I John 1:1-4

John explains the reason for his writing and begins to lay out his case for a true risen Messiah and what that means to those who follow Him.  He makes it clear that Jesus was a man in every sense of the word and not simply a spirit.  In this short text he also communicates the beauty of the gospel and the wonderful ramifications of Jesus coming into the world.

Note there is no introduction or salutation.  John simply plunges in to his message.  He speaks with urgency – he does not want to take any time away from declaring that Christ is the center of his message and the purpose for everything.  He wants his readers to know their Savior is real.

What was from the beginning.  Christ is eternal.  He has existed from eternity past with the Father.  He and the Father are one.   This echoes John’s words in his gospel – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).  The first idea that must be understood about the Savior is that He is divine and eternal – He is God.

…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes…  Though He is God, He entered the physical realm and actually resided on earth as a man.  We saw Him, we heard Him, we listened to His teaching and were with Him.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14a).

…what we beheld and our hands handled…  We not only saw Him and heard Him; we beheld His glory and physically touched Him in His glory.  John witnessed His glory on the mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8) and again after the resurrection.  It is why he said, “…and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b).  Remember what Jesus told the disciples when He appeared to them after the resurrection – “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).  John has touched the risen Christ and beheld Him in His glory.  Jesus is no phantom and the resurrection no myth.

…concerning the Word of Life…  Jesus is the Word of Life.  He is the Word because He is the personification of God’s redemption – the chance for life instead of death.  God’s good news to man that he can be saved is personified in the Son.  He is God’s Word of Life and He entered the world of man.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).

…and the life was manifested…  John now says what he has implied already.  Jesus entered the world.  He entered as both man and God.  He was physically here as a man but He was also the Word of Life.

…and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us…  He reiterates that the apostles actually witnessed and experienced Jesus’ ministry.  They are not speaking second-hand, they were actually there and walked with a real Man with a real ministry who died and rose again.  For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (II Peter 1:16).  And the privilege they have now is to proclaim the eternal life – Jesus – to us which means that we can share in that eternal life.  Jesus is the eternal life that was with the Father and was manifested to the apostles.  But through the apostles’ witness we can now share in that eternal life – we can become partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4).  Jesus is the eternal life and He makes that eternal life available to us through the proclamation of the gospel.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into  judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24)

…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.  “We proclaim to you also” is the main verb clause of the whole sentence (note that in the original Greek verses 1-3 are all one sentence).  What is the mission of the apostles?  To proclaim the gospel so that others may have fellowship with believers who have fellowship with the Father and the Son.  The appearance of the Son makes possible personal communion with God.  This is the message the apostles must make known.  They are not just eyewitnesses of the Messiah – they are proclaimers of His message of redemption which makes available eternal life and fellowship with God.

Thought: Salvation is not just forgiveness of sins.  It is not just legal justification and being declared righteous.  It is not just the absence of condemnation.  It is peace and fellowship with God.  It is the ability to walk in intimate communion with the Creator of the universe.  We can FELLOWSHIP with Him.  We can enjoy His presence and talk to Him and pursue Him.  We can know Him and be known.  He invites us into RELATIONSHIP – not just a legal arrangement wherein our punishment is waived.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

This is truly what separates the child of God from the one who simply believes that God exists.  There are good moral people who believe in God but have no idea what a personal relationship with Him is like.  That we walk with Him in this life and in this world is what shows us to be His.

Christians who share in this fellowship with the Father have a basis for fellowship with each other.  Believers experience community around their shared privilege of relationship with the Father.  Why are we to love one another?  Because of God’s love for us (Matt 22:34-39).  Why are we to forgive one another?  Because God forgives us (Matt 6:14-15).  Why are we to be merciful to each other?  Because God is merciful to us (Matt 5:7).  The basis of our relationship with each other is our relationship with God.  God invites us into relationship with Him not only to know Him but to experience deeper community with others who also know Him.

Fellowship is not just the coincidence of a shared experience of God, where we compare our private spiritual walks; it is living and experiencing the Father and the Son together as believers.  Christian fellowship is triangular: my life in fellowship with Christ, your life in fellowship with Christ, and my life in fellowship with yours.  The mystical union I enjoy with Christ becomes the substance that binds the church together.  (Gary M. Burge, The Letters of John; NIV Application Commentary; 29.)

Note something about John and his fellow apostles that this verse shows us.  They want the readers of this letter to have what they have.  They are writing this letter so that others will know what they know and experience what they experience.  They want others to enter into fellowship with them based on shared fellowship with the Father and the Son.  They have the good news and know how wonderful it is and so want others to have it.  They are so full of the wonders of fellowship with God that they long for others to share in it.  It is natural when we find something new or that changes our life for the better to want to share it.  When we are excited about something we naturally want to tell others about it.  This is how John and the apostles approach the gospel – it is so wonderful they cannot keep it to themselves.  Is this how we approach the gospel?

And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete (some manuscripts say “your joy” – either way the meaning is likely similar – our can refer collectively to both the writer and the reader).  What is the outcome of a life centered on Christ and His fellowship?  Joy.  The result of Christian community based on the Word of Life is joy.  Joy comes from abiding in Christ – These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:11).

What is joy?  It is contentment.  It is satisfaction.  It is the alignment of emotions and will.  It is confidence.  It is all these things rooted in Christ (and nothing else).  It is not dependent on circumstances (because we know God uses circumstances to conform us to the image of His Son and make us more useful for His kingdom – Rom. 8:28-29, James 1:2-4).  It is not mindless happiness in the midst of trials but it is also not perpetual discouragement in the midst of life.  It is seeing the sinful world for what it is (Christians are the ultimate realists) but also understanding that the God we serve is greater than the world.  It is an outlook that sees all of life through the lens of the gospel and through an ever-increasing appreciation for our redemption.  It is an eternal perspective that allows us to look up and forward in a world that knows only the here and now.  It is the assurance that when we are weak we are strong (…the joy of the Lord is your strength – Nehemiah 8:10) and that we never go through life alone.

This joy is to be complete – totally full, no limit.  We serve a God who has promised us all the joy we need to meet any trial and overcome any obstacle posed by a sin-drenched world.

Do we have this joy?  Are we satisfied in Christ?  Are we content to be His regardless of our circumstances?  That is what we are meant to know; that is what we are meant to have, and, thank God, this epistle has been written in order to tell us how to have it and to hold it, and that it may remain in us, come what may. (D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Life in Christ; 22.)

2 thoughts on “I John 1:1-4

  1. Notice how many times the apostles reemphasize that their testimony is personal eyewitness testimony. Their repetition so emphatically reaffirming the truth of that testimony, suggest the power needed to overcome unbelief in that first century (and certainly today.) Note how John repeats and repeats again, and in case we still don’t get it, repeats it six more times that they have seen, heard, and it was manifest to them. Have examined and cross-examined too many witnesses not to recognize this witness is truthful !


    1. That’s a great point, Al. John and Peter both go to great lengths to make sure their readers know they write of what they saw/touched/heard. It’s enormously reassuring for all of us reading today.


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