We are continuing our study of 1 John this morning. We finished last week with verses 7 and 8 of chapter 5.
For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 1 John 5:8 KJV
We discussed the textual problem that we see here. The Textus Receptus of 1 John 5:7-8 contains additional words which are absent from the earliest and best Greek manuscripts. It is certain that the phrase beginning with "in heaven" (5:7) through "in earth" (5:8) are not a part of John’s original letter and should be omitted.
These words are not quoted by any of the Early Church Fathers, even in their doctrinal debates over the Trinity. Not a single Greek manuscript contains the Trinitarian addition before the fourteenth century.
Now those who hold to the KJV may argue that we are attacking the doctrine of the Trinity by removing these words. First of all, we are not removing these words. They were never part of the Bible; they have been added. And secondly, the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, one God but with three personal manifestations (Father, Son, and Spirit), is not affected by the rejection of this verse.
Let’s talk about the Trinity. There are many biblical passages that speak of all three persons of the Godhead acting together.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 ESV
The grace of the Lord Yeshua the Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:18 ESV
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Yeshua the Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:2 ESV
The Trinity is not just Christian theology. The Tanakh taught this also. Some try to defend the Trinity from the very first verse in the Bible saying that in that verse God is plural which speaks of the Trinity.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 ESV
"God" here is the Hebrew elohiym which is the plural of el from a root word meaning: "might, strength, power." Elohim is plural, but it is what grammarians would call a morphological plural. Hebrew nouns that end in "im" are plural. But in most cases throughout the Tanakh the meaning is singular.
We know this from Hebrew grammar. Elohim is like the English word deer or sheep. How do you know if "deer" is singular or plural? By the grammar of the sentence in which it is used. In Genesis 1:1 the verb bara "created" identifies the subject of the verb, elohim, as a masculine singular. So, Genesis 1:1 does not speak of the Trinity. Some say that verse 26 also speaks of the Trinity.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Genesis 1:26 ESV
Many take the plurality language here to refer to the Trinity. But who is the "us" and "our" here? Whom is God talking to? This is a reference to God's heavenly supernatural family, His divine council. From Philo onward, Jewish commentators generally held that these plurals were used because Yahweh was addressing His divine council. The early post Apostolic Fathers such as Barnabas and Justin Martyr saw the plurals as a reference to the Trinity. I think that is how most Christians see them. But recent scholars tend to agree with ancient Jewish opinion. F. M. Cross notes:
"In both Ugaritic and biblical literature, the use of the first person plural is characteristic of address in the divine council. The familiar 'we' … has long been recognized as the plural address used by Yahweh in His council" (Cross, Canaanite Myth, 187).
The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary states:
The "us" in "Let us make man in our image" (Gen. 1:26; cf. 3:22; 11:6-7) refers to the "sons of God" or lesser "gods" mentioned elsewhere (6:1-4; Job 1:6; Ps. 29:1), here viewed as a heavenly council centered around the one God (cf. Ps. 82:1). In later usage these probably would be called "angels." (p. 1019, "Trinity")
I said earlier that the Trinity is not just Christian theology and that the Tanakh taught this also. We see this in Isaiah 63:
…the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them…10 But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit…11 Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit…14 the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name. Isaiah 63:9-14 ESV
Here we see Yahweh, the Angel of Yahweh (who is the Son), and the Holy Spirit. So here we have all three members of the Godhead. Psalm 78 is a recounting of the same event as in Isaiah 63. Notice what it says:
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. Psalms 78:40-41 ESV
The verbs "rebelled and grieved" used in Isaiah 63:10 of the Holy Spirit are used here of Yahweh—the Holy One of Israel. Yahweh and the Holy Spirit are One in essence.
Though the word "Trinity" is never found in the pages of Scripture, it is a doctrine that is taught throughout the Scripture. "Trinity" is a word used to express the unity of God subsisting in three distinct persons. It is a word describing the unity of the Godhead as three co-eternal, co-equal Persons, each having the same substance but distinct personhood. It is a word that describes a purely revealed doctrine, indiscoverable by reason, but clearly taught in Scripture.
As Christians, we affirm that there is one eternal being known as Yahweh. Yet this one eternal being exists in three individual persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Logically, in our human minds, we cannot entirely understand how one Being can exist in three persons. Yet, as Christians, we affirm both truths to be true. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 3 states:
In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him. 1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6)
The Trinity is one of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Just because it's hard for the brain to understand it doesn't mean we should pretend it's not there. Matthew tells us that we should love God with all our mind:
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37 ESV
Christianity is intellectual. We're expected to think through the teachings of Scripture. We are expected to be Bereans.
As we look to the Scriptures, I see three things that are true about the Trinity.
1. The Divinity of the Trinity.
This is the ultimate question behind the difficulty of accepting and understanding the Trinity. It is ultimately a question of the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. The Scripture recognizes the Father as God. If you look at Paul's letters, he starts almost every one by saying, "Greetings in the name of God the Father." So we know that the Father is God. But there are also a bunch of verses that teach that Yeshua is God. In a prophecy about the coming Messiah, Isaiah calls Him "Mighty God":
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 ESV
Do you remember the story of doubting Thomas? Do you remember what he said when he saw and touched the risen Christ for the first time?
Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 ESV
And Yeshua responded to Thomas, Good answer! You got it right!
But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. Hebrews 1:8 ESV
Those who reject the Trinity and the deity of Christ point to the fact that Yeshua said that the Father was greater than Him.
You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28 ESV
"The Father is greater than I"—this phrase has caused much Christological and Trinitarian debate throughout church history. So, let me ask you this: Is there in the any teaching in the Gospel of John that tells us that Yeshua is equal to Yahweh? The answer is "yes"—in many places. We must not ignore the numerous clear statements because of the one statement that we don't understand. Yeshua said:
I and the Father are one." John 10:30 ESV
So by applying the hermeneutical law of the Analogy of Faith to what has been taught thus far in this Gospel, we know that the statement, "for the Father is greater than I," CANNOT mean that Yeshua was less than God (one of the false doctrines taught by the Arians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Unitarians). What, then, does Yeshua mean by this statement? If Yeshua and the Father are one, how can the Father be greater than the Son?
Yeshua is speaking of Himself in His humanity, in His limited capacity as a human being. He is not speaking ontologically (dealing with His essential being, His nature) because He had stated repeatedly that He and the Father were one ontologically. He is speaking of the Father's relative glory compared to His glory. Yeshua had laid His heavenly glory aside in the Incarnation and so the Father had greater glory than the Son during Yeshua's earthly ministry:
There are also a few verses that teach that the Holy Spirit is God. You remember in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money they had given to the church? Remember what Peter told them?
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." Acts 5:3-4 ESV
They lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God.
2. The Diversity of the Trinity. The members of the Trinity work together, but they don't always do the same things. Consider salvation. The Father, Son, and Spirit (i.e. the three Persons of the Trinity) worked together in sovereign wisdom, power, and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people. The Father elects, the Son fulfills the Father's will by redeeming, and the Spirit executes the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. There are three very different roles but all for the one purpose.
Each member of the Trinity contributes something special and unique to our lives. Romans 8:28 says that God works for our good. Verse 34 says that Yeshua prays for our good. And verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit helps US pray for our good. This shows the diversity of the Trinity in our lives.
3. The Intimacy within the Trinity.
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. John 3:35 ESV
but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. John 14:31 ESV
This tells me that our God is personal. He's intimate. He's a God who exists in relationship. And the beautiful thing is that God wants to have the same intimacy with you that He has within Himself.
The Bible is very clear that there is one God, eternally existing as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now how do we explain this to people? Let me caution you by saying that there is no way that feeble human beings can know all that there is to know about God. You can go to my office and read every single one of my books, and you would still barely scratch the surface of what God is all about. Paul put it this way:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" Romans 11:34 ESV
Isaiah put it this way:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV
The bottom line is that it is very hard for a human being to totally comprehend the Trinity. It's too big for us. And all analogies really break down.
I accept the doctrine of the trinity, not because I can completely understand it, but because I can see that it is taught in the Word of God. The Word of God doesn't stop being true just because there's something in it that we don't understand. The word of God is true whether we understand it or not. I'm perfectly all right with the fact that there are mysteries and puzzles in the Bible—things that I won't understand until I'm dead. I'm okay with that. I have enough on my plate with things that I DO understand! I'm more concerned about doing what God says than I am in figuring out all that He is.
Let’s return to our text. Verses 7 and 8 should read like this:
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 1 John 5:7-8 ESV
John’s point is that God’s threefold witness to His Son—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—are trustworthy. John shows us that the three witnesses all agree, and they are not just the testimony of men but of God Himself.
In verses 9–12, John continues to work with the theme of witness (martyria), reflecting the fact that 5:9–12 forms a subsection of 5:6–12.
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 1 John 5:9 ESV
The noun "testimony" (martyria) and the verb "testifies" (martyreō) are found a total of 113 times in the New Testament. Of these, 47 are found in the Fourth Gospel and 17 in the Letters of John. This means that more than half of the New Testament occurrences of these two words are found in the Gospel and Letters of John.
"If we receive the testimony of men"—this is a first-class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective. We receive the testimony of men, often without question. This can be demonstrated by how many false things people believe because they heard the Lame Stream Media say it. We need to be Bereans in every area of life.
This can be seen as a general statement referring simply to human testimony in general. But I think there is a better interpretation that relates to the context. This can be an allusion to the witness of John the Baptist at the baptism of Yeshua which the opponents were quoting to support their claim that Yeshua "came by water" at his baptism (see 1 John 5:6). In the Fourth Gospel Yeshua refers to the Baptist’s testimony as "human testimony" and indicates that it is much less important than God’s testimony (John 5:33–36).
You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. John 5:33-36 ESV
Yeshua says, "the testimony that I have is greater than that of John…a man." And our text says, "The testimony of God is greater"—I don’t think any of us would question that God’s testimony is greater than any mans. But what does he mean by the "testimony of God?" It may refer to the testimony of the "three witnesses" mentioned in 5:8, so that the testimony of the three is in fact the testimony of God himself.
Another view is that the "testimony of God" refers to a new or fourth testimony in addition to the three of 5:8. This view sees 5:11 pointing forward and defines the "testimony of God" as something different from the "three witnesses" in 5:8. I see the divine testimony, in context, referring to Yeshua’s baptism and crucifixion.
"For this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son"—"that He has borne concerning his Son" is a perfect active indicative which implies an action in the past that has come to a state of culmination and is abiding. This refers to God's vocal affirmations at Yeshua's baptism and the recording of both in Scripture.
We saw in our last study that Yahweh gave testimony to the Son at his baptism when he said from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This is the Father’s way of saying at the baptism that this is the Son who is the king of the earth, and he will perform the work of the Messianic suffering servant of Yahweh. The Father was saying that this is the Son of God. So, it was at His baptism that Yeshua was inaugurated as the Messiah.
When Yeshua died on the cross, there were a number of things that took place that indicated the divine hand of God. At Yeshua’s death Matthew tells us:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. Matthew 27:45 ESV
The sixth hour to the ninth hour was from noon to three o’clock. This is a supernatural darkness; this is a miracle.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, Matthew 27:51-52 ESV
"The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom"— Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that it was a great double veil, each measuring 60 feet high and 30 feet wide and as thick as a man's hand. This is another supernatural act of God.
"And the earth shook"—Yahweh shook the earth. "And the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened"—again supernatural. So we have darkness; the renting of the veil from top to bottom, the shaking of the earth, the splitting of the rocks, the opening of the tombs, and the raising of the dead.
Yahweh testifies to Yeshua at his baptism and at his death. But he also testified to him by the Holy Spirit during his life:
how God anointed Yeshua of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Acts 10:38 ESV
Yahweh gave plenty of testimony to his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 1 John 5:10 ESV
This verse is a parenthesis in the author’s argument. It is then resumed in v. 11.
"Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself"—when you believe that testimony about Christ, as we saw in our study of 5:1, it is because God has given you life. You were dead in your sins, but now you are alive to God in Christ. You have become a new creature in Him. When you believe, you have this inner witness in yourself. And the principal role of the Holy Spirit is to testify of things concerning Yeshua the Christ. In John chapter 15:26, Yeshua said:
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. John 15:26 ESV
So if you don’t have the witness of God that brings you to belief in His Son, you don’t have eternal life.
"Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar"—"has made him a liar"—this is another perfect active indicative. Those who reject God’s witness about Yeshua reject God because they make God a liar. Those who reject the testimony of God show that the Spirit is not in them.
Numbers 23:19 says, "God is not a man that He should lie." Titus 1:2 says, "God who cannot lie." So, if you refuse to believe the testimony of God concerning Yeshua, you have become guilty of blasphemy.
"Because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son"—"because he has not believed"—is another perfect active indicative which emphasizes the settled condition of the unregenerate. Such people are not accepting the true testimony concerning Yeshua. John has the secessionists in mind. As far as he is concerned, they are the ones who do not believe God’s testimony concerning his Son. They deny that Yeshua is the Christ come in the flesh. They deny that he came by water and blood. By so doing, the author says, they make God out to be a liar. This is the fifth time in the letter that the author accuses his opponents of either being liars or making God out to be a liar (1:10; 2:4, 22; 4:20; 5:10).
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 1 John 5:11 ESV
"That God gave us eternal life"—this is an aorist active indicative which speaks of a past act or completed act. The letter began with a testimony that "the eternal life" has been revealed (1 John 1:2). Eternal life is defined in the following:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Yeshua the Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3 ESV
Study the Gospel and the first letter of John in depth and you will notice that eternal life is inseparably linked to the person of Yeshua. This verse is the last of nine times that the Gospel of John records Yeshua speaking about "eternal life." Without exception, "eternal life" in the Gospel of John, the other Gospels, and in the rest of the Bible always refers to eternity in heaven with God.
"This life is in his Son"—the idea of having life "in" the Son is an important one in Johannine theology, beginning with John 1:4 ("in him was life") and extending to the purpose statement in John 20:31 ("by believing you may have life in his name").
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, John 5:39 ESV
That is the reason the Jews searched the Scriptures. They wanted to find eternal life. You want life; you search the Scriptures; they speak of Me, but you don’t want Me.
"This life is in his Son"—that is the exclusivity of the Gospel. There’s no salvation in any other. There’s no other name under heaven given among men whereby you might be saved. Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me." God’s witness is, "This is My Son in whom I am well pleased." Hear Him. Believe in Him.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:12 ESV
Who has life? Whoever has the Son. If you don’t have the Son, you don’t have life. This tells us that not everybody has the Son. Universalism, the teaching that God, through the atonement of Yeshua, will ultimately bring reconciliation between Himself and all people throughout history, is a lie. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether they have trusted in, or rejected, Yeshua as Savior during their lifetime.
I see Universalism as an attack on the Gospel. Over and over the Bible calls upon man to "believe on the Lord Yeshua the Christ" for salvation. But Universalism says, "You don't need to believe in Yeshua; all will be saved."
Bereans, just because people hold to a correct doctrine of eschatology and just because they believe that the Lord returned in A.D. 70 does not make them our brother. Much more important than the Doctrine of Eschatology is the Doctrine of Soteriology (how a person is saved). The Bible clearly teaches we are saved by faith.
The most important question in the world is the one Yeshua asked His disciples.
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Matthew 16:15 ESV
Peter’s answer, inspired by God, is the only correct one:
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:16 ESV
Do you believe this testimony that God has given about His Son? If so, you have eternal life. If not, you do not have the life and you will perish
Before we close I want to focus on something that John says in verses 11 and 12. In verse 11 he says, "That God gave us eternal life"—this is an aorist active indicative which speaks of a past act or completed act. Verse 12 says, "Whoever has the Son has life"—both "has" statements here are in the Present Active Indicative. The subject is performing the action rather than being acted upon, and the degree of contingency is zero. (i.e. reality rather than hypothetical activity is in view).
Let me ask you: Did John’s readers have eternal life? That sure seems to be what he is saying. But look at Yeshua’s words in Mark 10:
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:30 ESV
What does Yeshua mean when He says they will receive "eternal life" in the age to come? And if this is true, why did John say, "God gave us eternal life"? Which is it? Did they have eternal life or was it to come in the age to come? Yes to both!
What most believers do not understand is that we live in a different age than New Testament authors did. They lived in what the Bible calls the "last days." They were in the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended at A.D. 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. Since that time, we live in what the Bible calls "the age to come" (i.e. the New Covenant age). If you do not understand the transition period, you will never understand what time you are living in because you will not understand your Bible. This forty-year period from Pentecost to the Holocaust (A. D. 70) was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant was inaugurated but it was not yet consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." Let me show you this:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1:7 ESV
Who is the "we" here? It is Paul and the New Testament saints. Does this apply to us? Yes, but is there anything here that is time or audience specific? Actually, there is. This was written during the transition period. Paul talks about redemption as though it was a present possession—it was "already." But notice what he says just a few verses later.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV
Here we see that the Holy Spirit was a guarantee or a promise of their coming redemption ("not yet"). We see the same thing in Ephesians 4.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30 ESV
Again, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit until the future-to-them day of redemption— "not yet." But then in Colossians Paul says:
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:14 ESV
Again, he says they have redemption—"already." People use these verses to argue against the inspiration of Scripture. They ask, "Which is it?" Did they have it, or were they waiting for it? People see this as a contradiction because they do not understand that the transition period was a time of "already but not yet." They had the promise of it, they had the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of it, but they still waited for the consummation. Redemption was still a hope to them. Until A.D. 70 and the consummation of all that they were promised, they lived in hope. The transition generation hoped for righteousness, salvation, and eternal life.
so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7 ESV
They had the hope of eternal life, but they did not have it as a present possession. Eternal life was something that was to come to them at the Second Coming, in the "age to come." The return of Christ was their blessed hope because all that they hoped for would be fulfilled by His presence.
Believers, we are no longer living in the "already but not yet" of the transition period. We are living in the New Covenant age in which righteousness dwells. We are not living in the age of "hope;" we are living in the age of "have." The righteousness of Christ is ours, eternal life is ours, immortality is ours.