Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, [by] the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.Matt. 4:12-16
Who was Matthew?
Before exploring the study for this week on darkness saw great light, let us digress for a moment to first have a look at the apostle Matthew. The departure of Jesus into Galilee is recorded by Matthew, the author of this gospel account. Matthew, also known as Levi, was a Jewish man who at one time was a publican, or tax collector for the Roman Empire. This role in society was viewed with much contempt since it enriched an oppressive regime off the backs of Israelites often through corrupt and fraudulent methods.
When Jesus once spoke to an unbelieving crowd, he categorized individuals like publicans among with others of low reputation, “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” [Matt. 11:19] Interestingly, Matthew was called by Jesus to follow him [Matt. 9:9] and he became one of his twelve apostles. This is noteworthy as Jesus did not choose high profile individuals from any of society’s elite; in fact many of his apostles were fishermen from that period.
The apostle Paul made note of the same common characteristic traits of Jesus’ disciples and endeavoured to provide rationale for these humble callings, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called:] But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea,] and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” [1Cor. 1:26-29] In summary therefore, one should never think that they must become someone of significance or a person of importance first in order to be worthy of coming to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Light and Darkness
For the remainder of this study, the focus will now be on the prophetic statement from the scripture reading, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light.” This text from Matthew is actually a quotation from the prophet Isaiah in Is. 9:2. It is important to place this statement though into a contextual timeline of events. Recall from last week’s scripture of the many circumstances that took place prior to this one. As a reminder, they are listed below in the span of many years.
First, a woman gave birth to a child as conceived by the Holy Spirit . He was called Christ the Lord and was destined to save his people from their sins. Wise men brought unique gifts to the child called King of the Jews. John the Baptist led the way for the coming Messiah. Jesus was then baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness. The presence of the triune God with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit took place. Then the temptation of Jesus took place in the wilderness.
Now after all of these events had transpired, Jesus was on his way to Galilee. Matthew notably aligns the entry of Jesus into this town with scripture that was written centuries before by the prophet [Is. 9:1-2]. Encompassed in these scriptural verses is a compelling contrast of light with darkness. This darkness is a spiritual darkness and the distinction is often contrasted in scripture. Take for example, when Jesus spoke to the multitudes during his sermon on the mount, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great [is] that darkness! ” [Matt.6:22-23]
Lamentations in Darkness
The absence in scripture of this theme, darkness saw great light, it has never produced favourable circumstances. Consider during the plagues that God imposed upon Pharaoh and his people in Egypt, notably the ninth plague. This was described as an ominous form of darkness, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness [which] may be felt.” [Ex.10:21]
Or contemplate upon the darkness portrayed in Job’s lamentation over his many trials and tribulations. He gave an allusion to darkness in reference to the day of his birth, “Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As [for] that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months.” [Job 3:4-6] Job continued to lament further with a sense of dark hopelessness toward death, “Before I go [whence] I shall not return, [even] to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness [itself; and] of the shadow of death, without any order, and [where] the light [is] as darkness.” [Job 10:21]
Even someone as notable as King David suffered through many challenges of spiritual darkness that were documented in the book of Psalms, “For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.” [Ps.143:3] Despite these periods of spiritual darkness and despondency, we will see how spiritual light from God can strengthen your faith. With that said, let us now look into the scriptures for this much needed spiritual light from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Proclaiming The Light
Jesus is the source of this spiritual light but the darkness of the world does not understand it, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” [John 1:5-6] Despite this lack of understanding from the darkness, John goes on further to proclaim who the true spiritual light is in scripture, “[That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:9]
Consider the same message when Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus and contrasted light with darkness, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” [John 3:19-21] Notice this dichotomy between light and darkness in scripture as it pertains to light from the Lord Jesus Christ and darkness of the world.
Children of the Light
Let us look a little further at the spiritual distinction made by the apostles in reference to light and darkness. Paul provided a compelling contrast and admonition of this while writing to believers, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” [Rom.13:12] Paul further reinforced this message to believers with encouraging words in one of his other letters, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” [1 Thess. 5:4-5]
The apostle John similarly provided a heartfelt contrast on living in the light of God while at the same time highlighting the sin cleansing effect of Jesus upon believers, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” [1 John 1:6-7] Fellowship with Christ indeed comes from walking in his light.
As the ministry of Jesus continued, his words consistently conveyed this thematic overtone of darkness saw great light. He contrasted this spiritual darkness in a distinctive way against himself as the light of the world, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” [John 8:12] Later on in his ministry when he started speaking of his eventual departure to his disciples he taught them to believe in the light, “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” [John 12:35-36a]
Christ gives Light
Readers who are new to the Christian faith may be asking themselves, what is this spiritual light and how does one obtain it. This light is provided through the gospel message by having a spiritual birth in Christ as noted in the scriptures, “…made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” [2 Tim. 1:10] It is therefore obtained by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as your saviour for his redemptive work upon the cross for the sins of humanity, including yours and mine!
There are a few more relevant verses from scripture worth mentioning on darkness saw great light. Paul continues to affirm the Lord Jesus in this theme, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2 Cor. 4:6] He also provides a further and more distinctive contrast of this for believers to contemplate, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” [Eph. 5:8]
Paul also does not hesitate to warn believers about the risks of remaining within this realm of worldly darkness, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them.] For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” [Eph. 5:11-14] This is truly where it is at for seekers of faith, Christ will indeed give you light!
Christ is the Eternal Light
To close off this study on the people which sat in darkness saw great light, many scriptural references were given to illustrate the vast distinction between light and darkness from a spiritual perspective. Finding spiritual light in a world often filled with spiritual darkness is only found by seeking it directly from God, “For thou [art] my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.” [2 Sam. 22:29] The distinction of darkness and light abundantly permeates scripture and for good reason.
The Lord Jesus Christ is truly the eternal light of the world as noted by the apostle John, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” [1 John 1:5] This is a most remarkable verse and for seekers of faith, it is reassuring to know, this light will shine into eternity, “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb [is] the light thereof.” [Rev.21:23] In conclusion therefore, if Jesus really is the light of the world, why not let him be the light in your world today for in him is no darkness at all!
Bible Study Questions
- Why do you think Jesus chose common people such as Matthew or fishermen, some of whom were not well educated, as his disciples?
- Why do you think sin in a person’s life is often described as spiritual darkness?
- Can you give an example from scripture of people who were in spiritual darkness?
- Why do you think the Gospel according to John states that the darkness did not comprehend the light of Jesus?
- What do you think Paul meant for believers when he spoke of casting off the works of darkness?
- How would you explain to someone who is not a Christian the phrase, Christ will give thee light?
- Can you name at least one person with whom you would like to share this message on the people which sat in darkness saw great light?
WORD GUIDE – * (base – low) * (nought – nothing)
For reference, here are some frequently asked questions that are answered in this Bible Study. It is with sincere prayer that they have been answered through carefully researched and written commentary for seekers of faith. The absence of answers in the study is perhaps indicative that the events and circumstances were deemed less worthy of documentation in the overall importance of biblical scripture. What does the Bible say about sitting in darkness? In what New Testament text do we find a reference to the phrase the people walking in darkness have seen a great light from Isaiah 9? What is the light of John 1? What does it mean to walk in the light? Who is Isaiah 9 referring to? What is walking in the darkness? What are the consequences of walking in the darkness?