The Lord’s Character As Light

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” — Genesis 1:1-2 NKJV

By Alfred Bouter

Years ago, I read a story about how the Lord used a missionary to convince a high-ranking army officer of his need to turn from darkness to light just by reading Genesis 1:1-3. The missionary first read Genesis 1:1-2 and then left him alone – very abruptly. This caused the officer to reflect on what he had just heard, especially after the same thing happened again the next day. On the third day the missionary returned. He saw a change in the officer and then read to him the same passage once more, but included verse 3: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Through a work of God’s Spirit, this man had begun to see his lost condition of darkness and turned to God’s light, our Lord Jesus Christ. What about you, dear reader, have you turned to Him, confessing your sins with true repentance? Have you turned from darkness to light?

This true story illustrates God’s wisdom and power. He used the biblical account of the creation of physical light to bring spiritual light into a realm of darkness, producing life and a new birth. This is what happened to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-18), as he later wrote, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who 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).

How about us who believe? When He called and drew us to this marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), we learned how it is needed also for our daily walk: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (97:11). Furthermore, walking in the light implies having fellowship with each other as believers (1 Jn. 1:7) and with God, even though we are surrounded by the darkness of this world. David prayed therefore, “That I may walk before God in the light of the living” (Ps. 56:13).

The Arrival Of The True Light
When the Lord Jesus came to His people Israel about 500 years after their return from the Babylonian captivity, He found them living in darkness. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Mt. 4:16 ESV). After three and a half years of His public ministry, the Lord Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light … These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them” (Jn. 12:36 NKJV). Why? The true Light gave light to every man when the Messiah came into the world, but His people did not see or recognize this light (1:9-11) – except for a few who believed (v.12). The Lord, who knows the hearts (Acts 1:24), was not able to have true fellowship with the rest of the people even though they believed in the miracles He performed (Jn. 2:24-25). Believers today also belong to a remnant, just as a few believed in those days. Do you truly believe?

Most professing Christians – those who say they are Christians – are attracted to all kinds of outward things but are not really born again, for they do not believe with the heart. However, those who truly believe have become lights themselves, as the Lord Jesus told His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden … In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:14,16 esv). “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men … the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it … That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (Jn. 1:4-5,9 NKJV). Matthew, quoting from Isaiah 9:1-2, summarized this as “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Mt. 4:16 ESV).

However, they rejected it, as they rejected the Messiah despite the irrefutable, or undeniable, signs He gave showing that He was the Messiah. Many years later John wrote, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19, also read vv.20-21). Later we read that John the Baptist had functioned as a light, of whom the Lord said, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (5:35). But the Lord continued, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (9:5 NKJV). His declaration referred to His earthly ministry, whereas now He shines from heaven.

Shining Lights To Represent The Lord Jesus Christ
When Jesus sent His disciples on a mission He said, “You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). He then compared them to a city on a hill that “cannot be hidden.” In the same way, disciples today are to shine for Him to the glory of God the Father (v.16). Is this not a great privilege? For sure it is, but it comes with great responsibilities for which He provides the resources.

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness” (Jn. 12:46 ESV). Nevertheless, He was rejected while on earth, but now He is shining from heaven, as Saul of Tarsus experienced. Furthermore, the Lord in glory uses the believers on earth to shine as lights for Him. Of the many Scriptures about this topic, let’s look at a few in Ephesians.

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8 NKJV). The apostle described the tremendous blessings that the believers have received (see Eph. 1-3), and through these Scriptures he exhorted us all to walk in a manner worthy of the heavenly calling with which we have been called (4:1-6). To put his teachings into practice, we need the right attitude and spiritual maturity, as well as the willingness to hold the truth in love (v.15). God’s plan is that Christ may shine in and be reflected through all the believers who together form “the new man” (v.24) – to display Christ. Each believer has one or more gifts, but all need to grow to reflect the beauties of Christ who is now in heaven (4:7-32). If we don’t grow we will remain vulnerable just as children, tossed to and fro, carried away and deceived (v.14).

Furthermore, Paul explained that all believers individually are children of God and should walk together in love to represent God who is love (5:1-7). Therefore being light in the Lord, we must function as lights and walk as children of light (v.8), honoring the rights of Christ and of God in this world that rejects both.

Light is separated from darkness, and believers are to shine as lights in this dark world to reflect Him. This goes together with walking in wisdom (v.15) and doing His will (v.17). Love, light and wisdom are inseparable, and God wants us to represent Him as His children. What a privilege and challenge this is for us!

Help From John’s Gospel
We may study John’s gospel in several ways, but for now we just want to see some links between it and what we have already considered.

This gospel describes the Lord’s excellence in various ways, especially in the seven great “I am” statements. His preeminence also comes out in His seven discourses, as well as in the seven miracles He performed during His earthly ministry – as distinct from the great miracle of His death and resurrection and those in His post-resurrection ministry. Showing that these elements are inseparable, the gospel written by John links life in chapters 3-7 with light (Jn. 8-12) and love (Jn. 13-17). What we saw earlier about love, light and wisdom cannot be realized without life (see 1:4), which is essential, as the Lord explained to Nicodemus (3:3-5).

We became followers of the Lord Jesus when we came to Him to be saved and accept the life He offers. Taking His yoke upon us (Mt. 11:29), we became His disciples and servants, walking in His light to represent Him in the darkness of this world. We cannot do this without true love to Him and His own, which also extends towards the lost (see Romans 9:1-5 for an example in Paul).

Seven Signs And Other Sevens
Various words in John’s gospel highlight the Lord’s public ministry. The signs He worked clearly signified who He was: the promised Messiah. Jesus worked remarkable acts of power, often called miracles. He operated with special energy while drawing people’s attention through these exploits, or wonders. Of these, John selected seven (see Jn. 21:25) that occurred during Christ’s ministry before His sufferings. His light shone, His love worked, and true life was manifested. They are listed in John’s gospel as follows:

  1. Changing water into wine in Cana, Galilee (2:1-11);
  2. Healing an official’s son in Capernaum, Galilee (4:46-54);
  3. Healing a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem (5:1-18);
  4. Feeding the 5,000 near the Sea of Galilee (6:5-14);
  5. Walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee (6:16-21);
  6. Healing a blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-7); and
  7. Raising dead Lazarus in Bethany, near Jerusalem (11:1-45).

The seven “I am” statements show that the Lord Jesus Himself is Yahweh, the LORD.1 They are:

  1. “I am the Bread of life” (6:35);
  2. “I am the Light of the world” (8:12);
  3. “I am the Door for the sheep” (10:7,9);
  4. “I am the good Shepherd” (10:11,14);
  5. “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25);
  6. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (14:6); and
  7. “I am the true Vine” (15:1,5).

In addition to the seven signs and the seven “I am” statements, John recorded the discussions the Lord had and the discourses He gave. The other gospels emphasize more what He did than what He said, whereas the special focus of John is on what the Lord Jesus spoke, because He is the Word (Jn. 1:1-5,14). Therefore, we find the:

  1. Discourse on the Father and the Son (5:19-47);
  2. Discourse on the Bread of God (6:26-40);
  3. Discourse during the Feast of Booths (Jn. 7);
  4. Discourse on the Light of the world (Jn. 8);
  5. Discourse on the Good Shepherd (10:1-18);
  6. Discourse on the Grain of Wheat (Jn. 12:20-36); and
  7. The Upper-room Discourse (Jn. 14-16).

Much more could be said about the Light of the world. John’s gospel often mentions great contrasts, for we learn much through such comparisons, as in Hebrews and other Scriptures. Some examples are old against new, light against darkness, love against hatred, and life against death. All of this is in relation to our Beloved, the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us!

While this article is mainly about the Lord Jesus as light, we have seen that this point cannot be separated from who He is in His love or as the Giver and Sustainer of life. The topic of light is also important in Revelation, especially in relation to the new creation, where the adjective “new”2 is another keyword with “light.” How wonderful this will be!

1. When Judas was going to betray the Lord, Jesus identified Himself before the band of officers and soldiers who had come to arrest Him, by saying “I am” (Jn. 18:3-6). The power of God’s presence for Jesus is God caused all to go backwards and fall down before Him. Soon, every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10).
2. This word (Greek: kainos) occurs 14 (2×7) times in John’s writings (gospel, epistles, Revelation) and in total 42 (6×7) times in the New Testament.

Nothing cuts so deeply as the truth; nothing heals so thoroughly as grace. What a comfort it is that we can go to God and welcome all the searching light of His presence, all its exposure of us down to the bottom of our nature and over all the story of our sin and wretchedness. We are assured that He only probes for our own good. He does this probing so that the resources of His grace may be brought out in all their comprehensive fullness.
Light and warmth reach us from one sun in the heavens; grace and truth subsist by Jesus Christ. They shine, if we may so say, in one face – that of the One who has come from the purity of God’s heaven and is the Healer of man’s disease. His is the hand that was once pierced for our sin that now removes its guilt and defilement from us, and the heart that bled for our transgressions and now reveals to us the heart of God.

—W. H. Westcott (adapted)