Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.Matt. 5:13-16
Salt in History
As part of the teaching and preaching ministry of Jesus, it was a common occurrence for him to speak to the people in similes, metaphors and parables. In this week’s scripture reading, salt and light are used as figures of speech to provide examples of godly living. For this study, we will explore a number of references to both salt and light in the Bible giving some context to them from a scriptural perspective.
In order of the above passage, the first reference to be explored will be salt. As a food substance, salt was in existence for several millennia since the salt sea was referenced as far back as the first book in the Bible, “All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.” [Gen. 14:3]
Interestingly, salt had somewhat of an ominous connotation early on during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with Lot and his wife fleeing these cities, “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” [Gen. 19:26] Salt also played an important part for the ancient Israelites dating back to the Levitical priesthood’s offerings to God, “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” [Lev. 2:13]
Similar records from the prophets also give reference to the use of salt during burnt offerings to God, “And thou shalt offer them before the LORD, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up [for] a burnt offering unto the LORD.” [Ezek. 43:24] Generally speaking, for the Israelite diet, salt also would have served an essential part of cuisine given references in scripture such as this passage, “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? ” [Job 6:6]
Salt then takes on a different interpretation with the words of Jesus as it is used to describe a pattern of faith, “Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” [Mark 9:50] Paul also wrote to believers about being “seasoned with salt” in their faith by highlighting the importance of prayer, thanksgiving, witnessing opportunities to lost souls and to walk in godly wisdom, “Let your speech [be] alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” [Col. 4:6]
These references are noted since salt for dietary purposes would have been used as a seasoning to enhance flavors, provide texture to food, serve as a nutrient and to be used as a preservative for foods. Therefore, the phrase seasoned with salt would have resonated well with readers of that day. With this background on salt in hand, let us now look at the next phrase from this scripture passage, called the light of the world.
Previous Bible studies expounded upon the reference of light in scripture, particularly as it relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the most notable examples is given during the transfiguration of Jesus as documented in this scripture, “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.” [Matt. 17:1-3] For the three apostles this would have been a defining moment for them in looking upon the Son of God shining as the sun! He was indeed no mere man before them.
Following this, the reference to light for the people of that age occurred during times when Jesus was speaking to a multitude of people. At one time, he began to condemn the current generation who were intently fixed on seeing signs from heaven before they would believe, likening them to an evil generation from Luke 11:29. As Jesus continued further with his comments, the notion of light was pertaining to the character of faith, “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when [thine eye] is evil, thy body also [is] full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore [be] full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” [Luke 11:34-36] The phrase “having no part dark” is also reminiscent of the study from the beatitudes on pure in heart.
Light meets Darkness
The distinction here is clearly between light and darkness, or good and evil, most likely followed after Jesus saw the unbelief of the people along with their despicable comments associating his acts of healing to Beelzebub, the chief of the devils as recorded earlier in Luke 11:15. With Jesus also chiding them over their lack of repentance noted in Luke 11:32, all these events therefore set the stage for his message related to light versus darkness and good versus evil.
In order to fully understand the comment from Jesus in calling us the light of the world it is important to draw distinctions between people of faith and people of the world, or unbelievers. First, the world is under condemnation because of the fall of mankind and this brought the introduction of an inherent sinful nature in all people. Paul proclaimed this dreadful condition in his letter to the early church in Rome, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” [Rom.3:23] This is one of those all encompassing passages of scripture, that does not say a few, or some, or certain select people, but all have sinned. As sinners, people are in need of a savior from the just punishment of sin before a Holy God.
Secondly, this fallen world is under the domination by the prince, or ruler of this world as noted by Jesus, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” [John 12:31] This ruler, or prince Jesus is referring to is Satan and he is absolutely contrary to all that God represents as further noted by Jesus, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” [John 14:30] This so-called prince is indeed the opposite of salt and light.
Light Overcomes Darkness
Paul’s writings in his letters to early believers provide a synopsis in tying the two distinctions together by contrasting this world to the glorious light provided by Jesus, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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. 4:3-6] This is indeed the startling reality where the god of this world (Satan) has literally blinded the minds of unbelievers, whether people realize it or not they are spiritually blind.
Further to this is the record of Paul’s own conversion of faith on the road to Damascus. He shares the words from Jesus, the risen savior, which helped to show his miraculous transformation from a persecutor of believers to a preacher to the Gentiles. This harmonizes with the previously noted scriptures above and is now referenced, “…To open their eyes, [and] to turn [them] from darkness to light, and [from] the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith.” [Acts 26:18] As people come to Christ, their eyes are indeed opened to the gospel of his saving grace.
Living as light
Herein lies the crux of the whole matter, that to be the salt of the earth and light of the world, people must first come to and believe in the true light, which is Jesus, before having any ability to have spiritual light in themselves. Paul further writes to highlight this difference between people of this world and people of faith, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” [Eph. 5:8]
Further to this, as someone comes to saving faith in Christ they are to walk in a different manner, not a physical walk but a new spiritual walk as Paul notes, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them. This is further reiterated in other letters of Paul as evidenced in this passage, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” [1 Thess. 5:5], [Eph. 5:11-14] This light now comes together with the salt and light metaphor from Jesus in this week’s scripture reading.
The encouraging words in Paul’s letters continue to build upon this theme of light within the early church of believers, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” [Col. 1:12] Finally in this context, even the apostle Peter framed these words to lend further support of Christ’s light, “But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [1 Pet. 2:9]
Jesus is the Light
To close off this Bible Study, it is fitting to reference a message provided 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. 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 5:7] As Christians, we are frequently instructed from scripture to walk moment by moment and daily in the light of God.
There is only one true source of spiritual light in a world filled with sin, darkness and lost souls. Jesus is showing the way for people seeking him with a sincere heart, “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] The world often mocks the phrase, “come to the light”, but it is reassuring to know that the true light really does exist for all who desire to come to Jesus in simple faith. Why not come to him now so that you can become the salt of the earth and light of the world that Jesus is calling us to be for his glory?
Bible Study Questions
- In this study on Salt and Light, why do you think Jesus often used simple phrases to describe more complex subjects?
- How would you explain the use of salt and light to someone who was asking what they mean from Jesus’ teaching?
- In the section Biblical Light what is associated with darkness from a Biblical perspective? Hint Luke 11:34-36.
- In the section Worldly Darkness, who is the prince of this world?
- In the section Light overcomes Darkness, who is the god of this world?
- Fill in the blanks about Paul’s conversion, from ________ to light, and [from] the power of _____ unto God.
- Why do you think people prefer to live in the darkness of this world instead of becoming the salt and light for God?
WORD GUIDE – * (oblation – an offering to God) * (transfigured – to change in appearance) * (doth – does) * (sanctified – to set apart or free from sin) * ( reprove – refute) * (partaker – to take part in)