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What does it mean that the light shines in the darkness (John 1:5)?

the light shines in the darkness

The opening verses of John’s Gospel introduce us to Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God. John wants his readers to know that Jesus is fully God in human form. John then reveals the purpose of God coming to earth as a human: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Jesus Christ came to bring the light of God’s life into a spiritually dark and dying world.

In Genesis, the creation of light was God’s first creative move (Genesis 1:3). In the process of generating life, light was God’s initial instrument for illuminating the dark and formless void. It was the inaugural instance of God shining light in the darkness.

When John spoke of the Incarnation, he was echoing the creation account. Scripture tells us over and again that God is the source of life and light: “For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see” (Psalm 36:9, NLT; see also Acts 17:28; Psalm 27:1). “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Jesus Christ is God’s light sent down to earth to pierce through the darkness. That light is God’s life, both physical and eternal. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25; see also John 14:6). The life within Christ is the life of God: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).

The Bible tells us that the life of Christ serves as a light to all people. That life is the light of truth—the message of Christ’s salvation and eternal life with God: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). The brilliance of Christ’s life and truth shine like a light into the darkness of this world.

In the New Testament, light and darkness are common symbols of good and evil. It’s clear that light in John 1:5 represents life, and ultimately, eternal life with God in His heavenly kingdom. Darkness is the absence of light—the lack of God. It represents the power of evil, sin, and unbelief in this world, all of which lead to eternal death (John 3:19; Job 10:22; 38:15; 1 Samuel 2:9).

John continues to focus on the theme of light and darkness throughout his gospel. In John 8:12, Jesus proclaims to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (NLT). John 1:5 says the darkness “has not overcome” the light because evil cannot overpower Jesus Christ, who states, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).

Jesus declared that those who believe in the light become sons and daughters of the light: “Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light” (John 12:36, NLT). According to the apostle Paul, Christians have passed from darkness into light: “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!” (Ephesians 5:8, NLT).

By loving one another, believers shine light into the darkness: “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (1 John 2:8–11).

The nature of light is to shine, and darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. Just as a bright street lamp discourages criminal mischief at night, so the light of Christ dispels the darkness of sin in the world. Just as the first rays of dawn pierce the blackness of night, God’s light and truth carry spiritual awakening to darkened hearts.

The light shines in the darkness means Jesus Christ has come into the world, bringing the good news of God’s salvation to every person. As Isaiah foretold, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). The life of Jesus, which is the life of the Creator God Himself, is the light of the world. No power of darkness can defeat or snuff out this light (Matthew 16:18; John 16:33).

Jesus is the giver of life and bearer of light. The Son of God continues to shine His light to humankind through His church, the body of Christ (Philippians 2:15). Whoever believes in Him receives eternal life (John 3:15; see also Psalm 112:4).

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What does it mean that the light shines in the darkness (John 1:5)?
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This page last updated: September 13, 2023