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Faith & Wisdom

What Jesus Meant When He Said "I am the Light of the World"

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If you've ever listened to the gospel song "Light of the World" by Lauren Daigle, you may have heard Daigle celebrate Jesus by singing, "Glory to the light of the world." The idea that Jesus is our light is mirrored across many popular Christian songs, including "Here I am to Worship" by Tim Hughes. 

Though depicting Jesus as light is common in Christianity today, did you know that it dates back to biblical times? 

In this article, we'll explain when Jesus said, "I am the light of the world," what he meant by it, and how we can apply this teaching to our lives today.

What is the "light of the world" Bible verse?

There are several Bible verses where Jesus refers to himself as a light on the earth. The most well-known of these is John 8:12: "Then spoke Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’" 

In this verse, Jesus calls himself "φώς τοῦ κόσμου" (Phṓs tou-kósmou) in Greek or "light of the world" in English. The word "Phṓs'' translates to "light."

If you don't remember John 8:12, you may remember John 9:5 instead. 

John 9:1-41 describes one of the famous scenes from the Bible — when Jesus restored a blind man's sight at Siloam. Specifically, the gospel of John explains that Jesus said, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." He then spit on the ground and restored the man's sight. 

Though the Bible doesn't include the blind man's name, many Christians refer to him as "Celidonius."

John 9:39 also refers to Jesus as the earth's light, as Jesus explains in this verse that he came into this world so that the blind may see (many scholars believe he was referring to blindness literally and spiritually here). 

"I am the light of the world" meaning

The best way to understand what Jesus meant by "I am the light of the world" is to picture a ship in a tumultuous sea at night. Though the ship can't see what's ahead of it, it follows the lighthouse's light toward its home on the shore. 

Our relationship with Jesus is very similar. 

We can't see our future, direction, or destination, but Jesus can. Like the lighthouse guided the ship, Jesus directs us toward God's light. The light of Christ guides us through the darkness of sin, life, and struggle both spiritually and literally. 

We can also understand the meaning of "I am the light of the world" by looking at John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."  

Like the other verses in John's gospel, this verse conveys the idea that anyone who follows Jesus and accepts him as life and light will live eternally in heaven after they die. Like bread, Jesus' light also sustains you and allows you to push on. 

You can also see the idea that Jesus is metaphorically the world's light through Jesus' nine names (Jesus Christ, Messiah, Immanuel, Prophet, Savior, Son of David, King of the Jews, The Good Shepherd, and the Son of Man). These names depict Jesus as the leader of the people.

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Other Bible verses about light

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Jesus isn't the only one who describes himself as the world's light in the Bible. For example, John describes Jesus as light in John 1:4: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men." 

John's description of Jesus as light is particularly significant, as John was Jesus' best friend. John was unique among the disciples as he was the only one present when Jesus died. He also saw Jesus for who he was, and thus, he likely understood Jesus' role in the world better than others in biblical times did. 

Many other famous verses describe Jesus as the world's true light, including:

  • "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
  • "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105).

Light vs. dark in the Bible

When we describe Jesus as light, we understand that everything that opposes him is darkness. 

Light vs. dark is a conflict that appears throughout the Bible. We can understand this conflict by comparing the Greek meaning of light ("phos") to the meaning of darkness ("skotia"). Synonyms for "phos" include "clear," "evident," and "exposed," and synonyms for "skotia" include "wickedness" and "the resultant misery in hell." 

Light vs. dark is one of many conflicts (sometimes called "dualistic concepts") that the Gospel of John discusses. The others include:

  • Insiders vs. world
  • Known vs. unknown
  • Day vs. night 
  • Heavenly vs. earthly 
  • Above vs. not above 
  • Spirit vs. flesh
  • Sight vs. blindness 
  • Insiders vs. world

Many of these conflicts carry similar meanings to light vs. darkness, as they show us that God and Jesus are protecting us from harm through their divine light.

What Christians can learn from "I am the light of the world"

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Though Jesus referred to himself as light over 2,000 years ago, his words remain true for all Christians today. Here's what we can learn from "I am the light of the world”: 

There's still darkness around us 

Jesus was born because God saw deep darkness in the world. This darkness manifested itself through crime, sin, tragedy, and disaster in biblical times. And as we still have those things today, darkness still threatens our world.

Naturally, we need Jesus and God as much as previous generations. We'll always need God, just as we'll always need food (John 6:51). 

We can be part of the light as Christians

Jesus is the only Messiah, but he's not the only one who can bring light into our world. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus told his disciples: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." 

In this verse, Jesus explains that his disciples bring light to the world by following him, God, and the Holy Spirit. In this manner, we can carry Jesus' light in our good deeds, words, thoughts, and actions. When we live for him, we help his light shine around the world. 

To understand the power of your light, imagine a dark room with a large candle and a handful of tealights. God can use the large candle (Jesus) to light each tealight (us). The light of all the tealights will light up the room. 

God and Jesus are the only ones who can lead us to light

The world is full of false prophets and charlatans who manipulate for their own gain. Jesus makes it clear that these prophets came from darkness, not light. 

As Jesus is the only one who can perform miracles and turn water into wine, he is the only one who can lead us away from darkness and toward God's light.

Jesus is the light of the world

During hard times, it's easy to view our world as broken, strained, and filled with suffering. Don't fear, as Lord Jesus will guide you through the darkness and into the light. 

If you'd like to learn more about Jesus' life and teachings, listen to our series "Bedtime Bible: Jesus." Or, to listen to other content, download our app from the iOS app store or the Google Play store.

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