How John 1:5 Helps Me from Falling into Pessimism and DespairMay 3, 2019
On first sight, John 1:5 may not appear to be all that significant. But I need to remind myself of the truth it contains every day. Otherwise, I fear I might want to give up, or just hunker down until Jesus returns. Here is what John says:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
John’s point in this passage is to tell us how the Word of God (John 1:1), the Second Person of the Trinity, relates to the darkness of this sinful and fallen world. Although John may have in mind the darkness in Genesis 1:3, the darkness at the beginning of time that was dispelled by the creation of literal light, he more likely has in view “darkness” as a symbol or way of describing evil and sin and ignorance of God and rebellion against God. Listen to what John says in John 3:19-20,
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
This is why evil, unbelieving people hate Jesus. Don’t be misled by their declaration that they admire Jesus, that he is a wonderful, wise teacher and philosopher or moral guide. When the truth of who Jesus is finally dawns on them, that apart from their trusting in him for forgiveness of sins they will suffer eternal separation, their hatred will come to the surface.
As I said earlier, I really need this verse today. In fact, hardly a day passes that I don’t really need this verse. You may read it and think there isn’t much by way of practical application in it, but I beg to differ. Let me explain why.
I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of our world. The “darkness” in our world, in our society, in our state, in our city, seems to be gaining ground. By “darkness” I have in mind such things as the unrepentant, arrogant expression of sexual immorality at every turn. I have in mind such things as the on-going slaughter of human life on the part of radical terrorists. I have in mind the perpetual slaughter of human life in the womb. I have in mind the inexcusable indifference in the human heart toward God and his beauty. I have in mind the rampant idolatry of our world, the unbridled greed and prideful ambition of young and old, the lying, cheating, embezzling, and outright theft on the part of people who try to tell us they are honest and forthright. I have in mind the nauseating frequency with which we hear about the abuse of children or their abandonment and the political corruption and self-seeking so pervasively present in our government. Do I need to say anything more? I hope not.
But here’s the good news. Here is why I’m encouraged today. John declares without qualification that “the darkness has not overcome” the light of Christ Jesus, the Word of God. To make sense of this, we need to know the meaning of the word translated “overcome” (v. 5). An earlier version of the NIV translation renders this word as “understand,” as if the response of the darkness to the light of Christ is merely ignorance or lack of insight. The more recent NIV translates it by the term “overcome.” The reason for this is that in 9 of the 15 occurrences of the Greek word here (katalambano) it means to seize or overtake and subdue with hostile intent. In Mark 9:18 a demon is said to have “seized” a little boy. In John 12:35 Jesus says that we should walk while we “have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” It is used twice in John 8:3-4 to describe how the woman brought to Jesus had been “caught” in the act of adultery.
The world is not neutral about God and the Lord Jesus Christ. It hates him. It resists and defies him and lies about him. But take heart, Christian, for John promises us that no matter how deep and pervasive and persistent the darkness may be, it will never, ever conquer or overcome or defeat the light of the person and work of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. It may appear that Jesus is losing ground. It may appear for a season that the church is defeated. It may appear that there are fewer and fewer believers in the world and that church attendance is plummeting. But appearances are most assuredly deceiving.
Jesus is ever-present and all-powerful in the accomplishing of his purpose. Nothing will overcome him. No one will defeat him. His victory is absolutely certain.
It doesn’t ultimately matter that the wrong people are elected to office. Don’t despair when the wrong laws are enacted by Congress. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to elect the best candidates and enact the most righteous and godly of laws. I’m simply saying that when things go south politically and economically and morally and religiously, Jesus is not threatened and his purposes are not in jeopardy.
There’s one more reason why we can confidently know that the “darkness” will not “overcome” the light of Jesus Christ and his gospel. It is because of what is said in John 1:3. The powers of darkness, be they demons or institutions or individuals, were all created or made by the Word. Jesus is sovereign over and in control of all that he has made, even those things and people that in turn rebelled against him. They didn’t escape his control. And the creator is always stronger, infinitely stronger, than anything and everything he created.
Someone might say, “But isn't the atom bomb more powerful than the men who created it? Can't the atom bomb destroy its maker?” “The answer,” writes John Piper, “is that there is an infinite difference between, on the one hand, making a bomb out of materials that exist already and which are controlled by laws you did not write, and, on the other hand, creating out of nothing the very materials of the universe and the laws that control them. If you can make something out of nothing, you can always turn that something into nothing. And therefore the Creator always has the upper hand in his world. He will triumph.”
So take heart, Christian. Don’t let pessimism overtake your perspective on life. Don’t despair. We are assured by God himself that no matter how dark our world becomes, sin and Satan will not win!