“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not” (John 1:4-5).
The identify of Jesus to “light” is found here and repeated many other times in the book. First, the Holy Spirit makes clear that although John the Baptist was unique and in the words of Jesus “of men born of women there hath not arisen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11), he was not the light that cometh into the world. Here is the way the Holy Spirit expressed it: “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came that he might bear witness of the light” (Jn. 1:6-8).
In 8:12 the Holy Spirit records Jesus’ claim: “… I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness but shall have the light of life.” In John 9:5 He said, “When I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” In John 12:34-36 Jesus made this appeal: “Yet a little while is the light among you. Walk while ye have the light that darkness overtaketh you not: and he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have the light, believe on the light that ye may become sons of light.”
In the verse which opened this study are these words: “In him was life and the life was the light of men.” Notice the transition from “life” to “light.” Jesus taught the purpose of light when He said to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shinneth unto all that are that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Jesus had life in Himself and that life was the light of men. His life gave light to men — understanding. In the gospel are these two truths. First, Jesus gave His life for us. Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). In Romans 5:6-8 Paul wrote, “For while we were weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man would one die; for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die, but God commendeth his own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” His death for our sins (life) is light to men: the revelation of pardon for the chiefest of sinners. And if His death for our sins gave abundant pardon, even so does His resurrection introduce the prospect of eternal life (1 Cor. 15:4).
Second, His life — the way He lived, His compassion for men, and His treatment of all is light to those who would be His disciples. Did He not say, “I have given you an example that ye also should do as I have done unto you” (Jn. 13:15)? Peter wrote of Him: “For Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Both these passages indicate that the light Jesus shed to us in His life is a light for our life in serving others — treating others as we want to be treated — by living soberly, righteously, and godly in our present world.
Still, while John wrote that in Jesus was life which became light to us, he added, “The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness apprehended it not.” The word “apprehended” means to understand or perceive. “Apprehended it not” means that those in darkness did not understand the significance of what they saw. The carnal mind does not perceive the life Jesus offered, but the light is for them. To earnest, seeking men their ignorance gives way to understanding in the radiant beams of Him who is “the light of the world.” Isaiah wrote, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of death, upon these have the light shinned” (Isa. 9:2). This latter passage found fulfillment in the personal ministry of Jesus (Matt. 4:15). Most rejected Jesus then; most reject Him now. But while He “came to his own and they that were his own received him not” (John 1:11) ,there were those then, as there are those now, who will see: “But as many as received him, to him gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:2).