In the earliest Biblical record concerning “the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) light was created by God and was therefore separate from Him. He thereby challenged the darkness which engulfed the existing chaotic condition and which obstructed any possible ordered progress. This act opened the way to the great creative and growth processes which followed. To the prophets, God was the source of both light and darkness, of both good and evil (Isa 45:7).
Nevertheless, throughout the Bible light represents that which is compatible with God and darkness is symbolic of the evil forces which are opposed to God. Among the final scriptural references to the affairs of man on earth, Babylon, the epitome of godlessness, is consigned to darkness (Rev 18:23), while God’s people (the city of God) are bathed in the light of His glory (21:23). In this city, the New Jerusalem, “night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (22:5).
Light is superior to darkness (Eccl 2:13) and is able to limit its scope and effects. This is especially evident in the New Testament. Light will triumph because darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5). Yet there is no indication in the Bible that darkness, literally or symbolically, will be finally or completely destroyed. The contest between light and darkness, between good and evil, is found outside the Bible in Zoroastrianism and to a marked degree in the Manual of Discipline of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
אוֹר, H240, מָאוֹר, H4401, φω̂ς, G5890; these are the more prevalent Hebrew and Greek words translated “light”.
the eye, "The light of the body is the eye" (Mt 6:22, the King James Version; Lu 11:34);
watchfulhess, "Let your lights (the Revised Version (British and American) "lamps") be burning," the figure being taken from the parable of the Virgins;
protection, "armor (Ro 13:12), the garment of a holy and Christ-like life;
the sphere of the Christian’s daily walk, "inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12);
heaven, for the inheritance just referred to includes the world above in which "the Lamb is the light thereof"
prosperity, relief (Es 8:16; Job 30:26), in contrast with the calamities of the wicked whose "light .... shall be put out" (Job 18:5);
joy and gladness (Job 3:20; Ps 97:11; 112:4);
God’s favor, the light of thy countenance" (Ps 4:6; 44:3; 89:15), and a king’s favor (Pr 16:15);
life (Ps 13:3; 49:19; Joh 1:4).
"fruit of the light" (Eph 5:9), i.e. goodness, righteousness, truth;
"light in the Lord" (Eph 5:8), indicating the source of light (compare Isa 2:5);
"inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12), a present experience issuing in heaven;
"Father of lights" (Jas 1:17), signifying the Creator of the heavenly bodies;
"marvellous light" (1Pe 2:9), the light of God’s presence and fellowship;
"Walk in the light" (1 Joh 1:7), in the light of God’s teaching and companionship;
"abideth in the light" (1 Joh 2:10), in love, Divine and fraternal;
"Light of the glorious gospel of Christ "; "light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2Co 4:4,6 the King James Version).
When the appalling plague of "thick darkness," for three days, enveloped the Egyptians, terrified and rendered them helpless, "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Ex 10:23). Whether the darkness was due to a Divinely-ordered natural cause or the light was the natural light of day, the process that preserved the interspersed Israelites from the encompassing darkness was supernatural. Miraculous, also, even though through natural agency, was the "pillar of fire" that gave light to the Israelites escaping from Pharaoh (Ex 13:21; 14:20; Ps 78:14), "He led them .... all the night with a light of fire." Supernatural was the effulgence at Christ’s transfiguration that made "his garments .... white as the light" (Mt 17:2). Under the same category Paul classifies `the great light’ that `suddenly shone round about him from heaven’ on the way to Damascus (Ac 22:6; compare Ac 9:3). In these rare instances the supernatural light was not only symbolic of an inner spiritual light, but instrumental, in part at least, in revealing or preparing the way for it.
God also uses darkness. When nature is unfavorable or destructive, it is because God has covered Himself with darkness (18:11-15). Morning is greeted with joy (30:5) for which the watchman has waited eagerly (130:6). This preoccupation with light and darkness can be attributed to the absolute control of the lives of the Hebrew people by the alternation of day and night, rather than to some religious motive. The religious emphasis which they placed upon this natural phenomenon arose from the concept of God as creator of all things. So very easily light became the symbol for God and His concern for mankind, His highest creation.
Light and life are almost synonymous to the inhabitants of Palestine, and in the same way darkness and death. Theirs is the land of sunshine. When they go to other lands of clouded skies their only thought is to return to the brightness and sunshine of their native land. In Palestine there is hardly a day in the whole year when the sun does not shine for some part of it, while for five months of the year there is scarcely an interruption of the sunshine. Time is reckoned from sunset to sunset. The day’s labor closes with the coming of darkness. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening" (Ps 104:23).
The suddenness of the change from darkness to light with the rising sun and the disappearance of the sun in the evening is more striking than in more northern countries, and it is not strange that in the ancient days there should have arisen a worship of the sun as the giver of light and happiness, and that Job should mention the enticement of sun-worship when he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness" (Job 31:26). The severest plague in Egypt next to the slaying of the firstborn was the plague of darkness which fell upon the Egyptians (Ex 10:23). This love of light finds expression in both Old Testament and New Testament in a very extensive use of the word to express those things which are most to be desired and most helpful to man, and in this connection we find some of the most beautiful figures in the Bible.
The creation of light (Gen 1:3) suggests that one should look for the revelation of God in His activity more than in His verbal communication. What God has said supports what He has already done. The act of creating natural, physical light becomes prophetic of the entire sweep of God’s self-revelation, both in nature and in redemption (2 Cor 4:6). Revelation is light. Agents of revelation become light. The sun, created apart from light as such (Gen 1:16) came about by an act of God, and it has as its function to reflect the manifold glory of God in all of His creation (Ps 19:1-6).
God’s goodly favor toward the righteous is a lighted lamp in the darkness (18:28). Hebrew orthodoxy held that life always would be indicative of this principle. Job had looked for reward because of his charitable regard for the afflicted, but only evil came to him. “When I waited for light, darkness came” (Job 30:26). Yet Isaiah believed that eventually things would work out that way, that light would “break forth like the dawn” (Isa 58:8). In anticipation of the coming restoration the prophet cried out, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1).
In the thought of Jesus, moral excellence is the product of the light which He Himself possessed, and it gives soundness and character to all of one’s life (Matt 6:22, 23; cf. Luke 11:34-36). The followers of Christ are lights because of the moral character which they possess; and this display sheds light upon and reveals hidden defects in the lives of those around them (Matt 5:14-16; Luke 8:16; 11:34-36). People of light as opposed to people of darkness are aware and sober and prepared even for the apocalyptic “day of the Lord” (1 Thess 5:4-8; cf. Rom 13:11-14).
Attribute of Holiness
"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Joh 1:5). Darkness is the universal symbol and condition of sin and death; light the symbol and expression of holiness. "The light of Israel will be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame" (Isa 10:17). God, by His presence and grace, is to us a "marvellous light" (1Pe 2:9). The glory of His holiness and presence is the "everlasting light" of the redeemed in heaven (Isa 60:19,20; Re 21:23,14; 22:5).
All who catch and reflect the light of God and of Christ are called "light," "lights."
John the Baptist: "a burning and a shining light" (Joh 5:35 the King James Version). It is significant that this pre-Christian prophet was termed luchnos, while the disciples of the new dispensation are called phos (Mt 5:14): "Ye are the light of the world."
Henceforth Christians and saints were called "children of light" (Lu 16:8; Joh 12:36; Eph 5:8), and were expected to be "seen as lights in the world" (Php 2:15).
The Jew who possessed the law mistakenly supposed he was "a light of them that are in darkness" (Ro 2:19).
Zion was to "shine" because her `light had come’ (Isa 60:1). The Gentiles were to come to her light (Isa 60:3). Her mission as the enlightener of the world was symbolized in the ornamentations of her priesthood. The Urim of the high priest’s breastplate signified light, and the name itself is but the plural form of the Hebrew ’or. It stood for revelation, and thummim for truth. The church of the Christian dispensation was to be even more radiant with the light of God and of Christ. The seven churches of Asia were revealed to John, by the Spirit, as seven golden candlesticks, and her ministers as seven stars, both luminous with the light of the Gospel revelation. In Ephesians, Christ, who is the Light of the world, is the Head of the church, the latter being His body through which His glory is to be manifested to the world, "to make all men see," etc. (Eph 3:9,10). "Unto him be the glory in the church" (Eph 3:21), the church bringing glory to God, by revealing His glory to men through its reproduction of the life and light of Christ.
To them Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 1955;
B. Vassady, Light Against Darkness, 1961; L. Sibum, The Bible on Light, 1966; H. #Conzelmann, TDNew Testament, 9:310-58.
C. Sheard, Life-Giving Light (1933);
E. Underhill, Light of Christ (1945);
B. Vassady. Light Against Darkness (1961);
M. Black and H. H. Rowley, eds., Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (1962);
J. Pelikan, The Light of the World (1962);
L. Sibum, The Bible on Light (1966).