At the time this epistle is written, John was the last surviving apostle, and probably one of the last people living who had seen and heard Jesus during His ministry on earth. When John was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He had a special relationship with Jesus. It’s believed that he was the youngest of the 12 disciples of Christ, perhaps not even 20 years old when he first started to follow Christ. He had an older brother named James, and together they were referred to as “the sons of thunder.” His brother James was the first of the disciples to be martyred, whereas John was the longest living apostle. It’s believed that John was very old by the time he wrote this epistle, perhaps in his eighties. He also wrote the gospel of John, and Revelation.
It’s interesting to consider how John remembers Jesus. He spent three years with Him, daily eating and sleeping and traveling all over Israel. He saw Him in all kinds of situations. But what comes out of his remembrances of Jesus is not some sort of sentimental feelings for the humanity of Jesus, nor a lot of remarks concerning HIs personality or His looks, but rather a firm conviction of His deity.
You would think just the opposite would be true. It’s kind of like if you met a celebrity, what you might take away from that encounter is the humaness of the person. You would probably say things to your friends like, “He seemed like just a normal guy.” We’re always surprised that they are just people, and we think that is so noteworthy. But John doesn’t reminisce that way about Jesus. His first thoughts, both in this epistle and his gospel, is to note the deity of Christ, the supernatural qualities of God incarnate.
Notice John declares first of all that Jesus was from the beginning. When John speaks of the beginning he is not talking about creation, he is talking about the time before creation, before there was anything. When there was only God. In so doing, he emphasizes the eternality of Christ. He does the same in his gospel, albeit with even more explanation. Listen to the way John introduces Christ in his gospel, in John 1:1. “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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”
John identifies in both books Jesus as the Word. He was in the beginning with God. John doesn’t say He was created in the beginning with God, but that He was in the beginning with God. Most importantly, John says the Word was not only in the beginning with God, but that the Word was God. That truth is foundational to our faith. If we are to believe in Him, if we are to have faith in Him, then it has to be a belief that He is God. And Jesus says in chapter 3:16 that whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life.
This doctrine of the deity of Christ is the point at which a lot of the cults and heresies show their true colors. They will say they believe in Jesus Christ, but when you investigate you find they don’t believe that Jesus was God. They believe that He was a prophet, or a teacher, or a higher order of creation on par with the angels, but not God. And though John doesn’t directly address it, there was a heresy called Gnosticism that was gaining ground in the church in his day which was corrupting the doctrine of Christ. And we will see other evidences in John’s writings in which he would seem to be setting forth certain absolute truths by which to counter the false teachings which were prevalent in his day.
Notice another thing that John says about Jesus in both books, that Jesus is life. In the gospel he says “in Him was life and the life was the life of man.” In the epistle He says he is speaking of the “Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life.” They both refer to the same thing, that in Jesus Christ was life. He is the creator of all life. In John 1 vs 3 he said, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” If you remember the Genesis account of creation, God spoke the world in existence. The Word was with God, and nothing came into being without the Word.
Not only is the Word of Life the creator, but the Word gives life. Now we know that life is more than just the body, but it is also soul and spirit. When a person dies, the heart stops beating, the breath stops, the body shuts down. But the soul continues to exist. The soul includes the intellect, feelings, and the will of man. When God made man, He first formed the body out of clay, but then He breathed His breath into man, and man became a living soul. The soul of man lives forever. The body of man is destined to grow old and die. But the soul of man continues. But there is another aspect of life which is spirit. And though we are born dead spiritually because of sin, we are able to be born again in the spirit by the Word of Life. The spirit is that which is the life of God in us, by which we are able to have fellowship with God in the fullness of life for eternity that God intended for man at creation.
To be spiritually dead then means that the body is dead, the spirit is dead, but the soul lives on, however it lives separated for eternity from God. Man was created for fellowship with God, to live with God, but sin caused death of the spirit, which in turn causes death of the flesh, and causes death to the soul, which is eternal separation from the life of God.
This is difficult for us to fathom. We cannot separate our body from our thoughts. But as we get older, it should become more apparent that there is a life in our minds which is different from life in our body. We start to see that our life of the body is failing, but in our mind we may not sense much of a change. We still feel and think the way we always have. Sure, our experiences in life have an affect on the way we think, but fundamentally, we still feel the same in our minds, even though we recognize a decline in our bodies. For instance, you can lose all movement, all feeling in your body, and yet still have the same thoughts, the same mind. That should tell us that there is more to life than the body. The soul lives on after the body is gone. What we don’t really comprehend, is the loss of the spirit. We never had any sense of it to begin with. It was dead when we were born. So we don’t sense the loss of our spirit. That’s what makes it so difficult for us to comprehend all that God intended for us in life. But if we are thinking people, we should at least have a sense of the immortality of the soul.
So Jesus is the source of life, the giver of the fullness of life; body, soul and spirit. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There we see that truth is necessary for life, the truth is the way to life.
In the gospel of John, chapter 1, John uses light as a synonym of truth. John said, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it.” Darkness is always used in the Bible as a metaphor for ignorance, for sin, for the absence of truth. So truth is related to light. John goes on to say in that chapter, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” So the truth of God enlightens man. It gives understanding. The truth gives life.
Notice how John speaks of it in the epistle of 1 John. Vs 5 “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” These verses we will be studying in more detail next week, but I mention them now just to show that John correlates truth and light.
The greatest minds of men have always searched for truth. That was the goal of the great philosophers of ancient Greece. And in their search for truth they sought to understand life, and gain spiritual life, or enduring life. Socrates, for instance, believed in the immortality of the human soul. And they sought truth through reason. In some respects, these philosophers, though carnal, sinful men, were on a higher plane intellectually because they at least came to understand the immortality of the soul and attempt through reason to answer questions concerning the afterlife.
Other men in history were not quite so noble, yet perhaps were just concerned with escaping death. Ponce de Leon, for instance, is one of many men in history who famously searched for the fountain of youth. They were concerned with life, but only in extending the life that they had. They failed to realize that the source of life is not a magical water, but that it comes by the Spirit. That was the thought behind the words which John the Baptist used at the baptism of Jesus, saying, “this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” And Jesus says that the spirit is life in John 6:63 saying “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and [they] are life.” That’s incredible to think about – the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
At the baptism of Jesus, the Light of Truth, the Word made flesh, was manifested to the world. John said “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—“
In his gospel, John speaks of it this way; “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
What John is saying here is that the Word which was from the beginning, the eternal God, manifested Himself to the world in human flesh. And John and the other disciples heard Him, saw Him, touched Him, lived with Him. They knew Him. They were first hand witnesses of Him. And they now testify of Him.
The implications are tremendous because they said that the eternal God became accessible to man in the most tangible way, so that we might know the truth. The Word of God, the Word of Life can be known, because He has revealed Himself to us, and His revelation is the truth of God. John’s words carry the weight of eyewitness testimony. He did not speak of myths or of fables. He had carefully studied the person of Christ and he knew whom he spoke about. He said, we beheld His glory in the flesh. We saw His deity in the flesh.
John was setting forth an absolute truth which would be an important tenet of the argument in refuting Gnosticism. Part of the teaching of Gnosticism was that though Jesus was a form of deity, He was not actually a physical man, but instead some kind of phantom that only appeared human. Yet John declares, “I heard Him! I saw Him! I studied Him! I touched Him!”
Gnosticism taught a super knowledge, or a secret knowledge of God. But John speaks of a personal knowledge, an intimate knowledge, and a manifest knowledge. It’s interesting to study the word “Logos” which is the Greek translated Word. For the Greek, their philosophers had spoken for centuries about the Logos – the basis for organization and intelligence in the universe, the Ultimate Reason which controls all things. But for the philosophers, it was intangible, if not unknowable. They understood the meaning of logos as not only the spoken word, but the reason, the thinking of the mind.
But John says we know the Word. We have touched the Word, heard the Word, seen the Word. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The truth was manifested in human flesh in the body of Jesus Christ. And yet though the physical Jesus Christ is given such importance in the scriptures, it is so amazing that there is not one reference in the New Testament to the way Jesus looked as a man in the flesh. If we were in the position of an eyewitness, and writing about it later, I think we would spend a lot of paper and ink writing about how Jesus looked. About His appearance, how tall, or short, His physical characteristics. But that is not the emphasis of the disciples. They were more concerned about His words, His deeds.
I’m reminded of Isaiah 53 which describes Jesus in prophetic form, long before He was ever manifested in the flesh. Isaiah said this about Him; “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
We were talking at the dinner table at my house the other day about certain movies that portrayed Jesus. And one of the downfalls of such movies is that the actor who plays Jesus kind of gets in your head and starts to dominate your thinking of Him. They usually are some strong, viral, handsome man that plays the part. I think it’s no accident that God left no picture of Jesus. But if we really were to believe what Isaiah says of Him by inspiration, then perhaps the picture would not be quite what we are looking for. He said he has no appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He had no stately form or majesty. I wonder if God saw fit to deliberately make Jesus unattractive so that people would not be drawn to Him for the wrong reasons. One day we shall see Him as He is, and I think that as He is, is much the same as He was when He was on earth.
So though John saw Him in the flesh, he recognized Him as the Word, the expression of God. And he bares witness to the Life that was manifested, and as a result of that, he proclaims to us the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us. He is saying that eternal life is possible to us through Jesus Christ who is the Life. As I alluded to at the beginning, eternal life is so much more than just a chronologically long life. It is even more than just immortality. It is the fullness of life. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Life is fellowship with God. It is being in the presence of God. It is fulfillment and joy. And because God is the source of life, the life He gives is everlasting. It does not come to an end. Jesus said in John 11:26, “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
John calls that life fellowship with God. That fellowship with God is what John invites us to join. He says in vs 3, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” To be in the presence of God, to have fellowship with God, who is the source of life, who is the Light of the world, who is the source of truth, who is the source of love, who is all powerful, all knowing, is too wonderful to comprehend. We often talk about what heaven will be like. We imagine streets of gold, or mansions, or all the wonderful things that we will enjoy. But what we sometimes fail to comprehend is how wonderful God is, and how wonderful it will be to be in His presence.
There is an ancient Christian doctrine which does not get much airplay today, which is called the beatific vision. It refers to being in the presence of inapproachable light, in the presence of pure holiness, pure righteousness and the incredible joy and blessing that will be experienced in that presence. It was something the early church fathers wrote about and looked forward to. I think that we need to have more expectancy of the beatific vision as the ultimate fulfillment and joy in life. To be in the presence of God in perfect fellowship with Him is going to be more wonderful than we can comprehend. And because we shall see Him as He is, the Bible says that we shall be like Him. That’s even more incomprehensible. But it should be what we are looking forward to more than anything.
This doctrine of fellowship with God is one of the most important ideas in this letter of John’s. Fellowship is the ancient Greek word koinonia, which speaks of a sharing, a communion, a common bond and common life. It speaks of a living, breathing, sharing, loving relationship with another person. And John says that we can have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. What a tremendous opportunity. That which men have sought throughout the ages is now possible through faith in Christ. That we might have that kind of relationship with the immortal, invisible God of the universe is incredible.
But I”m afraid for some people that idea is totally unappealing. Perhaps it is because they don’t know who God is, and an invitation to have a “personal relationship with God” is about as attractive to them as telling a teenager that they can have a personal relationship with the assistant principal. But when we know the greatness, the goodness, the power and the glory of God, we should want to have a relationship with Him.
And finally in vs 4, we see the benefit of this fellowship that we can have with God. “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” The result of fellowship is fullness of joy. Lots of things in this world promise happiness. The band Switchfoot said in one of their songs that happiness is a yuppie word. It’s a shallow word. The pursuit of happiness is just that – a pursuit. It rarely ends up producing lasting joy. Joy is something that is satisfied. It is contentment. It is fulfillment. It’s not necessarily laughing or even smiling. But it is the satisfaction of the soul. That is joy. And you are never going to know that satisfaction of the soul without Jesus Christ.
You may find some happiness in the world for a season or two. You may get rich, you may gain the world, but without Christ you lose your own soul. Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” But when you gain Jesus, you gain life, you gain joy, you gain fellowship with God. You gain it all.
Reject Christ and you have everything to lose. Claim Christ and you have everything to gain. It should be an easy choice. Call upon Jesus today and be given the everlasting, eternal, fulfilled life of God. God invites you today to have fellowship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ His Son.