1:1 The Word of life existed from the beginning. We have heard it. We have seen it. We observed and touched it.
John begins this letter in similar fashion to the opening of his gospel. He opens with a reference to the beginning and leads us directly to the Word. However, unlike the prologue to his gospel account, John moves quickly to the hard evidence of the reality of the “Word of life.” He makes it very clear that he is not talking about some philosophical concept. Contrary to the abstract conclusions of philosophers of his time, John affirmed that he had had the awesome privilege of walking with, listening to, learning from, and otherwise experiencing firsthand the one Who was the foundation of their faith. The Greek verbs have added emphasis that could be translated that John had actually heard, seen, and touched the Lord. This one fact, established by empirical evidence, sets John’s basis for the truth of his teaching, which would immediately refute the vain theologies and false teachings which were creeping into the churches of Asia Minor. None of the heresies espoused by these false teachers could make such a claim.
Scholars are somewhat puzzled by the term Word of life. John, in his gospel, refers to Jesus Christ as the “Word became human” (John 1:14). Is John, therefore, speaking of Christ in this opening verse? Sixteenth-century Reformation theologian John Calvin concludes, “As its substance is Christ, and as it contains nothing other than that He, who had always been with the Father, at length appeared to us, the first view seems to me the simpler and more genuine.” This conclusion would be affirmed by the evidence of John’s own gospel when Jesus said to Martha, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die” (John 11:25).
1:2 This life was revealed to us. We have seen it, and we testify about it. We are reporting to you about this eternal life that was in the presence of the Father and was revealed to us.
This “Word of life” was revealed to John and the other disciples. They did not seek Jesus. Rather, He sought them and revealed Himself to them. John acknowledged the human darkness under which all men labor, but Jesus came to them and chose them to be witnesses of His glory. Again, John affirmed this in his gospel. “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you. I have appointed you to go, to produce fruit that will last, and to ask the Father in my name to give you whatever you ask for” (John 15:16).
John affirmed that he had borne witness and continued to testify to the astounding revelation that the Father had given to the disciples. The most fundamental aspect of that revelation was that their lives were transformed when they saw, heard, touched, and experienced the eternal Word of life Who had been sent to earth from the Father.
1:3 This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have a relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
As one who had personally seen and heard the eternal one, John wanted to assure everyone that his testimony was absolutely reliable. What John has declared from the beginning of the church is completely and unequivocally true. There is no error here, no vain hypothesizing, no dimly perceived philosophy. There is only the clear, infallible ring of verifiable evidence that John had personally seen and heard.
John emphasized that his readers could also share in this fellowship just as the apostles did as long as that fellowship is centered in a mutual relationship to Jesus Christ. John does not allow some misperception of the meaning of fellowship. Rather, it is centered in a relationship with the eternal God and made possible by His Son Jesus Christ, Who came into the world as the Lamb of God, the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world.
1:4 We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy.
Why is John so forceful in his opening statement? Because he wants believers to experience this same joy in Christ’s salvation that he had.
I will find joy in the Lord.
I will delight in my God.
He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation.
He has wrapped me in the robe of righteousness
like a bridegroom with a priest’s turban,
like a bride with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
This is the only valid resource of genuine Christian fellowship. The Greek verb πληροω (ple-ro-oh) is in the passive tense, which would be better understood as meaning “that your joy may be made full.” In English, we may assume that we are able to achieve some measure of joy on our own merits, but that is not the import of the Greek. The original language tells us in no uncertain terms that the joy that we have as Christians is a gift that is bestowed upon us as an integral part of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
How desperately the church today needs this witness of the apostle John. For too many centuries we have allowed our Christian faith to wallow in the recesses of philosophical speculation. Today, many congregations are filled with men and women who mentally adhere to the vague tenets of a “Christian” worldview, but there is little joy or power in their living. They cling to a belief system that reflects a “cultural Christianity” though they have not truly experienced the life-changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us listen carefully to John, the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, and heed his warnings, measuring our faith against God’s standard of truth, which he firmly proclaims. If we fail the test, let us plead with our God to forgive the pride in our ill-fated theologies, our falsely held heresies. Let us weigh carefully the doctrine of today’s “Christian” thinking against the clearly defined testimony of one who has seen, heard, and touched the eternal Word of life, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Bind us all as one together
In Thy Church’s sacred fold,
Weak and healthy, poor and wealthy,
Sad and joyful, young and old.
Is there want, or pain, or sorrow?
Make us all the burden share.
Are there spirits crushed and broken?
Teach us, Lord, to soothe their care.
1:5 This is the message we heard from Christ and are reporting to you: God is light, and there isn’t any darkness in him.
John now turns to the message that the disciples had received from Jesus Christ. This message again reflects the same wording of the opening chapter of John’s gospel. “4He was the source of life, and that life was the light for humanity. 5The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it” (John 1:4-5). As John develops this theme in this epistle, we get the same impression that we do from his gospel account. There is a conflict between darkness and light. In this letter, however, this war is not being waged on the great cosmic stage that was set in the gospel. Rather, the war between light and darkness is being waged within the souls of men. It is imperative to understand that God, the Creator of the universe, is the source of this light, and there is no darkness in Him.
A psalmist captured this image of the eternal God from Whom all darkness flees.
11If I say, “Let the darkness hide me
and let the light around me turn into night,
12even the darkness is not too dark for you.
Night is as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)
These words were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Whom the disciples had seen and heard and touched. “Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have a life filled with light and will never live in the dark’” (John 8:12).
To understand this epistle, we must grasp the nature of God that John has presented. God’s very nature is light, the very essence of righteousness and holiness in the absolute sense. The whole revelation of God’s Word—in particular, that which the Son has revealed of the Father—shows God as light in the sense of truth and holiness. John establishes this foundation persuasively. In the face of this divine revelation of the Light, false doctrine will be fully unmasked.
1:6 If we say, “We have a relationship with God” and yet live in the dark, we’re lying. We aren’t being truthful.
Bringing together the concepts of fellowship and light, John sets forth his first test of what it means to belong to the risen Lord. The convicting aspect of the test is that it is impossible to have fellowship with God and simultaneously walk in darkness. Actually, John’s statement is more strongly worded. Envision a scene in which people participate in the life of the redeemed community. They have all the appearances of walking in fellowship with that community and of sharing in the common salvation. However, some may really walk in darkness. If so, then they are liars. While professing fellowship with God, they also practice the works of darkness. They prove themselves, therefore, to be hypocrites who vainly profess faith in Christ while walking in darkness.
1:7 But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin.
True redemption produces spiritual life and light, resulting in the genuine, open, rejoicing fellowship of the redeemed community. Therefore, as the affirming aspect of the test, if any person truly cultivates such a relationship, then that individual is walking in the light. Such a person accepts the criticisms of this community, for brothers and sisters in Christ want to encourage each other’s spiritual welfare. This kind of relationship can only exist among those who live under the redemption of the blood of Jesus Christ which has cleansed them from their sin. “5And from Jesus Christ, the witness, the trustworthy one, the first to come back to life, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. Glory and power forever and ever belong to the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6and has made us a kingdom, priests for God his Father. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).
1:8 If we say, “We aren’t sinful” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
In his second test, John exposes another faulty doctrine. There are those who believe that, having been redeemed, they no longer sin. This is a serious form of self-deception that results in spiritual frustration and defeat. The Spirit of God, dwelling in the lives of believers, leads them into truth just as Jesus Himself had taught His disciples. Jesus promised His disciples that the Spirit’s work would stir conviction of sin as well as reveal the eternal truth about the Son of God. “7However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it” (John 16:7-8).
One of the early heresies taught the concept that once a person was redeemed, his spirit was secured in that salvation, but his physical behavior would not affect his spiritual condition. One could indulge in any sin without consequence. The apostle Paul denounced such abhorrent doctrine:
15Then what is the implication? Should we sin because we are not controlled by laws but by God’s favor? That’s unthinkable! 16Don’t you know that if you offer to be someone’s slave, you must obey that master? Either your master is sin, or your master is obedience. Letting sin be your master leads to death. Letting obedience be your master leads to God’s approval. 17You were slaves to sin. But I thank God that you have become wholeheartedly obedient to the teachings which you were given. 18Freed from sin, you were made slaves who do what God approves of. (Romans 6:15-18)
1:9 God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.
If believers live under the constant awareness of their sinful condition, then the living Christ lifts that burden and places them under the protection of His s�