|by Rev. Sterling Durgy
. . . the path of the righteous is like the light of the dawn,
That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.
The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know over what they stumble.
In Romans 13:12, Paul talks about the night of sin, the present darkness that profoundly affects mankind, even today. In the previous verse Paul admonished the Romans, "the night is almost gone, and the day is at hand." It is because the "day" is coming that all people should prepare themselves to come face-to-face with God.
The daytime has not yet come, and won't until Jesus Christ Himself physically returns. Yet, though it is still night, the night does not rule supreme. Light has come whenever God has revealed truth to mankind, coming most completely in the person of Jesus Christ. This is one of the points John makes clear in the prologue to his gospel. Further, John says, ". . . the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it" (1:5).
The word "overpower" is an alternate reading in the NASB, which chooses "understand" as the primary reading. "Comprehended" is the reading in the Authorized (King James) version. The Greek word katelaben from katalambanô can be translated "understand" or, better, "comprehend" in some cases, but this is not the primary meaning of the word. Katalambanô has a primary meaning of seizing with force or surprise. Therefore the weight of interpretation is against rendering it "comprehend" in this context, where the struggle between light and darkness is being emphasized, not understanding.
The point of noticing this is that in the Scripture authored by John, as well as in other Scripture, there is a constant conflict between light and darkness. In the physical world in which we live darkness is passive. Darkness exists wherever there is an absence of light. Wherever light shines, darkness is automatically eliminated. But this is not so with spiritual darkness. Spiritual darkness is not passive, but active, and it is active on two levels.
On one level, darkness is promoted by spiritual forces under the leadership of Satan. The world may sometimes doubt whether Satan exists, but neither Scripture nor Jesus express any such doubt. The New Testament portrays the work of Christ as diametrically opposed to the work of Satan and Satan's spiritual subordinates.
On a human level, darkness is not only the absence of knowledge (ignorance, which is passive), but a personal and active opposition to the rule and truth of God. It is a myopic, near-sighted, determination to ignore the greatest truths of our universe and our existence. But it is also a stubborn near-sightedness, a "don't bother me with the facts" focus upon the self that firmly resists God and His Christ. In an attempt to free themselves from the rule of God, people bring upon themselves a far worse bondage to Satan, sin, and death.
Satan exercises his spiritual power to promote both ignorance and human opposition to the rule of God. In the parable of the soils, Jesus portrays Satan and his workers as birds that steal God's Word from the minds of those who do not seek to understand it (Matthew 13:4, 19). Paul taught that those who do not believe in Christ are those whose minds have been blinded by Satan (II Corinthians 4:3-6). Satan is a terrible adversary of both God and man to be sure. He lies and twists the Word of God to prevent people from coming to the knowledge of the truth (John 8:44). He is perfectly at home in religion, using religious ceremonies, magic, and other spiritual activities as substitutes for true faith and allegiance to the living God. But it would be a mistake to believe that Satan acts without the active cooperation of those who also oppose God. People are deluded not because Satan is strong but because they choose to be, because it suits their sinful inclinations and purposes.
Jesus said, ". . . if your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness" (Matthew 6:23). Jesus was using the physical eye as an example of what happens in our souls. If our view of the world is jaundiced by sinful, selfish desires, everything we see, even spiritual truths given by God, will be distorted or blocked out. In the first chapter of Romans Paul describes the slippery slide from God as men first willfully ignore God, then drift farther and farther away from Him. Ultimately, if we are completely stubborn in rejecting God, He will allow us to have our wish and withdraw His presence from us, allowing us to enter a moral and spiritual "free-fall" that ends in complete moral and spiritual degradation. When God allows our eyes and ears to be permanently stopped up from understanding His message, the stage is set for Divine judgment.
Isaiah ministered over seven hundred years before Jesus was born. At the time of his ministry, the Israelites were in the "kingdom period," having had many kings since their first kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. The lives and ministries of Abraham, Moses, the judges, and Elijah and Elisha were long in the past. The Babylonian captivity and the ministries of Jermiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra were still many years in the future. The Israelites had split into two kingdoms; Israel in the north, and Judah to the south. The main power in the region was Egypt to the southwest. But the Assyrians in the northeast, in the northern region of what we call Mesopotamia, were developing into a mighty military force as well.
The split of Israel into two kingdoms was a part of the disintegration of the nation of the tribes of Israel as they drifted more and more under the influence of pagan thinking. The book of Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. It also contains detailed descriptions of the sins of the people. To understand Isaiah's message is to understand a great deal about what spiritual darkness is. The judgment brought by God at that time included the elimination of Israel as a nation. Judah was occupied except for Jerusalem, which was miraculously delivered, allowing those in Judah more time to turn to God. Ultimately, however, the spiritual darkness described by Isaiah would continue to worsen nationally until the Babylonian captivity brought an even stronger corrective judgment.
It is this kind of world that Jesus entered. "The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned" wrote Matthew (4:16), quoting Isaiah 9:2. Many hundreds of years had passed since the time of Isaiah. The world situation had changed so that, in the fullness of time, the Christ could come and complete His work, and His church could be established on the earth. But in another way the world had not changed. The same darkness that typified Israel at the time of Isaiah was present during the ministry of Christ. Certainly there were other reasons why Jesus quoted from Isaiah more than any other book of the Old Testament. For instance, many passages in Isaiah in addition to Isaiah 9:2 foretold Christ and His ministry (Isaiah 7, 9, 53, etc.). But the spiritual darkness common to both times is itself a reason why it was appropriate for Jesus to do so.
Ultimately, the spiritual darkness of Jesus' people in His time led to His rejection and crucifixion (John 1:11). The lack of hearing and seeing that Jesus pointed out was not His goal or desire, it existed as a result of the willful rejection of God and the truth exactly as in the time of Isaiah (Matthew 13:13-17, Luke 8:10). This also led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as God brought judgment upon the people for their worldliness and the rejection of His Christ (Luke 20:41-44).
Although Isaiah's message is appropriate for all times, the growing spiritual darkness of our own time makes it as appropriate for us as it was in Jesus' day. We are a spiritual people - but unfortunately, we are also a self-serving and undiscerning people. Based on the heady results of material prosperity and personal freedom, many people interpret their success in various endeavors as an evidence of God's blessing or as God's indifference to sin. But, eventually, God will not ignore the bloodshed of abortion and rampant violence, the pain caused by immorality and substance abuse, the waste of wealth in gambling, the twisted leadership of those who pervert justice, the occult practices of the New Age movement, nor the superficial commitment to the Scriptures. When judgment is sure, God will even take away the "light," the "wisdom" of the leaders of society. As God warned through Isaiah, "Therefore, behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed" (Isaiah 29:14 - the context here is important, read Isaiah 28:1-29:24, 30:7-21, and notice that in 28:16, 29:24, 30:18-21, and 35:5 God promises a reversal of this judgment for His people).
What can we do in the face of the growing spiritual darkness of our time? First, we can pray for God to postpone judgment to give people time to respond to the truth. God gave a period of about 40 years, approximately one generation after the rejection of Christ, before Jerusalem was judged, during which time the Gospel of Christ was graciously preached to the people who crucified Him. Second, we can pray for God to enlighten people by the work of His Spirit, to give a hunger for His Word and His ways, to influence leaders to judge well even if not Christians (I Timothy 2:2) and to raise up individuals to oppose wickedness (Luke 10:2). Third, we can answer this prayer ourselves by testifying to the Gospel and by living according to God's Word (Matthew 5:13-16). Finally, we can live a life of faith in our God, who is greater than all and reaches out to all people to offer redemption (Luke 6:35-36, II Timothy 2:25-26).
Copyright © 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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