This statement is detailed slightly differently in the Book of Mark, but the meaning is essentially the same:
“Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." (Mark 4:21-22)We can see from both of these statements that Jesus is speaking of revealing something that may also be hidden. What hidden thing is he speaking of?
Note that "light" is the subject - the element that is given off by the lamp. What would happen if a lamp is put under a bowl? It's light will be blocked. So light is the essential subject Jesus is referring to symbolically.
So what does "light" represent in Jesus' statement?
The meaning of "light" is indicated in the statement prior to this, where Jesus is discussing Jonah and the men of Nineveh - to whom Jonah was sent to preach by the Supreme Being. Part of Jesus' statement was:
"...for they repented at the preaching of Jonah..."Thus Jesus is referring to teaching others about the Supreme Being. While the Book of Jonah - as the many other texts of the Bible relating to other prophets - does not detail the preaching of Jonah, we know that Jonah did more than just warn the men of Nineveh of their coming destruction should they carry on their ways.
This is evidenced that many people of Nineveh had a change of heart. According to Jonah 3:5:
The Ninevites believed God.
The word "believed" has a deeper meaning than most give it. It is being translated from the Hebrew word, אָמַן ('aman). This means, according to the lexicon, not just to "believe" but to "trust."
How does a person come to trust the Supreme Being?
We should also consider the the city of Nineveh was the world capital of the worship of the idol/demigoddess Ishtar. And we know that the Supreme Being was offended by this and some of their other activities - which is why He sent Jonah to deliver them from the consequences of these activities.
In order to come to trust the Supreme Being - after previously offending Him and ignoring Him - one must be introduced to the Supreme Being. This requires that someone who already knows God introduces us.
This is precisely what Jonah was doing with the Ninevites. He was introducing the Supreme Being to them. And once the people of the city were introduced to the Supreme Being, they came to trust in God.
As a result, they became sorry for their previous activities.
Yes, there may certainly have been some survival motivation, as Jonah was telling them the town would be overthrown. But in order to believe - to trust - in God, and that Jonah was passing on the message God sent him to carry - they had to develop some understanding. Some realization of who the Supreme Being is.
This - introducing others to the Supreme Being and passing on His teachings - is what Jesus is referring to with regard to the "light" within his symbolic statement.
Rather than hide the lamp or put it under a bowl, Jesus speaks of allowing others to see the light of the lamp:
"Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light."
'Those who come in'
So who is Jesus referring to when he says, "those who come in"?
He is speaking of those who become receptive to the teachings of God's representative. Someone who approaches with a humble attitude to come and learn about the Supreme Being.
This is confirmed in Mark after the statement above, when Jesus says:
"If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear." (Mark 4:23)We can also understand that Jesus was not referring exclusively to his teachings. He was referring to Jonah prior to this, and we can see that Jesus also referenced his teacher John the Baptist in this respect, using precisely the same symbolism:
"John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light." (John 5:35)So here Jesus is using the symbolic "lamp" and "light" to convey that John was teaching others about the Supreme Being - just as Jonah was.
And notice that Jesus clarifies the element of choice within this point: "you chose for a time to enjoy his light."
Jesus wasn't a fanatic
This illustrates that Jesus was not a fanatic. He assumed the freedom of choice that the Supreme Being gives each of us with regard to deciding whether or not we want to get closer to Him or not.
Put it this way: If the Supreme Being wanted to force each of us to serve Him, He could do it in a flash. He controls everything. He has that kind of power.
But He doesn't. The Supreme Being doesn't force any of us to serve Him. The Supreme Being doesn't have slaves. Why? He could quite easily, right?
Yes, he could. He could force us. But then how would that be love? Love requires free will. Love requires the freedom to love or not. And this is what the Supreme Being wants from us: Our love.
You see, the Supreme Being enjoys the exchange of loving relationships. He is not just floating up in the sky as a vague force or burning bush. He is a person - albeit the Supreme Person.
How else could He have created other persons? I am a person and you are a person, right? How could us persons exist if there was not an original person? - A source of something must contain what is created.
The reality is, just as each of us needs a loving relationship - the Supreme Being (that Perfect Person) enjoys loving relationships with His children.
Our purpose for being created
God created us to be His playmates and loving servants. But in order to have willing playmates and real love, God had to give us the freedom to choose to love Him or not.
Those of us occupying these physical bodies in the physical world are those who chose not to love Him. We chose to love ourselves. We chose to serve ourselves. We chose to be independent of the Supreme Being - and try to enjoy without Him.
That is why we are in this physical world within these temporary physical bodies. Because we want to enjoy in a self-centered way. And the Supreme Being - being so gracious and kind - gave us the seeming independence we wanted.
Seeming is being used because we can never really ever be independent of the Supreme Being. All of creation is His domain. So how could we really get away from Him?
We might compare these temporary physical bodies to a movie theater. A movie theater will turn off all the lights and display its giant screen in front of the audience. Why turn off the lights? So the people in the theater can focus on the movie - and get lost in the movie. As we focus on the big screen we forget the audience around us for awhile, and we begin to identify with the characters in the movie.
Now if we had to watch the movie with the lights on we would probably be distracted by the people around us, and that would prevent us from focusing on the movie, right? This is why movie theaters make the room so dark. It is also why they make the screen so large and the sound system so good. Because they want the moviegoer to forget the real world for awhile and focus on the movie.
It is for this reason that the movie business will boom during times of economic hardships. People want to get away from their mundane lives and lose themselves in a movie.
It is the same with the physical world and these physical bodies. The physical body is designed to allow us to focus on the events playing out in the physical world - in order to forget the Supreme Being's existence.
We are not the body
You see, we are not these physical bodies. They are temporary vehicles - sort of like the chairs in the movie theater, except the legs of our body get to walk around.
And the big screen in the movie theater is like our mind. The mind takes in the images of the senses and displays them, just as a big screen reflects the light from the film projector.
In other words, we are not seeing things with our eyes. What we are 'seeing' is the reflection of light bouncing off the molecules of the temporary shapes and forms of the physical world. As this light goes through the cornea and hits the retina, the cells of the retina transmit signals to the brain and these images create a virtual image upon the mind.
This is what we - the spirit-person - are looking at: The images reflected upon the mind. We watch these images just as a person sitting at a computer watches the images that display upon the computer display.
And this technology - the technology of the physical body and physical mind - keep us focused upon our self-centered desires within the landscape of the physical world. This technology allows us to exercise our freedom to be away from the Supreme Being - even though the Supreme Being and His world is all around us.
God is nearby
Yes, God is nearby. This is also why Jesus taught:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 4:17)Jesus also taught his students to preach this same message:
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)And John the Baptist also taught this message:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:1-2)Just as the movie in a movie theater takes the audience's focus away from reality, the physical body distracts us from seeing that the Supreme Being - and His world - is right next to us at every moment.
So when Jesus symbolically relates to "light" and the "lamp" - he is speaking of opening our eyes. It might be compared to turning on the lights in a movie theater: When the lights go on, suddenly everyone sees everyone else and the fantasy of the movie experience is over.
Jesus compares light in practically the same way. By his teaching others about the Supreme Being, he brought light to the world. He opened our eyes to the reality of the existence of the Supreme Being, and the fact that God is nearby, and this is His world - not our world.
Jesus thus delivered the message from the Supreme Being - the "light" - that we will only truly be happy when we place our love upon the Supreme Being:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)