John 1:4-5 NKJV

4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

What is the darkness?

  • The darkness descended in Eden when humanity chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and rejected the Tree of Life. I am surprised at the question.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 1 at 3:52
  • @NigelJ Frankly, it was one of those, I know the answer, but, do I really know the answer? It's more of a nuance question. My initial thought was that if life is the light of men then perhaps death is the darkness of men. However, death could also be unrighteousness/sin as stated by Jim or even ignorance as stated by Dottard. Dottard's answer also suggests that it refers to people, but is it just the people? Or perhaps, and even likely it's all of them. Such were the thoughts I had.
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 1 at 22:37
  • 1
    Yes, I understand. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 2 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


John starts his gospel account referring to Creation (Genesis 1:1 ff., which is mysterious in its wording). John then brings clarity by leaping straight from Creation to the arrival of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the logos who became flesh as the man, Jesus. It's almost as if, for John's purpose of explanation, nothing that happened inbetween those two miraculous events will provide the clear connection between life, and light. Here is an explanation of those verses in John's gospel account:

"The beginning was a Person. This was a hidden mystery, but the hidden mystery - John discloses - was a divine Person, one with and in the Godhead.

The Creation therefore was not an end in itself. Moreover, the first man Adam - together with his progeny - was not the reason for Creation.

The logos was the reason, and both Creation and mankind prefigured and heralded the ultimate purpose of God. However, that purpose, or logos, was hid from ages and generations. But there was light shining from the Person who was the life, whose life was the logos. But the light shone in darkness. It was incomprehensible to man that God had a hidden reason for Creation to which he was utterly in the dark." John Chapters 1 to 12 - The First Six Signs, John Metcalfe, p.37, http://www.johnmetcalfepublishingtrust.co.uk/contact_us.htm

Before the incarnation, and from the beginning, this divine Person (called the logos, or word, of God) remained hidden in God, who is Spirit. God dwells in light unapproachable, whom no man has seen, nor can see (1 Timothy 6:16). Despite fallen humanity dwelling in spiritual darkness since the entrance of sin into the world, it is clearly shown in the scriptures that God absolutely is the source of light, for "God is light" - 1 John 1:5 - that writer also saying that Jesus is "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). Jesus also said of himself, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5).

It is this divine light that is the life of men. Only the life that comes through Christ can give light that gives life eternal to men. Only through this Person, Jesus Christ, can spiritual darkness be replaced with spiritual light that brings eternal life.

That light is no longer in the world via the Person of Jesus Christ, who has returned to Heaven, but the Holy Spirit has come to give new, spiritual light and life to all who believe in Christ, though they have not seen him. That is why the resurrected Christ said that those who have not seen him, but who yet believe in him, are blessed (John 20:29).

This means that, in answer to your question, the darkness John spoke of in the text is spiritual darkness, which is spiritual deadness, which is the portion of all who remain without belief in Jesus Christ being the logos incarnated, who came into the world, as the eternal Son of God - their life-giving Creator (John 1:3). Consider the last clause in verse 5, as explained here:

"But the darkness comprehended it not. How could it? ...God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. This was 'in the beginning', days before the sun - much less man - was created. But thereafter, man fell by transgression into darkness, an inward darkness in which the light of the sun could make no difference.

More: the uncomprehending darkness received nothing whatever from the light of life. God is light, and it is to this, proceeding from the life, that the passage refers. But this divine outshining is in the heavens, it is in the glory, it is of the spiritual day.

This is the day that the Lord hath made, and in it, 'day unto day uttereth speech'. Here is another, a heavenly, a spiritual realm, where 'there is no darkness at all'. But in the realm of darkness there is no light at all. Above and beyond the interior consciousness of man the light still shone, but shone outside the darkness in which man had immersed himself...

If man were to be brought to the light, and to find the life, of necessity it must be in a Second Man, a last Adam, who, to redeem those given to him must needs receive the sword [of Eden] sheathed in his own side on their behalf. In him and from him there must be a new creation..." (Ibid. pp.43-46)

  • I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you! Up-voted!
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 2 at 19:06

A comment from the article "Follow the Light of the World" from the Watchtower of April 1, 1993, says:

Light stands for truth and righteousness,in contrast with darkness, which stands for error and unrighteousness. Thus John shows that the darkness will not conquer the light.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 1 at 2:40

The verse in John 1:5 about darkness appears to be a direct allusion to Isa 9:1, 2 - a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

Indeed, the NT explicitly says that this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus in places like Matt 4:16. See also Acts 26:18, Rom 13:12, Eph 5:8, 11, etc.

Barnes addresses this point clearly:

The light shineth in darkness - Darkness, in the Bible, commonly denotes ignorance, guilt, or misery. See Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:16; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8, Ephesians 5:11; Romans 13:12. It refers here to a wicked and ignorant people. When it is said that "the light shineth in darkness," it is meant that the Lord Jesus came to teach an ignorant, benighted, and wicked world. This has always been the case. It was so when he sent his prophets; so during his own ministry; and so in every age since. His efforts to enlighten and save men have been like light struggling to penetrate a thick, dense cloud; and though a few rays may pierce the gloom, yet the great mass is still an impenetrable shade.

  • I like the ending of that Barnes quote. I appreciate the answer!
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 1 at 23:33

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