“1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
As mentioned in the last post on the Introduction to 1 John, the Apostle begins his letter with a strong affirmation of his own eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus Christ. In language that sounds remarkably similar to the introduction of his Gospel account, John establishes the eternality of Christ by stating “that which was from the beginning”. Comparatively, the Gospel of John says the following, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 Some have argued that the introduction to John’s letter isn’t so much a declaration of Christ’s eternality, as in John 1:1, but instead a reference to the beginning of the earthly ministry of Christ, and ultimately the gospel, i.e. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This view seems to break apart in the context of 1 John, because of John’s statement in vs. 2 “which was with the Father” which gives the implication of the Son eternally co-existing with the Father. This interpretation mirrors what we just read and John 1:1 and seems most consistent with the author’s intent.
Note in these first 3 verses that John repeatedly testifies to his experience (and that of the other disciples) of witnessing the God-man, Jesus Christ, as he states “[that] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” and regarding the “life” he says, “we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life” and concludes, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also”. In each of the first 3 verses, John emphasizes that this isn’t simply a made up story about the life of Jesus, but was in fact a historical event. It seems too often we gloss over this point because we get lost in the “stories” of the Bible and fail to see the connection with the rest of history. There is no need for us to separate the Bible from the history of man, but instead it should give us greater confidence to its truths and greater reliability to its message to understand that the Bible records actual historical people that lived in historical places and they are indeed real. John is giving testimony that the Son of God, Jesus Christ actually lived on the earth. God incarnate walked among men and lived, perfectly sinless and blameless. John was there and saw Him. He heard Him speak. He touched Him with his own hands. He looked upon Him with a recognition and understanding that it was Jesus, the true and living Son of God. That’s the point John is driving home. Contrary to the Gnostics belief in a false Christ, John gives weight to his argument through his and the other disciples eyewitness accounts. It’s almost as if his argument is as follows, “Those men who were in your churches, creating division through the lies they were telling about the person of Jesus Christ, they weren’t even there. They didn’t see Him. They didn’t break bread with Him. They didn’t talk and commune with Him. They didn’t put their finger’s into the wounds of His resurrected body. But we did! We were there and witnessed it all.” You can almost hear that in the background of John’s introductory statement as he declares the manifestation of Jesus.
This record of eyewitness testimony isn’t unique to John’s letter. In Luke 1:1-3 we read, “1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning this things you have been taught.” Similarly, in Acts 4:20 we read of Peter and John saying, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” while Peter in his own letter states, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16 Finally, the Apostle Paul records for us in his Corinthian letter that Jesus appeared to 500 eyewitnesses after His resurrection from the grave. 1 Corinthians 15:6 Think about this for a minute, in our court of law today, 1 eyewitness is enough to give a convicting testimony. But here in God’s Word we have a replete account of eyewitness testimonies to the majesty of God. That should emphatically tell us that these things aren’t myths or cutsie stories, but are in fact a reality.
After establishing these truths about Christ through his testimony, John then points to the fellowship that belongs between 1) himself and the other apostles and between 2) them and the Father and Son. His encouragement here is for his readers, i.e. the churches, to partake in that fellowship based on the person of Jesus Christ that he has just laid out for them. When I read this theme of fellowship, it seems much more than a gathering together in a church fellowship hall and in a sense it’s much more than breaking bread or conversing with one another. Instead it seems to speak of family, namely adoption into the family of God and because of that we now have fellowship with one another and fellowship with the Father and Son.
Acts 2 provides a beautiful picture of this fellowship amongst believers, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47 Hidden in this passage is a gem that gives insight into the fellowship of believers and it’s found in verse 44, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” This “all things in common” isn’t material as in race, ethnicity, clothing, hair/eye color, or style, but its commonality found between those in the family of God. Believers are the adopted sons of God and because of that we can have fellowship with each other and fellowship with God through the fellowship, or union, with Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul highlights this adoption of ours in Galatians 4:4-7 “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Finally, in verse 4 of 1 John we read, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” There is some discrepancy among translations (depending on which ancient text is used) as to whether the phrase here is “our” joy or “your” joy. It being only 1 letter difference in the Greek, it’s difficult to say. But there doesn’t need to be disagreement here. Instead, it seems John speaks of an inclusivity of “all of our” joy being complete. He is writing so that not only his joy and that of the “we” mentioned earlier, but also that the joy of his readers be complete. This joy that he is speaking of comes through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a spiritual fruit or evidence of salvation. John’s is a message of assurance so that the believer might grab hold of Christ and live in joy for Him.
Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study:
- When John says “God is light” in verse 5, what does he mean?
- What is the test that he outlines in verses 6-7 of chapter 1?
- Practically speaking how can one “walk in the light”? Conversely, what is walking in darkness?
- What is the significance of the “blood of Jesus” in this (and other) passages? [Hint: see also Matthew 26:28, Eph. 1:7, Ephesians 2:13, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:17-19, Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:14]