The Witness to the Light

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

- John 1:6–9

The prologue to John’s gospel, which consists of John 1:1–18, tells us much about the person of Jesus, the incarnate Word who from the beginning was God and was with God. Yet, John’s prologue also tells us about another figure. In today’s passage, we read of John the Baptist, who “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light,” namely, Jesus Christ (vv. 6–7).

John the Baptist’s appearance in all four Gospels and his bearing witness to the identity of Jesus (Matt. 3; Mark 1:1–11; Luke 3:1–22; John 1:19–34) show us just how important John is to the story of Jesus. The Evangelists—the authors of the four Gospels—believed they could not adequately explain the person and work of Christ without mentioning the witness of John the Baptist. Indeed, John’s witness was necessary, for God sent him so “that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Before Jesus started teaching about Himself, John the Baptist provided people with the clearest understanding of who Jesus was and what He came to do. God gave him as the preeminent prophetic witness to Christ so that all might know the identity of Jesus, know His role in God’s plan, and believe in Him as Savior. And John the Baptist’s witness was not limited to the first century. Today we continue to read his words recorded in the Gospels and benefit from what they tell us about Christ.

As important as John the Baptist was and remains, however, he was only a witness. John himself was not the light of salvation (v. 8). His witness points beyond himself to the greater reality to which he testifies. John directs us to the Word, to Jesus, who is “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (v. 9). This is an interesting phrase because it indicates that Jesus is the source not only of the light of spiritual truth but of the light of all truth. Clearly, this text tells us that all people receive some light and yet not all people receive and rest in Christ for salvation. Thus, the reference must be to Christ’s granting truth beyond the truth of salvation. This is how the earliest Christian thinkers understood this text, as pointing to Jesus as the ultimate source of all truth and knowledge. John Calvin echoes this in his comments on today’s passage: “Men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.”

Coram Deo

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John: “All light finds its origin in Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of all truth.” Whenever people use reason and come to the knowledge of the truth, they are benefiting from Christ’s enlightening work even if they do not realize it. Because Christ is the ultimate source of the light of reason, we can reason with others about our faith, knowing that Jesus may grant them knowledge of saving truth.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 19
Proverbs 29:13
Romans 1:18–32
1 Corinthians 1:30

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.