What did Jesus mean by “night is coming, when no one can work”?

Q. In John, when Jesus heals the man born blind, he says that “as long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” So, when exactly is “night”? All the time since he left? Is this used to support the idea that we can’t do as many miracles now? Or does night refer to each person’s death? Or something else?

El Greco, “The Healing of the Blind Man”

I believe that in this context Jesus is using the image of “night” to describe his future arrest and execution.  In the gospel of John, just before Jesus comes upon the man born blind, he narrowly escapes from a crowd that wants to stone him.  Jesus knows that healing the blind man will create further notoriety and controversy.  But he’s saying that he can’t let that stop him.  For as long as he is free and alive (“as long as it is day”), he needs to do the works of the Father.

So for each individual follower of Jesus, “night” is the time when we are no longer free or able to be active in ministry.  It can certainly describe our death, but it could also refer to times of persecution, imprisonment, or incapacity due to illness or accidents.  The implication is that we need to make full use of every opportunity while we have it, without letting the risks or dangers involved deter us.

Of course we should be prudent, not reckless.  Jesus himself strategically withdrew from direct confrontation several times in order to prolong his ministry.  And we shouldn’t work so incessantly that we wear ourselves out, bringing on “night” prematurely.

But at the same time, we shouldn’t fail to take advantage of opportunities that are immediately before us, on the premise that “I can always do that later.”  Jesus was telling his disciples that after a certain point, he wouldn’t be able to “do that later,” and by implication, neither would they.  Not because God’s power wouldn’t be just as available after Jesus’ time on earth, but because sooner or later a personal “night” would render each one of them unable to minister actively.

So Jesus’ words are a warning and a call to action to us today:  “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me,” because “night is coming, when no one can work.”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

20 thoughts on “What did Jesus mean by “night is coming, when no one can work”?”

  1. This has nothing to do with death, or working until death. One could say that the night is now in the day we live. We are blind, without Christ (not Physically, but might as well be) The age we live in is of great confusion, and the abundance of the world has caused man to fall into a deep sleep. Kinda like in the garden and the disciples fell asleep, Jesus told them to wake up and pray that so they would not fall into temptation. The gentiles according to history are prone to this conscious sleep when things are going good for them.

  2. When the antichrist comes and begins killing Christians then working will almost be impossible save the grace and spirit of God .

  3. I believe Jesus is referring to a time or dispensation. When CHRIST was born, a new day dawned and light came into a world of darkness; but there is coming a day of darkness to which no man can work. The urgency here is ” to walk while the light shineth upon our path lest darkness over takes us”

  4. The day should also be refered to making good use of every opportunity we have to do what is right, for the night is a time full of confussion and time of rest.” Doing the work of him who sent me”can be carrying out our responsibilities to God,man and ourself because night is time of accountability and everyone is accountable to his work

  5. Reading the whole of John 9, it is apparent that Jesus was using physical blindness to address the issue of spiritual blindness. The healing was just a means to an end. Jesus stood by after the healing to bear witness. When He included the disciples by saying “…WE must do the work of him who sent me…” (verse 4), He was saying we are to bear witness as long as it is day (as long as we are able).

  6. He literally means work during the day in my experience every time I’ve attempted to work through the night nothing has been achieved. There’s something that gets in the way one thing after another. The next thing you know the sun’s coming up. Work in the light because demons will interfere in the night

    1. As someone who was a pastor myself for many years, I understand why many churches, including my own, are holding back on meeting in person during the pandemic. A pastor is supposed to be a good shepherd and be concerned primarily for the “flock” of believers. We should not do anything that puts people’s health and life at risk. Instead, we need to find creative ways to remain in fellowship and continue the work of the church until the pandemic subsides and we can once again meet and minister in person.

  7. I believe this text of scripture is also in reference to today. Even though the scriptures show us the times we are in, yet many refuse to see the fulfilling of the times. But while we still have time we the Church the Ekklesia must work now. Work how? By sharing the Good news of Jesus Christ. We must do Day time work in a Night time season. Priority is that we do the Will of Him that call us into this Great salvation.

  8. This is what I believe. Jesus said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” So, if a sheep was loose and out at night, The wind blows the door from its frame… no one got up to retrieve the sheep, or fix the door until it was light? “This is Revelation!!” The “Day” represents: the “Time” Man is Given on Earth. The “Work” that we do is for the kingdom of God while we are here. (John 9:4). What we do with the tools that God has given us! “NIGHT” is the days that God has given us in this Life; on this Earth… in this World. No man can work the works of God when he is Sleeping (dead); nor can we glorify Him… Night has come! Psalms 30:9 says, “What profit is there in my blood when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? Shall it declare thy truth? God gives Liberally… Matthew 7:8 says to ask and you will receive, but do not ask amidst (James 4:8)!

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