The Light of the World Is Jesus
Metaphors are figurative expressions that illustrate a comparison by means of representation. One of the most prominent and multifaceted metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments is that of light contrasted with darkness. We live in an age reminiscent of the time of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “Beware, those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter” (Isa 5:20). Such reversals are intentional repudiations of all that is right about God and His ways. Into such cultural darkness, God wants to send His light. Light is a great metaphor for God’s answer to the darkness of spiritual blindness, wickedness, satanic power, and death.
The use of light in the Old Testament is the foundation for its connection to Jesus in the New. When used of God, light is an expression for the glory of His presence (Ps 27:1, 104:2; Isa 60:1, 20), the revelation of spiritual truth (Job 24:13; Prov 6:23; Dan 2:22), and the righteous standard and justice (Isa 2:4, 51:4); it is an expression for the salvation and blessings that only God can provide (Mic 7:8–9; Ps 44:3, 56:13, 89:15; Isa 9:2). Of the many blessings that could be mentioned, the light of God’s leadership is addressed most often (Job 22:28, 29:3; Ps 44:3). To reject the light of that leadership is to reject God Himself (Job 24:13, 16). Those who have responded positively to God’s light not only find salvation, instruction, and direction, but they also become His servants to take that light to the nations of the world (Isa 42:6, 49:6). These same nuances are found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of John, one of the seven I AM affirmations of Jesus is His claim to be the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5). This claim occurs within the book’s larger context, in which the term light is used just over thirty times. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus is said to be the source of life and, as such, becomes the light for all mankind (1:4). His incarnate ministry became the means by which he manifested that light, embodying in full all the attributes of deity (1:14). With Christ’s coming into the world, God’s light has penetrated the darkness of a fallen world (1:5). For Jesus to be called “the true light” speaks of both the integrity and authority of Jesus (1:9). As the divine agent of creation (1:3), Jesus has enlightened every person with sufficient light, thereby rendering everyone accountable for their response to that light.
Because Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God intends light to represent, people’s response to Jesus as the light is also a manifestation of God’s judgment (3:19). In John’s typical literary technique of general overstatement followed by specific exception, John states, “and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil” (3:19). The wicked so hate the light that they refuse to come to the light; they don’t want their works exposed (3:20). By contrast and exception, people who come to the light live in the light of truth, and God supernaturally energizes their works (3:21).
Jesus affirms all that is said to be true of God and His light in the Hebrew Scriptures. His emphatic claim in John 8:12 to be the light of the world is both a claim of equality with the Father and a promise of life to people who will follow Him in faith. This claim occurs in the midst of a conversation between competing authorities. Throughout the passage, Jesus repeatedly affirms his connections with the Father. Being sent from the Father and one with the Father, Jesus is the personal revelation of the Father in word, deed, honor, judgment, and glory. Jesus is the light of the world because of his unity and union with the Father.
Jesus warns that exposure to that light may be a temporary experience, thus creating a sense of urgency. This urgency encourages an immediate response of reception; those who believe in that light will become people of light who take the message of salvation to others (John 12:35–36). With intentionality, the final mention of light in John’s Gospel declares the very purpose for which Jesus came into the world: that people will believe in Christ and escape the darkness (12:46).
Those outside of and alienated from the light are said to be blind and lost, stumbling in their darkness. May we continue the mission of Jesus and the apostle Paul, “to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).
About the Contributors
Mark L. Bailey
Dr. Bailey assumed the role of DTS Chancellor after serving for 19 years as the Seminary’s fifth President, and continues his role as Sr. Professor in the Bible Exposition department. In addition to his years at Dallas Theological Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements all over the country and world. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, and Word of Life.