What Does "Light of the World" Mean in the Bible?

Christianity.com Editorial Staff

What Does "Light of the World" Mean in the Bible?

Light of the World in Scripture

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

We are called to be the salt and light in the world. But what does that mean?

Salt:

When salt is applied, it dissolves inward and disappears. The salt speaks of the inward part, the character of the Christian.

Light

Jesus also described His people as being like light, which is on the outside. The light speaks of the testimony of a follower of Christ, revealing and illuminating the truth.

You Are the Light of the World

Jesus was speaking to a crowd of just ordinary folks. Yet Christ said to them, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). Even today, you are the light of the world. That's how God intends to get his work done on earth today: through you! It's not just pastors and missionaries who are the light; it's everybody who loves the Lord.

How to Be the Light of the World

1. Share Your Faith in Christ

God takes an ordinary person and uses them to share His message to people who needed Him. When we share our faith, we spread His light. You were saved to shine! Don't hide your testimony or be ashamed to take your Bible to work. Don't be afraid to pray over your lunch at school. Let others know that you love the Lord Jesus.

2. Take Light Where It’s Dark

Jesus describes what we are in this passage - the light of the world, not the light of the church. That means we have to get beyond the church walls and take the light out to where it is dark.

3. Shine Together as the Church

Jesus also talked of the strength of collective light. Each house in a city with its lights on cast a glow across the sky. As Christians come together, there is a glow for the Lord that we cannot create individually. We shine brightest when we shine together.

4. Live Surrendered to the Lord

How can we shine for God? Jesus says that we are to let our lights shine before men in such a way that they will see our good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). That's how we do it. We live for God.

We have to surrender our lives to Him completely. Christ says we are to "let" our lights shine. In other words, when you get right with God and are filled with the Holy Spirit, He will simply shine through you.

Taken from "Bright Lights in a Dark World" by Love Worth Finding Ministries/Adrian Rogers (used by permission).

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, “I Am the Light of the World”?

God is the light that shines within and through His church as the light of the world. The same word the Bible uses for light in Matthew 5 to describe Christ’s Church also describes Christ Himself in John 8:12:

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”

Biblical Context of “I Am the Light of the World”

This word, translated from the Greek Phos, means “to shine or make manifest, the light, brightness.”

We know from John 8:20 that Jesus said these words in the Treasury of the Temple. This was near the Court of Women, “which was the most public part of the temple,” according to this commentary.

The Feast of Tabernacles was going on for the past several days. During this celebration, four gold candelabra were lighted, illuminating the whole court. But the night Jesus claimed to be “the light of the world (John 8:12),” Elliot’s Commentary explains:

“On this night the light is not to shine; but the true Light, which was ever in the world, is now in His own Temple, speaking the words of light and life to His own people. There is a Light there whose rays are to illumine, not only the Temple, or Jerusalem, or Judea, or the Dispersion, but the world.”

Light as a Metaphor

The idea of light chasing away darkness is central to understanding Jesus and Christianity. One of the first Jews to recognize baby Jesus as the promised Messiah called him "a light of revelation" (Luke 2:32). This metaphor of light only makes sense against a background of darkness. 

1. Darkness points to the simple fact of human ignorance.

Those who are "in the dark" are those who lack knowledge. To the Jewish mind, this metaphor had particular application to the Gentile world - a world that had not received the grace of God through the revelation of the Torah, the prophets, and the written revelation of God. Even today, we know that untold millions still dwell in deep darkness, having never heard about the one true God or of Jesus Christ, His only Son.

2. Darkness refers to evil and willful blindness.

This points beyond the mere fact of simple ignorance. In this sense, darkness refers to the fact that many will outright reject the light. As John 1:10-11 explained, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him."

This section is an adapted excerpt from "The Light of the World" by Albert Mohler on Christianity.com.

Light in Messianic Prophecy

Light is also a common description of the Messiah in prophecy:

  • “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.” (Isaiah 42:6)
  • “He says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6)
  • “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” (Malachi 4:2)
  • “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel." (Luke 2:30-32)

Check out “Bible Verses about Light” for more.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Fachy Marin


Originally published September 27, 2010.