Yeshua: Light of the World

On two different accounts Yeshua makes the statement that he is “the light of the world.” John records these two accounts just one chapter apart from each other. The first time, Yeshua tells us:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

His second statement is in a different context, but has the same implication as the previous one:

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9:4–5)

What does Yeshua mean by these statements? What is he trying to say? Many times turning to other Jewish writings can help us uncover the deeper meaning behind the Apostolic record, especially Yeshua’s teachings. In this instance, the midrash helps to illuminate the implications behind Yeshua’s words. 

First, the Midrash Rabbah comments on a passage in Daniel that says, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22). It records an interpretation of this passage that connects it with the Messiah: 

R. Abba of Serungayya said: “And the light dwells with him” alludes to the royal Messiah. (B’reisheet Rabbah 1:6)

Even more telling is a passage from another midrash that connects the light of Isaiah 60 with the primordial light of Creation, and then links the two passages together as a reference to the Messiah:

What is the meaning of “in your light we see light” (Isaiah 60:1)? For what light is Israel waiting? This is the light of Messiah as it says, “And God saw the light that it was good” (Genesis 1:4). This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, observed Messiah and his deeds before the creation of the world and concealed His Messiah under His throne until his generation.” (Pesikta Rabbati 36).

In Jewish thought, the Messiah is the agent of God who will right all wrongs at the end of days. He will restore all that has been destroyed, gather in all the exiles, and usher in an era of global peace as he reigns from Jerusalem. His “light” will extend to the uttermost regions of the earth. And although Yeshua did not bring about this fulfillment in his first appearance, he began the process of this restoration. His light has been spreading throughout the earth for the last two thousand years. Matthew, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, says that this is an expectation of the Messiah that Yeshua fulfilled. Yeshua’s light continues to shine upon the nations—those who dwell in darkness:

The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 60:1)

As we have been describing, Yeshua is the Messiah, the Light of the World. John describes him as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). But not everyone desires light. Although light brightens and illuminates, it also exposes anything hiding under the cover of darkness. John alludes to this by saying, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Yeshua makes this point clearly to Nicodemus when he says:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:19–21)

But for those of us who have trusted in Yeshua, we anticipate a time when his light will one day fill the entire world. At his first appearance Yeshua’s light was concealed and its brilliance was restrained. But since that time, the light of our Messiah has been working its way throughout the world like leaven in a batch of dough:

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened. (Matthew 13:33)

One day, however, the fullness of his light will radiate throughout the earth as he sits upon his throne in Jerusalem to reign over all the peoples of the world. May it be soon and in our day.