The Word of Life
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 3, 2000
Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
1 John 1:1-4
In 1 John 1:1-4 we read about the Word of life, Jesus Christ, who is the personal Word, the Word of God and revelation of God, by whom God has given us his final word. In this epistle John speaks particularly about this preexistent eternal Son, the Word of life, becoming man so that he may give eternal life to people who are dead in trespasses and sins.
The epistles of John are, in part, rebuttals to certain heretics who did not confess the truth of the incarnation, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God/man. Whether they were Docetists, who asserted that Christ the Son of God never united vitally to Jesus the sinful man, or followers of the Ephesian Cerinthus, who taught that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, these heretics believed that matter was evil, and therefore the eternal divine Christ, the Son of God, could not have taken upon himself an evil, material body.
Thus, the first heresy that we recognize in the church was the denial of the humanity of Jesus Christ. Those who believed it denied salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, as well as denying the resurrection of Christ's body, and therefore our resurrection. These heretics, called Gnostics, preached a salvation by speculation. They believed in self-salvation and did not need a savior to atone for their sins.
All heresies particularly and especially oppose the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. John wrote his epistles to oppose these errors and to instruct and edify the true people of God in the true faith. So when we look at the first chapter of the first epistle, we notice John plunges into the theme of his epistle without giving us the usual formalities of an epistle, such as the identity of the author, the identity of the recipient, or the greeting to the recipients. He immediately calls the attention of the believers under his oversight to the truth which was under assault concerning the true nature of the person of Jesus Christ.
The Object of the Apostolic Proclamation
First: the eternal preexistent Son of God. In 1 John 1:1 John writes, "That which was from the beginning," Ho ŕn ap' archŕs. This is the object of the main verb apangellomen, found in verse 3, which means "we proclaim." What is it John is proclaiming? That which was expressed in verse 1. Verse 2 gives us a further explanation of what John was proclaiming. The first part of verse 3 speaks about the apostolic proclamation of the gospel, and the latter part of 3 and verse 4 tell us about the purpose for the proclamation as well as for the writing of this epistle.
What is the object of the apostolic proclamation? "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, which our hands have touched. . ." That which was from the beginning means something that did not come to be, but was always existing. John was speaking about the One who has existed from eternity past. As in Genesis 1 and John 1:1, "beginning" here has to do with eternity past, before creation.
John was speaking about the distinct person who existed with the Father from all eternity. And in the latter part of verse 2 we read this person was pros ton patera, meaning in active fellowship with the Father. Here we also find a distinction of persons within the Godhead. We find the same idea in John 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (vv. 1, 14).
Thus, the object of the apostolic proclamation has to do with the preexistent, eternal Son of God who was in face to face communion with the Father from all eternity. There was no time when this eternal One was not. He is the Eternal, the Son of eternal generation.
This is the first and key note John struck against the heretics, that Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity. He is life-the eternal life-and the personal Word of life, which is the revelation of the unseen God. This is exactly what the heretics denied, that the eternal God could link himself with human flesh.
Jesus Christ is the Word of life. Words reveal what a speaker is thinking or his character and intent, and that is why you must be very careful when you speak. Your word is you, and when you speak a word, it reveals your being. When you don't keep your word, you are contradicting who you are.
Jesus Christ is the Word; he is God made visible to us. As the eternal Word he reveals the Father to us. By this Word, we are told in Psalm 33:6, the Lord made the heavens and the earth. Through this Word all things were made, as we read in the prologue to the gospel of John. In Revelation 19:13 John calls Jesus the "Word of God." So in these epistles John is striking at the very heart of heresy by positively affirming the truth about the eternal preexistent Son of God.
Historical Manifestation of Christ
The second point is that this preexistent eternal Word, the divine Son of God, manifested himself in history. In the fullness of time, the Eternal entered time; the Son of God became man. He entered into history as the revealer of God-the God who desires to give life to the dead through the death of his one and only Son.
In verse 2 we read, Kai hŕ Z˘ŕ ephaner˘thŕ, "and the life was manifested." In the latter portion of verse 2 we read, kai ephaner˘thŕ hŕmin, or "and he appeared to us," meaning, to the apostles. The life was manifested to the apostles.
This idea of eternal life being manifested tells us that God himself took the initiative to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we may have eternal life. How can sinful and finite man on his own reach the infinite and all-holy God, who dwells in unapproachable light? He cannot, so God himself had to take the initiative to reveal himself to us. This happened in history when his Son took upon himself human flesh, though without sin. So the incarnation of Christ is the manifestation of God to us in a body of flesh. In the incarnation of Christ, the unseen became seen and the invisible became visible. Now people could see, hear, and even touch him who is God. When John tells us the life was manifested or appeared among us, he is including the virgin conception, gestation, birth, life, death on the cross, the burial, the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All these things are involved in the words "appeared," or "manifested."
We must marvel at the love of God shown in his manifesting himself among us. The same God who came seeking Adam after he sinned later came in Jesus Christ again to seek and save us from our sins. The eternal Son took upon himself human nature forever. So John tells us that the person who was manifest in human flesh was the one who existed in eternity past in face to face fellowship with the Father in heaven.
This is the One, John says, who came by water and blood, that is, by baptism and by his death on the cross. Thus, John was declaring that Jesus Christ was truly human and truly preexistent, eternal Son of God, which is what the heretics were denying. So in 1 John 4:2 we read, "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." The test of an authentic church and authentic Christianity is to confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal God.
What was the purpose of the Son of God appearing in history in flesh, en sarki? To destroy the works of the devil, as we read in 1 John 3:8 and to take away our sins by his death, as we read in 1 John 3:5. He did so because he loved us, as we read in 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
When John wrote these epistles, he was restating the truths that he had written earlier in the prologue to his gospel, where he said that the eternal Word, who is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. There he also wrote that the eternal became historical, appearing in time and revealing himself to us sinful human beings. This manifestation of the eternal Son of God was for the purpose that we may come to have eternal life and eternal salvation because outside of Jesus Christ, there is no life, no salvation, and no hope.
The third point John speaks about is the apostolic verification of this manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. In the first three verses of this epistle John is, in essence, saying, "We are proclaiming what we have experienced in history and what we have verified with our senses of hearing, sight, and touch." He and the other apostles did not make up their gospel message, nor was it the result of hallucination or speculation.
John begins, "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard. . ." The Greek verb is akŕkoamen, in the perfect tense, speaks about an action that took place in the past but the effect continues to the present.
"We proclaim to you what we have heard," John was saying. This seventy-five year-old apostle had not only heard the words of Jesus Christ in the past, but he is saying by the use of this Greek perfect tense, that Christ's voice and words were still ringing in his ears as he was writing his epistle. Then John writes, "what we have seen." The verb is e˘rakamen. Again, he uses the verb in the perfect tense. Yes, the apostles had seen Jesus Christ decades ago, but what they saw had been etched in the eyes of their mind as clearly as an image is captured on the film. "We saw him then and we still see him," John is meaning.
Then he says, "what we have looked at." The Greek verb is etheasametha. Here John uses the aorist tense, emphasizing one particular act: what we have looked at. There are several words in the Greek-blepp˘, hora˘, theaomai-which mean "to look." What etheasametha means is "what we discerned." In other words, John was saying, "Our look was a look of scrutiny." The same word is used in John 1:14, "We have seen his glory." These apostles were given ability to penetrate into the inner reality of this person, Jesus Christ, and what they saw was glory.
So John wrote, "What we have heard, what we have seen, what we have scrutinized with our intelligence to understand. . ." Then he says, "what we have touched." The Greek word is epsŕlaphŕsan, from psŕlapha˘, which means "to touch" or "to make certain." It has to do with purposefully taking hold of Jesus Christ for closer examination of his material reality. Here John is particularly speaking about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ.
We find this word psŕlapha˘ used in Luke 24:39, where Jesus Christ, in speaking to his apostles after his resurrection, tells them, "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Jesus wanted his disciples to verify his resurrection by touching him. This was one of the many infallible proofs that Jesus Christ gave to his apostles concerning his resurrection (see Acts 1:3).
We find this idea of apostolic verification of the resurrection in John 20 also. In verses 25-28 we read,
So the other disciples told [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Although the apostle John was about seventy-five years old when he wrote his epistle, these events were still as fresh in his mind as the day they happened. He could still hear the words of Jesus in his ears and see him in his mind's eye. He remembered how, in the upper room, he scrutinized Jesus, grasping and touching him to ensure that his resurrection body was real. As eyewitnesses of this historic manifestation of the eternal Son of God, the apostles thus established the material reality of the eternal Son of God, and that is the point John wanted to make to his readers. In fact, the word "seen" is used three times in this introduction.
The Apostolic Proclamation
The fourth point is the apostolic proclamation. First, we must note that John and the other apostles were proclaiming what they had witnessed and verified. This was important in light of the heresies John was addressing, so in verse 2 John uses two words, marture˘, "to testify," and apangell˘, "to proclaim," to make his point.
A person cannot be a witness unless he sees something personally. An eyewitness is one who is called to bear witness to the truth. The apostles were eyewitnesses of the incarnational life of our Lord Jesus Christ, including his resurrection body. As eyewitnesses, they were qualified to bear witness to Jesus Christ.
Peter speaks of this in 2 Peter 1:16, saying, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . ." What do heretics do? They make things up. Their philosophies have nothing to do with a revelation from God. All heresies are of human origin, with great assistance from the devil. But Peter said, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," and then he added, "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty." Peter did not make up the gospel he preached.
In Acts 1:21-22 Peter instructed the believers that it was essential for the successor to Judas to have an eyewitness knowledge of Jesus and his ministry: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
In Acts 4:18-20 we read about Peter and John being called before the Sanhedrin: "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'" These apostles were giving legal testimony to this historic manifestation of the eternal God in Jesus Christ. Thus, the apostolic witness was true because the apostles were eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus Christ. "He appeared to us," John wrote.
In verse 2 the apostle John writes, "We have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life." The word apaggellomen, "to proclaim," has to do with proclaiming a message with authority, by the commission or appointment of a higher authority. In this case it refers to Him who is the eternal Son of God, who became man and called and commissioned his disciples to speak about him. (PGM) John was telling his readers, "We are not proclaiming the gospel based on our own authority, but with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ himself."
Unlike the Gnostics or the followers of Cerinthus, the apostles were not philosophers proclaiming their latest speculation. They were authorized agents of Christ who had been appointed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to declare with authority what they have seen and heard, which was the message concerning the incarnate Christ. They were eyewitnesses, ambassadors, and apostles of Christ.
John speaks of this also in 1 John 4:14, saying, "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." John was saying, rather than monopolizing the gospel, we must proclaim it to others. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but this One gave us life. As recipients of God's salvation, as debtors to the gospel, we cannot help but proclaim such good news to others. We must declare that this one alone is the Savior of the world.
The apostles were beneficiaries of the gospel. They knew they had a responsibility to share this authoritative message with the world so that others might come to have life in the Son as they did. Additionally, they knew it was the express commission of Jesus Christ, who had received all authority in heaven and on earth, that they share the gospel with others.
At the end of the last book he wrote, John gave one last gospel invitation. In Revelation 22:17 he writes, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."
Anyone who hears the gospel and believes in it has a responsibility right away to tell others to come to the Savior of the world. So we cannot and must not keep the gospel message to ourselves. We know that the gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation. That is why Paul exclaimed, "Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!"
Everyone who drinks savingly from the water of life will become a channel of that same water. So Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"
Someone may ask if there is any way other than through the proclamation of the gospel that people can be saved. The answer is no. The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing-hearing this message regarding the eternal Son of God. That is why we must proclaim Jesus Christ, the one who became man and accomplished atonement for us on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into the heavens. Only this one who is the Word of life is able to give us life, and that is why we must proclaim him. There is no other gospel. There is no other good news.
The Written Proclamation
The fifth point is that not only did the apostles proclaim the gospel orally, but they also wrote their message down. So in verse 4 John says, "we write these things."
The apostles were authorized by God to testify in writing what they had seen and heard. The Scriptures are the true eyewitness accounts written down by the apostles for the benefit of succeeding generations. John was saying, "What we have heard and what we have seen, what we have scrutinized with our own eyes, what we grasped and touched and made certain-these are the things we are writing down."
We believe all Scripture is God-breathed. The Scripture is profitable for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work," as we read in 2 Timothy 3:15-16. That is why we must read and study the Bible daily.
I recently asked a church-going person, "Do you read the Bible every day?" "Not really," he replied. In this church we encourage daily Bible reading, and even provide a schedule, if someone wants to follow it, so that a person can read through the Bible at least once a year. But how many times do we look in the mirror every day? This is the vanity of human beings. We look in the mirror several times a day, yet we refuse to look into the mirror of God's word, not only to see what is wrong with us, but to know and walk in the will of God. That is why John tells us, "We are writing these things down."
The Purposes of the Proclamation: Fellowship with God and Man
The sixth point is the purpose of the proclamation of the gospel. John says, "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." What a wonderful promise-to have fellowship with God!
Fellowship calls for some common interests. We must have something in common to have fellowship with another. We must have something in common to have fellowship with God and his Son.
The heretics claimed that they had fellowship with God, but they split from the apostolic community and disagreed with the apostolic message. John tells us this could not be true. Our fellowship with God and the Son is proven by our fellowship with the apostolic community and our agreement with the apostolic gospel.
The word "fellowship" appears first in the book of Acts in Acts 2:42, where we read, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' doctrine and to the fellowship." We cannot have fellowship when Jesus Christ is not confessed as God who became man, suffered for us on the cross, was raised from the dead, and is Lord of all. In other words, true fellowship with God is impossible without belief in the apostolic doctrine. John was affirming that the authoritative proclamation by the apostles concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who manifested in history, results in fellowship with the Father and the Son as well as fellowship with the apostolic church.
We cannot have the Father without the Son. We know the Father through the Son, as Jesus himself said, when he declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In the same way, one cannot have the Son without the apostolic message. We cannot have the Father without the Son, and we cannot have the Son without the apostolic, eyewitness declaration of truth found in the Holy Scriptures.
Through the message of the gospel, the Johannine community maintained fellowship with the apostle. So John wrote to those under him, "I don't want you to go out as these others went out from among us. I am writing this to you that you may maintain fellowship with us."
We cannot enjoy fellowship with God unless God deals with our sin. Sin is the great barrier that separates us from fellowship with God and his Son. In Romans 1:18 we read, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men. . . ." Rather than having fellowship with God, natural, sinful man is under God's wrath.
God took the initiative to deal with sin by sending his Son. By his death, he took away our sins and destroyed the work of the devil. He is our atoning sacrifice for our sins because, as John writes in 1 John 1:7, "the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin." And now, because of Christ's death, fellowship with God is possible. God gives us eternal life and divine nature in Jesus Christ. Now we have things in common with God. God's interests, plans, and will become ours, and we begin to think his thoughts and desire his desires.
Two Kinds of Fellowship
The children of God belong to the fellowship of the apostolic church. The children of the devil have their own fellowship. Only children of the devil belong to Christ-denying cults.
In 1 John 5:19 we read, "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." There are only two types of people, two communities, two fellowships-one is the fellowship of God's church, and the other is the fellowship of the devil. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ, then your fellowship is with the devil, not with God.
True Christian fellowship is exclusive. It is the fellowship of the children of God who confess the apostolic doctrine regarding Jesus Christ. It is the fellowship that says the eternal one took upon himself human nature, yet without sin, forever, and that in this human nature Jesus Christ died and was raised up without suffering corruption. He was raised up with a physical, fleshly body, and all this was verified by the apostles who wrote it down for us.
If you do not believe in these truths, you cannot be saved. We must know the apostolic doctrines and base our fellowship on them. Today, however, many people don't want to talk about doctrine. "Let us pray together," they will say, "but please do not discuss doctrine. We must never bring up such issues as sin or hell or God's wrath. Those ideas only cause people to be unhappy and miserable. We should just pray." No, such an assembly is demonic. The true church believes in the true doctrine of the Bible. It is an exclusive fellowship.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul writes, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?" Here is the heart of fellowship. "Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" None! "What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" Nothing! That does not mean Christians must get out of the world and not interact with any non-Christians. We must evangelize the world.
Paul concludes, "What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.' 'Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.'"
That Our Joy May Be Full
What is the final purpose of this fellowship with God and his church? That our joy may be filled to the brim and overflow.
The apostolic message produces fellowship with the Father, with the Son, and with his children in the true church. This true fellowship results in joy-joy for the apostles and all believers in Christ.
In 2 John 4 John writes, "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." When the hearers of the gospel walk in truth, the preacher rejoices. Let me tell you, if you want to make me or any pastor happy, then walk in the truth. What is truth? Jesus Christ is the truth.
Jesus Christ came to give us true life. Life in this world is mere existence. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it is living death. But the gospel message offers us the gift of eternal life. It is unending, glorious life in which there is no sin, no guilt, no sickness, no pain, no tears, no sorrow. It is dwelling with God in a new heaven and a new earth. It is joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is communion with God, in whose presence is the fullness of joy and on his right hand pleasures forevermore.
When people hear and do the truth, it brings joy, not only to those who hear and believe the gospel, but also to the apostles and the ministers who preached the gospel
Here in this life we experience this joy in the midst of sorrow and tears, but there is a day coming when we shall have this joy to the fullest extent possible. All this comes from Jesus Christ. The purpose of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God is that we may receive eternal life, that we may have fellowship with the Father and the Son, that we may have fellowship with all the true children of God, and, finally, that we may have fullness of joy forevermore.
No wonder the angel told the poor shepherds on the day when Jesus Christ was born, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." In Jesus Christ all fear is gone and death is defeated forever. By his death everlasting joy has come for us.
I hope today that each of us will examine the foundation of our faith and see whether we believe in this preexistent, eternal, divine God who became man and died for us on the cross. He came to take away our sins. The Bible tells us, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved."
The eternal invaded the realm of the temporal. The eternal entered time. God revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and John says, "We saw him, we heard him, and we touched him." And he says to us, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest."
May God have mercy upon us and help us to examine the foundation of our faith. I pray that we will make sure that we believe in this preexistent, eternal Son of God who became man. He is Lord of all and he is coming again to judge the living and the dead. May we trust in him today and be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Amen.
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Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
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