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Thoughts on “the true Light” and John’s following the hermeneutical lead of our Lord Jesus Christ

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Dec - 11 - 2013
Richard Barcellos

John 1:9 may not be as clear an example as other texts, but I think it is highly relevant, assuming my understanding of “the true Light” carries any weight. If it does, it is evidence of how words and phrases utilized by the Gospel authors can be packed with Old Testament inference and examples of how the Apostles followed their Lord’s hermeneutical lead.

In John 1:9, we read, “There was the true Light…” Note the description of the Light as “true.” This could simply mean not false. But “true” in John’s Gospel has another technical meaning, especially when it is connected to Old Testament concepts. Notice John 6:32 and John 15:1.

32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. (John 6:32 NAU)

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. (John 15:1 NAU)

Now listen to Andres Kostenberger:

By affirming that Jesus is the “true light”–just as he is the “true bread from heaven” (6:32) and the “true vine” (15:1)–John indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of OT hopes and expectations. …The term [“true”] here and elsewhere in John conveys the notion of genuine in conjunction with typology: Moses [God!] gave the manna to OT Israel…; Jesus is the true bread from heaven–he gives life in an ultimate sense. Israel was God’s vineyard; Jesus is God’s vineyard [i.e., God’s fruitful vine]…par excellence. Moreover, [“true”] here also conveys a sense of ultimacy: in Jesus, God has revealed himself in an escalated, eschatological sense….[1]

All previous revelation of God pointed to this Light. All revelation finds its goal in Him. He is the revelation of God that all previous revelation pointed to. He is that to which all previous light from God points to.

Note also that our Lord Jesus is called “the Light.” Now listen to Isaiah 9:1-2, which says:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.

Now listen to Matthew 4:12-16.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES– 16 “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.”

What’s going on here? Our Lord is called “the Light” not only because he is God who reveals himself to us but because he is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament who was to come to bear light or display the torch of divine revelation like none other before him. This connection between “light,” the promised Messiah, and our Lord Jesus is made clear in Luke 2:25-32 (esp. v. 32; cf. also Isa. 42:6-7; 49:6, “I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth”; Luke 1:78-79 with Mal. 4:2; cf. Num. 24:15-19, notice “whose eye is open” [revelation] (v.15b and 16), “a star” [light] (v. 17), “scepter” [rule of a king] (v. 17), “crush” [a conqueror, cf. Gen. 3:15] (v. 17), “dominion” [cf. Gen.1:28 and Psa. 72 w. Matt. 28:18-19] (v. 19)).

Our Lord Jesus is the Light promised to come in the Old Testament in the person and work of the Messiah. He is that Light to which all previous revelatory light pointed. The Apostle John (and others) follow the hermeneutical lead of our Lord when explaining who he was, what he did, and how these are related to the expectations of the Old Testament.


[1] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 35.

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