Studies in John’s Epistles – Introduction

John begins his first Epistle, as he did his Gospel, by affirming that Jesus is both fully-God AND fully-human. He goes on to assert that those who deny that Jesus was fully-human are not only NOT saved, but are possessed by a demonic-spirit, the spirit of the anti-Christ.

In some ways, John picks up where he left off in his Gospel, by presenting the physical-evidence that Jesus didn’t just “appear” to be human, but that He WAS fully-human. Our entire salvation hinges on this doctrine, as does the entire Word of God.

If anyone was in a position to make these assertions, John certainly was. He had spent over three years with Jesus, had seen Him be crucified and die, and was one of the first witnesses to the empty tomb. He had seen Jesus walk on water, but he had also seen Jesus tired, hungry and thirsty. He had witnessed many miracles, including when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John had also seen Jesus’ majesty and glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was a “well-qualified eye-witness“.

What IF John was wrong, and Jesus was a hoax? Paul puts it succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19;

15 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

If John was wrong about whom Jesus is, the consequences are catastrophic. If Jesus was ONLY a man;

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to”. (From Mere Christianity, Book Two, by C.S. Lewis)

Both John and Paul understood the consequences of mis-characterizing Jesus Christ, which was why John began this Letter, as he did his Gospel, by asserting that Jesus Christ IS fully-God AND fully-human.

Introduction, the Incarnate Word
1 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— 2 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— 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. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

1:1-4 The central event of history is the appearance of eternal life in Jesus Christ. John is one of the chosen witnesses who saw, heard and touched the One who had existed from the beginning – the Son of God, whose eternal fellowship with the Father is now extended to others. This extension takes place through the apostolic proclamation, including the writing of 1st John itself.

1:1 the beginning. The verse echoes John 1:1, as that verse in turn echoes Genesis 1:1. The two New Testament verses highlight the Incarnation as an event as significant as creation itself.

The Word of life. The subject of John’s proclamation is Jesus, the Incarnate Word (John 1:1-14).

John has a way of telling the story of Jesus from a lofty, heavenly viewpoint, and this is surely one of those instances. His Gospel begins in a similar way, (see John 1:1-4) it provides a perfect parallel passage in fact. Of course, in Revelation, John’s vantage point is so lofty that most misread it entirely. Here in this short letter, John is setting forth two basic and wonderful facts: First, that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of God. Second, He is setting forth the fact that he, himself, is an eyewitness of Jesus, and Apostle who lived and walked with Jesus for over three years, consequently he is able to give eyewitness testimony about Him.

In verse one, John is letting us know that he saw this Jesus with his own eyes, touched Him with his own hands, heard Him with his own ears, and that now he (John) is proclaiming as the Word of Life, the Word that was with God and that was in fact God from the very beginning, a beginning that predates time itself.

Heard…seen…looked upon…handled. These vivid verbs defend the reality of the human nature of Christ against the Docetic speculation that is later rejected explicitly (2:22, 4:2, 3) (The Docetic view was that Jesus Christ only “appeared” to be human, that He only “appeared” to die and only “appeared” to be raised from the dead.)

If John was addressing an American audience today, he might put it this way; “Listen up folks, because I am going to tell you something which is far more important than who is going to occupy the Oval Office for the next four years. This will affect your eternal-destiny. I was an eye-witness to these events, so I know that they are true.”

In verse two, John takes a step further, as he did in John 1:2. This Word of Life really appeared, and John saw Him, John was there. This eternal life that came from the Father Himself John is now going to proclaim to us! John will proclaim this great news of the Word of Life so that we may have fellowship with John and with Jesus, the Son as well as with the Father. And in doing so, our entry into fellowship will make John’s joy complete.

Fellowship is an interesting word, from the Greek word koinōnia meaning “association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse; the share which one has in anything, participation.” This participation is not only in relationship, but in purpose, for we really cannot separate the Person of Christ from the purpose of the Father. John’s joy will be complete, because by the proclamation of the Word of Life, we will be in relationship and purpose with John, our fellow believers, and with the Lord Himself.

4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. Those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ derive great joy from proclaiming it and helping those they teach understand it and make it their own. That is the essence of “making disciples” (Luke 24:46-48).

God Is Light
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. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1)

1:5-10 Like John’s Gospel, 1st John begins with a contrast between light and darkness. In the Gospel, the Incarnate Christ is the light that continues to shine in the darkness of a world that tries to exclude Him. Believers are faced with a choice: either to “walk in the light“, coming to Him and opening their hearts to Him in confession of sin, or to “walk in the darkness“, denying that they are sinners. The contrast between “light” and “darkness” is inseparably linked to a contrast between those who “practice the truth” and agree with God, and those who make God a “liar“. It is an inescapable reality that believers sin; the remedy for sin – confession, and cleansing by the blood of Jesus – is God’s continuing irrevocable gift to believers. Because Jesus’ death has paid in full the penalty for sin, and because God has recognized Jesus as His true Son by raising Him from the dead, God grants forgiveness and cleansing as a matter of faithfulness and justice. He will not and cannot refuse.

Earlier we looked at the introduction to this letter, and here, we enter the first section of the letter which begins at verse 5 and continues through 2:14. This section is given context in verse 5: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Thus, this section is all about John’s declaration of light versus darkness, and it contains comparisons and contrasts.

1:5 God is light. This description of God emphasizes His attributes of moral purity and omniscience, reinforcing John’s focus on our need to confess sin.

Before we take a look at it, keep in mind what John wrote in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” All through the Gospel story, John used “light” as signifying the presence of Jesus, contrasted with “darkness” denoting His absence. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at our text. After proclaiming that God is light, John gets down to his explanation, claiming that if we claim to be in fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, we lie, and are not in the truth. This is a rather easy statement to understand, for if we are in darkness, then we aren’t in His presence, and if we aren’t in His presence, we couldn’t possibly be in fellowship. There is no half-way!

The contrast is that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship… because we are with Him in the light. If we have this fellowship in the light of His presence and truth, then His blood purifies us from all sin. The reality of the statement is that we can’t be in fellowship with Him until our sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross.

1:7 the blood of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 9:22 indicates, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission“. The shedding of the blood of Christ was a voluntary substitutionary sacrifice of infinite value for the elect; it paid in full God’s penalty for sin (Hebrews 9:27, 28)

Sometimes, we may walk a ways in darkness, and by this I mean that we may stray from time-to-time. John doesn’t suggest that our errors kick us out of fellowship as we will see a little farther through this text, but that there is a way to return to the light of His presence, by confessing our sins, as we see in the next paragraph:

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 is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

1:9 If we confess our sins. God’s forgiveness is given as soon as we admit our need for it, not on the basis of any acts we have done to earn it, but solely because of His grace. The free gift of forgiveness carries with it purification from unrighteousness. God accepts us as righteous because He imputes the righteousness of Christ to us. That is, the very righteousness of Christ, our sin-bearer, is reckoned to our account.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned. Perhaps the “sin leading to death” mentioned in 5:16 is a stubborn-refusal to accept God’s diagnosis of our need and His offer of forgiveness.

I think we all would agree that a claim by any one of us to have never sinned would be little short of crazy. John seems to think it’s worse than that! All have sinned, but take heart, for there is a way out, confess your sins and He will forgive; this is our covenant promise.

There is simply no need for us to wring our hands and carry around a burden of guilt and shame before God, for when we confess our sins (acknowledge them) He will forgive; we have His Word on that!

Sola Deo Gloria!

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