Light was the first thing created and among the first words spoken by God that were written in Scripture: “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:3). As the first created thing and something necessary for life, light holds primary significance in the Bible. Throughout Scripture, light imagery is consistently used to symbolize life itself, particularly life lived in a way that pleases God. The psalm writer praises God, saying, “You have rescued me from death. You have kept my feet from stumbling so that I could walk in your presence,
in the light of life” (Ps 56:13). When Job curses the day he was born, he depicts the living as those who have light (Job 3).
THE LIGHT OF TRUTH
Beyond the physical element, light in the Bible stands for spiritual illumination and truth. It encompasses all that is pure, good, and holy, as opposed to the darkness of evil. God’s Word is “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Ps 119:105). It guides us in following his commands throughout our lives. In the New Testament, the theme of God’s ways being light is continued: “The Lord has filled you with light. Live as children who have light. Light produces everything that is good, that has God’s approval, and that is true is true” (Eph 5:8-9). The symbolic light of truth and goodness is contrasted with deeds of darkness, which we are told to get rid of (Rom 13:12).
Light also characterizes God himself, the source of all truth. In 1 John 1:5, we see that “God is light, and there isn’t any darkness in him.” In Revelation, God’s glory is the light illuminates heaven (21:23). The nature of God’s transcendence is also pictured through light imagery: “He lives in light that no one can come near. No one has seen him, nor can they see him” (1 Tim 6:16). In this sense light is a symbol for God’s holiness and mystery as well as the purity of God himself.
Light also reveal what is hidden. That’s why we say things “come to light” when they are discovered. For the psalm writer, light describes God’s knowledge of our sins: “You have set our sins in front of you. You have put our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Ps 90:8). John makes it clear that to draw close to God means that we must “live in the light,” a relationship that is shown by demonstrating sincere love to those around us (1 John 2:10). Paul tells us that God shines light on men’s hearts: “bring to light what is hidden in the dark and reveal people’s motives” (1 Cor. 4:5).
THE LIGHT OF BLESSINGS
In 2 Samuel, David sings a song connecting light with God’s deliverance: “O LORD, you are my lamp. The LORD turns my darkness into light” (22:29). In a world where the dark night was fraught with danger, light was a fitting image for safety. Light from God is similarly featured in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt: “But because of your endless compassion, you didn’t abandon them in the desert. The column of smoke didn’t leave them during the day, but it led them on their way. The column of fire didn’t leave them during the night, but it gave them light to see the way they should go” (Neh 9:19). Here the physical light of the column of fire is a symbol of God’s presence, much as the light of the lamp in the temple later signified God’s presence there.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus alluded to his divinity be declaring, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have a life filled with light and will never live in the dark (John 8:12). Isaiah had prophesied centuries before that the Messiah’s coming was like light dawning (Isa 9:2). This symbolism harks back to the light of God’s presence in the pillar of fire and the lamp of the temple. Then it was a sign of something to come; with Jesus’ arrival on the reality was present.
By extension, the light of Christ present in the people’s hearts is a symbol for salvation. Those who follow him do not walk in darkness, but in light (John 12:46). Peter describes believers as those who were called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). The powers of Satan are the dominion of darkness, but those who have received salvation are transferred to the kingdom of light (Col 1:13). Just as bringing light into a dark room changes the atmosphere and enables one to see, so the presence of Christ changes one’s heart and illuminates all aspects of life. And Christians are called to be bearers of the light. Jesus said, “You are light for the world” (Matt 5:14). signifying that we carry his light within us and are responsible to illumine the truth of Christ to others.