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The First Epistle of John (1)

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2

(Chapter 1:1 to 2:2)

It is generally accepted that the Epistles of John and the fourth Gospel are by the same writer. One scholar goes so far as to say that their similarities are closer than those between Luke's Gospel and The Acts (H.J. Holtzman). The author of the Epistles was evidently John, 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (John 21:24) who was the writer of the Gospel. It is not possible to say dogmatically to whom the Epistles were addressed, but they were most likely sent to 'the circle of Asiatic churches', and we do not see any compelling reason for them to be given a late date. From the internal evidence, they were written during the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles. John A.T. Robinson in his book Relating the New Testament gives A.D. 60-65, and they may be even earlier than this.

The Roman province of Asia covered about a third of the peninsular which we call Asia Minor. It was regarded as the wealthiest of the Roman provinces, and its cities were centres of Greek culture. The truths of Christianity were established there during Paul's Ephesian ministry, so that it could be said that not only the people of Ephesus, but 'all the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks' (Acts 19:10). However, Satan never lets the truth of God go unchallenged, and soon there was a landslide away from the truth that Paul had passed on to the churches formed there, and this occurred before the apostle's death, for he states in his last epistle, 2 Timothy 1:15, 'You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me' (N.I.V.). The rot had already started in the church at Colossae, as the epistle shows, and was soon to develop into gnosticism. This word is derived from the Greek word for knowledge, and those who promulgated it claimed to have superior religious knowledge, and this became a dire peril to the truth of Christianity.

Both John and Paul foresaw this and solemnly warned believers of its dangers. There were two kinds of gnosticism, but both agreed in the essential evil of matter and both had erroneous views of the Person of Christ. The Docetic Gnostics denied the humanity of Christ. They taught that He only appeared to have a human body, in which case He could not have died, and the work of redemption collapses. The Corinthian Gnostics made a distinction between the man Jesus and the aeon Christ that came on Him at His baptism and left Him at the cross. This denied His deity. Some practised asceticism and others licentiousness. The apostle John opposes both classes in his epistles. No less than nine times John gives tests for knowledge which accords with the truth given by God: (2:3,5; 3:16,19,24; 4:2,6,13; 5:2). Some of the gnostic leaders he calls antichrists, and although he was the apostle of love, he does not mince his words when dealing with Satanic efforts to cancel the truth of God. These are still prevalent today under various guises, and they need unmasking, so that their deception may be evident.

Chapter 1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched -- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (1 John 1:1 N.I.V.).
The Scriptural quotations are from the New International Version in this exposition unless otherwise stated.

John writes with the authority of first-hand knowledge. He associates himself with his fellow disciples and declares what they had seen, what they had heard and what their hands had handled of the One Who is the Word of Life, Who had said to them, 'blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it' (Matt. 13:16,17). In this first verse, three senses are appealed to, hearing, sight, and touch, which combine to show the reality of Christ's humanity, and so a blow is struck in the opening verses against the Docetic Gnostics, who denied that He had a literal body because all matter was considered to be evil.

Christ is the 'Word (Logos) of Life', which reminds us at once of the beginning of the Gospel where He is declared to be the Logos, Who is God (John 1:1). Both refer to the 'beginning' which takes us back to creation and the beginning of time, or the beginning of the gospel of salvation. John in no uncertain way asserts Christ's Deity at the end of the epistle, and also repeats the fact of His being the Life:

And we are in Him Who is true -- even in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life (5:20).

This is one of many definite and clear statements of the deity of Christ that are found in the Word of God. It is noteworthy that in the holy Scriptures, men are never asked to reason about or pass their judgment on this weighty truth, for the simple reason that the finite can never fully comprehend or understand the infinite. Man's reason can only operate within the bounds of humanity. When it goes beyond this it steps into a limitless ocean that cannot be plumbed, and this can only lead to doubt and uncertainty, but never to divine knowledge and assurance. What we as believers are asked to do by God is to believe Him and His word, for He is the Truth and cannot lie. Our comprehension in this present life is only partial, we cannot know fully until the day of resurrection (read carefully 1 Corinthians 13:12). Then we shall know fully and earthly problems and our mental limitations will cease.

This epistle defines God in three ways. He is life (1 John 1:2), He is light (1 John 1:5), and He is love (1 John 4:16). From these tremendous statements, three queries follow. Are we begotten of God Who is life? Are we walking in the light? Are we dwelling in love? These are three tests, right living, true believing and genuine loving.

Verse 2 of chapter one goes on to say:

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (verses 2-4).

The Logos Who is life, was with the Father, en pros ton patera. This is like pros ton theon of John 1:1, the preposition pros followed by the accusative case of intimate fellowship 'with God'. This life was made available for human eyes to see at the incarnation, and so the twelve disciples saw Him, heard Him and touched Him. The apostle John has much to say about 'life', but it is not the present physical life that concerns him, but the life that knows no end that will be enjoyed to the full only in resurrection.

The Greek aionios, eternal, occurs seventy-one times in the New Testament, forty-four times with 'zoe', life, and twenty-three times in John's Gospel and Epistles. The apostle is now constrained to stress fellowship or sharing, so that those who have never seen the Lord Jesus in the flesh as the twelve apostles did, might keep on having the same fellowship as they did. This is the force of the present subjunctive of the verb, 'have fellowship'; it can be a constant experience. Too often when fellowship is mentioned we limit it to sharing with one another, but primarily, as believers in Christ, we can share with God which is more wonderful, and we should be concerned with fellowship with Him first of all. This fellowship comes from obedience and faithfulness to the Lord, which is communicated to us through His apostles whom He raised up to pass it on to us. Those who abandoned this teaching severed themselves from the fellowship of the Father and the Son.

These things John was writing that his joy might be complete. Some manuscripts read 'your joy'. The word 'humin' (your), and 'hemin' (our) look alike and were pronounced alike, hence the difference in translation of the Authorised Version and more modern ones.

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin (verses 5-7).

John goes on to describe the character of God -- God is light. Light was at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:3) and both the Old and New Testaments stress the fact that light is one of God's great characteristics. 'The Lord is my light and my salvation' (Psa. 27:1), and the Lord Jesus Who came to manifest the Father, declared that He was 'the light of the world' (John 8:12), and therefore 'the light of men' (John 1:4). Light is a metaphor of life and salvation. Christ calls it the 'light of life' (John 8:12), and we should remember that the evangelist, when he uses the word 'life', refers to eternal life and not the present physical life. In addition to this, light in the Gospel represents spiritual illumination which God gives to those who sincerely study and believe His Word.

The apostle Paul uses the same figure when he writes in Ephesians 5:8-14, reminding the readers they were once 'darkness', but now are 'light in the Lord'. They should therefore walk as 'children of light'. Sin has brought darkness to the intellect of man and the only thing that can abolish it is the illumination of the Holy Spirit. God is light, and therefore is the source and essence of all goodness, truth and righteousness. His children have the great privilege of walking day by day in the light of the truth of God, so avoiding the darkness which can only result in stumbling and error.

In verse 6 John contrasts those who do this with those who do not. He constantly brings together the positive and the negative for emphasis. Several times he uses the phrase 'if we say', and puts this against the action that follows. We have a saying that 'actions speak louder than words'. This is true, and if our actions do not match our words, they are empty and valueless. To claim to have fellowship with God and then to walk in darkness is lying, the apostle tells us. He was the apostle of love; nevertheless he has some blunt words concerning things that oppose God's truth.

A knowledge of the words of the Bible, even if it is orthodox, is no substitute for righteousness of life. The Lord Jesus sums it up when He says, 'You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light' (John 12:35,36).

Doubtless John had in mind the enemies of the truth, the Gnostics, who denied the deity and the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and so were walking in the darkness of error and unbelief even though they professed to know all the truth of God. There was only one way of avoiding such a condition, and that was to keep on walking in the light. The tense of the verb has this meaning. To walk occasionally in this way will not do; it must be a continuous action on our part. When this is done we can have true fellowship with God, and because of this, true fellowship with each other.

But some may ask, how can sinners walk with a holy God? The conclusion of verse 7 tells us that the blood of the Lord Jesus keeps cleansing us from sin. Sin not only enslaves but it soils, and so the believer needs constant cleansing. The precious blood of Christ refers to His sacrificial death as the sin bearer, and this is the all-sufficient remedy for defilement. Modern religion makes much of the example of Christ, but this does not cleanse from sins. It was not His holy life, but His holy death that does this (Heb. 9:13,14).

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives (verses 8-10).

John is very forthright with those who imagine they have eradicated sin and now are sinless. Some of the Gnostics believed this, and we still have their followers today who subscribe to a holiness cult. This is self-deception, the apostle states, and an act of sheer stupidity, for others can see only too clearly the sins and faults of people who make these claims. Those who assert that they do not sin contradict the consistent witness of divine revelation and human experience. Worse than this, they make the God of truth a liar and this is extremely serious. Those who are conscious of their sin and imperfection and believe the Word of God, will know the divine answer to this problem which is given in verse 9 and consists in humble confession to God. Let no one say that this is not necessary, because verse 7 teaches that the shed blood of Christ keeps cleansing us.

Even human standards demand that when an injury is done to some one, apology is necessary to rectify matters. So it is with the sinning believer and God. Not only does he offend another human being, but he offends God and grieves His Holy Spirit. Confession is humbling, and this is good for us when we fail. We can realize afresh that God forgives because of the atoning work of His beloved Son, and this His faithfulness and righteousness owns.

Chapter 2

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have One Who speaks to the Father in our defence -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (2:1,2).
The apostle John tenderly addresses those to whom he is writing as 'my little children' (A.V.), for teknia is diminutive of teknon, a child. His purpose is to put them on their guard so that they do not sin. But if they do, their case is not without hope, for in the presence of the Father they have an Advocate, a powerful counsel for the defence Who is absolutely righteous. As has been said, He has never lost a case yet and never will do so.

The Greek word for advocate is parakletos, which basically means one who is called aside to help. It occurs only five times in the New Testament and all of them are found in the writings of John. Christ refers to the Holy Spirit as 'another advocate' or 'comforter' as it is translated in the Authorised Version. (See also John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).


Edited on August 31, 1996 / Updated on August 31, 1996
The Alachua Freenet does not endorse or disendorse the content of this document. Everything is the author's private opinion.
Location: http://www.afn.org/~leo/be_1_john_1.html
Contact: Leo Wierzbowski / leo@afn.org

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