Have you ever stopped to wonder why sunbeams shining through a cloud make us think of heaven?
Every. Single. Time. I see the sun’s rays radiating through the clouds, and I imagine heaven breaking in. And, if I let my thoughts move further down that rabbit trail, my mind’s eye sees more light, more shining, more glory.
And there it is. Glory. It’s why we equate light with heaven. Throughout Scripture, light shares the same spaces as God. In the beginning… God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). And there’s light. Darkness has to move over, making room for light. Night gives way to Day.
Moses climbs the mountain to meet with God, and his face radiates, literally glows. Not a sunburn or a sparkly reflection of the sun. His actual skin shines for all to see. And it scares the people, so he covers his face–with a veil (Exodus 34:29-35). He glows because he’s been in the presence of God, and somehow that light of glory soaks into Moses. And it shows.
Moses goes on to build the Tent of Meeting–a holy, moveable Tabernacle. God’s instructions are specific and laborious, but everyone pitches in so that God has a place to dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). On opening day, everything is in its rightful place, including the Ark of the Covenant that has as its lid the Mercy Seat–the very place for God’s presence to sit. All of which is hidden behind the curtain, the veil. And it works:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”Exodus 40:34-35, ESV
God’s Unapproachable Light
But before we get too carried away with these incredible light lessons, it’s important to pause and reflect on the extreme unapproachability of God’s kind of light.
From that glory-filled mountain with Moses, God warns the people not to come too close or touch the mountain–because they’ll die. And, despite his time with God, Moses later asks permission to see God’s glory. To which God responds, humans can’t see my glory and live (Exodus 33:17-23).
In the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, that hidden place behind the veil where God’s glory periodically dwells, no one–not one person, beyond the High Priest on the Day of Atonement–enters that space. Because God is so very holy, no unholiness comes near His brightly-lit presence and lives. He’s like a burning fire that instantly disintegrates the unholy.
Paul understands this.
“He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light. No one has ever seen Him, nor can anyone see Him. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”1 Timothy 6:16
The simple truth–God, in all His holy glory, inhabits light. But we cannot enter that light.
At least, not without Jesus.
Jesus Is the Light
Consistently, Jesus turns our worlds upside-down. We see it happening in the stories recorded in Scripture: Jesus–the Holy One–seeks out sinners and eats with the unholy. He touches lepers and heals the unclean. He lays hands on dead bodies, raising the untouchable to life. Everything that His world has deemed unholy, Jesus makes holy.
Then, very publicly, Jesus flips everything Jewish believers have known about God’s light on its head, calling Himself the Light.
Before Jesus, God embodies unapproachable light.
Before Jesus, no one enters God’s holy, glory-filled presence.
But now this man, Jesus, calls Himself Light, the very essence of God.
It’s good for us to pause here and take in what we in twenty-first century America miss in this scene: the context, which is the joyous annual celebration called the Festival of Tabernacles.
A holy festival that lasts eight days in the fall, the Festival of Tabernacles (aka: Feast of Booths) is both a celebration of the end of harvest and a commemoration of God’s faithfulness during the wilderness-wandering years. In all of the celebrations, dancers, singers, and speakers pull in imagery of water and light throughout all they do. We’ll focus on the aspects of light.
In Jesus’ day, every night of the festival included the lighting of four huge menorahs (lampstands) that stood about fifty yards high, each holding seven lights. Their light symbolized God’s past faithfulness as He led the Israelites through the wilderness by a pillar of light and God’s future deliverance by the coming Messiah.*
Try to picture this scene in your mind’s eye. The lights of the menorahs glow so brightly they illuminate the entire city of Jerusalem. Jews have travelled from all over, so the place is packed. Joy is high. But so is tension–because Jesus has been teaching at the Temple despite death threats, saying things like, if anyone is thirsty, they can come to Him and drink (John 7:38). Confusion. Chaos. Conflict.
This is the context in which Jesus stands on the last night of the Festival and speaks:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”John 8:12, ESV
With this simple yet profound pronouncement, Jesus changes everything. By calling Himself the Light, when God has been the only One to ever dwell in light, He names Himself God, and that’s really hard to understand after thousands of years of God saying He is the only Holy One.
Living In the Light
John picks up the thread of Jesus’ declaration again in his later letter, and his words beautifully integrate the truth of the Light:
“If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7
I’ve read this verse many times, but only now do I clearly see “as God is in the light.” I begin to grasp the perfect, holy connection of old covenant and new. God has always inhabited the light. People never could. But, now, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, anyone who believes in Him can live in the light. We can inhabit the Light.
We, you and I, can enter into the holy presence of God.
Jesus changes the game. In Him we are made holy. Because of Jesus, we can go behind the veil and dwell in the glory of God. We can step into the marvelous light. And darkness once again gives way to Light. Praise God!
- What aspects of God dwelling in light have you considered, believed, or wondered about? Spend some time in your journal soaking in the truths Scripture has given us today about God’s light, His glory.
- I have never forgotten how I felt the day I read about Jesus’ declaration at the Festival of Lights. Lysa TerKeurst’s* descriptions of the setting held my attention and stirred my heart. For the first time I was able to grab hold of how HUGE Jesus’ statement would have been. And how public. And how confusing. Knowing Jesus as the Light had become so normal and natural for me that I failed to comprehend how world-changing its truths were. And are. We still need light. And the Light ALWAYS defeats the darkness.
- I added a song, “God With Us,” to our Dwell Playlist because of the middle bridge’s lyrics. (You’re welcome :)).
You are here
You are holy
We are standing
In Your glory