“An Eyewitness Account”
1 John 1.1-4
We live in a day when there is an abundance of philosophies and opinions and religions that lay claim to the purpose (or non-purpose) of life. This problematic situation is compounded when many false ideologies will also claim the identification of "Christian" though it is an inaccurate label. And what should be most helpful is the addition of some clarity when we throw all these ideas, opinions and false claims around quite liberally. However, when a person chooses to bring any form of objectivity to the issue, they are quickly labelled dogmatic or intolerant. This is the climate into which we seek to live out our Christianity. And yet we do not despair because we know that truth will prevail despite the promised persecution.
Yet, some of this ambiguity also enters the church. And it likely brings confusion to some of our relationships outside church walls. I've experienced this when living in the States. You hear remarks such as "of course I'm a Christian. I'm an American." As if the two are equal to each other. Some of this though is deteriorating as Christianity becomes less popular.
On a personal level, I cannot tell you how many conversations I've had with people that begin with a statement like "He claims to be a Christian, but..." And the latter part of the sentence likely introduces an inconsistency in one's lifestyle or doctrinal imprecision. In other words, one claims to be a Christian but does not have a correct view of major teachings in the Bible.
Most of these discussions revolve around a loving concern for those who make these claims and a sincere desire to help. We want to be able to bring clarity to those who are misguided and provide hope for salvation. We want people to know who Jesus Christ truly is so that they can embrace the good news of our living Savior. Because there are so many opinions of who Jesus is, we want to ensure that the one we are staking our lives on is the biblical one. We want people to trust in the biblical Jesus and not a figment of their imagination.
The reason that I bring this up is because our next book study is focused on this very issue. We are going to see how the apostle John is out to settle the issue of what is a true believer in Jesus Christ. He is striving to answer the questions of "what is a real Christian?" and "how do we know if we have the real thing?" THIS is how we know...
We begin a study in the book of 1 John this morning. Please turn there now if you would. You will find this letter near the end of your Bibles. And we will cover a bit of introductory material and the first four verses of chapter 1. READ.
Unlike Paul's letters and some of the other New Testament authors, this letter does not begin by stating who wrote it. So we should probably address this at the outset. We do find a couple clues in these verses however. And this will introduce our first point. Because the author of this letter repeatedly speaks to have personal connections with the One he is trying to proclaim, the first point is The Eyewitness.
The title that is included in your Bible attributes the letter to the apostle John. And I believe rightly so. There are several lines of evidence to support this. If you were to compare this letter to the Gospel that he had written, you would notice that he does not identify himself there either.
The earliest documents immediately following identify John as the author. One of the most confirming of these is from Polycarp who was himself John's disciple. Tertullian also attributes the letter to John. He was Polycarp's disciple.
The author claims to have been an eyewitness to this word of life. We'll get to this momentarily but this refers to none other than Jesus himself. John, as we know, was one of Jesus' disciples and even one of the inner circle. Jesus often pulled aside Peter, James and John for some of the very significant events in his life and ministry. John is mentioned specifically at the Last Supper. He stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. Jesus entrusted Mary into his care. John was one of the witnesses of the empty tomb. He saw the resurrected Jesus. John was there every step of the way with his Jesus. And so he can confidently and repeatedly assert that he has heard and seen with his eyes and looked upon and touched the word of life.
It is believed that John wrote this letter after his Gospel and before he wrote the book of Revelation. Therefore it is likely dated between 90-95 AD. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, John reportedly resumed his apostolic ministry in the vicinity of great city of Ephesus. And it is from here that he wrote this letter. Even in his old age, the aged apostle had the oversight of many churches in the surrounding region.
The second point is The Case. What is it that John is after in this letter? What is the occasion and purpose for writing this letter to these recipients?
Like I already mentioned, John sets out to answer “what is a real Christian?” And he is writing to young Christians to give them confidence. Because these churches were being infiltrated with false teachings regarding Jesus Christ, the real danger for them is not unbelief, but wrong belief. As Mark Dever rightly notes, “It is hard to believe something confidently when different teachers are teaching opposite things on matters as fundamental as who Jesus is.” The situation isn’t all that different today. So we should find this study quite relevant for us. People believe lots of different things about Jesus. We want to search and know what the Scriptures say.
John structures his letters a lot differently than does Paul. Having recently studied the letter to the Philippians, we noticed that Paul usually has a linear argument as he builds his case and connects his thoughts together. John, we will see, is very circular. He will raise some themes and leave them only to have them re-emerge a short time later. They overlap.
The major themes that he addresses are actually tests of the true Christian. He will begin with a doctrinal test. This test will evolve around a proper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. It will become apparent that there was some confusion regarding the humanity and deity of Jesus. Christians must get the doctrine of Christ’s person right, as John presents it, because our salvation hangs on it. This is foundational and important stuff!
Next, John will confront us with a moral test. Here is where many of the questions arise regarding what people say and their inconsistent lifestyle. John will set out to indicate that if you claim to know Jesus but do not obey him, your words are false. True belief will manifest itself in a changed life. Thus, the difference between obedience and disobedience is the difference between love of God and love of the world.
Here is where will see an abundance of stark contrasts. John will repeatedly show the contrast of light and darkness, life and death, love and hate, truth and lies, love of the Father and love of the world, children of God and children of the Devil, being in the world but not of the world, to know God or not to know God, to have eternal life or not to have eternal life. There is no third alternative in these. And so we would do well to discern our lives in conjunction with John’s letter.
Notice that the moral test comes after the doctrinal test. It is the proof of the doctrinal test because both are necessary. True belief is characterized by believing and obeying. It demonstrates if one really believes.
The third test is the love test. We will note that John does not command his readers to love. It is an indicator of those who belong to God. Our ability to love is directly related to what we know of Jesus and his love. All throughout Scripture, the Christian is identifiable because of his love for God and for other believers.
John’s purpose was not merely for debate, but also pastoral, expressing his deep concern for his people. He wanted not only to refute the false teachers, but also to reassure the genuine believers. And he does this by urging them to refine their theological understanding, sharpen their ethical rigor and heighten their devotional intensity. We could sum it up by ensuring that our beliefs and attitudes are consistent with one another and reflect the character of Christ.
And with that, let’s move on into the text and look at our third point which is The Life. In verse 1 our eyewitness, John, brings his readers to the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Some have suggested that the words “that which was from the beginning” would refer to eternity past. But I think that his other references in this book would call to mind the beginning of their interaction with the gospel. In 1 John 2:7 he writes, “7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. And 1 John 2:24 “24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” 1 John 3:11 “11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” John wants them to be rooted in their faith.
The people in this region would have been influenced by Greek thought that often centered around mythological figures. And here John is reassuring them that he has heard and seen this Jesus. (I think he uses the “we” to refer to his inclusion as one of the disciples). John had heard the many teachings of Jesus from the boat, in the countryside, on the mountains. He heard with his own ears the claims, the condemnation of the Pharisees, the forgiveness of sins to those who repented. He had heard Jesus with his own ears.
As we already noted, John was there to take in visually many of the significant events in the life and ministry of Jesus. He is not a mythological figure. Jesus is a real historical person. “I’ve seen him with my own eyes!” he says. John also wrote in his gospel, John 19:35 “35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”
And then John seemingly repeats himself. Or does he? Right after he says we have seen with our eyes, he says “which we looked upon”. What is going on here? A Greek lexicon informs us that this latter word is to “observe something with continuity and attention, often with the implication that what is observed is something unusual.” And I think that it was this continual intense observing of Jesus that is referred to. John uses this word again in his gospel. John 1:14 “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And later in this letter, 1 John 4:14 “14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” There seems to be a sense in which John has repeatedly and intensely observed Jesus and determined that he was special. Indeed, that he was the Savior of the world!
John adds that he had even touched him with his hands. He was not a figment of his imagination. Jesus did not exist in his dreams. We recall Jesus’ words in Luke 24:39 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” In John 20:20, “20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. And of course, the very familiar account with Thomas in John 20:24–27 “24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
John says “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands… he is the word of life!” Now in these verses it can be a bit confusing whether John is referring to Jesus or the gospel. Because when he says “word” of life, we normally think of a written or verbal communication. But based on the fact that John emphasizes hearing, seeing and touching this “word”, he must refer to Jesus. Remember also that John himself begins his gospel by referring to Jesus as the Word who was in the beginning with God and was in fact God. He is the revelation or communication of God. Hebrews 1 begins by saying that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our father by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” Jesus is also called the Life. In John 14.6, he is the way, the truth and the life. John also wrote that in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of men (Jn. 1.4).
John continues in verse 2 to say that the life, Jesus, was made manifest. How amazing it is to know that the Life was revealed! When we consider that since the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden, when the darkness of sin and death entered the world, the Life had come! In this same verse he says that Jesus is the eternal life which was with the Father. John equates them by indicating his eternal nature with him.
Life is what spiritually dead sinners need! At birth, the playing field is level. We are all dead in our sins. We need life – life that is only found in Jesus Christ! The Life was made manifest when he left the eternal throne to come and dwell with us and die for us.
Do you remember Jesus’ words to a doubting Martha? John 11:25–26 “25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” 1 John 5:11–12 “11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. John 5:39–40 “39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:24 “24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” The Life was made manifest. Jesus was revealed to John and the others.
The fourth point is The Response. This tremendous truth that the Life who was eternally with the Father in heaven has been revealed to his creatures demands a response.
John says, we… have… seen… it! Can you hear the passion that comes from John? Remember he is the last living apostle to have been with Jesus. And he burns with this message, this experience that he had with the Son of God.
John Stott writes that “The historical manifestation of the Eternal Life was proclaimed, not monopolized. The revelation was given to the few for the many. They were to dispense it to the world.… He [Christ] not only manifested Himself to the disciples to qualify them as eyewitnesses, but gave them an authoritative commission as apostles to preach the gospel. The author [John] insists that he possess these necessary credentials. Possessing them, he is very bold. Having heard, seen and touched the Lord Jesus, he bears witness to Him. Having received a commission, he proclaims the gospel with authority, for the Christian message is neither a philosophical speculation, nor a tentative suggestion, nor a modest contribution to religious thought, but a dogmatic affirmation by those whose experience and commission qualified them to make it.”
The revealing of God to mankind is to be proclaimed. Psalm 145:11–12 “11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, 12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” 1 Corinthians 9:16 “16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
John responds to the fact that the Life has been made manifest. Even in his old age, he proclaims the message of Jesus with zeal and encouragement to his readers. Look at his pastoral concern in verse 3. He repeats his desire to proclaim Jesus to them. And then he introduces our fifth point – The Result.
John’s desire for those who would listen and respond is that they may enjoy the same fellowship that he enjoys with his God and other believers. He implores them to stand firm in what they were originally taught regarding the gospel. Jesus is real. He is the Life. He is their life. And I think he writes also to those who do not know this fellowship – that they too may come to experience the life that is found in Jesus.
Christian fellowship means sharing the common life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It binds believers to one another, but the important thing is that it binds them also to God. We saw demonstrations of this fellowship when we looked in Acts 2:42–47 “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.”
To have fellowship is to grow together, suffer together and rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:26–27 “26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
I think that John also is suggesting that their fellowship involves their proclamation. He is encouraging his readers to remain strong in the faith and then to declare with the same conviction that he exudes. I almost view this as a father and son relationship. I constantly think of my influence over my children – especially as it pertains to spiritual matters. Whether you know it or not, your kids know what make you tick – what drives you. I try to be careful that when I teach my boys things about my God that it is not merely content that I am disbursing, but a passion for him. Do you know the difference? Do I get excited when I speak of things about my Lord? Do I repeatedly point out things that remind me of him? I want to pass this on to them. Not merely content. I think that this is what John is after as well. He speaks with conviction. He speaks with passion, zeal and urgency! And he wants the others to join him in this fellowship and proclamation.
What is another result? Verse 4… Joy! It brings him great joy to speak of his Savior! It brings him joy to minister to his readers. It brings great joy when the proclamation leads to fellowship! This is transforming truth! And the reward is NOT a fleeting happiness.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones writes that “Joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. In other words it comes to this; there is only one thing that can give true joy and that is contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He satisfies my mind; He satisfies my emotions; He satisfies my every desire. He and His great salvation include the whole personality and nothing less, and in Him I am complete. Joy, in other words, is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Does that reflect your attitude this morning? Can you find your complete satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone? Does he satisfy your every desire? Is his salvation more than enough for you? Or do you pursue your satisfaction elsewhere? I’ll bet you haven’t found it if you do.
If you are a Christian and do not find your joy in Christ alone, you have a conflict of interest. Surrender completely to him. Consider again your salvation that is to be found in him alone. Allow him to be your pursuit.
If you have not called on Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, please consider that Life is to be found nowhere else. He is the resurrection and the life. There is no other god or ideology that can offer that. Jesus came so that the dead could be made alive, that the sinner could be made right with God.
John 3:16-18 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
There is no third option. You either have the life that he offers or you stand condemned because you have rejected the Life. 1 John 5:12 “12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
John Piper says that “There is no more important issue in life than seeing Jesus for who he really is and savoring what we see above all else.” Let’s pray.