Have you ever tried to get somewhere while in the pitch-black dark? When you can’t even see a hand in front of your face, the darkness isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s frightening. In those moments, we crave rescue by the light. A simple flashlight makes the darkest places better.
Our need for light is a deep spiritual metaphor used in the pages of Scripture. Light shines in the first few sentences of the Bible as God’s good creation (Genesis 1:3–4). Instead of the celestial sources of light being gods who need to be appeased (like the Egyptian god “Re” or the Semitic god “Shamash”), light is created by Yahweh the God who is above every power on heaven and earth. Yahweh is the source of light as the creator of all things.
But the light of God’s presence didn’t stay with humanity. Seeking to define good and evil on their own terms, Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, and their descendants continued to live out the resulting darkness (Genesis 6:5). Eventually God’s people ended up in the darkness of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:23). And how does Yahweh lead his people out of this bondage? Israel is led by a pillar of illuminating fire by night (Exodus 13:21). That light God provided continually stood as a reminder of his rescue through the never-extinguished lamps of the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:2).
Light is connected to something else in Jewish Scripture, too. God’s word is called a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). In Proverbs, a similar statement appears: “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). Much like in Genesis 1–2, God’s word is connected to light; it functions to reveal exactly what we need.
In these ways, light is understood from the Bible as a good and needed gift that comes from God in order to rescue people who are in their own created darkness.
That foundation adds to the impact of the words of John 1:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5).
Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12), comes to a dark world and brings light. Since light reveals and guides, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s light (1 John 1:5). Truly, in his light, “do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). By following Jesus, believers have all the light we need to “shine before others” so that the world can see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). And as people who were once blind, Christians are entrusted with a mission of light to lead others who can’t see to Jesus (Romans 2:19). That’s our calling until Jesus comes again and fully restores the world into a place where we won’t need the sun—that “city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:2–24).
In this life, we’ve only experienced tastes of God’s light. But in the new heavens and new earth, God will forever be our light, unhidden from our eyes (Revelation 22:5). Until then, “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5).