(To see "Part I: God" click here.)
The People Were Living in Darkness
All throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites continually fell away from God and had to be brought back to Him. God had told them exactly what He wanted them to do, but they always ended up not doing it. They were constantly having to offer sacrifices for their sins, and no matter how authentic was their repentance, they would always fall again. The fact was that they were clouded in darkness. Isaiah 59 describes their situation, starting in verses 9 and 10, “So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.” Proverbs 4:19 puts it more simply: “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”
Reading this, we may ask, if God is light, displaying his majesty and giving comfort, guidance, truth, and life, then why would anyone be in darkness? One reason is that people may purposely hide from the light in order to indulge in sinful behavior. Job 24:13-17 talks about people who act like this:
“There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths. When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up, kills the poor and needy, and in the night steals forth like a thief. The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. In the dark, thieves break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light. For all of them, midnight is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness…”
When we do things that we know are wrong, we try to hide from God like Adam and Eve did after eating the fruit (see Genesis 3:8). However, by behaving this way, we show how blind to the truth we really are. If we were thinking clearly, we would know that God’s light exposes all of our deeds anyway. Psalm 90:8 states, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” Likewise, Daniel 2:22 says, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”
Another reason that the Israelites were in darkness despite the existence of God’s light was that God resided apart from man. There was a lot of separation between God and His people. He revealed himself through certain, special people, but individual, regular Israelites did not have full access to Him. For example, only the high priest could enter into the Most Holy Place once a year to offer the yearly sacrifice for all of the people (see Leviticus chapter 16). Also, Moses came into the presence of God on Mount Sinai to receive His commandments, but anyone else who got too close was to be killed, even the animals (see Exodus 19:12-13).
Because of this separation, the people did not always see God’s light. They knew it was there, as we can tell from the many Old Testament scriptures that mention it. They would even sometimes try to follow God’s law, which was supposed to bring them light. However, just as the light of God’s presence faded from Moses’ face after he came down off of the mountain (see Exodus 34: 29-35), the people were incapable of remaining in the light of God’s law forever. The law would have brought life, but the people were already destined for death because of Adam and Eve’s sin (see Genesis 2:17 and 3:6). Their situation was completely desperate. Therefore, it became necessary for God to bring His light of life directly to His people and to tear down everything that had separated them. God spoke to His people through the prophet Isaiah (in Isaiah 9:1-7) to tell them what He was going to do:
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
Later in the same book, Isaiah speaks for God in chapter 42, verses 6 and 7 to tell us that he is going to rescue not only the Israelites but the Gentiles as well, “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
We know that the One God is speaking of here is his only Son, Jesus.
Jesus Brought God’s Light to the People
The gospel of John speaks much about Jesus as a light coming into the darkness. In chapter 1, verses 4-18, John says of him:
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
“(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
Later in the same book, in chapter 8 verse 12, Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” and he says the same in chapter 9 verse 5, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
We understand that the law was unsuccessful in giving the true light of life to the people, so God had to send His own Son to fulfill this purpose. But, what does this really mean in our lives? We know from verses like John 3:16 that we can have eternal life because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but what does that have to do with the light? The rest of the passage, through verse 21, gives us some insight:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
In the Old Testament one of the main things that God’s light symbolizes is the truth, and Jesus’ light in the New Testament is no different. It shows man’s actions for what they are, and it helps to guide us in the right way to live. We can take Jesus’ life as an example of what we should do, including his compassion for those in need, his defense of the truth, and his complete sacrifice for those he loved. However, because of that sacrifice, even when we inevitably do wrong we know that God has saved us from the deadly punishment that we deserve. Jesus’ light shows us this truth most of all.
Something important to understand is that all of the things we know about God’s light are true of Jesus’ light as well. Whether we are talking about God the Father or about Jesus His Son, the light still represents majesty, comfort, guidance, truth, and life, and there are probably even other aspects that we have missed. What we need to realize is that Jesus is the perfect reflection of God’s light to the world. In Hebrews 1:3 we read, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Jesus reflected God to the people so that they would know him. After declaring himself to be “the way and the truth and the life” in John 14:6, he says to his disciples in verse 7, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Earlier in John, in chapter 12, verses 44-46, we read, “Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
If we know Jesus, we should know the Father, but who exactly does Jesus show the Father to be? In 1 John chapter 4, in both verses 8 and 16, we read that “God is love.” Verses 9 and 10 say, “This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus had to come into the physical world as a human being and to die a human death in order to show God’s love for us. He did this so that we could have eternal life in heaven. However, he also did it to show us how to love others here on earth. Continuing in verses 11 and 12, we read, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” In fact, Jesus’ light is all about love. John says earlier in 1 John 2:10-11, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”
When Jesus was here on the earth, he was the perfect example of love. All throughout the gospels we read about the many miracles of healing he performed as he took compassion on the people he encountered. He showed his disciples how to love each other through service when he washed their feet in John chapter 13. Of course, his death on the cross shows us how to love through total sacrifice. In all of these things, Jesus perfectly reflected the light of God’s love to the people. However, Jesus couldn’t stay on earth forever. John 12:35-36 says:
“Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’ When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.”
After Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended to heaven, he was no longer physically here on this earth. However, the light he brought was still here. It continued to shine in the people who believed in him and who lived lives of love, and that light is still shining today.
Continue to "Part III: MAN" to read about how Christians are the light of the world.