The the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)
The tense of the verbs in this sentence grabs our attention. The light shines, present tense, and the darkness has failed to apprehend it, past tense.
God’s Constant Witness to Mankind: The light shining is a constant on-going reality – it has shined in the past, it will shine in the future, and it is shining right now. It is the Greek Present Active Indicative, which means it is constant. God gives a witness through nature – “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) – and through our human nature and moral conscience – “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:19). Furthermore, He has given the message of salvation and of Jesus Christ to many who have chosen not to believe.
Humanity’s Rejection of God’s Witness: The tense of darkness’ response to God’s witness is put in the past tense, the Greek Aorist. This tense was often used as a snap-shot, or a single point description of a process. The word “comprehend” in English means for us “to understand,” and the negative seems to suggest that mankind simply did not “get it” or grasp the meaning of God’s witness. Yet the original Greek describes something darker and more sinister in the human soul than that. Katalambano is the word in Greek and it was used in Philippians 3:12 and 13 for “apprehend,” and in 1 Corinthians 9:24 for “obtain.” Albert Barnes wrote:
The darkness did not receive or admit the rays of light; the shades were so thick that the light could not penetrate them; or, to drop the figure, men were so ignorant, so guilty, so debased, that they did not appreciate the value of his instructions; they despised and rejected him. And so it is still. The great mass of men, sunk in sin, will not receive his teachings, and be enlightened and saved by him. Sin always blinds the mind to the beauty and excellency of the character of the Lord Jesus.
Humanity’s rejection was based not on a fair examination of the witness, but on the prejudicial blackness of the human heart and of sin. Darkness never can grasp or admit light. The past tense of the verb describing this spiritual hardness or blindness as a fact, emphasizing the reality of our need.
The Illumination of the Life of Christ: What is said in verse 5 in John 1 is a general observation of our human fallenness. He illustrated his point in the following verses with the birth of Christ. the witness of nature and conscience, even the witness of the Law of God, was not enough to pull back the darkness of the human heart. So God sent the Christ to become flesh and to “tabernacle among us,” the literal meaning of John 1:14.
He won people to Himself through His life and witness. They saw His manner, heard His preaching, witnessed His power over disease, and were won to Him. No man lived like Him, loved like Him, died like Him, or rose again like Him. Yet even then, in His lifetime, there was an internal witness by God’s Spirit, even though He had not come upon the world in His full strength. In His lifetime Christ said that no one could come to Him unless the Father drew that person (John 6:44). And from His words to Peter, that it was the Father who had revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ of God (Matt. 16:17), we know that the Father’s work of drawing people was done by an internal witness of His Spirit, and not merely through providential circumstances alone.
The Internal Illumination of the Spirit: Christ spoke in His lifetime of a future time when the Spirit of God would come upon the world with power (John 16:8-11), bringing conviction and conversion to the truth. Humanity cannot come to Christ without this work of drawing, convicting, and illumination of the soul. And we have a part to play in this encounter, for we must be the voice and feet of Jesus today. We must speak the truth of the gospel to the world so that they can hear the message of grace. Paul spoke of this process the clearest when in 2 Corinthians he wrote:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:3-6 NET)
The finest of men, the greatest of our non-Christian philosophers were dimly groping in their darkness for something that they could not fully grasp. Though we may be impressed by the words of Socrates or Aristotle, of Confucius, and find in them something to admire, they are weak and inadequate when compared to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Our response should be to receive God’s witness in Christ, to believe in Him, to trust that He can save, and to grow in this knowledge, faith, and obedience. The witness of Christ calls us to life, a new spiritual life, and this the world cannot give.