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A charming technique of master portrait artists is chiaroscuro, the practice of contrasting light and darkness. Gerard van Horthurst’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (1622) offers a beautiful example of this technique. In the painting, the Christ child in the manger is the sole source of light. His little body, like a frail candle in the darkness, scatters the shadows from all who adore him.
Like master portrait artists, the Gospel writers frequently appeal to the idea that Christ is the light in their depictions of the Savior. The apostle John says that Jesus was the Light that came into the world through the incarnation to illumine all mankind (John 1:9). Matthew tells us that, at the Transfiguration, the light of the Savior “shined like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). Similarly, when Jesus appeared to John the Beloved on Patmos, the light of his face “was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16)!
The theology of the Light of Christ illumines the texts of Holy Scripture. In the creation account, Moses is careful to report that the Light shined before the sun and the stars were created (Genesis 1:3-5, cf. 1:14). Biblical scholars have puzzled over this strange sequence for centuries. To understand, we must simply consider the apostle John’s vision of the Heavenly New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation. John tells us that the Heavenly City will no longer have need of the sun because the Lamb is the Light (Revelation 21:3, 22:5)! That is, the original Light that predated the sun will shine after the sun is gone, too! From the beginning to the end, the Bible illumines the hearts of believers to a truth that we already intuit, namely, that the Light of Jesus both preceded and will forever succeed the sun! Light does not come originally from the sun. It comes originally and uniquely from Jesus!
The Gospel of John and Literary Chiaroscuro
The Gospel of John is written in a manner that reminds us of the chiaroscuro brushstroke of a master painter. John the Beloved intends to show us that Jesus is the Light of the world. So in contrast to Jesus, he depicts Jerusalem as the city of darkness. In two notable scenes, John masterfully contrasts the light of the Savior with the darkness of Jerusalem. In John 3, the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (John 3:2). In this beautiful scene, Nicodemus leaves the darkness of the city and comes into the saving light of the presence of Jesus! We find a far more sobering scene in John 13. At the Last Supper, Jesus commands Judas to leave and go about his treachery, saying, “What you do, do quickly!” (John 13:27). At this word, Judas arises, leaves the presence of Jesus, the Light of the World, and escapes into the shadows of the city of darkness. Ominously, John writes, “And it was night” (John 13:30).
Jesus, the Light of the World
From the holy texts of Scripture, we learn that the sun was created to illustrate the glory of Christ.
God made the sun to rule over the day and to illumine the moon that rules the over night, all in a glorious reflection of the Lord’s own dominion over the day and night. The apostle John tells us that Jesus created all things in the beginning (John 1:3). He set the sun in the sky to mark the seasons and measure the progress of time (Genesis 1:14-15). But the sun is merely the servant of the true Light. Jesus can command the sun to stand still, as he did in the days of Joshua, halting the forward march of time (Joshua 10:12-14). But he can just as easily command the sun to go backwards, as he did in the days of Hezekiah, directing the sundial to mark the reversal of time (2 Kings 20:8-11).
In the ancient world, many peoples worshipped the sun as the divine source of life. Scripture tells us that these idolaters, who exalted the light of the sun, grew blind and extinguished their own understanding (Ephesians 4:18). They worshipped the creation instead of the Creator, and so their foolish hearts grew dark (Romans 1:21). Remarkably, though, the Greek philosopher Socrates was able to conclude, by reason alone (the logos), that the Divine Being had made the sun to illustrate its own divinity. Socrates viewed the Divine Essence in trinitarian terms, as the perfection of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Surely God gave these categories of the imagination to the Hellenistic world to prepare them to receive the gospel revelation of the true Lord of Light!
The wonders of the heavenly sun display the many perfections of the true Light of the World. The radiant light of Jesus brings joy to those who dwell in darkness. The Savior promises to awaken his people from the darkness of death to arise in the light of new life.
The light of the sun confounds the wisdom of the wise; it mystifies astronomers because it has properties of both the wave and the particle. Through some great mystery, the sun works both to soften the wax and to harden the clay. Its heat both thaws the snow and creates the clouds. The cresting dawn makes the darkness of night flee beyond the horizon. Sunlight causes the rainbow to shine in all of its prismatic beauty. Its radiance illumines the colorful jewels and sparkling gems of the Heavenly New Jerusalem, the City of Light.
The motion of the sun silently and imperceptibly moves the shadows of the sundial. The sun likewise measures both the cycle of the seasons and the great ages of time. The psalmist composed the praises of the sun, singing that the righteous will flourish in the light of its day, and peace will prevail, until the moon is no more!
The sun is the source and sustainer of physical life itself. Its gentle warmth cheers the cheeks of the blind. Its light restores health and well-being to the frail. But we who have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness know the true source of its power, for we have become members of the kingdom of light. And we know the true Light is Jesus!
“For God, who commanded Light to Shine out of Darkness, is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Dr. Warren A. Gage, Th.M., J.D., Ph.D. is president of The Alexandrian Form, which provides life-changing Biblical teaching. © 2020 The Alexandrian Forum Read more articles by Dr. Warren A. Gage at goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-warren-gage/