From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there emerges in the language of the gospels a stark contrast between dark and light in many ways. In reference to our subject here, this contrast is especially seen in the great new view of the cosmos that Jesus introduced that was so different from Jewish tradition. In ancient Jewish thought, the heavens are viewed as hard shells above the earth the “firmament” is literally firm and watertight in Hebrew. It is a ‘raqia’, a hammered-out metallic shell. It protects the earth, which was seen by the ancient Hebrews as a fragile, disc-shaped bubble surrounded on all sides by an infinite sea, as when the windows of heaven were opened at the time of Noah, and the great flood poured down through the firmament and engulfed the earth. Ancient Judaism taught that at any time the bubble could not only be crushed but burst by the forces around it. Ancient Judaism also gradually grew in the belief that there was a terrible hoard of demons and angels behind the firmament.
But when John baptizes Jesus, the scripture reads: “Behold, the heavens were opened and He saw the spirit of God descending like a dove” (John 1:32). How greatly this contrasts with the people’s traditional view of the cosmos! When the ‘heavens opened,’ instead of a flood inundating them ,or demons plaguing them, a gentle and innocent dove comes down along with the immensely powerful, comforting, and authoritative voice of God. And again, similarly, when Stephen was stoned to death, he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Again, this is a great restorative vision of the heavens, a vision of love and protection par excellence for the weary and numb psyche of the people. Imagine the relief, comfort, and sense of liberation for those who witnessed it, or the many who heard the stories.
In Acts, Peter also sees a vision of the heavens opening: “And I saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth” (Acts 10:11). This prophetic vision transforms his prejudice, as well as the prejudice of his Jewish followers, towards the Gentiles. The vision is repeated to him three times, and he repeats the vision three times to his listeners in order to penetrate the people’s external habit of being. To be able to see the opening of the heavens represents the opening of spiritual sight, which is the essence of Jesus’ mission. At the end, Peter says, “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall baptize with the Holy spirit” (Acts 11:16). This remembering is a deep and transformative opening of the soul to the internal teaching of Jesus. In these verses, the light and the dark are in their primeval moments of clash and transformation, and the battle ground is the hearts and minds of the people.