What Does It Mean to Know Jesus as the Light of the World?

One of the great dangers of being an adult is feigned competence. After having lived several decades, we slip into thinking that we have the wisdom and strength needed to manage our lives. Without being fully aware of what is going on, the attitude of dependence evaporates and we are left in a hardened state of self-reliance.

One of the ways we can avoid this threat is by meditating on Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world”. Like a lot of Jesus’ statements, these words have unfathomable depth. We need to avoid the mistake of thinking that, because we may have heard these words countless times before, the meaning of the words has somehow been exhausted. A lot of Biblical truths are like a coat of paint that needs to be reapplied to the heart regularly. Knowing about a truth and living a truth are not the same, and, as many an old Christian will attest, often it is the most simple of truths to understand which are the most difficult ones to put into practice.

To understand Jesus’ words, we need to pause and reflect on the human relationship with ordinary, natural light. Let me quickly make five observations about the way light affects our daily existence. First, light is something outside of us. If we close our eyes, we do not discover there to be an “inner light” that enables sight. Rather, to shut our eyes is to be in darkness. Second, light illuminates the world around us. Although, at times, light can result in a mirage, in most cases what we see around us is real and true. Because of light, we can see objects that – though always present – were invisible in the darkness. Third, light enables safe movement. Anyone who has tried to take a walk in the pitch dark has felt the hazard of not being able to see obstacles. It is only when we have a clear path in front of us, that we can move freely. Fourth, light overcomes darkness. Darkness is nothing in and of itself. There are no bodies that emit darkness. Light, on the other hand, is a genuine thing. To turn on a light is to dissipate darkness. Finally, light unveils beauty. Claude Monet, the famous painter, once said, “Light is the most important person in painting”. In saying this, he was drawing attention to the marvellous way in which light graces other objects with a beauty and glory that could not be relished otherwise.

Now, the question we need to ask is this: how do all of these observations about light help us to understand what Jesus means when he says, “I am the light of the world”?

First, Jesus wants us to know that revelation (the ability to perceive truth) depends upon an external source of authority. Just as the eyes need light to see, we need the grace available to us through Jesus to understand the most important spiritual truths. When it comes to questions about the identity of God, the meaning of grace, the source of eternal life, or the essence of eternal life, such things are only made knowable to us in and through Jesus. Without Jesus, all of us are spiritually blind.

Second, the light of Jesus illumines things that are real, not imagined. Often in a secular world the term “spiritual” is another way of saying “not-fully-real”.  We need to avoid this clever deceit. Just as light enables genuine objects to be seen, Jesus enables genuine truths to be known. God, eternal life, forgiveness, adoption, the indwelling of the Spirit – these are not just comforting ideas for unstable souls. These are truths as solid at mountains, trees, and boulders – the very truths upon which the universe itself is built.

Third, the light of Jesus enables us to navigate safely through a dangerous world. Jesus himself makes this clear. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:13). To have Jesus in your life is like having a cloud of fire to guide you through the wilderness. He makes clear a path of righteousness for us to follow that leads ultimately to the heavenly fields and golden streets of eternal life. 

Fourth, the light of Jesus overcomes all darkness. At the cross, the world, the devil, and the flesh are conquered. From then on, a light shines in the darkness which will one day result in a new creation that has no need of sun or moon because “the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).

And finally, the light of Jesus puts the beauty of God on display for the children of grace to worship and adore. The marvel of Jesus is that, in his face, we see nothing less than the perfect form of God the Father. Isaac Watts captures the unbelievable privilege of beholding God in Christ in the following words: 

Go, worship at Immanuel’s Feet,

See in his Face what wonders meet,

Earth is too narrow to express

His Worth, his Glory, or his Grace.

Nor Earth, nor Seas, nor Sun, nor Stars,

Nor Heav’n his full Resemblance bears;

His Beauties we can never trace,

Till we behold him Face to Face.