Some Brief Historical Background
Historically and for our purposes this letter was written by the Apostle John. An interesting note is that this letter is not evangelistic in nature, meaning it was not written to the unsaved, rather it was written to fellow Christians, and most notably Christians who were well grounded in the faith, as noted in this statement, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” – 1 John 5:13*.
John has always been considered the Apostle of Love, and it is evident in this letter that was written to fellow believers. He truly considered those who believed with him, as his children. John truly had a pastor’s heart. This letter was written before his exile to Patmos, most probably while he was still ministering in Ephesus. It was believed to have been written between A.D. 85 and A.D. 90. What makes this so significant is the fact that John was probably one, if not the very last of the Apostles who had been an eyewitness to the events in Jesus life and had actually walked with the Savior. He was allowing this new generation a glimpse into the life of Christ and the assurance of their standing in Christ by faith.
Just as time and man have a tendency to pervert the truths that were told, John was living in a time when several false doctrines were creeping into the church. Gnostic heresy taught that matter is inherently evil, and therefore, a divine being such as Jesus claimed to be could not take on human flesh. Gnostics also believed that hidden knowledge made them superior than the common man. The other doctrine which was similar, Docetism, claimed that Christ only seemed to have a human body. Both of these doctrines denied the fact of the Incarnation. So we see that even in the very new and early church, false teachings and lies were being spread to water down the true Gospel of Christ. In the light of that, should we be surprised that there is so much doctrinal controversy today?
This is why I so firmly believe in the importance of reading and “studying to show yourself approved,” (2 Timothy 2:15) in this day and age in which we are living. As I stated in the I John Introduction & Overview, keep your heart and mind open to the Holy Spirit and you will glean a treasure of inspiration and assurance.
*As with all of my articles, Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 John Chapter 1:1-4
1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—”
John is stating with authority and as a matter of established fact, that he is talking from experience and not just what he has heard, but also that he was witness to the events that followed Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Also, Jesus Christ was real to the touch, He could be handled. John may have been remembering the Last Supper when he laid his head upon the Savior’s bosom. Remember also the instance when Thomas, later known as the “Doubter,” was instructed by the risen Jesus to, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” – John 20:27.
John does not falter in claiming that Jesus truly IS, the Word of Life, as he wrote in his Gospel; John 1:1-4, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
He was in the beginning. That word “was” denotes in the Greek, always being, never having been created. God is eternal. He has no beginning nor ending. Man, on the other hand is also eternal; but the difference is that man was created, and did have a beginning, although he will never experience an ending. Jesus being God, always was and forever will be; Jesus being man, in the flesh knew a beginning. This has caused a lot of confusion through the years as some who study the writings of John especially, stumble over semantics concerning the Godhead.
Today, we have denominations that call themselves, Trinitarians (not to be confused with the Catholic order under that name), trying to explain the Godhead as three Gods-in-One. On the other hand and in direct conflict with them, we have denominations who espouse themselves as Oneness, who delight in debate with other denominations just to prove their point that they are right above all others. I won’t at this time add to the debate, for I have first-hand experience with both sides, but I do firmly believe it is more a case of semantics as I have stated than actual doctrine. John is stating in clear terms that “the Word was with God and the Word WAS God!” (Added emphasis mine).
Notice also that John doesn’t just write the term, Word of God, but rather in this instance, the Word of Life. In his Gospel, he is talking to mankind as a whole, as an evangelist, sharing with them the Good News, the Way of Redemption and Salvation. Here in this letter, he is sharing with established believers already walking in that lifestyle. Jesus Christ IS the Word of Life, the Good News taken to the next highest step; the Word that brings Life into the believers heart and being. When we mature, beyond the baby steps of Christianity, that Word in our lives should demonstrate to all around us the Life that resides within us.
1 John 1:2, “the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—”
John says “the life was manifested,” that life being the Word, who was Jesus, was shown so as to be seen by all men. He was not a figment of some man’s imagination, He was not an apparition, but He was real with real material substance. His life among us was real, something to be witnessed and observed, it was not a façade so that He could just “pass” as a man. John reasserts that he himself was a witness in actuality to that Life. John’s mission, or his calling was to bear witness and proclaim that very fact.
So much is the character of John, his humility, his modesty, that he reaffirms his calling or appointment as an apostle without really saying it. The Apostle’s calling, then and today is to bear witness and proclaim or declare, to show the truth of that Life that is Christ Jesus’. We know, even by historical records that Jesus was a man who lived among us. It is the Apostle’s calling to reaffirm that fact, but not just as an historical figure but as the “eternal life, which was with the Father.”
I found this statement from an unknown author in my background research of this letter:
**”I am glad that my knowledge of eternal life is not built on the speculations of philosophers or even theologians but on the unimpeachable testimony of those who heard, saw, gazed at, and handled Him in whom it was incarnate. It is not merely a lovely dream, but solid fact, carefully observed and an accurately recorded fact.”
When I first read this, so many years ago, it stuck with me AND struck with me of the simplicity of the wisdom behind it!! Our belief, nay, as the writer says, our KNOWLEDGE of eternal life does not have to be a fantasy or some form of wish fulfilment, but rather based on honest-to-goodness, historical fact!
So to sum up so far, in this second verse, John is answering the first, and reiterating the fact that Jesus and the Father ARE One and have always BEEN One, (see John 10:30). Jesus was manifested or shown to us through the unwavering testimony of His disciples and Apostles, and so because of their witness, so through them also we can, without hesitation, bear witness to Jesus, and thus, we can bear witness to the Father’s presence among ourselves as well!
1 John 1:3, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Again John is reiterating with authority and a strong pronouncement that what they have witnessed personally he is not just holding to himself as some guarded secret or treasure, but rather is proclaiming and declaring it to all who would hear and listen. Notice that John says we, so as to lend authority to the statement that it was not just himself who witnessed the events of the Word of Life among them, but that it was the company of them, ALL of the disciples who were in the presence of Jesus. John was not standing alone and he was not expecting his hearers to believe it was only him who was witness to those events.
One of the underlying reasons for the writing of this letter is stated right here also. John is saying that by him proclaiming or sharing these things, the knowledge it gives a person allows those hearing and listening the ability to have fellowship also with him as a disciple. Thus, since his fellowship is with the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son, we can also have fellowship with them. In other words, it is the same as if my being friends or associated with you, allows me to be associated with all of your friends, and vice-versa.
Do not be misled by the now common usage of the word fellowship. That word “fellowship” is not just a connotation of friendship, but rather it goes much deeper than that. The Greek word used is the word, “koinonia” which means a partnership, or an intimate communion. When we enter into the fellowship of believers, we are not just entering into a social communion, an unbreakable band of brothers/sisters, so to speak, but we are entering into something much deeper and more abiding. After all, it is based in the intimate relationship of the Creator of all that is, ever was or ever will be, both in the natural AND the spiritual, and the Word of Life Who brings it and us all together in spiritual unity.
We have a bond that is unlike anything that has ever been on this earth, except with possibly Adam and Eve (or Enoch) who actually “walked” and communed with the Living God. It is an intimacy that the world cannot, nor ever will really understand. We need to be very careful that we do not attempt to understand our relationship with the Heavenly Father in the light of the world’s standards.
The beloved Apostle ends this sentence with, “His Son Jesus Christ.” There is a whole lot of doctrine packed into just those four words! Many of you who have been following my writings, not just on this blog of a few years, but who have known me well before I started this blog, have known me to be very “generous” in using the term, “Christ Jesus” in my writings. It would be hard to explain how important this acknowledgement of Christ’s deity is to me and why I feel compelled to express it so much.
First, I can tell you it comes from my personal relationship with Christ Jesus. Jesus and Christ are One and the same. They are not two distinct personalities AND they are NOT the first and last name of Jesus either! Believe me when I tell you there have been some through the years that have sincerely asked that question!
Jesus, is the name given to Him at His birth and denotes His real humanity. He was born into a natural body just like any other baby and He grew into a man, just like any other man, at least in the natural. Christ is the name that denotes that He IS God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. The word Christ means, the Anointed One. Thus, Jesus, the Anointed One. Proclaiming His humanity AND His deity in One Person!
When I write or when I am preaching/teaching, I often times say, Christ Jesus, because at this period in our history, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God,. . .” – Acts 2:32-33a. Jesus has fulfilled His mission as a man and Christ continues in His mission at the right hand of the Father. The Anointed One is continuing His work amongst us through the power of His Holy Spirit, whom the Father had promised. “and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” – Acts 2:33b. Thus, to me, and this is my opinion and lifestyle, the Anointed One, Who IS Jesus is being exalted above all men! So, whether you proclaim, Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus, we are proclaiming, exalting AND magnifying the Son of God, whose Name is above every name!!
1 John 1:4, “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
John sums up not only the previous three verses, but also all that is to follow in his letter, for the main reason or purpose of writing the letter. That our joy may be complete. Now I want to take a moment to clear something up. The KJV and the NKJV and some other versions of the Bible say that “your” joy may be complete or “full.” Others say, “our” joy may be complete. Some people look at that as contradiction in translations or text, but rather it is updating the original language to modern language or idioms. Remember as I have stated countless times before, it is the spirit of the Word that we attain too and not just the letter.
John is including himself for the reason that he is writing the letter. It gives joy, not only to the reader, but to whom-ever will take to heart the message. Such was his humility that he is counting himself with us. Remember, in the previous verses he was talking about the fellowship we have with one another. We in essence, become one with each other, just as we become one with the Father and Son. So, your joy is his (John’s), his joy is ours. It is made complete or full when we take his testimony and witness to heart.
That brings up the issue of joy itself. In the world today, even in the church world, there is a lot of mistaking joy for happiness. Joy is the second quality that is listed as a “fruit of the Spirit.” See Galatians 5:22. Joy is God’s will for the believer, ALL believers in Him. It is a spiritual quality or characteristic and not a carnal or natural one, therefore, it is not dependent upon our outward natural circumstances. Rather, joy is a characteristic that is independent of outward circumstances and totally dependent upon our relationship with the Father, through Christ Jesus and empowered by His Holy Spirit. Do not confuse joy with happiness which IS totally dependent upon outward circumstances.
Lack or loss of joy came about due to the result of sin and our estrangement from our Heavenly Father. Where sin is forgiven through the Redemption of Christ Jesus, our Savior, joy abounds. This fullness or completeness of joy is mentioned approximately six times by the Apostle, in his Gospel as well as his Epistles:
Joy associated with consecration—–John 3:29
Joy associated with obedience——–John 15:10-11
Joy associated with prayer————-John 16:24
Joy associated with protection——–John 17:13
Joy associated with fellowship——–I John 1:4
Joy associated with brotherly love—II John 12