1 John 1:1-4 - John Gives Eyewitness Testimony Concerning Christ
Our text will be 1 John 1:1-4,
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.
The well known theologian J.I. Packer said, “Real Christianity has in the past been conceived in terms of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, churchmanship, sacramentalism, syncretism, and various other things...but it is best defined in terms of communion with God – more precisely still, communion with the triune LORD through Jesus Christ the mediator.”
This brief statement helps us to see that there are many terms that can be used to define what some believe ‘real Christianity’ to be. Packer does not just give us one example of what some may consider to be ‘real Christianity’; but he gives us five things to consider.
Orthodoxy which is right belief.
Orthopraxy which is correctness of action and practice
Churchmanship which is a way of talking about and labeling different tendencies within the church.
Sacramentalism is a belief in or emphasis on the importance and efficacy of the sacraments for achieving salvation and conferring grace.
Syncretism is the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices in religion. It is the mixing of truth with error.
Packer shows us that people can define Christianity by ‘various other things’. There are countless things that we can place our faith in rather than in Jesus Christ alone. Yesterday it may have been those things. Today it may be these particular things. And tomorrow there will be new things to trust in.
Spurgeon gives this warning, “Of all matters, religion is the very worst to play with. It may be easy to mimic it, but the price to be paid for such fooling around will be terrible...The best imitation of religion will make its possessor wail forever when the hand of eternal truth shall lay bare its falsehood.” Because of this danger Spurgeon offers up this little prayer, “O thou who art ‘the truth’, deliver me from all seeming, and let me be in truth that which I profess to be.”
We would all do well to confess often what David does in Psalm 86:8-11, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O LORD that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
In this letter John addresses many things that the false teachers had said that were leading believers away from Jesus Christ. These false teachings posed a great threat to the well-being of the church and their understanding of the LORD. Yet, even after he addresses these things John knows that there are many threats and many idols, that Christians will be exposed too. As a result, they need to be diligent to avoid them at all times. Therefore, John closes this letter by saying, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”. Remarkably, even as John closes this letter he knows that there is always a danger that believers will in some way fail to look to Christ and turn to other idols.
Packer makes it clear that there is only one thing that defines authentic Christianity. Real Christianity is ‘best defined in terms of communion with God – more precisely still, communion with the triune LORD through Jesus Christ the mediator’.
This is precisely what John is seeking to convey as he begins this letter. Packer’s definition can be a thesis statement for 1 John 1.
In these verses we get a glimpse of what these believers were facing. There were some whose teachings attacked at the very heart of the gospel. They attacked the person of Jesus and the work that He accomplished. These false teachings undercut their understanding of doctrine, of how a Christian was to live, and how they interacted with one another in the body of Christ.
Because the apostolic teaching concerning Christ had come under attack John begins this letter as an eyewitness of what he had seen, heard and touched. Most agree that the false teaching that was prevalent at this time was an early form or Gnosticism.
Gnosticism was a philosophy that emphasized the essential goodness of the spirit and the inherent evil of all matter. These teachers believed that Jesus was a mere man who had a spirit come upon him at his baptism until his crucifixion. They would not accept that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. They denied that Jesus was fully God and fully man. The Gnostic teachers believed that salvation was being delivered from the body and its dominion so how could God take upon Himself flesh? This deliverance was obtained by some enlightenment, some special knowledge, imparted by some special revelation that only a few received.
This teaching attacked the heart of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. So John begins his letter quickly and shows that Jesus Christ was both man and the eternal life, the word of life, and He was the Son of God who was with the Father from the very beginning.
Therefore, John opens this letter by saying, “That which”, instead of saying, “He who”. He uses a neutral pronoun rather than a masculine pronoun. At first this may seem very strange. However, Dr. David Thompson gives a reason for this when he says, “Jesus Christ was far more than just a masculine person. Jesus Christ was far more than someone who was just a mere human. He was life. Jesus was the word of God. Jesus Christ was in fact God. Jesus Christ is the eternal life.”
Verse One - John Is An Eye Witness To The Word Of Life
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...
In the first clause we read, ‘That which was from the beginning’. This is not a reference to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Nor does it refer to the beginning of His earthly ministry when he called the disciples to come and follow Him. Rather, it is a reference to the time when Jesus was with the Father before He had created anything. (John 1:1-5, 8:58)
John speaks of what he has heard, what he has seen with his eyes, and what he has touched with his hands the ‘word of life’. All of these verbs are in the perfect indicative active form. This means that John is stating a fact. These facts concern what has happened in the past and these facts continue to have implications at the present time. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world had profound implications.
Our text gives us two implications today. We read in 1 John 1:3-5, “...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. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
John shares these things with others so that they can have fellowship together and with God and His Son Jesus Christ. John also shares these things so that our joy may be complete.
Notice in 1 John 1:1 the phrase, ‘...(That) which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon…’
Why does John speak of seeing and looking upon Christ twice? Is this just for emphasis? Is he just repeating himself and filling space?
In the Greek, there is a different word used for ‘seen’ and the one used for ‘looked upon’. John saw Jesus and observed many things concerning Him. But when John says, ‘which we have looked upon’ he is using the same word from which we get our word ‘theater’. John is saying:
He viewed Him attentively. He watched Jesus during His ministry, listened to his sermons and John came to see what all of these things meant.
John perceived Jesus through careful and deliberate observation.
He looked upon Jesus and sought to interpret what he was observing.
The apostles watched Jesus and realized that He was the Eternal Son of God
As I have thought about this aspect of our text I realized how important it is for us to do the same thing. We need to come to the Scriptures often and pray that Christ might be made more manifest to us. If we do not, we many may fall into the trap that Spurgeon and Packer referred to earlier: we become more religious and not more intimate with Christ.
John Testifies Concerning The Truth About Jesus Christ
Verse 1b-2 -...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...)
In verse two John makes four points that refer to the life that Jesus revealed.
First, this life was manifested to the apostles. Here, John uses aorist passive verb for ‘manifested’. This indicates that this is something that happened in the past and that the subject, the apostles, were acted upon by the LORD. In other words, this means that the apostles could not have seen Jesus at the ‘word of life’ or ‘the eternal life which was with the Father’ unless it was revealed to them by the Lord. This word is used twice in our text and both times it is in the aorist passive verb form.
Consider Matthew 16:13-17, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’”
Or Consider Mark 4:11-12, “And Jesus said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
Another implication of this verb form is that John is testifying that Jesus was manifested to them and that He will not be seen again until He returns at the second coming. This has implications for all of those who have claimed to have seen Jesus during the interim. According to this verse this cannot happen.
Secondly, this verse shows us that this life was seen by the apostles. As we have previously discussed, they did not just see Jesus with their eyes but they saw Him with perception and understanding. Let me give you an example that might help with understanding this.
This past year I watched two football games. I watched the Packers in the NFC Championship game and the Superbowl. After Tampa Bay won the Superbowl I watched some interviews with the players. They would often be asked, “What does it mean that you got to play in this game and won.” I expected them to simply say, “Who wouldn’t want to play in the Superbowl!” Their answer to this simple question surprised me. Everyone of them gave answers that went far deeper than that. Most of them said, “After all that we went through this year it feels great to be here.” Those players heard that question and their minds comprehended far more than my mind perceived. They experienced an entire season first hand. I had only watched two games on television.
John and the other apostles looked intently upon Jesus. They followed him everywhere he went. They took every opportunity to be with him. And as a result, they had an intimate relationship with him. It seems to me that there is something we could apply from this in our walk with the LORD. The cost to discipleship is steep. It means that we pick up our cross every day and follow after him. Yet, the reward is great. Am I following Christ in such a way that I can look upon Him and see him in a greater way? Am I living in such a way that I do not shrink back from Him at his coming?
Thirdly, the apostles witnessed concerning this ‘life’. All of the apostles became witnesses to others about the LORD Jesus Christ and they proclaimed that in Him was life and that only through Him could one have eternal life. Again, both of these verbs are in the present indicative active form. This means that John, and the other apostles, were witnesses to these facts and continued to do so for the rest of their lives. The facts never changed and they never stopped preaching them! In fact, they were willing to die for these facts.
The word that is used for ‘testify’ is the word from which we get our word martyr. These men witnessed to these facts even to their death. Therefore, this particular Greek word became associated with a person laying down their life for the proclamation and witness concerning this truth – Jesus is the Christ.
I like to watch ‘Blue Bloods’. It is a show about Police officers and the judicial system. One of the main plots in these shows is how hard it is to get a witness to testify when they believe that their lives are in danger. Most witnesses back out if they feel that they or their loved ones are in danger. But when we look at the apostles and so many Christians throughout history the opposite of this is true. They witness joyfully and boldly concerning Jesus even unto death.
Fourthly, the apostles proclaimed to everyone concerning this ‘eternal life’.
They preached that Jesus was with the Father from the beginning. This speaks of the fact that Jesus had been face to face with the Father and was equal to the Father.
One catechism asks, ‘How many persons are there in God?’
The answer is, ‘There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
When these believers had questions, it must have been a great comfort to them that they could go to the apostle John for guidance and instruction in truth. John testified boldly that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and that Jesus was equal to the Father in power and glory.
John’s Motivation In Speaking Of This Is So That These Believers Experience Fellowship And Joy
In 1 John 1:3-4 there are two ‘so that’ statements. These statements indicate two effects that this message will have upon those who receive it. He says, “...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. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
John writes this letter so that there could be fellowship. John writes this so that they can experience complete joy.
Observation #1 – How did you read, perceive or understand these verses? For example, did you look at this verse and in some way put the emphasis on the fact that you want to experience a deeper fellowship with the LORD and you want to experience a complete joy? In some ways this is appropriate but I think it misses the bigger message.
John’s experience when hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus was made more meaningful because he shared that experience with others. He always uses the plural pronoun ‘we’ when he describes this experience. You cannot truly experience fellowship with God whom we cannot see if we ignore His body, the church, that we can see. And we cannot experience complete joy apart from the other believers that share in the life and Spirit that has been given among us. We, as Americans, have a very individual sense of these things. We are aware of my rights, my feelings, my experience. But when we come to Christ everything changes and we are called to fellowship together and to experience joy together. (1 John 4:7-11; 5:16)
Observation #2 – John is writing to a church that is under attack: spiritual, emotional, relational, theological, philosophical. As a result, their fellowship together is under strain and their joy is diminishing. I am sure that some of them want to walk out of the church and never come back. They have been hurt in the church and they are wondering if it is worth staying.
In this moment, John writes to this church and has the boldness to say that if they will look to Christ and act faithfully they will experienced an enriched fellowship with the Lord and their brothers and sisters and they will once again experience a complete you together with others. How many churches, marriages and relationships experience this? If not, why not?
Observation #3 – We have to not only have a high view of Christ, that He is the Son of God from all eternity, but we need to have a high view of His Word and respond in obedient faith.
Imagine a marriage that has gotten so bad that they believe that the only answer is divorce. They come into the pastor and give him all the reasons that this relationship won’t work. Then the pastor says something that to them may sound ridiculous in that moment, “You need to look to Christ and respond in faith to His Word. If you will recapture this to begin with you will be on your way back to experiencing joy and fellowship together.”
Will this couple respond well to those words or not? Will the church those that are struggling with the people in the church accept John’s words or not? This is what John is asking us to do as he begins this letter. Look to Christ and see Him as the Eternal Son of God who gives life to sinners. We are to hear His message and recover what sin has sought to destroy. Do we have the faith to do this?