Light is an extremely significant motif in Scripture. We first read of it in Genesis 1:3 as the word of God breaks into the darkness of a world not yet created: “Let there be light.” Such is the power of the divine command that we are not surprised to read next, “and there was light.” We last read of the light in Revelation 22:5, “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord gives them light; and they shall reign forever and ever.” The glory of the Lord lightens this place, and the Lamb Himself is the light thereof (Rev. 21:23). The created light of Genesis 1 plays a role in the drama of God’s ultimate plan consummated in Revelation 22 as the artificial, ectypal light points forward to the full disclosure of the archetypal light, namely Christ Himself. The created light is the first stage in the preparation for man and woman’s habitation in the Garden of Eden. The days of creation build toward humanity. God created and He pronounced it good, but once sin enters the garden there is upheaval and destruction. Humans in their fallen state love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
But Eden will be restored. In fact, the restoration will bring a garden even greater than Eden. The light that illumines this consummated garden is not artificial; it emanates from the Lord God Himself. And just as the created light separated the light from darkness, the Lord God in the consummated garden separates His reign and the reign of His saints from the workers of iniquity. There will not be another Fall. The workers of iniquity stand permanently out- side in total darkness and cannot infiltrate the garden of God (Rev. 22:15). The light of the victorious Messiah will shine forevermore.
The significance of light goes beyond its mention in the account of creation and in the description of the restored garden. Light is also significant in how it communicates the arrival of the Redeemer and the Redeemer’s commission to His followers to make God known. As Messiah, Jesus employs a threefold function: He is Prophet, Priest, and King; the light motif contributes to a deeper understanding of the prophetic function of Jesus, the Messiah. God makes Himself known through words, works, and acts. He speaks finally and climactically in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate (Heb. 1:1–2).
This post focuses on the Messiah’s prophetic function with special attention to Luke’s use of Isaiah’s light motif. Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis in Luke 2 and Paul’s response before the hostile Jews in Antioch recorded in Acts 13 are key to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ arrival to earth as the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan and the necessary spread of that plan through the witness of Christ’s followers. Each passage underscores the belief that God’s redemptive plan was never intended to be exclusively for Israel. Central to the Luke–Acts passages is the conviction that Isaiah’s Servant would bring salvation not only for the Jews, but also for the nations. Both Simeon and Paul directly cite Isaiah’s Servant in 49:6. Luke’s use of the light motif also brings to mind allusions to Isaiah 9:2 (“the people that walk in darkness have seen a great light”).