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1 John 1:1-4: That Which Was From the Beginning... Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 01 November 2009

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Many people claim to be Christians.  Particularly here in the South in America, it is easy to find people who consider themselves followers of Christ or believers in Christ.  I have shared of our experiences in doing door-to-door evangelism in Sikeston.  Regardless of how they are living or their lack of involvement in a local Church, a good majority of the people that we talk to claim to be Christians.  I have talked with many of you who have friends and family members who claim to be Christians with little to no fruit being present in their lives.  All of this leads us to ask some very important questions: how do we know if we are truly Christians?  What should we base our assurance upon?  How can we help others to know if they are truly following Christ or not?

If I have ever had a conversation with you about these questions, then I probably encouraged you to look at the book of 1 John.  This letter is extremely important for finding answers to these important issues.  I believe that the Apostle John wrote this letter, as well as 2 and 3 John, to Churches that he was involved with.  The particular situation facing the recipients of 1 John involved a group of people and teachers who used to be involved in the Church but had recently left the Church over doctrinal, ethical, and social issues.  Apparently they were trying to convince others to leave as well. 

John writes this letter to point out the errors of those who have left and to remind his readers what it really means to be a follower of Christ and believer in God.  He identifies this purpose in 5:13.  Look at that with me.  He is writing that you may know that you have eternal life.  Thus, the letter of 1 John helps identify for us what the true basis of Christian assurance is.  It gives us ‘tests’ to use in examining ourselves to see whether or not we are truly in the faith.  We desperately need to listen to what the Spirit of God has said through John.  May we approach the study of this letter with soberness and eagerness to hear from God.

John begins this letter with what we could call a ‘prologue.’  It is not a typical introduction to a letter.  He does not identify himself or his readers.  Rather, he moves straight to the issues that he will continue to address throughout the remainder of the letter.  To be honest, it is not easy to outline what he is saying in this one long sentence in verses 1-3 followed by a short one in verse 4.  Yet, I simply want to summarize the message with four phrases that I think capture his intent.

That which was from the beginning…

Verse 1 begins with several phrases that are describing the word of life.  The first phrase is this: That which was from the beginning.  What does John mean by this phrase?  Some have argued that this refers to the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth or His earthly ministry.  Although these are possibilities, it seems more probable to me to be referring to the very beginning. 

Although the prologue in 1 John (1:1-4) is not identical with the prologue in the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18), there does seem to be some parallels between the two.  I see this as one of those parallels.  Just as John spoke of the eternality of the Word in his Gospel by speaking of Him being there in the beginning with the Father (and equal to the Father), he does the same here.  In the beginning was the Word.  The Word has always been and always will be.  The Word is eternal, a point that John will make again in verse 2 when he speaks of the eternal life, which was with the Father.  John wants his readers to hear again that Christ is eternal since He is from the beginning.

Has been made manifest…

The amazing reality that John goes on to point out concerning the Word is that even though He was eternal and with the Father from the beginning, he was also made manifest to John and other eyewitnesses.  In order to communicate the reality of this truth, John mentions the fact that the Word was heard and seen.  He even adds that He was seen with our eyes.  The Word, Jesus, was not some idea or some message that they heard.  No He was real.  He was in the flesh.  John notes that they have looked upon the Word and have touched (Him) with our hands.  You cannot touch a vision or a concept.  They might ‘touch’ you in some symbolic way, but that is not what John is saying here.  ‘We touched the Word with our hands,’ he says.  The Word was flesh. 

Again, I see in this another parallel with the prologue to the Gospel of John.  John 1:14 says: 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.  In both of these prologues, John is proclaiming the miracle of the Incarnation.  The eternal Word that was there in the beginning with the Father and was equal to the Father has put on flesh.  It was flesh that could be heard, seen, and touched.  John was an eyewitness to this glorious event.

I should note at this point that John is already dealing with those opponents who had left the community to which he is writing.  They failed to believe the truth about Jesus.  They were either denying that He was indeed the Christ (equal with the Father) or that He truly came in the flesh, or both.  John will deal with this again later in his letter.  Yet, he begins by making it clear that Jesus, the Word of life, was both with the Father in the beginning and took on flesh to dwell with us.  Both His eternality and His incarnation are not to be denied.

And we proclaim Him to you…

The main verb of this whole sentence does not come until verse 3: we proclaim also to you.  The reason for this is that John wanted to emphasize the object of the proclamation (Christ, the incarnate Word) above the act of proclamation itself.   Yet, this does not mean that proclamation is unimportant.  On the contrary, it just means that we must be sure to proclaim what is central, namely the person and work of Christ our Savior.  John states that the message that he is holding forth to his readers is the message of Christ incarnate.  He was an eyewitness to the life of Christ and it is that life which is the content of what he proclaims. 

Just as John the Baptist came to bear witness about the light (John 1:8), so John the Apostle sees himself as a witness for Christ.  They recognize that the message of Christ is too good to keep to yourself.  No, it is a message that is to be proclaimed to any and all who will listen.  One of my commentators note: “The historical appearance of the eternal life was proclaimed, not monopolized.  The revelation was given to the few for the sake of the many.  They were to declare it to the world.”   The great need of the Christian community is not a new message.  It is not a new program or new ministry or new facility.  The great need of the Christian community remains the proclaimed message of Christ incarnate, crucified and risen for sinners.  This is the message the John brought to these troubled believers who were facing serious difficulties.  We must learn from this example.  When things get hard, we must keep before us and keep proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

So that you might have eternal life, fellowship, and joy.

John has told us the content of the message that he is proclaiming.  He also tells us the purpose of this message.  So then, what is the purpose?  I want to answer that question by pointing out three blessings that come from the message of Christ.  First, by believing in Christ we too can share in eternal life.  When John speaks of ‘eternal life’ in this passage, he is talking about Christ.  He was from the beginning, or eternal, and He took on flesh to dwell with us.  Thus, the eternal stepped into time.  And yet, when you consider this letter as a whole and John’s purpose of writing so that they might know that they have eternal life (5:13), it is hard to miss the implication that Jesus not only has eternal life but gives it to those who believe in Him.  He is both the “source and substance of eternal life.”   Thus, John keeps the message of Christ before his readers so that they can know that they have eternal life through the gospel.

Second, John proclaims his message so that the readers can share with him in true, Christian fellowship.  Look at how he describes this in verse 3.  What is John saying about our fellowship in this passage?  First, the basis of this fellowship is the message of Christ eternal and incarnate.  If Christ did not come in the flesh, then we have no fellowship.  Likewise, if Jesus was not really the Christ, then our fellowship is no different than other human causes.  Yet, if Jesus was indeed ‘in the beginning’ and if He really was ‘made manifest’ in the flesh to pay for our sins, then we can have eternal life which results in true fellowship.  Second, this fellowship is with the Father and His Son.  Notice that John makes it clear that there is no fellowship with the Father outside of the Son.  People who claim to ‘believe in God’ and ‘know God’ apart from Christ are deceived.  You either have fellowship with the Father and the Son or you have no fellowship with either. 

John will say more about this in his letter (see 2:23).  Finally, the fellowship that we enjoy with the Father and the Son also extends to other believers in Christ.  We are not meant to be ‘lone-ranger Christians.’  No, we are meant to share in fellowship with one another.  John will go on to talk about the importance of loving those that we are in fellowship with through Christ.  The message of Jesus eternal and incarnate leads to true fellowship.

Third, the message leads to ultimate joy.  Look at verse 4.  Some manuscripts have the pronoun ‘your’ as the ESV footnotes, while others have ‘our.’  But either way, John is saying that true joy belongs to those who believe in the message of Christ.  That message will lead to the joy of his readers which will lead to the completion of his own joy.  He writes this letter so that they can know and believe these truths.  He wants them to be sure that they have eternal life and that they share in fellowship with the Father and the Son.  He wants his (and their) joy to be complete.

If you bring these four phrases together, then you get a good summary of what John is saying in these four verses: That which was from the beginning has been made manifest and we proclaim Him to you so that you might have eternal life, fellowship, and joy.  These four phrases represent four truths about the Word of life, or Christ.  He is eternal (from the beginning).  He is incarnate (made manifest).  He is universal (He is to be proclaimed to any and all).  And He is our treasure (eternal life, fellowship, and joy).  John is committed to this message.  He begins this letter by bringing it right to the forefront and he will constantly expound on it as he continues.  May we never lose our center.  May we keep the message of Christ where it belongs.  May our hope and our joy and our assurance be found in Christ eternal and incarnate.  Amen.

 ~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 12 November 2009 )

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