“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” –John 1:5, KJV
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:5, NIV
What Does the ‘Light in the Darkness’ in John 1:5 Mean?
Jesus is our “Light that shines in the darkness.” Did you notice the major difference in the two versions of John 1:5? Darkness not “comprehending” the light versus darkness not “overcoming” it? It seems a little off. Why would the same verse use such very different words in the English translations?
In our modern English word-sense “comprehending” and “overcoming” are not exactly synonymous. One implies a passive, even sedentary appraisal, and the other, a fierce struggle for victory.
But Crosswalk author Rick Renner explained the intent of the original Greek wording in his article “Darkness Cannot Overcome the Light.” According to Renner, “comprehended” is built from a combination of “kata,” the Greek word for dominating or defeating, and “lambano” which means “seizing.” Put together, you get the sense of that fierce struggle for victory more than an academic analysis.
The New International Version of “overcoming” conveys the Greek implication of conflict.
But throughout the Bible, light has a dual association with both truth and goodness, just as darkness is linked to lies and evil. In other words, understanding God’s truth and goodness are one and the same. And obscuring God’s truth and evil are also the same.
So the original King James translation that the darkness “comprehendeth” it not also bears weight. Understanding and truth are foundational tenets of the light of the Trinity. The greater context of John 1 attests to this, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” –John 1:1 (KJV)
3 Ways Jesus Is Our ‘Light that Shines in the Darkness’
In the first words of his gospel, John proclaims God and the Word are one. Just as God and Jesus are one. Jesus, the way, the truth, and the light. Jesus, the misunderstood. Jesus, the victor.
As we look to celebrate Christ in these winter days, it is helpful to consider three comforting ways Jesus will always be our light that shines through the darkness.
Jesus’ Light is Pure
Pure. The word itself may make some of us a little uncomfortable. As cognizant adults, we are painfully aware of our own lack of purity. But purity personified in Christ reminds us that it is a very good, attractive, and necessary quality in our sin-cursed world.
In this season of the year, what better way to symbolize the pureness of Christ than the likeness of a newborn baby?
Everyone loves babies. We are drawn to them. Our whole world gets a little bit brighter in their presence. We all know why, too. It is their purity that draws us to them, that makes us want to bask in a goodness our world-weary hearts can only yearn for.
On the very first Christmas, a purity brighter than all our babies put together came into the world. The righteousness that our hearts hunger and thirst for daily (Matthew 5:6).
A man who needed no filter when he spoke. Whose every word could be relied upon. Whose every word was the Word shining light into our ignorance and sin.
A man who set a perfect example. Who shone his purity into our lives so that we could live in his light for eternity.
Jesus’ Light is Healing
Healing. That is something we all long for, and not just in a pandemic year.
Even more than the wisdom of his teachings, one of the first things that comes to mind when we think of Jesus’s ministry was his supernatural power of healing.
A single touch, or, in the case of a centurion’s servant, simply speaking the words, brought miraculous and transformative healing to the bodies of the suffering.
For Lazarus of Bethany and a temple leader’s daughter, he even brought resurrection from the dead.
But Jesus’s power of healing extends far beyond the confines of our mortal frames. In many ways, the most popular verse in all the Bible is about Jesus healing a lost and broken world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” –John 3:16 (KJV)
In many ways, it is a verse about the saving power of love—the most healing force in all the world. If we reflect on our own faith journeys and those of our fellow Christians, everyone who has personally experienced the love of Christ, whether it was a salvation experience or another encounter, did not leave the same way they entered. We were transformed. Loved. Healed.
Whether it is the darkness of a physical disease or the weight of a life plagued by sin and struggle, the light of Jesus’s love will always be strong enough to overpower any darkness we face—and save us forever
Jesus’ Light is Life-Giving
Jesus is God incarnate and God is the giver of life. God’s first spoken words in the Bible brought forth both light and life. In the book of Genesis, the world was a dark and formless void, until God’s first creative act which began with the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).
According to John, the light of Jesus also brought life-giving power. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men”–John 1:4.
Sometimes, even believers feel lost in the darkness. It has been thousands of years since Jesus walked among us, and it can be hard to fumble along without a physical presence to guide us. Yet his life-giving power can still light our way even when we don’t know where to turn, a confusion Thomas voiced during the Last Supper when Jesus announced his departure was at hand.
“Lord, we know not whither thou goest and how can we know the way?” –John 14:5.
Jesus’s reply spoke a truth that still guides us today. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Following Jesus will always direct our path towards the true source of light in the darkness.
Following Jesus will also carry us into the much brighter horizon of a new tomorrow.
Before he brought her brother back to the life in the town of Bethany, Jesus reminded the weeping Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” –John 11:25. It was a promise of hope beyond the grave. The same promise he later spoke to Thomas and the rest of his disciples.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you” –John 14:2. The light of Jesus will not only overcome the darkness of this present world but bring us into the brightness of a perfect one.
Even after our own lives pass away. Even after the world as we know it passes away.
We’ve heard that things sometimes get worse before they get better. According to John’s last writings, they certainly will. Dark times face all of us today, and even darker times face the world tomorrow. A time of tribulation, of nature at war with itself, and a time where demons will seem to rule the day.
But even after a level of darkness most of us can’t even begin to imagine—darkness we are still called to prepare our children for—Jesus’s light will be there to shine its life through all the desolation. A light that will one day give life to a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). A world in which every tear shall be wiped from our eyes (Rev 21:4).
A world where no darkness will be left to challenge our Light when he proclaims, “Behold, I make all things new” –Revelation 21:5
As we look up from the struggles of the year to a Christmas season of light and hope, we can truly celebrate our Reason that shines through the dark days of a pandemic and the dark age of sin. Though pressures can accumulate this time of year, let us remember our victory has already been won and all our darkness overcome.
Through Jesus, our unconquerable light of purity, healing, and life.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ahmed Hasan
Work looks a lot like fun for Kristi Cain and includes inspirational blogging, writing fantastical stories of Christian fiction, teaching English to teens, and being able to say, “I’m a former journalist.” Home is nestled in the Smoky Mountain foothills with her husband and teenage children. If you ever want a little encouragement in your day, visit her blog. You can also check out her website for her latest happenings and join her Facebook group, a lively, faith-based community.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.