Light and Dark
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
If you've ever searched for a flashlight or candle in a power outage, you can understand why the authors of John's Gospel feel the way they do about light. Darkness can be scary. After all, you can't see where you're going and anything could be out there waiting in the dark to gobble you up. It always feels good to turn on that little beam of light and finally see. Well, after a few pranks, that is.
Light is one of the first images we get in the gospel, and it definitely doesn't stop there:
- Light does battle with darkness and it totally wins (1:5).
- Daytime is the only time to get anything important done (9:4). There was no florescent lighting in Judea.
- Jesus is "the light of the world" (9:5).
- People who believe in Jesus love the light because it illuminates how amazing they are (3:19).
- Light brightens your path so you don't trip and fall (12:35). Makes sense.
The authors are trying to tell us that believing in Jesus is like a sunny day, like a candle lighting up the dark night. Before you find Jesus, you're just groping around in the dark, unable to see, trying to figure out where you are. But, once you believe in Jesus, everything is illuminated. Whether or not you buy it, it sure it poetic.
If light in the Gospel of John can show off what's true and good, darkness usually means something shady is happening. It's no surprise that Judas's big betrayal happens at night (13:30). It wouldn't quite be the same if the sun was shining down, illuminating the evil.
Darkness also seems to imply plain ol' ignorance; that is, people who have yet to step into the Jesus light:
- Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night because he is scared to admit he is one of his followers (3:2).
- Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb "while it was still dark," showing her lack of understanding of what was about to happen (20:1).
- Ironically, Peter denies Jesus at night while he's warming his hands by a fire (a source of light). Peter has rejected the light, even though it's right there in front of him providing him with warmth and security (18:25). Nice going, Peter.
The light is there, but the figures in the story seem to be expecting a bug zapper at the end of the tunnel. The authors probably highlight these actions to show their readers that they'll be okay. No bug zappers for Jesus.
It won't come as a surprise that in our world, light usually symbolizes good while darkness is often like a big arrow pointing towards villainy. Examples abound.
• Voldemort is always hanging around in the dark.
• Light sometimes kills the baddies—like in the movie Gremlins.
• Vampires also have a bit of trouble with sunlight (not Edward Cullen, of course; he just sparkles). Did you ever see Buffy hunting during the day?
Bad guys must not care about being able to see.