The Old Testament has many verses on this theme, including this one. It is a prophecy filled with promise for the people of God. They had become spiritually dull and were without God’s blessing. He invites them to,
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)Isaiah tells the people that one day Light will shine and they will see the glory of God. This happened when Jesus came to earth. At that time, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).
Last night I came home late from a meeting, and not wanting to wake my husband, I went upstairs in the dark. As many times as I walk up those stairs, doing so in the dark should have been easy, but I stumbled and banged my knee on a riser. Darkness is seldom associated with success! Spiritual darkness is always associated with judgment and doom.
When Jesus came as the Light of the world, He knew that people who are in the dark would struggle with light from God. Most of them didn’t want it, but Jesus used the common idea that enlightenment came through a person’s eyes, and warned them, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad (evil), your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).
The people knew their Old Testament metaphors. Therefore, throughout the New Testament, God invites people into the light. In Ephesians 5:14, He says: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” again associating darkness with death (separation from Him) and light with life and union with Him.
When the Lord spoke to a man named Saul on the road to Damascus, He used a blinding light to get his attention. God changed the direction of this man’s life and even changed his name. Saul became Paul, and God gave him this promise and commission:
I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ (Acts 26:17-18)In these verses, darkness and light go beyond metaphor as God shows their clear relationship to evil and the dominion of Satan as opposed to open eyes, forgiven sin, and an inheritance in the kingdom of God for those who are in the light, set apart because of their faith in Christ. In this description there are no shades of grey. A person is either in the dark or in the light.
Being in the light has privilege, but also responsibility. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Christians have a job to do. I am chosen and given so much, yet am also expected to proclaim the glory of God to others. How will they know about this unless someone tells them that God gives light to those in darkness?
I can almost hear someone say, “How do you know that Christianity is the right religion? How can I tell which people have the truth?”
God does offer a test using the same metaphor. While these verses are for Christians to test their own lives, Jesus gave the world permission to judge us (John 13) by this criteria. We are tested by how we care for one another.
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)Again, this is black and white. I cannot walk with God or abide in Christ and at the same time have a hateful attitude toward others. One is light, the other is darkness, and each day God bids me to let my light shine walk by walking and living according to the light that He has given me.