John 20:30-31 is the purpose statement of John’s Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The Epistle of John is the companion to the Gospel of John. 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” The Gospel of John and the Epistle of 1 John are companion works with complementary themes. But there is a noteworthy distinction.
- The Gospel of John is evangelistic.
- The Epistle of 1 John is pastoral.
The Gospel seeks to lead unbelievers to saving faith. The Epistle seeks to lead believers to true assurance. 1 John begins with the assurance that Jesus is real. The Person of Christ was under attack by false teachers called “Gnostics.”
- An agnostic does not know.
- A Gnostic thinks he knows it all.
These Gnostics claimed special knowledge that made them spiritually elite. Their view of God was rooted in mystery, rather than history. It was an esoteric understanding of spiritual matters disconnected from the real world. The Gnostics believed that the spirit was good and matter was evil. They claimed that God had nothing to do with physical matter, resulting in a license to sin. But to get these claims to stick, they had to deconstruct the truth about Jesus. The Gnostics fully believed that Jesus was God. They did not think he was a man who had come in the flesh. They claimed Jesus was a phantom deity who appeared to be human through a series of emanations.
John G. Mitchell wrote: “It is usually true that in the introduction to a book we find the key to that book. In the first four verses of this Epistle we find the key.” 1 John begins by confronting and correctingthe confusion about the Person of Christ. It is an essential truth of the Christian faith. The work of Christ is based on the Person of Christ. What he did matters because of who he is. If you are wrong about Jesus, you cannot be right about God.
Christianity is not a doctrinal creed, moral code, or religious ceremony. Christianity is Christ and Christ is God.
- What should you believe about Jesus?
- Why should you believe in Jesus?
1 John 1:1-4 teaches what you should believe about Jesus and why.
What You Should Believe about Jesus
Paul’s letters begin with words of greeting. John begins with the meat of the matter in the opening verses of this letter. Verses 1-3 reflect complex grammar. The object is stated at the end of verse 1: “the word of life.” Verse 2 is a digression. The verb – “proclaim” – is not stated until verse 3. It may be bad grammar. It is excellent theology. John asserts that Jesus was truly man, truly God.
Jesus was truly Man. Verse 1 says, “That which was from the beginning.” The Gnostics concocted a new message. John proclaimed that which was from the beginning. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 alludes to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens the earth.” In the beginning, God the Father and God the Son co-created the heavens and the earth. 1 John 1:1 is not about creation. It is about the Incarnation. The incarnation was an event as significant as creation itself. Human life begins at conception. Jesus Christ is from the beginning. He was born older than his earthly mother and as old as his heavenly Father. John 8:58 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus was from the beginning. Yet he was truly man. Verse 1 says, “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.” John opens his letter with eyewitness testimony about the humanity of Jesus. He says, “We have heard.” Have you ever wondered what Jesus sounded like? John heard the voice of Jesus as words of truth, grace, and love fell from his lips. John says, “We have seen with our own eyes.” John did not see a vision of Christ. He saw Jesus in the flesh. John says, “we have touched with our own hands.” John 13:23 says, “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus.” Luke 24:39 says, “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.”
Jesus was truly God. Verse 2 says, “The life was made manifest.” “Manifest” means “to show forth.” It is to expose, reveal, or unveil. The life was made manifest. Jesus existed from the beginning with the Father. His incarnation was the manifestation of God in the flesh. Verse 2 says, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it.” John did not proclaim a Jesus who was a mere spiritual vision. He was a real person. John says, “We have seen it.” What he saw, he could not keep to himself. Verse 2 says we “testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.”
John calls Jesus “eternal life.” The Christ who gives eternal life is eternal life. John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Verse 2 says he was “was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” Jesus was face to face with the Father. Philippians 2:6 says, “He was in the form of God.” Verse 2 declares the Son of God was made manifest to us. John did not see him a crowd from afar.
- He was one of the twelve disciples.
- He was a part of the “inner circle.”
- He was called the beloved disciple.
No person on earth was closer to Jesus than John. John is not clout-chasing here. He gives his testimony to build up the faith of his readers. These second and third generation Christians could believe the gospel because of the testimony of the apostles who saw Jesus in the flesh. It is the basis upon which we believe. We do not need a new or fresh revelation. Jude 3 appeals to us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Why You Should Believe in Jesus
When children are young, you can give them commands without explanation. As they mature, children must learn what and why to make values their own. Assurance of salvation and maturity of faith work the same way. You need to know what you believe about Jesus and why. Verses 3-4 give two practical reasons to believe in Jesus.
Faith in Jesus is Fellowship. Churches sometimes advertise events by promising “food, fun, and fellowship.” Many times, there is more food and fun than fellowship. Christian fellowship is more than having a good time at a social gatheringwith others of like interest. The Greek term means to share a common bond. It was used for the intimacy of marriage. Fundamentally, it was a commercial term that referred to a working partnership. Luke 5:7 uses it to refer to Peter’s partners in the fishing business. Christian faith is Christian fellowship.
Fellowship with One Another. Verse 3 says: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” “Us” refers to the apostles. John lived longer than the other apostles. He was the only apostle to die of old age. Most likely, the other apostles were in glory when he wrote this letter. Yet the communion of the saints transcends time and space. It also draws true believers together.
Christian fellowship is rooted in love. 1 John records tests of assurance: a doctrinal test, moral test, and social test. 1 John 2:9-10 says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” 1 John 4:20-21 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Christian fellowship is rooted in truth. John proclaimed what he saw and heard that you might have fellowship with us – the apostles. The apostles loved one another. But the bond they shared was deeper and stronger than their mutual love. It was fellowship rooted in the truth about Jesus. When the eleven replaced Judas, they chose one who followed Jesus from the beginning and was a witness to his resurrection. Acts 2:42 described the covenant life of the early church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Christian fellowship is built on the foundation of biblical truth. There is no fellowship where there is no truth.
Fellowship with God. Verse 3 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.” John emphasizes the message he proclaims is based on what he has seen and heard. The goal is that we have fellowship with us – the apostles. Then he adds: “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Our fellowship in Christ is not just with one another. It is also with God the Father. God created man to fellowship with him. Adam and Eve broke fellowship with God by their sinful rebellion. God restored fellowship with us through Christ. God wants to fellowship with you!
Guy King wrote: “How amazing it is, being what we are, we receive a welcome into fellowship with Him, being what He is – the atom consorting with the Almighty the Holy One and the unholy conversing together through the appointed media of Bible and Prayer.”
We not only have fellowship with the Father; but with his Son Jesus Christ. John again makes Jesus equal with God. Jesus is more than a wise rabbi, great prophet, or miracle worker. He is the Son of the God. Matthew 16:16 confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” God’s Son Jesus Christ wants to fellowship with you. 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Being a Christian is more than following the teachings of Jesus. It is personal fellowship with Jesus. Billy Graham said, “Christianity is not only going to church on Sunday. It is living twenty-four hours of every day with Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:10-11 says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Faith in Jesus is Joy. Verse 4 says, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” There is a textual variant in this verse. It may read “our joy” or “your joy.” “Our joy” includes the apostle and readers. John mentions joy in each of his letters. 1 John 1:4 says he wrote this letter that his joy may be complete. 2 John 12 says: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 3 John 4 says: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” The heart of a pastor is concerned that you know the truth and walk in the truth. Acts 20:26-27 says, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
But John was not just concerned about his own joy. He wanted the saints to have joy. What is joy?Whatever it is, it was something that can only be found in knowing and believing the truth about Jesus. True joy is not found in material possessions, material possessions, or sinful people. Joy is only found in Jesus. John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The better you know Jesus, the more joy you experience. Martin Luther said, “It is but the beginning of joy when we begin to believe. When faith daily increases, joy increases in proportion.” John wrote the truth of joy so that our joy may be complete. Joy is complete Jesus is the center of it all. Charles Simeon said: “There are but two lessons for the Christian to learn: the one is, to enjoy God in everything; the other is, to enjoy everything in God.”