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— 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— 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 Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1–4
If we have grown up hearing the scriptures, we can become so accustomed to hearing profound statements that we almost become numb to their full impact. It’s like the phrase at the end of our wedding vows. The pastor says “until death do us part”. It’s a beautiful statement of commitment to love until the end of our natural lives. But we hear it so often it’s very easy to glide right past it. Similarly, 1 John opens with a spectacular declaration of who Jesus is and if we aren’t careful we will miss it.
1 John is dealing with a church who had some of their members leave because they denied the apostles teaching on who Jesus was (2:18-25 & 4:1-6). And so John writes to reassure these believers that they know the truth. He does this by setting out a series of tests. Some are a set of beliefs, and others are a set of behaviors. But as much as it speaks to the people of his day it speaks to our day as well.
Correcting the errors of the party that left is extremely important to him so his opening remarks go straight to that effort.
Jesus is a historical person and his life a historical fact.
Three times in three verses John tells us that he, And the rest of the disciples, have seen, have heard and physically touched Jesus. His point is Jesus is a real live human. He had a body. John and the other apostles bore witness to his actions. They smelled him. They put their hands on him. They listen to his teaching. They shared meals with him. John knew him intimately.
Why was it important? It seems that some of those who left the church in John’s day sought to deny that Jesus actually had a physical body. There were some who claimed that Jesus was simply a spiritual being. However as Paul teaches us in Romans chapter 5 that in order for God to rescue humanity he had to become human. Because of Adam’s sin we needed a human champion, a human representative before God, that could set things right. Jesus did this by living his perfect, sinless life, and by his death on the cross. If Jesus was not human then humanity was not redeemed.
And similarly in our own day there are people that would seek to deny that Jesus really ever lived at all. They may not teach that he was simply a spiritual being, but they seek to emphasize that he never existed as he’s presented to us in the Gospels. They would have you believe that he was simply made up by his followers,and his actions didn’t really occur. God did not really come down from heaven and take on a human form to live among us. If this is true, then we have no hope of salvation. For our sin is very real, and cannot be undone by mere myths.
So John starts his letter to these believers reaffirming that Jesus is very real. And it wasn’t just John that witnessed these things. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that not only did Peter see Jesus after his resurrection but so did James and so did 500 other believers.Paul himself saw the resurrected Jesus. Jesus is a historical person. His life is a historical fact recorded for us in the Gospels. We can take comfort in the fact that his words and deeds are so well attested to us in the scriptures.
Jesus is eternal
In verse 1, John writes, “That which was from the Beginning.” We should hear the echoes of Genesis 1 and John 1 where the creative word of God brings everything into existence. In Genesis it was Yahweh, and in the gospel of John it was Jesus. This idea of Jesus being from the beginning is clearly pointing to fact he existed from all eternity, and that He existed before the creation of world. And if that isn’t clear enough, John calls Jesus “the eternal life, which with the Father.” This is clearly a claim to Jesus’ divinity since eternal self-existence is only an attribute of God.
Why was this important? To misunderstand who Jesus was on this point is to misunderstand the Gospel. The Scriptures teach us that each man is born into sin. The Scriptures teach us that our hearts are wicked, and that we cannot bring salvation to ourselves. They make clear that salvation belongs to the Lord. So salvation required a miraculous act on the part of God. The Gospels teach us that Jesus’ perfect life and his death on the cross as both a man and the divine Son of God was that necessary work for our salvation. To deny Jesus’ divinity is to deny our salvation.
Likewise in our own day there those who will say that sure Jesus was a man who lived but there’s no way in which he was divine. Sure he lived an exemplary life. Sure he was a great teacher, but he was not God.This too misses who we are as sinners. We didn’t just need a better teacher. We needed a redeemer. We needed God to remake humanity in his own image. The image of his own Son.
Jesus is the word of life
Again think back to Genesis chapter 1 where it says, “God said let there be light and there was.” In Genesis 1 it was God’s word that created everything that came to be. Now go to John chapter 1 and we see Jesus, the word made flesh, is the one who created all that came to be. We hear that echo when 1 John 1:2 says, “Concerning the word of life.” I believe John means to reenforce that Jesus is the creative word of God.
But Jesus is not just simply the creative word of God. John tells us that he is the “word of life.” What I take John to saying being here is that God did not simply create us and then leave us to live our lives as we see fit, but that He means for us to find our very purpose, the meaning of our existence in his Son, Jesus. John 17:3 is even more explicit when Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
In this John is very clear that there is life in Jesus and there is life nowhere else. As we will see in the rest of the letter of 1 John there is only life or death. There is no middle ground. There is no middle option. Life can only be found, meaning can only be found, and purpose can only be found in Jesus. Jesus is the historical, eternal word of life.