Jesus—His Life and Message: Light

September 25, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

After Jesus rebuked those of His generation who were seeking a sign and told them they would receive no sign,1 He proceeded to speak about light in three short sayings. He started with a reference to physical light, and then moved on to speak of the light that is within us.

No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.2

This verse is very similar to one found earlier in Luke’s Gospel.

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.3

The lamp spoken of could either be a lamp with a candlestick inside it, or an oil-burning lamp, the latter being more likely. It would make no sense to light a lamp and then put it in a place where its light would serve no purpose and no one would benefit from it.

Jesus and His message are associated with light throughout the Gospels.

You, child, [Jesus] will be called the prophet of the Most High … to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.4

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”5

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.6

Elsewhere in the New Testament we read of light in reference to those who believe in Jesus.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?7

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).8

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.9

Jesus and His message—the Light—are not to be hidden. They are to be widely proclaimed through His ministry, through His disciples, and through believers across time. If the message is rejected by some, it’s not because it’s a hidden or secret teaching; it’s that after hearing the message, the hearer has chosen to reject it.

Jesus followed with the second saying:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.10

According to medical understanding in ancient times, the eyes didn’t allow light to come in, but rather people had light within them and this light came out of their eyes, which caused them to see. Jesus’ saying reflects this ancient concept. The hearers would have understood that Jesus was referring to the eyes as the source of light emanating from the body, which could be either healthy or unhealthy. If the eye is healthy, it indicates that the person is inwardly full of light, which the eye is emitting. However, if the eye is unhealthy and thus not emitting light, it shows that the person is full of darkness.

The King James Version speaks of the eye being either “single” or “evil.” The Greek word translated as single can also be translated as whole or healthy. The Greek word translated as evil, when used in a physical sense, means diseased or blind; and when it is used in an ethical sense, it means evil or wicked. Jesus used a play on words, as in the Old Testament the concept of an evil eye portrayed selfishness, covetousness, and rebellion. For example, in the King James Version we read, Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats.11 In the ESV it reads, Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies. Another example is, He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye,12 which is translated in the ESV as a stingy man hastens after wealth. The Old Testament also speaks of a “bountiful eye” as being generous: He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.13 In the NAS it’s translated as He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.

Jesus was speaking about a person’s inner self, their spiritual condition. If the eye wasn’t healthy, then the inner being of the person was dark, without any spiritual light—they were morally unhealthy. The healthy eye is understood as belonging to one who is focused on the good, whom the Lord has filled with light.

It is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.14

The people who rejected Jesus’ message were those whose eye—their inner self—was full of darkness. Jesus then warned:

Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.15

He stated that the things which guide one’s thoughts, life, decision-making, etc., need to come from the light; and therefore people need to do all they can to watch that the light within them is true light, that they are spiritually healthy.

Jesus ended with:

If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.16

The light inside of believers will shine out, like a lamp that is lit. Those who believe in Him and His teachings, without any hardness of heart, are inwardly spiritually healthy, full of light. They will shine with Jesus’ light in the same way someone in a dark room stands out when a light is shining on them.

There seems to be a progression in these three verses. Jesus is the light, placed where all can see. A person’s spiritual health is determined by their response to the light. Those who take in Jesus’ light will be spiritually healthy, and as such they will brightly shine and give off light. They will reflect the light of Jesus to others through the way they live and the love they show. This is contrasted with those who reject Jesus, whose eye is bad and therefore are full of darkness. The message is to embrace the light, to believe in Jesus. Those who have light within are able to be guided by God, make right choices, and be His light to others.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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2 Luke 11:33.

3 Luke 8:16.

4 Luke 1:76–79.

5 John 8:12.

6 John 1:4.

7 2 Corinthians 6:14.

8 Ephesians 5:8–9.

9 1 John 1:5–7.

10 Luke 11:34.

11 Proverbs 23:6 KJV.

12 Proverbs 28:22 KJV.

13 Proverbs 22:9 KJV.

14 Psalm 18:28.

15 Luke 11:35.

16 Luke 11:36.