3 Nephi 11:11– LeGrand Baker — Light and Life
3 Nephi 11:11
10 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.
11 And behold, I am the light and the life of the world;
Sometimes I wonder, when I hear someone describe the Savior as “our Elder Brother” if they think of Christ as simply “like us only better.” It may be significant that the Savior never describes himself that way.
Sometimes we overlook some of the most profound and significant ideas in the scriptures because they are presented to us so frequently that they don’t seem unique, and other times because the words seem simple and we don’t stop to ask what they mean. Human language can be an intangible prison. It is a prison if we let it confine our thinking to what we already know. The phrase, “I am the light and the life of the world” may be overlooked because we have read it so many times or because our definition of those words restricts their meanings and we never ask what the Savior intended when he used those two words together.
That is the phrase with which the Savior most frequently introduces himself, so it would probably be a good for us to try to get some sense of what he meant. Examples are: 3 Nephi 9:15-21; Ether 4:8-19; D&C 10:64-70, 11:28-30, 12:7-9,34:1-4, 39:1-4, 45:7-9.
The more closely one reads the scriptures, the more it is apparent that “light” and “life” are not metaphors. Rather, they are nouns that name absolute reality.
It appears that love, light, and truth are equivalents—they come from God and are expressions of his glory. The conclusion that they are actually the same thing is easy to come by. Truth is knowledge of eternal reality—“of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” That is, truth is knowledge of all reality in sacred time and space. The Savior is the Spirit of Truth, and “he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ …which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space” (D&C 88:7-12, 93:24-26). Thus, both truth and light permeate and sustain everything in the universe. The fact that God’s love is also everywhere is a given that needs no proof. Since his light, truth, and love are everywhere and in every individual, they either occupy the same space at the same time, or else they are the same thing. If the latter is correct, then the differences we perceive are simply ways we have of describing the multiple effects of the power of his godliness. Joy is the product of truth/light/love. It is most meaningful when it is shared. The more we recognize and assimilate the truth/light/love of others, the greater the joy we and they experience (Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 2nd edition, 565).
When we recognize that light, love, and truth are equivalents, then other scriptures take on much greater meaning.
In section 88 the Savior defines his light. That definition includes, but is not limited to, the photons our eyes can detect, the spectrums of light our eyes cannot detect, the heat and life giving energy that comes from the sun, and much more. Speaking of the Savior the revelation says:
6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;
10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
In addition to being both the light and power of our visible world, the revelation also says it is the light that gives us the capacity to learn and understand what we learn:
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
Now we are told that the Savior’s light is both the source of life and “the law by which all things are governed.”
12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God [shechinah] to fill the immensity of space—
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
There we have three concepts coming together to create a unity that we can sort of understand. However, no mere human can wrap his mind around its infinite enormity. The concepts are:
“to fill the immensity of space,” “all things,” and “in the bosom of eternity.”
That definition of light is the introduction to the next part of the revelation which begins:
14 Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead (D&C 88:14)
That same relationship (light, life, resurrection) was taught to Alma by Abinadi, who explained:
7 And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
10 Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—
11 If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation (Mosiah 16:7-11).
John literally uses light and life interchangeably. In one place he equates life with light. He writes, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men [John 1:4]; and in another place he reverses that when he quotes the Savior as saying that the light is life:
12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).
In the Book of Mormon, Mormon explains to us what Ammon was teaching the Lamanite king. In doing so he ties those ideas nicely together showing that their product is joy.
6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God (Alma 19:6).
A few chapters later Mormon again shows the relationship of the light, life, and joy, when he writes:
14 And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life (Alma 28:14).
Now the formula becomes more complicated as Alma equates light and life, with “the word of truth.”
9 And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness (Alma 38:9) .
The Savior said the same thing, only more explicitly. He described himself as the law (which can be understood as an fusion of priesthood power, truth and gospel) and the source of eternal life:
9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life (3 Nephi 15:9).
The Lord defines truth as the “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” That is, truth is knowledge of reality in sacred time. He then tells that he is the very personification of truth, that he has “all truth.” The revelation reads
26 The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth (D&C 93:24-26).
That he received “a fullness of truth” is expressed in the New Testament as he is “full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”
Truth can either be described as what God knows or what God speaks. The implications of that are described in Moses where the Father is quoted as saying:
32 And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten (Moses 1:31-33).
There, the word of God’s power is personified as the “Only Begotten Son.” Doctrine and Covenants 84 gathers these ideas into equivalents, so that it is impossible to understand one outside the context of the others.
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
46 And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.(D&C 84:1-60.)
If we are to even begin to understand what the Savior means when he identifies himself as “the light and the life of the world,” we must take literally John’s testimony as it is given us in the Prophet Joseph’s inspired version of the Bible:
1 In the beginning was the gospel [word of truth = light = life = love] preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made which was made.
4 In him was the gospel [truth], and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men;
5 And the light shineth in the world, and the world perceiveth it not (JST John 1:1-5).
From our perspective, there are some beautiful words in the psalms that seem to says it all:
9 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
10 O continue thy lovingkindness [hesed] unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart (Psalms 36:9-10).
The Savior is the universal, and for us, the eternal source of truth, light, life, and love. His gospel (including the ordinances and covenants associated with its teachings) is the way we may fully appreciate and participate in the blessings of truth, light, and eternal life and love. But, as Alma points out, because he is the source of life, if we seek to find it any other place we find only death and darkness.
25 And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God.
26 But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup (Alma 40:25-26).