1 John 1:1-4 – The Word of Life

1 JOHN 1:1-4.




For every passage of scripture we need to know the background and setting – this is one of the most important principles of interpretation.


This is a unique letter in that it does not fully fit the style of NT letters. There is no greeting and no personal references. The text doesn’t say who wrote it!

2 and 3 John were written  by “The elder”  – the strongest evidence and tradition points to John the Apostle, the brother of James, the son of Zebedee.


When was it written? – about AD 60-90.


To whom was it written? It was not written to one congregation but rather to a group of smaller churches or house churches who shared a common heritage. Within one of these groups [or perhaps more than one] doctrinal conflicts and social rifts had occured.


What he says in ch.4 about testing the spirits indicates different teachings.

What he says in chs. 2&4 about love for your fellow believers indicates social rifts.


But what exactly was the problem?

Basically the problem focussed on the nature and implications of salvation. It was a multi-faceted concerning who Jesus is and how we are saved and continue our spiritual life.


It seems that there was a group who had withdrawn from the fellowship of believers [ the secessionists] The claimed the status of being “born of God” and being “children of God”. This is true – this is what we are! They also claimed to be free from the power and guilt of sin – yes! “Sin no longer has dominion over us and we have been forgiven” BUT they went so far as to claim to be sinless!! [“If we calim to be without sin … v8.       If we claim that we have not sinned … v10]

They calimed to have attained a perfect state of righteousness – sinless perfection.


A consequence of this belief was that they now no longer need Christ’s atonement. Yes, they had once needed God’s forgiveness through Christ but not no longer . they were no longer guilty of or subject to sin. Where there is no sin there is no need for atonement.

Hence 1v9:

“If we confess our sins he is faithful and just

and will KEEP ON cleansing us from all sin.”


3v2  ” … when we see him [Jesus] we will be like him…”


BUT these secessionists believed that they were like Jesus NOW! Perfect NOW! While John agrees that we have been forgiven and are God’s children he does not agree that we are perfect YET!




Traditionally there are three sources identified for these Secessionist views. It could be one source or a conbination of all of them.  I think it is usually a mistake to try and pin it down to one source or to one simplistic answer. Life never fits neatly into little boxes – there always seem to be lots of lose threads.


We will briefly mention these three teachings – bear in mind that it is just a mention – they are complex and involved


1) Cerinthians –


According to tradition Cerinthus was an archenemy of the Apostle John – but really we know very little about him.

His view of Jesus was that Jesus and Christ are different.

Jesus was a human being like every one else, a righteous person but nevertheless just a human being.

Christ (the Messiah) was a heavenly spiritual being who descended on the merely human Jesus at his baptism and departed at the crucifixion.

In other words the human Jesus and NOT the heavenly Christ suffered and died.


If he had inluenced those John is writing to then we can see why John would emphasize in 4v2 [cf. 2Jnv7] “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”



2) The Docetists.


The term “Docetism”  – comes from the Greek word meaning “To seem”. What this view taught was that Jesus only “seemed” to be human; thus in reality denying the incarnation. Again you can see why John insists that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – Why also he begins his letter “what we have seen, and heard and touched…”

In other words Jesus was not really human – his body was no a real human body but some kind of phantom body.


3) The Gnostics.


This is a broad term labelling various teachings that were around in the early Church. Gnosticism itself was not fully developed in John’s time but its roots were certainly there [and in many way are still with us].

There are elements of gnosticism in the teachings of Cerinthus and the Docetists.


The Gnostics taught a dualism between spirit and matter.The spirit was divine and good and the material was created and evil. The logical out come of such reasoning was that the spiritual could have nothing to do with the material.


It is easy to see how out of such a view they found it impossible to reconcile that fact the Jesus was the God-man.



So it is against this background that John writes.


These problems about the person of Jesus Christ and sin are not remote and historical – we are having to fight the same battles today – it is an issue that the Church has had to deal with constantly in various forms.


The Teachers of John’s day denied that Jesus had come in the flesh – today they deny that he came in deity!  The false teachers of John’s day denied that he was a man – today they deny that he is God.


So this is a glimpse into the background against which John is writing. We will touch on some aspects in more detail as we go through the text in the weeks ahead.





And so to the text itself.


READ 1v1-4.


In the original Greek text the first 3½ verse form one long sentence. It is a very complicated sentence structure but very important.

Normally  subject [I] verb [eat] object [chocolate]. This is also true in English. John begins with the OBJECT and the verb “we proclaim” does not appear until verse 3. The reason is so that the emphasis falls on the object viz – THE WORD OF LIFE  and not on the proclaiming of that Word.


So let’s look at this under 5 headings:-









“That which was from the beginning…”


For anyone who is familiar with their Bible what springs to minds when we read these verses is Gen 1v1 and Jn.1v1  “In the beginning …”


THAT – is referring to The Word of Life and the eternal life which wqas with the Father. This is similar to John 1v1 “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…..


The identity of Jesus – his eternal fellowship with God the Father is emphasized at the outset. He is NOT just a good man. — prophet … religious leader. He is the eternal Son of God , .. divine .. egual to the Father and the Spirit.




“… which we have HEARD, which we have SEEN with our eyes, which we have LOOKED AT and our hands have TOUCHED..”


Hearing, seeing,  touching  — Here is the meeting of the Eternal and the histroical.


God’s message came so that we could HEAR – A message is irrelavant unless it is reeived.

ILLUS.: There is little point a Radio Station Transmitting unless there is a receiver somewhere.


SEEN – there is no doubt that John is referring to Physical seeing – he is not referring to understanding because he adds “with our eyes”

And it is not just a casual seeing – many had seen Jesus physically but they hadn’t seen him  so Johm adds LOOKED AT to emphasis the point.


ILLUS.: I go to National Gallery I see the paintings and ART enthusiast sees them in a different way – he gazes, he understands


This is John’s meaning here.


TOUCHED / HANDLED – “with our hands” – again emphasizing the physical contact – this Word of Life was no Phantom – he was real.


This Word of Life is from God but it is not just a verbal message but this WORD is a person – Jesus is the message.


The word {preaching} about the Word {Bible} about the WORD {Jesus}.


This is a living Word / Message.


ILLUS.: Herbie Beerens in Malawi – Mr. Lali. Sent a message woulf you know me? If a photo would you know me? If my brother would you know me? BUT you know me WHY?   “Because you came to me!!!


The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us .. [Jn. 1v14]


Jesus the word of Life was – audible – visible and tangible.

He is eternal and historical


” ……. concerning the Word of Life. The life appear, we have seen it and testify to it and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Fater and has appeared to us” [ v2]


Eternal life is the pursuit of most spiritual experience. It is the dream of all religions to arrived at this state.


ILLUS.: Jalal – Sufi Islam – way, truth and life.


Eternal Life is only possible through the Word of Life – the one whom John and his fellow Apostles proclaimed.


John counters the heresy right at the beginning of his letter.

Jesus and Christ is the same person.

He is historical and eternal.


We still need this emphasis today as there are those so-called theologian who would undermine this truth about the Word of Life.


Bultmann “Whether Jesus actually rose from the dead is immaterial as long as he has risen in the hearts of the believers




‘We testify to it … we proclaim it…”


The apostles passed on the witness  {they saw .. testified … procalimed}

Experience … attestation … evangelism.

This is part od any genuine response to the gospel.


This process is passed from one generation of Christians to another.

“…… The things you have heard entrust to reliable men  .. so they can teach others.” [2 Tim.2v2.]

” … we are Christ’s ambassadors …. Christ is making his appeal through us ” [2 Co.5v20ff]


Like the aposlte you have to know him before you can be his witness. Having seen with the eyes of faith we receive a commision to proclaim the gospel with authority.


The Christian message is NOT philosphical speculation, …. or tentative suggestion, …or a contribution to religious thought   BUT it is the firm affirmation that Jesus Christ is the Word of Life and the is no other.


This is not an impertinent intrusion into the lives of others people – it is there ONLY hope of eternal life.




”  .. so that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”


The purpose of proclaiming the WORD of LIFE is so that the hearer may also have fellowship with God.


The chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever


Fellowship with God was not just for the Apostolic Band but for all generations  “for you and for your children and for all who are afar off”  {Acts 2}


Fellowship with God and with HIS SON – “Christless” fellowship with God is not possible. You can’t know God without Christ.


Two dangers with regard to fellowship:-

1) It is not possible to have fellowship with those who reject the fundementals of the gospel. Therefore to speak of multi faith worship with Hindus and Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and New Agers …. it is not possible. If you reject Jesus Christ then fellowship with God is not posible – How then can a believer have fellowship with one who rejects Christ


2)BUT we need to ensure that we refuse fellowship for that reason and not for selfish, prejudiced reason that have little of nothing to do with the basics of the gospel BUT with our narrow-minded inflexibility.





“We write this to make our/your joy complete.”


Happiness and joy is the pursuit of most people BUT it eludes most because they seek it everywhere except where it can be found – viz in Christ.


Perfect joy and happiness is not possible in this world of sin – perfect fellowship is not possible.


V4. looks beyond this life to the glory – Then consummated fellowship will bring complete joy.


BUT there is a joy now – a joy that comes through Jesus Christ.

A joy that is given apart from the circumstances of our earthly life. Joy doesn’t come with the removal of things that weigh us down BUT joy comes from deep trust in Christ and fellowship with him and the Father and the Spirit.


When we can say with the Psalmist:

“In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right

hand are pleasure forever more” {Ps.16v11}


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