Light is an interesting subject in the Bible, and occurs early and often. Starting in Genesis 1 on the first day of creation, we see light’s opposite of darkness in Genesis 1:2, followed by the first mention of light in Genesis 1:3:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Genesis 1:1-5 (NKJV)
This is the Hebrew word “or” (אוֹר ), and similar to English, can be used as a noun or as a verb, as “to become light, become lighted up, to give light or to cause light to shine.” Without vision, light cannot be perceived, and understand that this perception has both physical and spiritual implications. A blind man reacts the same whether he is in the darkest cave or outside on the brightest day. Interestingly, blindness does not just affect waking hours, but even dreams, as a blind man cannot see even in a dream unless born with vision and sight was lost afterward. Physically, we take sight for granted, yet we likely put more emphasis on physical sight than spiritual sight. Let’s contrast the first usage of light in the Old Testament with the first occurrence in the New Testament:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”
Matthew 4:16 (NKJV)
In the New Testament, light is the Greek word “phos” ( φω̂ς ), though we know this word has exactly the same meaning as it did in Hebrew, as this verse in Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. What is the light that both verses point to? Jesus! Let’s look a bit closer at the accompanying verses in Isaiah:
1 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles.2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.
Isaiah 9:1-2 (NKJV)
This mentions two regions of the Promised Land specifically, Zebulun and Napthali. The first thing to do is to grasp where these two regions are. Both of these regions are in the north, as we would expect, being that the prophecy in Isaiah concerns the “House of Israel.” Naphtali actually is located along the western bank of the Sea of Galilee. Going west, where Naphtali ends, Zebulon begins. To those who have been blessed by God with a trip to the Holy Land, this might make sense already. But simply by mentioning a few towns in each region, it all will become clear. The childhood home of Jesus, Nazareth, is in Zebulon, while Capernaum, a prominent town in the ministry of Jesus, is in Naphtali. How did God “lightly esteem” the land of Zebulon and Naphtali? By sending His Son to live and minister in those areas of the world! To find the best interpretation of any verse in the Bible, the best first step is always to use other verses in the Bible. Let’s look more closely at the surrounding passage in Matthew to get the context of those verses, and connect the dots:
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 15“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:12-17 (NKJV)
When we reflect upon the time of Jesus when He walked as a man on this earth, one painfully obvious observation is that those Jesus came to save did not receive Him. They could not see His Light, even in darkness. Think of the darkest cave. When someone turns on a bright flashlight, that light can be offensive when introduced into the darkness. Light exposes darkness, just as good exposes evil. Jesus was despised and rejected, yet His death and resurrection continues to bring light to a dark world today. Without the Holy Spirit drawing us to Jesus, we are limited by our physical sight, and cannot see Him with the necessary spiritual eyes. Yet the Holy Spirit removes those scales of spiritual blindness.
Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we see a beginning, just as much as Genesis offers a beginning. John’s “beginning” titles Jesus as the Word, and then offers us the gem that the Word was with God and was God. In the following verses, starting in verse 4, we see many mentions of light:
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
John 1:4-9 (NKJV)
In this short passage, we see the word “light” appear seven times, and seven is a special number in the Bible, pointing to completeness. In addition to John identifying Jesus with the title the “Word,” John also hangs this title on Jesus, the “Light.” Jesus came into the darkness of the world and illuminated everything. Even His announcement came as a great light, with the Star of Bethlehem. Yet only a handful of people were aware, even on that first night, shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks. Soon, Simon and Anna were also privy to His birth, having waited their entire lives for that moment. And additionally, the magi were also aware. Even in the prime of Jesus’ three-year ministry, there were not many followers, though the crowd did acknowledge Him as King on Palm Sunday, a week before the crucifixion. But with Jesus on the cross, only a few stood as His followers. Certainly, we still cannot judge the power of a ministry simply by the number of followers! Jesus died on the cross that day, but His light was not extinguished. His Light continues to draw people today. Without an eye, light is useless, yet the presence of a physical eye does not take precedence over the presence of a spiritual eye. How can we keenly develop that spiritual sight?
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)
We also know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Isn’t it interesting how many verses or sections of verses seem to join “word” and “light?” If we have trouble connecting Jesus with light, all we need to do is proceed to His claim, His “I AM” statement:
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
John 8:12 (NKJV)
As believers, Jesus dwells inside of us, and with His presence, we have spiritual sight. He lights our path, and sadly, we carry Jesus into some dark passages and sinful places. Yet because of Jesus, we don’t remain there. He reminds us of His presence, and our calling to shine His light upon a dark and dying world:
22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Matthew 6:22-23 (NKJV)
Let your light shine, instead of hiding it beneath a bushel basket! Jesus is the only answer!