Light of the World
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
If you will live, you need the light. Genesis 1:3 reports that this was God’s first act of creation, when He said, “Let there be light.” Without this first gift, all of life would languish in darkness.
We see this elementary truth everywhere in God’s creation. Just think of how plants need light. Someone gives you a new houseplant, and you do your best to keep it alive. You water it, give it plant food—you even talk to it—but you put it into a dark corner of your house, where it soon begins to look sickly and then to wilt and turn yellow. It needs light.
Because light is so fundamental to life, Scripture speaks of how God is light. We love the words of Psalm 27:1,
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
When everything around you is dark, God still shines. The LORD is surrounded by never-failing light and He shares this light with us.
This is how John speaks about Jesus in his Gospel. John 1 is about the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). Coming into this world as the Saviour, Jesus was “the light of men.” He brought his all-powerful light so that through him, we see who we are as sinners: rebellious, hopeless without God, and bound for everlasting darkness. What is more, Christ shows the truth about God’s justice and mercy, and how we can again be accepted by God.
For centuries, God’s people had waited for the dawn of this redemption. Long ago Isaiah heralded the coming Christ by saying that He would be a beacon of hope for the nations, a light to all people: “I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). And in the fullness of time, Christ came to shine God’s favour. He announces in John 8:12,
I am the light of the world.
When He says this, Jesus has been teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast commemorated Israel’s journey through the wilderness. John tells us in 7:37 that it was the last and greatest day of the feast.
On that final day, Jewish tradition said that something special would happen at the temple. According to custom, on that evening there was a special ceremony of candle-lighting. In one of the courts of the temple, large candlesticks would be lit and burn throughout the night. Because the sun had gone down and there was no other lighting, these candles illumined the temple courts and were visible from some distance. God’s light was shining!
Like the rest of the Feast of Tabernacles, lighting these candles was a memorial to Israel’s journey. It pointed to how God had lit their way through the desert with a pillar of fire. By his shining light, God had faithfully led and guided his people.
Now Jesus is speaking on the last day of the feast, or perhaps now that the feast has ended. With everyone thinking about those beautifully glowing candles, He declares that He is the light! He is the radiance of God, ever-present with his people. The candles at the temple have gone out for another year, but Jesus’s marvelous light always shines. He will lead his people out of their darkness.
And this is so necessary, for where the light is, darkness is never far away. When those candles in the temple finally burned out, darkness fell. It is the same for our life in Christ. If Jesus is the light of the world, then you’ll have the light for as long as you are near to him. But if you forget Christ, or if you’re mostly indifferent to him, or if you go ahead without the benefit of his grace and wisdom, then you’re walking in the darkness. It’s the darkness of sin, futility, and confusion.
As Jesus says: “Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). When the true light is shining, we can see the way—without the light of Christ, we’ll trip and stumble.
But the Light of the World calls us out of darkness. In Romans 13, He says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light” (v. 12). Come to the light, and know that your life will never thrive if you stay in the dark. Think of that houseplant in the dark corner of your home—in the darkness, we’ll shrivel and die.
So don’t live far from Christ, in a place where his light can’t reach you. Don’t turn off the shining lamp God’s Word, but let it light your path every day. Let the light of Christ permeate every corner of your life. Let your every thought and word and action be transformed by the radiance of God in Christ.
For the same Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world,” said this in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” If Christ is the light, then we are light.
Like a light shining in a dark room, our good deeds stand out in this world. Be sure that people listen to our words, see our deeds, and notice what we treasure—and in all these things, they should see our reflection of the glory of Christ.
If Christ has given us his light, may we ever shine!
[The Seven “I Am” sayings in John - Part 2]