Scripture: Revelation 21:23-27 (also Matthew 6:22-23)

Title: Light


  • Introduction
  • Light = divine presence
  • Light = wisdom, knowledge & understanding
  • Light = security (safety)
  • Light = goodness (a generous outlook)
  • Conclusion


Please turn with me to Revelation chapter 21, verse 23 – page 322 at the back of your pew Bibles

This morning I am talking about light

  • Light – it is profoundly interesting
  • Light is fast – perhaps the fastest thing in the universe
  • Light is silent – it makes no noise that we can hear
  • Light is extremely ancient – it was there at the beginning of time
  • And yet despite being so old, light is extremely resilient – it shows no sign of aging or slowing down even after billions of years


Our reading from the end of Revelation this morning describes the heavenly city of God – a city of light

  • From Revelation chapter 21, verse 23 the apostle John writes…


23 The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it. 25 The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there. 26 The greatness and the wealth of the nations will be brought into the city. 27 But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of the living will enter the city.


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us


Light = divine presence

We began this sermon considering some of the characteristics of light

  • It’s speed, quietness, age & resilience – nothing else quite compares
  • One other thing we notice about light: although it is insubstantial (you can’t hold it in your hand like a piece of wood or an apple) it is still very real – more real in a sense than wood or apples because light supports life
  • Without light there would be no trees or apples


Light, in the Bible, is a sign of the presence of God

  • When Moses came down from the mountain after spending time in God’s presence he had to wear a veil because his face was so bright, still radiating the light of God’s glory
  • When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain his face and clothes became dazzling white as the three disciples Peter, James & John saw Jesus revealed in his heavenly glory, speaking with Moses & Elijah


Our reading from Revelation 21, verse 23 has the apostle John saying…

  • The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it and the Lamb is its lamp



When the book of Revelation talks about ‘the Lamb’ it is normally referring to Jesus Christ – the Son of God

  • The city of God (heaven in other words) does not need the natural or created light of the sun & moon because God the Father & Jesus the Son give off more than enough supernatural light to see by
  • Although we cannot touch God (like we might touch a tree or an apple) he is more real than what we can hold in our hands because his presence (his light) supports life – outshining the sun & moon


Light = wisdom, knowledge & understanding

Some of you may be wondering why I’m on crutches

  • Well I injured my leg during the holidays while playing with my nieces and nephews on a play ground in Gordonton
  • The first doctor I went to said I had torn my plantaris tendon – which is a tendon in your calf muscle
  • After two weeks of resting my leg it wasn’t much better so I went to Kenepuru on Monday evening, after we returned to Wellington, and the doctor there sent me for an ultra-sound
  • An ultra sound sheds light on your insides
  • In my case it gave knowledge and understanding of what was happening inside my leg
  • My plantaris tendon was in fact okay but two of my calf muscles had ripped apart


So the initial diagnosis was slightly off

  • What was needed was the light of the ultra-sound


As well as being a sign of God’s presence, light also symbolises wisdom, knowledge and understanding

  • The light of Christ is like an ultra-sound shedding light on our insides
  • God sees into our hearts and makes an accurate diagnosis


Verse 24 of Revelation 21 says, The peoples of the world will walk by [the] light of the city of God, or by God’s light

  • ‘Light to walk by’ means wisdom, knowledge and understanding
  • As the psalmist says, By your light (O Lord) we see light [1]
  • In other words, God gives the wisdom, knowledge and understanding we need to live by


Just as the Queen of Sheba travelled a long way and brought expensive gifts to hear Solomon’s wisdom, so too the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into the city of God

  • The light of God’s wisdom in Christ is universally applicable and attractive to peoples of all nationalities and cultures


One important implication that should not be missed here is that the heavenly city of light is not up in the sky somewhere

  • It’s not in some parallel dimension
  • Heaven (in John’s future vision) comes to earth – to us
  • Which is the opposite of how we usually think about it


The point is, because heaven comes to earth it is accessible to all the peoples of the world

  • What’s more if the leaders of the world are going to seek the light of God’s wisdom then that means the nations of the world in the future will enjoy justice and peace
  • So the future looks bright – it is filled with hope (not with zombies)


Light = security (safety)

Light represents God’s presence and where God’s presence is we find the light of wisdom, knowledge and understanding

  • But wait, there’s more – light (to the ancient mind) also represents security or safety
  • We see this connection between light and a feeling of security in Psalm 27 which begins…
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.


That light = security (in the Bible) is something I hadn’t really considered before – but it makes sense

  • Verse 25 of Revelation 21 reads, The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there.

In his commentary on Revelation, Laurie Guy writes…


“A further feature of the city’s security is that it is strongly associated with light. While our modern minds may tend to relate light to knowledge, ancient minds saw light as the antithesis of darkness. Darkness was to be feared. It was a time of danger and threat. Light meant security. The gates of the new Jerusalem could remain open at all times, for the city is bathed with the light of God forever and ever.”  [2]


Light = safety, security


Some of you can probably recall a time in NZ when you didn’t need to lock your house when you went out

  • You could even leave your keys in your car while you went into the shop without any fear of the car being stolen
  • I remember as a 5 year old walking a fair distance to and from school each day by myself – most parents wouldn’t feel safe to let their 5 year old do that now
  • As a society we were a lot less anxious about things then
  • We trusted each other, we felt secure, safe


But the security light seems to have grown dimmer in NZ in recent decades

  • Not in heaven though – in John’s vision of the future when heaven (the city of light) comes to earth, the world is a secure place
  • There is no threat of terror – no Islamic State, no Boko Haram, no kidnappings, no suicide bombers, no cyber attacks, no fear
  • The doors of heaven are not locked, they are wide open all the time


Light = goodness (generosity, truth & purity)

And the reason heaven is such a safe place is that it is filled with goodness – the people there can be trusted. As we read in verses 26 & 27 of Revelation 21…

  • The greatness and wealth of the nations will be brought into the city.
  • But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of the living will enter the city.


This means heaven is filled with the light of goodness – not just the goodness of God but the goodness of human beings also

  • Goodness in the sense of generosity, truthfulness, loyalty and pure deeds
  • Goodness in contrast to the darkness of greed, deceit, unfaithfulness and evil deeds


The greatness and wealth of the nations which will be brought into the city could mean people’s acts of worship

  • It’s not that God is short of cash and needs people to fill up his coffers
  • It’s more that people will one day realise that in Christ we find someone who is more valuable than great wealth
  • Better to have Jesus than all the gold in Fort Knox


The greatness and wealth of the nations also suggests generosity

  • A generous spirit is one of the key indicators of goodness


In Matthew chapter 6 verses 22 & 23 Jesus says…


“The eyes are like a lamp for the body. If your eyes are sound your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyes are no good, your body will be in darkness. So if the light in you is darkness, how terribly dark it will be.”


Jesus is using a saying here that would be familiar and understood by his ancient audience but which makes little sense to us in the 21st Century


People living 2000 years ago had a different idea of how eyes functioned to us

  • To them the eyes were sort of like headlights on a car
  • Light came out through the eyes so people could see and be seen
  • But to us (who have a more scientific world view) eyes are not lamps – they don’t give off light
  • Rather eyes are like windows or lenses – they let the light in


Jesus is not making a scientific claim here about how eyes work – he is simply using categories his audience were familiar with as a metaphor

  • We don’t literally have physical light inside our bodies which somehow shines out of our eyes
  • But we do have the light of goodness (some might say the residue of God’s goodness) within us which needs to shine through
  • This is what Jesus was getting at I think when he said to his followers…
  • “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” [3]


Jesus carries on in Matthew 6 to say…

  • If your eyes are sound your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyes are no good, your body will be in darkness.


The idea here is that the metaphorical light of goodness (within us) affects our perception of reality

  • In other words, if we have the light of goodness in us we will see our neighbour as someone to love, not as someone to fear or exploit


That phrase, “If your eyes are sound…” more accurately translates as “If your eyes are generous…”

  • Meaning, people with the light of goodness in them take a generous view of others and of the world


In contrast to those with sound eyes and a generous outlook are those whose eyes are no good – literally those with the ‘evil eye’, where evil eye is Jewish idiom for stingy, mean spirited or grudging and ungenerous


Matthew places these words of Jesus about goodness and light and a generous outlook right in the middle of Jesus’ teaching about money and wealth

  • So having a generous view (or a sound eye) in the immediate context of Matthew’s gospel means being generous with money
  • But it also has a broader application


Having a generous outlook includes being gracious and not judging or pre-judging others – seeing the good in others and encouraging that good

  • In Jane Austin’s book ‘Pride & Prejudice’ there is a character called Jane Bennett who takes a very generous view of others
  • She refuses to think ill of people and never prejudges a person or a situation – She waits for the facts
  • Jane Bennett is full of light – in contrast to Mr Wickham who (while charming) has an evil eye – always looking for ways to exploit people


This is not to imply that a generous outlook means being undiscerning or naive

  • To the contrary, it’s about exercising an attitude of wise grace
  • The father (in the parable of the prodigal son) had a generous outlook
  • While the older brother had a stingy and grudging outlook


Having a generous outlook also means seeing the good in the world – or seeing God at work in the world

  • In the Old Testament we read the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers
  • Joseph’s brothers had the ‘evil eye’ – they were filled with darkness, looking for a way to get rid of Joseph so they could advance themselves
  • This could have made Joseph bitter but it didn’t
  • Joseph had a sound eye – a generous outlook which filled him with light and made him a light to others
  • Joseph saw how God worked in his circumstances to save millions of lives, saying to his brothers…
  • What you intended for evil, God intended for good


We could go on but you get the point…

  • Light = goodness and the key to goodness – the key to truthfulness, faithfulness and purity – is a generous outlook
  • (Not a mean spirited, nit-picky outlook)
  • We are here (in this world) to let our light shine, quietly but brightly



This morning we have considered some of the main meanings of light in the Bible

  • Light is a sign of God’s presence
  • Light represents wisdom, knowledge and understanding
  • Light implies security or safety
  • And light = goodness (a generous outlook)


In John chapter 8 Jesus says of himself…

  • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.


Jesus is the light of the world

  • The Spirit of Jesus is God’s presence in the world
  • Jesus’ teaching is wisdom, knowledge and understanding for the world
  • Following the way of Jesus makes the world a more secure place
  • Jesus is goodness – he looks at the world with a generous eye
  • He’s not watching us to see if we mess up
  • He sees the best in us and draws out our best


Whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life

[1] Psalm 36:9

[2] Laurie Guy, ‘Making Sense of the Book of Revelation’, page 174-175

[3] Matthew 5:14-16