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What does it mean that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4)?

in Him was life

Several elements are required to sustain life. Among the top are food, water, air, and light. In Scripture, Jesus is the source of each of these. He is the “bread of life” (John 6:48), the supplier of “living water” (John 4:10), and the One who fills every creature with the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7; John 3:8; 20:22). John’s Gospel says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4, ESV).

Jesus Christ came into the world to bring life. He is equal to God the Father, who “has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son” (John 5:26, NLT). The Greek term translated as “life” in John 1:4 is zōē. It means “life source; the inherent capacity for producing (and maintaining) living beings.” This “zoe-life” is an overarching theme in John’s Gospel. As the Creator (John 1:3) and Sustainer of all life (John 5:21; 6:40, 57; 14:6), Jesus offers physical, spiritual, and eternal life to humanity. The life source that is in Him, John reveals, has become “the light of men” (John 1: 4, ESV), “the light of all mankind” (NIV), or “light to everyone” (NLT).

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men means that the life and light of salvation now extend beyond the chosen people of Israel to the whole world. John calls Jesus the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), echoing Isaiah’s prophecy that the coming Messiah would “do more than restore the people of Israel” and become “a light to the Gentiles” and bring “salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, NLT).

Jesus left no doubt regarding this aspect of His identity. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). While restoring sight to a blind man, Jesus stated, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). And again, Jesus emphasized that He had come to save the whole world: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).

In the Bible, darkness is often a symbol of sin and its effects (John 3:19–20; Matthew 6:23; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:18). Jesus is the light that pierces all the darkness of this world with the brilliance of His truth (John 1:5). In Him “there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ “believe in the light” and become “children of light” (John 12:35–36).

As the light of men, Jesus calls believers “out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT), just as Isaiah foretold: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine” (Isaiah 9:2, NLT). Shortly after His blinding-light conversion experience, the apostle Paul testified that, according to the prophets, Israel’s Messiah would bring the message of salvation—“the message of light”—both to Jews and Gentiles (Acts 26:23; cf. Isaiah 42:6–7; 51:4; 53:11). Later Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ’” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NLT).

The message of salvation is that Jesus Christ—the “one who is life itself”—is the source of eternal life for all people (1 John 1:2, NLT). Salvation and everlasting life are found only in Him (1 John 5:11). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

As Christians, our life is Jesus (Colossians 3:4). Everything we need comes from Him, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The life that is the light of men continues to shine in this dark world through believers who “live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8–14; see also 1 John 1:7; 2:8–10; 1 Thessalonians 5:5–6). Jesus taught His followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

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What does it mean that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4)?
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This page last updated: September 14, 2023