John 1:4-5 (NIV): In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
John understood that Jesus was more than a person who merely “lived.” In the first three verses, John told us clearly that Jesus is and was God in the flesh. But John realized that when Jesus came, He actually carried life in Himself. Every person is alive, but Jesus had life in Him in a completely different way. That was why Jesus could restore health and wholeness to people – His touch and His word imparted wholeness of life where damage and disease had allowed death to gain a foothold. It was how He could raise people from the dead – the life that was in Him overflowed into the bodies of those who had died, restoring the life that had gone from them. And it was how He could rise from the dead Himself – the real life that was in Him could never be extinguished.
Jesus brought light and life back into a world where sin had enabled the darkness of death to reign. The coming of this light was a recurring theme is Isaiah’s many messianic prophesies. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1 NIV) “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”(Isaiah 9:2 NIV) Isaiah could see the light of Jesus’ life shining from 700 years away! And when John wrote “the light shines in the darkness” using the present tense verb, he indicated that the light of Jesus did not just shine in the darkness while He was on earth. It was still shining decades later when John wrote his gospel.
The translation of the final phrase of verse 5 has been the subject of much debate. Was the darkness not able to understand the light, or was it not able to overcome the light? The answer is, both!
The darkness was not able to understand the light of Jesus at any level. The Pharisees and teachers of the law who opposed Jesus believed that He was just a man like them that they could plot against, attack and bring down. But they were never able to win a single argument with Him. They were never able to succeed in a single trap that they laid for Him. They couldn’t understand the way He thought, the way of light, because their minds were trapped in the darkness.
Even satan himself was not able to understand the light that was in Jesus. He thought that Jesus could be tempted to put His own needs ahead of God’s agenda (the primal idolatry that we all tend to fall into!). But the snares and temptations that he had used successfully on everyone from Eve through David, all the way down to the days of Jesus, failed to capture Him. As the writer of Hebrews tell us, Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV) Even before and during the crucifixion, Jesus could not be tempted into using His power and authority to free Himself or to ease His own pain. Instead, He followed the Father’s plan to the letter, regardless of the pain and suffering, and ultimately the death that it brought Him.
And, of course, the darkness was never able to overcome the light that was in Jesus. Even the darkness of death could not extinguish the light of life that flowed through His entire being. After the Jewish leaders had succeeded in putting Jesus to death, they were suddenly stymied by His resurrection. And even after Jesus left the earth, these leaders were suddenly faced with hordes of disciples who now had this same inextinguishable light in them! They had succeeded in killing Jesus’ body, but that death had been transformed into unconquerable, unending light and life that spread through His followers, and then out into the whole world.
Father, I especially love the understanding that, after Pentecost, when Your Holy Spirit blew through the upper room, the unconquerable light and life that was in Jesus was now in His followers, driving darkness from their hearts, and empowering them to spread light and life everywhere that they went. Lord, we need a resurgence, a revival of that light and life among Your people today. Blow through us again. Shine Your light into our lives so strongly that darkness has no place to hide. And then help us to purposefully spread that light and life into ever dark corner of our world. Amen.