Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

What does Jesus mean by light? Talents? Spiritual gifts? God showing through us? Something else?

Update: I have now also asked this at Biblical Hermeneutics, as mentioned in comments below.

  • 2
    This question may be better served over on hermeneutics. However, you will likely get a good answer here as well probably from a very different bent.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 14:44
  • I highly recommend The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is the best analysis of the Sermon on the Mount that I've ever read. I don't have my copy on hand at the moment or I'd attempt an answer here. (However, it might be impossible to summarize Bonhoeffer's interpretation, since his writing rivals the density of Paul's letters. Long quotation do not a good answer make.) Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


First of all, it's interesting to note that in John 8:12, Jesus says, 'I [Jesus] am the light of the world," but here he says that "You [the Jewish followers of Jesus listening to Him at that time] are the light of the world." One understanding of this is that Jesus is the light source, while we are the light rays. Another way to understand it is that Jesus is the first candle, and each of us are candles that are lit by His flame.

Indeed, the Jewish people were given the revelation of God in order to be a testimony to the world, and indeed God used them to be that in Egypt (Exodus - "that the Egyptians will know there I am the Lord"), in the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires through the lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and in various other ways.

John 1:9 indicates that Jesus gives light to all people. John 3:19 indicates that light has come into the world, but many people have rejected the light.

So, it seems the light is using a physical reality to demonstrate a spiritual reality. The light, then, probably refers to the revelation of God. Jesus was the revelation of God, as He states in John 17. We also are called to testify to the glory of God, so that a people living in darkness can see a great light and come to God in faith.

  • So you're saying that we are called to share God's light? Why then doesn't it say "let His light"? Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 11:06
  • 2
    It emphasizes that we have the same spirit living in us. This enables us to be the light of the world like Jesus is.
    – user1121
    Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 12:40
  • I like the light source comment. I think of us as being like mirrors... :) Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 20:29

The most definite references I found are in

Ephesians 5 8b-10

Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

and it continues in verses


Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

The fruits of the light indicate the light to be the holy spirit ('same fruit'). But it is the holy spirit who gives us spiritual gifts and talents. He is God living in us. Believers are different people, as their actions differ from the understanding of the world.

Then there is this reference in

1 John 1:5

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

...which without doubt states the light is God. Maybe it's easier to refer to it as any part of the holy trinity.

Therefore, in answer to your question:

  • light ⇔ Holy Spirit, God, Jesus
  • shining (light) ⇔ talents, spiritual gifts, God living in us
  • Both answers were good, but I accepted this one purely because of your two final bullet points: succinct and clear, thanks! Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 15:41

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