Light and Darkness

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”” (John 3:19–21, ESV)

John began this section on Nicodemus with the confused Pharisee coming to speak with Jesus at night in order to be enlightened.  John ends this section contrasting light with darkness, pointing back to a contrast that he has already made (John 1.4-5), and that he will use again (8.12; 12.35; 1 John 1.6).

John uses the concept of darkness as a figurative extension of the meaning of the Greek word for darkness (σκότος), which is to say that it represents the state of spiritual or moral darkness (BDAG).  This is a concept which the NT writers use again and again (Acts 26.18; 1 Peter 2.9).

People loved the darkness, says John, because their deeds were evil and they did not want them revealed by the light.  There is no need to set about proving this statement because it is plainly obvious to anyone who bothers looking.  The very last thing we want people to see is the darkness that resides in our own heart.  Sure, we’d like to compare ourselves with others and pat ourselves on the back for being less evil than others, but we know–oh how we do know–that we are filled with selfishness, self-seeking, irritation at the intrusion of others, and the desire to have our own name look good.  Darkness is a good word for this.

John says that those who love darkness do not want their deeds exposed.  BDAG says the word means to scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose, set forth.  Louw-Nida says it mean: to state that someone has done wrong with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing.  Ouch!  Guilty.  Nothing worse than having one’s innermost complaints and irritabilities, not to mention one’s evil deeds brought to the light of day.  No wonder men want to hide them.

The rebel who comes to the light will do what is true and what he does will be done of God.  I had a hard time understanding vs. 21 in the ESV.  Sometimes it is helpful to compare translations so that one gets a better understanding of a particular verse.  Here are some ways that vs. 21 is translated:

  • it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done through God (NIV) [the translation I understood the best]
  • so others can see that they are doing what God wants (NLT)
  • so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God (NRSV)
  • in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God (GNT)

I like how one commentator refers to this verse.  He writes: He does not claim that they are perfect, only that they have been wrought in the sphere of and in the power of God.  Hence he wants the light turned on [emphasis added].

Are the lights turned on in your life, dear reader?

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