After three weeks of introduction today we are actually starting the text of 1 John. This morning we are going to look at the Prologue which cover the first four verses.
Let me remind you of a few things that we have already talked about. The book of 1 John is not a personal letter, it's not written to an individual, nor is it written to a single church. There is no reference to who the first recipients of this epistle were, or where they lived. There is no greeting or other introduction, and there is no author's name included anywhere. I said in our first introduction that I believe that 1John was written by Lazarus, aka John Eleazer, the same author of the Fourth Gospel. It was written about AD 60-65 from Jerusalem and sent out to the province of Asia. This was a circular letter and was intended to be passed around to various churches is Asia. The only thing that can be said for certain about the intended readers based on the content of the letter itself is that they were Christians:
These things I did write to you who are believing in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that life ye have age-during, and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God. 1 John 5:13 YLT
So even though we don't know who the first recipients of this epistle were, or where they lived, we do know something very important about them, they were believers. Unlike the Fourth Gospel that was written to bring people to faith in Christ this epistle is written to those who have already trusted Christ, instructing them on how to have fellowship with Yeshua and the Father. I see the purpose of this letter as fellowship. John wrote this epistle to enable believers to appreciate and deepen their fellowship with Yahweh.
The historical situation that this epistle deals with is that there had arisen many false teachers in the churches of Asia Minor, where this epistle was sent. They considered themselves as an intellectual and spiritual elite. Many scholars identify them as Cerinthian Gnostics. They were, in fact, claiming superior anointing from the Spirit of God, they believed that they had a knowledge and a revelation from God that was almost an improvement on the gospel message that had been revealed to the apostles and passed down through the church to this stage in its history. These false teachers had left the churches and taken followers with them:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 ESV
This letter was written to urge the believing readers not to be led astray by those who had seceded from the Christian community and to reassure them that they are in the truth. So, John wrote to his children in the faith, to make sure that they were able to spot and resist error and to grow in their fellowship with Yeshua.
The prologue of 1 John is very similar to the prologue of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18). Many of the themes found in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel are related to themes that occur in the prologue to 1 John. Both prologues introduce the reader to important themes which will be more fully developed later in the book. The only other New Testament book that contains a prologue anything like these two is the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:1-4).
The Prologue of 1 John emphasizes the physical reality of the person of Yeshua when He was in this world. This is because these false teachers held to a docetic view of Yeshua. They regarded the Christ as a phantom or spirit.
This prologue requires an author who was an eyewitness and contemporary of Yeshua, someone so close to Yeshua that he saw Him with his eyes and had occasion to touch him. Lazarus fits all these conditions.
These first four verses of 1 John are considered by most grammarians to constitute one long complicated sentence in the Greek text. Hall Harris writes, "Certainly the four opening verses of 1 John constitute the most difficult and complicated Greek of all the Johannine literature in the New Testament in terms of structure." R. Brown writes, "The initial four verses of 1 John have a good claim to being the most complicated Greek in the Johannine corpus." Alright, knowing the difficulty that lies ahead let's jump in.
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— 1 John 1:1 ESV
This verse begins with a series of four relative clauses (what, what, what, what) each beginning with the neuter singular relative pronoun. This is seen in the NASB
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— 1 John 1:1 NASB
John doesn't begin with the phrase, He who was from the beginning, but "What was from the beginning." The impersonal form here is deliberate. He is talking about Yeshua, but the person of Christ is not the theme here but the message of Christ.
"What was from the beginning"—what "beginning" is he referring to? Conservative scholars are divided over the interpretation of this phrase. Some see it as parallel with:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 ESV
In Genesis "the beginning" is a reference to the creation of the world. And in the context of the prologue of John's Gospel "the beginning" means the time before the creation of the world. However, in the context of the opening verses of 1 John, "the beginning" has a different meaning. In our text this this is NOT a reference to the eternality of the Son of God. It is obviously an allusion to Genesis 1 and John 1, but here it refers to the beginning of Yeshua's public ministry. This phrase in this context refers to the beginning of the disciple's personal encounter with Yeshua. The beginning here is the same as that found in:
The beginning of the gospel of Yeshua the Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1 ESV
John is using "beginning" in verse 1 as he does later in the book to mean the beginning of the gospel.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 1 John 3:11 ESV
When John describes the Word of life as "What was from the beginning", he is speaking primarily of the Word of life incarnate in Yeshua, not the Word existing with God prior to the foundation of the world.
John's emphasis here is that the Gospel message has not changed. It is the same message that has been proclaimed from the earliest days of Christ's ministry. Also, the emphasis of the rest of verse 1 is on Christ's humanity. So, John's point would be that his message is not the new message of the Gnostics. Rather, it is the old message, which has been proclaimed from the earliest days of Christ's ministry. Which as far as the Gospel of John is concerned the ministry of Yeshua began at his baptism by John (John's Gospel contains no infancy narrative).
"What we have heard"—who is the "we" here? Some suggest that the repeated use of first person plural verbs in 1:1-4 is not a genuine plural, but is equivalent to a first person singular and refers only to the author. So, when John says "we" what he really means is "I".
John could have used "we" editorially to represent himself personally, or "we" may include all Christians. But it seems more likely that "we" represents John and the other eyewitnesses, the original disciples of Yeshua.
"Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes"—heard and seen are both perfect active indicatives which emphasize abiding results. John was asserting Yeshua's humanity by his recurrent use of participles related to the five senses.
"Which we have heard"—John is saying, "I was there, when He preached the Sermon on the Mount, I heard Him. I heard Him teach the parables. I heard Him preach in synagogues and on hillsides and in houses. I was there when He preached the Olivet Discourse. When He said, "This generation will not pass away until all these things take place," and I knew He was talking about my generation. We would see the coming of the Son of Man. I heard Him myself, I was there.
"Which we have seen with our eyes"—why does he add "with our eyes"? How else would they have seen Him? He adds, "with our eyes," to show that he is not talking about a mystical "vision" of Christ, but of actually watching Yeshua as He lived before them.
This is again in the perfect tense, which suggests a complete seeing with ongoing impact. He saw the whole perfection of the revelation of Christ for himself, he saw it with his own eyes. He was there when Yeshua cast demons out of people time and time and time again. He saw it with his own eyes. He was there when Yeshua reached out a hand and helped a lame person up and that lame person walked away. He was there when Yeshua touched the eyes of the blind and they saw. He was there when He put his hand over the ears of the deaf and they heard. He was there when He stopped the funeral procession, touched the casket of the young man whose mother lived in Nain and he saw that young man come to life. He saw Yeshua turn the water into wine, feed the 5,000, walk on water, teleport a boat to shore. I saw it, with my own two eyes!
"Which we looked upon and have touched with our hands"—"looked upon" and "touched" are both aorist indicatives which emphasize specific events. "Looked upon" is not just a repetition of "what we have seen with our eyes." It is from the Greek verb theaomai [thay-oh-o-my] which means, "careful and deliberate vision which interprets its object." [G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament [Scribner's], p. 203].
John uses this word in his gospel:
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. John 1:14 ESV
The word "seen" is theaomai [thay-oh-o-my]. John is saying He walked among us and we have seen his glory.
"And have touched with our hands"—"touched" means "closely examined by feel." The Greek term for "touched" is pselapha which is also found in:
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." Luke 24:39 ESV
Yeshua used this word of His resurrection, when He appeared to the disciples. John is saying He lived with us and we physically put our hands on Him. Lazarus is writing this and he is the one who leaned on Yeshua at dinner.
One of his disciples, whom Yeshua loved, was reclining at table at Yeshua's side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Yeshua of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Yeshua, said to him, "Lord, who is it?" John 13:23-25 ESV
John used three of his basic senses—hearing, eyesight, touch to highlight the reality of the object, so his readers would know that he was not speaking metaphorically.
The false teachers denied His humanity. The Docetic Gnostics held that Yeshua was not human at all but was merely a prolonged theophany. And the Cerinthian Gnostics considered Yeshua the natural son of Joseph and Mary, upon whom Christ came at the time of baptism. So, John is telling us the Son of God was physically tangible. It was possible to see Him, hear Him, gaze upon Him, touch Him.
Four times he refers to what he has seen or looked at; twice to what he has heard; twice to what he proclaims. Clearly, he wants to underscore that what he is bearing witness to is no figment of his imagination, no invention of his own.
"Concerning the word of life"—the word "concerning" which is peri in the Greek was often used to introduce topics of discussion. And that is what John's opening verse does. Notice the NASB here:
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— 1 John 1:1 NASB
Do you see the difference from the ESV? In the NASB "Word" and "Life" are capitalized.
Now that's and interpretation not a translation. What this means is that the translators took "Word" here to be a personal name for our Lord Yeshua. This was no doubt influenced by John chapter 1 and verse 1 where we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
All translations that I looked at capitalize "Word" in this verse. Then in verse 14 John says, "And the Word became flesh." So, it's clear that "Word" there is a personal name of our Lord. Many take that and make it the meaning in 1 John 1:1. But as you look at the context of 1 John 1:1, particularly verse 2 you see that the subject matter is not "word" but "life".
"The word"—is the Greek term logos which referred to a message. The "word of life" here probably refers to the message about Yeshua, namely, the Gospel. John referred to Yeshua as "the Life" in his Gospel:
Yeshua said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 ESV
Yeshua is the Life and the message about Him, the Gospel brings life. The phrase "word of life" in our text seems more likely to describe the message about the Person who is and who personifies Life:
"Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." Acts 5:20 ESV
The Gospel is the message about Life. In 1 John 1:1 "Life" is a title of Yeshua, as "Word" is in John's Gospel (John 1:1).
the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 1 John 1:2 ESV
This verse is a parenthesis defining "life." This parenthetical comment explains to the readers that when John says, "what, what, what, what" in the four relative clauses he is referring to the word of life. It is the "word of Life" that "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."
The verb "manifest" is used twice in this verse and both are aorist passive indicatives. The passive voice is often used of the agency of God the Father. This term "manifest" (phanero) implies "to bring to light that which was already present." The aorist tense emphasizes the incarnation of which the false teachers denied.
The word "manifest" is used here by John to express the theological term "Incarnation," which comes from two Latin words "in" plus "cargo" meaning: "infleshment, the act of assuming flesh." Yahweh chose to become united to true humanity.
In the Incarnation the Lord fulfilled Scripture from the Tanakh, which taught that the promised Messiah would be human and divine. It taught His humanity as the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David. Yahweh, speaking to David said:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 2 Samuel 7:12-14 ESV
The Tanakh also taught that the Messiah would be divine:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Micah 5:2 ESV
At the Incarnation, God the Son, the Second person of the one Triune God, was forever joined to true humanity. This joining together has been designated as the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union is undiminished deity and true humanity in one person forever. The Council of Chalcedon put it this way:
"Our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; in two natures inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures by no means taken away by the union, but; each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person; not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus the Christ."
"The eternal life, which was with the Father"—in calling Yeshua "eternal life" John remembered the words of Yeshua in:
Yeshua said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, John 11:25 ESV
Notice that John says that "Eternal life" which "was with the Father was made manifest to us." Like John 1:1, this is an assertion of Yeshua's pre-existence. Deity has been manifest as a man. To know Yeshua is to know Yahweh.
The word "with" indicates that this being, who is eternal, and is eternal life Himself, is distinct from the Father. This is the doctrine of the Trinity - that one God exists as three Persons, equal and one, yet distinct in their person. He is talking about the second Yahweh seen all through the Tanakh. His readers would have realized that the second power was Yeshua, and Yeshua was Yahweh in human flesh.
One of the greatest of the controversies of the early church gathered around the Deity of Christ. Arius taught that the Lord Yeshua did not possess eternality of being. Eternity was not one of the qualities of Him. He taught that the Son had a beginning. He was the greatest of the creatures of God and He was responsible immediately for the creation and the other creatures, but He Himself had a beginning. So, he denied the eternity of the Son.
At the Council of Nicaea the Arian Doctrine was denounced by the Christian church, but that did not end the teaching for Arius; it continued to have great influence. Well finally in the Council of Constantinople the Doctrine of Nicaea was affirmed again. So, Arius' Doctrine, "There was a time when He was not"—was refuted, and the Christian church came solidly to stand behind the fact that there was not a time when He did not exist.
So, John is telling us that Yeshua possessed the same essential nature as the Father, and those councils affirmed the fact that of homoousea, one essence, meaning that Yeshua was of the same essence as the Father. They declared the deity of Yeshua the Christ.
Jehovah's Witnesses deny the eternality of the Son and in that sense they are Arian—like in their Christology. They deny the Trinity. They deny the deity of the Son of God as well. The Mormons also deny the deity of the Son of God. They speak of Him as the Son of God, but they deny His eternity. They deny the Christian Doctrine of the trinity.
Anyone who denies the deity of Yeshua or the Trinity is not very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Five times in the Tanakh Yahweh is called the "cloud rider." But Daniel 7 is an exception:
"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 ESV
Here the rider on the cloud is the Son of man, a human. Dominion is given to the Son of man, the second cloud rider.
And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But Yeshua remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Matthew 26:62-63 ESV
Then Yeshua answers the high priest:
Yeshua said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64 ESV
Yeshua said that he would see Him "coming on the clouds." Yeshua is saying, I am Yahweh! What was the high priest's response?
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. Matthew 26:65 ESV
He said that Yeshua had blasphemed because He said He would come on the clouds, and the high priest knew that only Yahweh rides the clouds. He knew that Yeshua was claiming to be Yahweh! This is something that most of churcheanity doesn't understand.
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 Yeshua the Christ. 1 John 1:3 ESV
The "you" here is the recipients of this epistle, who were believers. They had not known "Yeshua in the flesh" as the original disciples had.
but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Acts 10:40-41 ESV
John wrote to them so they could enter into, and continue to enjoy, the intimate fellowship with Him that the disciples and the apostolic eyewitnesses enjoyed.
This verse introduces the purpose of the Epistle: "So that you too may have fellowship with us"—this is a hina purpose clause with a present active subjunctive. The main theme of the Epistle is fellowship with God. What we need to understand here is that John express this idea in various ways in this epistle. "To have fellowship with Yahweh" is only found in 1:3 and 6, one of his most common phrases is to be "in Him" (2:5; 5:20) or "abide in him" (2:6, 24; 3:24; 4:13, 15, 16). Another expression for fellowship with God found only in John is "to have God (or the Son)" (1 John 2:23; 5:12; 2 John 9). And "to know God" has the same idea. It occurs in the perfect tense in 2:3 (cf. 2:5); 2:13, 14 (cf. 1:3) with the same meaning.
Zane Hodges writes, "It is an interpretive mistake of considerable moment to treat the term 'fellowship' as though it meant little more than 'to be a Christian.'" [Hodges, 1 John, Bible Knowledge Commentary p. 883.]
In John's mind there may be Christians whose fellowship with God has been damaged, so that they are not at this present moment in fellowship with the Father and the Son. John is not writing to his adversaries. Rather he wants his "little children" to have fellowship with God. Such fellowship is not automatic.
The Greek word used here for "fellowship" is "koinonia". The word literally means: "to share in common with." We use the word "community," which is actually a very good translation of the Greek word. It means that we share life together. Koinonia was used in classical Greek language as a favorite expression for the marriage relationship, the most intimate bond between human beings. The use of the word in Acts 2:44 is very helpful:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. Acts 2:44 ESV
The word common is the Greek word koinonia.
John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Yeshua the Christ"—this bold statement means that one can share life together with God. This idea would surprise many of John's readers, and it should be astounding to us. The Greek mind-set highly prized the idea of fellowship, but restricted to men among men - the idea of such an intimate relationship with God was revolutionary. Believers, we share life in common with Yahweh.
When Christians who are not eyewitnesses of a physically manifested Eternal Life come to accept John's testimony concerning Him, they begin to share the fellowship with Yeshua and with the Father that the disciples have known. In other words, there is no significant fellowship among people who do not share the same view of Yeshua. Shared doctrine is the basis of Christian fellowship. Fellowship requires and rests on information, a common body of knowledge, and mutual acceptance of that data. When John wants to cultivate fellowship with a group of people, he writes them a letter filled with theology.
This implies that there is no true fellowship with those who do not hold the same confession about the Father and Son. Fellowship literally means "sharing in common." Where people deny the basic confessions about God that the word of the gospel affirms, friendship or meaningful relationship can exist. But there cannot be Christian fellowship. As I've said in the past just because someone holds to the preterist view of eschatology does not mean that they are our brother in Christ. We can have no fellowship with those who hold to baptismal regeneration, or unitarians, or universalists, or non-trinitarians. These people deny fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and we are not to support them.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 2 John 1:9-11 ESV
Our text in 1 John 1:3 also implies that no Christian should marry an unbeliever. Fellowship in the things that count most is not possible where we don't share the same understanding and affection for Christ.
"With the Father and with his Son"—notice the two prepositions, "with". They represent two distinct prepositions and they are in the original text indicating, a distinction in persons within the Trinity, as well as an indication of the writer's consideration of them as equal. This syntax affirms the equality and deity of Yeshua (John 5:18; 10:33; 19:7). It is impossible to have the Father (Yahweh) without the Son (Incarnate Yahweh) as the false teachers implied (1 John 2:23; 5:10-12). Our fellowship is with the Father. Our fellowship is with his Son Yeshua the Christ. Two persons, divine persons, one God.
And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:4 ESV
"These things"—refers to what John wrote in this epistle. As the readers entered into and continued in intimate fellowship with God they would have joy. Joy is the product of fellowship with God. This joy is an abiding sense of optimism and cheerfulness based on God, as opposed to happiness, which is a sense of optimism and cheerfulness based on circumstances.
Fullness of joy is certainly possible for the Christian, but it is by no means certain. John wrote with the desire that believers would have fullness of joy - and if it were inevitable, he would not have written this.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalms 16:11 ESV
When David said to the Lord, "In your presence there is fullness of joy," he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe. God created us, and He created us to live in fellowship with Him. Only as we do that will we know true joy and satisfaction.
There is a Greek variant in this verse between "our joy," and "your joy." Some later manuscripts change "our" to "your," but the original reading was probably "our" joy. Does "our" refer to the John and other first century disciples or to all believers? Because of the theological thrust of 1 John towards fellowship, I assume it is directed to all believers.
But it could also be that John recognizes that his own joy in Christ cannot be complete if fellow believers for whom he feels some responsibility are in danger of departing from the truth by becoming involved in another koinonia.
In 3 John 4 a similar sentiment is expressed:
I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4 NASB
The elder's joy comes from knowing that others walk in the truth.
Joy is not given to us apart from the circumstances of our earthly life, or as a substitute for pain or an escape from sorrow. Joy does not depend upon the elimination of the things that weigh us down or trouble us here. Joy comes from the deep trust of knowing that in this world one can have fellowship with Yahweh the sovereign creator of the universe.
Joy is something that can grow and increase in our lives. This is because joy is a by-product of fellowship with Christ. The more you fellowship the greater your joy.