Matthew 5:13-16 presents a bold assessment of who Christians are. You are the light of the world. Light does not become darkness, but rather overcomes and dispels it. The character of light that is most helpful, and is the true backdrop of Jesus’ words, is found in the words of scripture.
Images of Light in Scripture
“Light” has a rich heritage in the scriptures (253 times in the Bible) especially as it stands in contrast to darkness. What does light represent in the Bible?
Light represents God’s presence and activity: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gen 1:3-5).
Before God worked, there was “darkness on the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2). Light was created on the first day, as a prerequisite to all other aspects of creation (even man). Without light, life is not possible. Without God, there is only darkness.
Where God is, There is Light
“Walking in the light of His countenance” (Ps. 89). A place where there is help & blessings. – “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power” (1 Tim 6:15-16).
Light Represents Good–Darkness Represents Evil
Isaiah warned about those who would call good, evil, or light, darkness (Isa. 5:20). Paul wrote in Rom 13:12 – “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light”. “Light” and “darkness” frequently are used in Scripture as symbols of good and evil.
Light Represents God’s Word
As He revealed His will to a world of darkness, so He brought light. “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). As with the physical world, light dispels darkness whenever it is present and makes it possible for us to see. The ability to see gives us the opportunity to understand reality and react properly to it. If you can see you can make wise decisions and move from one place to another. John calls on us to “walk in the light”; Paul commands us to “Walk as children of light…finding out what is acceptable to the Lord, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-10)
Light Represents God Himself
In identical language to Matt. 5:14, Jesus said in John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” If we follow Jesus we will be walking in light, not darkness.
If you have only one flashlight, who do you give it to? The one who knows the way! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). I can stay in the light by following him. Jesus is the one with the light. I can follow Him and know I am okay. “To whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light, we see light” (Ps 36:9).
Light in a Dark World
In contrast to the beauty of God’s light, there is the presupposition in scripture of a dark world. “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know what makes them stumble” (Prov 4:18-19).
It seems best to understand darkness, not as an opposing power to light, but rather the absence of light; and thus the absence of God. If God is removed, there is nothing left but darkness. Jesus described hell itself as “outer darkness” because God is not present.
In Eph. 4 the apostle urged Christians to not walk as they used to walk before they were converted. He said their “Understanding was darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness of their hearts”. (Eph. 4:18) This world is a dark place without God’s presence.
To Reject God’s words is to remain in darkness. God is the only source of true light. Paul described his own society as ones who knew God but did not glorify Him as God. He said they were “futile in their thoughts, and their hearts were darkened” as they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Rom 1:21-25)
Jesus told his disciples in John 12:35-36 – “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” Jesus was responding to their question of disbelief concerning His identity – “Who is the Son of Man”? He was pointing out to them that they had a limited opportunity to respond to the revelation of God. If they refused to “see the light” now darkness would overtake them.
Jesus describes the rejection of the light of God’s words as a voluntary blindness. There are people who cannot see and it is not their fault, but there are also people who are spiritually blind who choose to remain that way.
The Rejection of Christ by Israel is described in this way: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.And 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. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (Jn 1:4,5; 9-12)
People reject God’s truth because they desire to practice evil, and the light exposes the nature of their deeds. “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (Jn 3:19-21)
Jesus confronted the Pharisees of His day for replacing the commandments of God with their own traditions. “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:7-9). He then went on to characterize them as blind guides leading the blind (v. 14) and both fall into the ditch. There is no light in the doctrines of men.
Paul described these same Jewish rejecters of the words of Jesus years later in Rom 10:2-4 “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
To refuse to open your eyes to the light of God’s truth causes a blindness. After Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Light of the world in John 8:12, He healed a man who was born blind (Jn 9). The Pharisees refused to acknowledge Jesus’ miracle or the truth it proclaimed. They refused to see the light and were, therefore, the truly blind ones.
After the healed blind man confessed his belief in Jesus, the Lord said, “For judgment, I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. (Jn 9:39-41)
Conclusion: How can we make sure that we are not blind to the light of God’s will? How can we help others avoid this as well? “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 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 4:1-6) There is a blindness and veiling that comes with rejection.
To confront this blindness Paul kept preaching Christ, that others might see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. We must keep looking toward Christ and His Word that we also stay in the light of God and not stray into darkness.