Life and Light (John 1:4b–5)

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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, ESV

In the last article, I began to explain the thematic words in John, starting with life; in this article, we will continue to look at life and its close companion: light.

Life and light are closely associated. “the life was the light of men.” The light is one with life. You can distinguish between them but never separate them. They’re one inside of God almighty. He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, giving light and life to every man and the world (Matthew 5:45). Jesus reinforces this connection between life and light in John 8:12 when He says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The connection is also found in the Old Testament in Psalm 36:9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

In the gospel of John, Life and light go hand in hand as attributes of Jesus and as gifts that believers receive. Jesus is life (John 1:4; 11:25; 14:6), and He is the light (John 1:4–5, 9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5). Believers have eternal life (John 3:15; 5:24; 6:47; 10:28), they get a spring of eternal life and living water inside them (John 4:13–14; 7:38), they have the light of life (John 8:12), and they become sons of light (John 12:35).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4–5 is a masterpiece of planned ambiguity. The first time someone reads these words, they remind them of creation, especially if they’re a Jew or someone who has read the Old Testament before because then these words remind them of Genesis 1, where God created the world. Both books begin with “In the beginning,” and both speak about light and darkness. In Genesis 1:2–4 where: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” Compare this to John 1:4–5, where: “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.” This language echoes the creation account (Even more so when you consider that the Spirit is often associated with life (Genesis 2:7; John 6:63), which links the Spirit in Genesis 1:2 with life in John 1:4).

When God decreed it, the light had to shine, and the darkness had to vanish. Because light and dark are not opposing forces—darkness just being the absence of light—light always triumphs over darkness when it appears. If you turn on the light in a room, it immediately becomes bright. The darkness cannot fight the light to prevent it from becoming bright. The light always wins.

The second time someone reads these words, they wouldn’t only see a parallel to the creation account, but also the prelude to the light/darkness duality which continues throughout the gospel. In John (and Scripture in general), light and darkness are contrasting themes. Intellectually, light refers to truth and spiritual sight; darkness to error and spiritual blindness (John 8:12; 11:9–10; 12:35–36, 46; Psalm 119:105). Morally, light refers to holiness and purity; darkness to sin and evil (John 3:19–21; 1 John 1:5–6; 2:8–11). So when they read “the darkness has not overcome it” for the second time, they see Jesus’s ultimate victory over sin, evil, and spiritual blindness.

So which is it? Is John speaking about Jesus Christ as the life and light of creation, or as the eternal life and the light of salvation that those who believe in His name receive? I believe both. Because John is a masterful writer able to express phenomenal truth with remarkable brevity, he probably did so here. Jesus is the source of physical life and the light that illuminates all the dark corners of the world. And He is the source of eternal life and the light that illuminates all the dark crevices of fallen man’s mind and regenerates their corrupted heart, healing their spiritual blindness and opening their eyes to God (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:21, 24; Ephesians 2:1; Hebrews 8:10–11).

Everything that is good

Life and light are almost universal religious symbols recognized as sacred by men throughout the world. They’re associated with everything good. Light is truth, holiness, law, purity, and goodness; Life is fertility, vigor, happiness, and growth. When John applies these attributes to the Word Jesus Christ, he recognizes the excellencies of Jesus. Later, Jesus claims these attributes for Himself. He is light of men and the world (John 1:4–5, 9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5) and the life (John 1:4; 11:25; 14:6). He is the embodiment of all of these qualities and more.

Jesus is the source of all that is good in the world. Without Him, everything would be like it was before the great flood when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). We would all be walking around in a world of darkness polluted by evil, everyone breathing in the black smog of their own sin, celebrating each other’s debauchery in a morbid wasteland worse than Sodom and Gomorra, an abyss where the motto is “What happens in the darkness, stays in the darkness.”

Fortunately, because of His abundant grace, Jesus Christ, the light of eternity, has come down into our world (John 3:16) so that we don’t have to live in darkness. There is no other fountain of life that we can turn to, no other faucet that God’s divine grace flows through into this world, only Christ (John 14:6). He is the pure and perfect light with no variation or shifting shadows, the brilliant sun in the heavens above shining down upon the fallen world, inviting everyone to come out of their dark and murky cavern and experience true life in him, the glorious savior that no man deserves.

Every sin you have ever committed, every misdeed you ever performed, all of it was carried by Jesus Christ on the cross. The light of eternity took upon Himself the darkness of your sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and was crucified on your behalf, suffering through the punishment that you deserve (Isaiah 53:4–6). Just come out of your cavern. Come out into the light, into the arms of the eternal savior, Jesus Christ, and experience eternal life. He is the perfect savior.

To God alone be the glory. Grace and peace to you. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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