Death’s Darkness, Life’s Light: The Separation
A person who claimed to have had a vision of hell said that the darkness was like none experienced on earth, and that there were also myriad fires in various places there. Upon hearing this, one person discounted this vision as either false or imagination, saying that hell could not really be as dark as he claimed if there were fires there. Do not fires give off light? How then could it be so dark?
But as anyone knows who has stared out over a campfire at night, it is correct to describe the surroundings as dark, even though there is some light near the fire itself. So it is foolish to reject an entire account based on one limited understanding of the circumstances. What is false and misleading is not the experience itself but how it is falsely and trivially explained away.
So too does the world fail to understand the profound working of God in this world and explains it away in a trivial manner. There is hardly a more extreme example of this than the wild proposal of evolution, which seeks to deny God the glory due him for creating all things by insisting instead that all has come about through the natural workings of nature and time. They are in darkness.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:20-21 NIV).
But not all hearts are this way. Some have had their darkened hearts enlightened. The light of God has shown in the darkness, and Scripture says that “you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pt. 1:19 NIV).
That bright and morning star is Jesus Christ. He is the great light shining in the darkness of this world and people’s hearts (Jn. 8:12). But not all pay attention to that light as we are admonished to do in the Scripture above. Many prefer to remain in the darkness.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (Jn. 3:19-21 NIV).
Thus there are these two groups in the world, those in darkness and those in the light. And the dividing line between them, that which makes a separation between them, is Jesus Christ. Two examples from the Bible illustrate this separation most dramatically. The first is that of the exodus of God’s people of old out of slavery in Egypt. As they had just left their taskmasters to go into freedom through the wilderness, they stopped near the sea and saw the Egyptians in the distance coming after them. Terrified, they quickly lost their faith in Moses and God (Ex. 14:10-12). But God did not abandon them. He sent his angel to make a separation between his people and those who would bring them back into slavery.
“Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long” (Ex. 14:19-20 NIV).
Thus the cloud of separation stood between the two peoples. On one side of the cloud was darkness; on the other was light. And so it was just as it was in the beginning, in the creation of the world, when God “separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:4 NIV).
So there was a separation of light from darkness in the distant past and now the people saw the same separation in their present moment, as they paused in their journey. Similarly, there is a coming a future separation at the Last Day Judgment of all human life, a separation of the children of light from the workers of darkness, who will be banished into the place of both darkness (Mt. 25:30) and fire (Mt. 25:41).
In all these different instances–past, present, and future–one constant remains: There is a separation, with darkness on one side and light on the other (Lk. 16:26). The question then arises, “What is it that causes this separation? And is there any overarching connection between these three monumental moments in history–past, present, and future–when God makes a distinct separation of light from darkness?”
The last question is answered first. Yes, there is a clear connection in all three of these critical junctures of history. That connection is Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV).
This answers our first question also. That which separates darkness from light in all these moments of history is one and the same: It is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great separator.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34 NIV).
Jesus is the one who separates darkness from light. He did it at the Creation (Col. 1:15, Jn. 1:3). He likely was the angel of God in the exodus who separated the people of God from their enemies (Ex. 14:19-20). And he will be the great separator again, in the great judgment of the Last Day (Mt. 25:31-33).
And that brings us to the second illustration of how the people of this world view the same separating cloud exactly opposite from how the people of God do. That cloud gave darkness to the Egyptians but light to the people of God. It was darkness on one side but light on the other. But it was the same cloud.
So it is with Jesus, the great separator of mankind. He is the great divider of humankind (Mt. 12:30), and what is true of him is true of his followers as well (1 Jn. 4:17, Jn. 15:18).
“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16 NIV).
There it is again, separation. One divide or separation, but seen in two different ways, by the people of the world, who remain in darkness, and the people of the light, those who believe in the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. “To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”
This is no small thing to be, a divider or separator of people, a person who so strikingly stands out from the darkness of this world because of one’s character and spirit that the world recognizes that spirit of holiness as that which comes from God.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV).
It is a tall order for us believers to be used by God as his tool for witnessing to the world. The magnitude of this commission so struck Paul that he finished his message concerning this with these words of astonishment: “Who is equal to such a task?”
Who indeed? No one can fulfill this incredible commission from God to be the light of the world. Only Jesus can do this. But he is in us who believe in him (Jn. 14:20). That is why he who is the light of the world says that we also are the light of the world, because that light is in us (Mt. 5:14). Thus when we carry out this commission as light to the world, it is not us but him; he accomplishes what we do.
“Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us” (Is. 26:12 NIV).
It is Christ, not I (Gal. 2:20). And I can accomplish the impossible task of being God’s light to this world because it is not I but the true light within me who does this.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Ph. 4:13 NIV).
“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (Jn. 1:6-8 NIV).
But it must not end there. Jesus is the great separator, it is true. But he is also the great uniter. He separates us from all that would hinder us from a deep union with him. But he separates only to join. Reconciliation is a rejoining of that which was separated. Christ came to this earth for this very reason, to be the reconciliation of God to sinners. For “your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Is. 59:2 NIV).
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-20 NIV).
So, whether it be Christ or Christ in us, what was separated from God because of sin now has a rejoining made possible through the forgiveness of sin available in Jesus Christ, the great separator and reuniter. But that forgiveness must be accepted or else there is no reuniting. And that forgiveness comes about through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, if one does not believe in Christ, there is no forgiveness of sin and the separation remains.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb 10:26-27 NIV).
“How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:29-31 NIV). (See also: The Outrage of Unbelief.)
When Ezekiel saw a vision of the future temple of God, he saw a “man” make measurements of the temple and the area around it. “So he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, to separate the holy from the common” (Ezk. 40:4 NIV).
Separation is a crucial element in God’s dealings with this world. The very word “church” in Greek, ecclesia, means “the called-out ones”, those who are separated from the world. “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes'” (Rev. 18:4-5 NIV).
Because God remembers the crime of sin against him and his name by those who do not accept the forgiveness of those sins through faith in Jesus Christ, that remembrance leaves him no choice but to make permanent the separation which those sins cause between himself and those unrepentant sinners. That is the final judgment, the final separation, of the Last Day Judgment (Lk. 13:27)
“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt. 25:32 NIV).
This separation is horrible to contemplate, for it is to be away forever from God’s presence. “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Th. 1:9 ESV).
There is, however, also a final separation for believers as well–but it is a good separation, the separation from pain and disease and evil–all the things that made life difficult at times for them.
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat” (Rev. 7:16 NIV).
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NIV).
“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not'” (Mal. 3:16-17 NIV).
In the one case, God remembers their sins and they are separated from him forever in eternal darkness and fire (Mt. 22:13, Mk. 9:43). But in the other case, those who believed in Jesus will have had the sins that separated them from God washed away by his blood (Rev. 7:14) and have been reconciled back into the Father’s blessing (Mt. 25:21).
These, then, are the final outcomes of the two separations: that of those who desire to separate themselves from God in this life; and those who mourn that separation in their lives because of their sin and come to Jesus to have that separation removed. Given the utter seriousness of the consequences of the wrong reaction to separation from God, it behooves all of us to choose wisely. Which will it be, death’s darkness or Life’s light in Jesus Christ?