: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Conversely, this world is darkness because of human sinfulness. Disobedience means that the natural man “shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness” (Deut. 28:29). But the path of salvation is lit by Word of God, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).

Movement from darkness to light is salvation, and so when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” He made a powerful claim of both brilliant glory and saving power (John 8:12).

In this text, Jesus asserted His deity. He is the eternal self-existent “I Am Who I Am,” the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars (Ex. 3:14). He is the originator and template of the glory of light. He is the Lord who is light—as John wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is the agent of the divine life that shines from the Father, who dwells in light and unapproachable glory. John 1:4–5 says of Jesus, “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.” These statements are only intelligible when we consider first the glory of natural light (especially the sun) and then lift our hearts to the majesty of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The brightest star—indeed all the stars—is but the smallest indicator of the eternal weight of the glory of our God.

Jesus is the only source of spiritual life in a world filled with the darkness of sin.

But Jesus was also speaking of His saving work. He is the only source of spiritual life in a world filled with the darkness of sin. Malachi anticipated the Messiah’s coming as “the sun of righteousness . . . with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). Jesus’ transfigured face shone like the sun (Matt. 17:2). Paul considered his saving vision of the glory of Jesus Christ to be brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). John saw the glory of Christ as “the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16–20). When we become Christians, it is because “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). The greater Light—the Son—uncovers our sinfulness by His blazing holiness and then shines purifying and life-giving power into the deepest recesses of our hearts. Jesus shone brightly at the cross, brighter at the empty tomb, and brighter again in exalted glory. His return will be like a single, world-illuminating lightning bolt. All of this light is offered to the world in the gospel, and it is received by simple trust in Jesus Christ.

When we trust Jesus, a permanent change takes place: “Whoever who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As Paul says, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” and we live as lights in a dark world (Eph. 5:8). By our union with Christ, where we go, His light shines. This should comfort us, especially when we find ourselves opposed by the world. This should also encourage us to pray that men might see our good works, glorify our Father in heaven, and come to the Light.

Even more, John says that Christ’s life is the light of men (John 1:4). We don’t simply come to the Light and go on our way. Rather, we reach for heaven’s glory to shine ever more upon us. We have seen a glory beyond the fiery rising sun in the face of the One who sustains it, and now our hunger is for the magnificent, unbounded glory of God. And when our little sun turns to darkness and the moon to blood, it will be the signal that we are on the cusp of life in the unmitigated glory of the triune God. Our oak leaves will turn to receive the light of life, ever streaming from the throne at the heart of a city that has no need of the sun or the moon, for the glory of God illuminates it (Rev. 21:23). The Lord will be our light, and He will reign forever and ever.

All of this is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).