In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples that they were ‘the light of the world’:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Also, people do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand. Then it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine so others can see it. Then they will see the good things you do. And they will bring glory to your Father who is in heaven [NIRV].
This now applies to present-day believers. But to whom is he speaking?
In today’s world of the individual, a world in which an ‘unchurched’ Christian is both common (and accepted), it is unsurprising that a Christian hearing or reading this passage would think that Jesus is talking to them. As an individual. And, in my experience, that’s what most do.
But that’s not correct.
Unfortunately, English makes no distinction between the singular and plural ‘you’. Unlike the original language, Greek. And in the Greek this ‘you’ is plural.
Could he have been using ‘you’ in the sense of you all, each one of you individually? The context says otherwise.
The Jews of the day knew the idea of the “light of the world” well. They knew that the plan was for Israel to be a light to the nations. For Isaiah had prophesised:
Here is what the Lord says to me.
“It is not enough for you as my servant
to bring the tribes of Jacob back to their land.
It is not enough for you to bring back
the people of Israel I have kept alive.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles [NIRV].
Then you will make it possible for the whole world to be saved.”
So, who is the plural ‘you’, today, under the New Covenant? The ecclesia, the local ‘church’, that’s who. The local Christian community. It is they who have replaced Israel as the Lord’s intended vehicle for the ‘good deeds’ that ‘bring glory to God’.
As a local ‘church’ we are something (a light to the world), so we must go and do something (‘good deeds’). How do you think we are going with that?
Let’s get…Back to the Gospel.
- It is God’s plan that every believer be part of a local church [for example, Acts 2:42-47]. The power that is described in Ephesians 1:19-22 that is ours – God’s mighty strength, his immeasurable power that raised Christ – can only be fully expressed collectively. ↑
- And I did. Thanks to John Dickson (The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, Zondervan, 2010) for putting me straight. ↑
- ‘You’ (or ‘ye’) is the consistent translation of the original language. ↑
- It is not a shared role: The “you” is emphatic in the Greek text, so that we might translate it “You, and you alone are the light of the world.” ↑
- That Jesus is talking to us as the local church is supported by the wider context of the New Testament. See, for example, Ephesians 3:7-10 (NIRV): “I now serve the good news because God gave me his grace. His power is at work in me. I am by far the least important of all the Lord’s holy people. But he gave me the grace to preach to the Gentiles about the unlimited riches that Christ gives. God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things. He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them.” See also 2 Peter 3:17. 2 Peter was written to an unknown but specific group of believers. NIRV again: “Dear friends, you have already been warned about this. So be on your guard. Then you won’t be led astray by people who don’t obey the law. Instead, you will remain safe.” ↑
- The Greek also tells us that the local ‘church’ is now, not sometime when they are ready, and a definite, not a maybe. ↑
- From the article in the first link: ↑
For further reading on the corporate ‘you’ see https://www.9marks.org/article/fisherman-or-fishermen-considering-the-churchs-corporate-mission/.