“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).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
The similarities between the first verse of the gospel and the first verse of the letter of John are unmistakable. These parallels are not limited to the similar opening sentences. The style, word choice and topics in these New Testament books are very comparable. The gospel of John and the letter 1 John are attributed to the apostle whom Jesus loved, John the son of Zebedee, the brother of James. This John spent many years with the Lord Jesus. He heard Him, saw Him with his eyes, beheld Him and touched Him, so he writes fifty years later. We will look at this letter more closely now.
Background of 1 John
1 John is not a standard epistle. There is no introduction or greeting; John drops straight in. Nor does this have the usual closing, but the apostle warns his readers for the final time with: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The style and structure are also different from most New Testament letters. There is no long treatise supported with arguments, but John seems to wander from one topic to another without clear structure.
He mentions a theme, then discusses something else, and then returns to this theme to illuminate it from a different angle. His thought process is thus more circular-symphonic than linear. John’s writing, at first glance, is very simple. Yet each phrase contains a deep meaning and emanates a powerful appeal. John calls his readers back to the three basics of the Christian life: true doctrine, an obedient life, and fervent devotion.
God is a Light and Christ is the Way (1 John 1:1-2:6)
As we have already seen, John calls attention to his eyewitness testimony at the beginning of his letter. He now proclaims Christ’s deity, His humanity, and His redemptive work against the background of God’s holiness and human sinfulness. For God is light and no darkness is in Him at all (1 John 1:5). Therefore, we must acknowledge and confess our sins, so that the faithful and just God can forgive them through the intercession of our Advocate, Jesus Christ, the righteous.
The abiding commandment of love (1 John 2:7-17)
Our faith in Christ must bear the fruit of obedience. This means that the believer follows the commandment of love. One who walks in the light loves his brother, but not the world. “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17).
The confession of Jesus’ deity (1 John 2:18-3:10)
John warns against “the antichrist”, whom he defines as someone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Such a person denies both the Father and the Son. The apostle warns urgently against the danger of this deception. To guard against such errors, we must stick to what we have heard about Jesus. Then we will abide in the Son and the Father and obtain the promise of eternal life. Confessing Jesus as the Christ also involves living a holy life, in which the power of sin is broken.
Overcoming evil (1 John 3:11-4:6)
The example of Cain and Abel shows that the righteous have been hated from the beginning of the world. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer. We must do the opposite: just as Jesus gave His life for His brothers, so we must be willing to deny ourselves and live sacrificially. If we follow this commandment of love, then His Spirit remains in us. We recognize this Spirit by the confession that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Obedience to God and this confession of God is the way we can discern truth from falsehood.
God’s love (1 John 4:7-21)
John, “the apostle of love”, now exhorts us again to love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7). In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Believe in the Son (1 John 5:1-20)
John has so far spoken much about love and obedience, but little about faith. The last chapter of his letter now addresses the importance of this faith. John has written the letter so that we may know that we have eternal life if we believe in the Name of the Son of God. This assurance is expressed in the conclusion of the letter regarding our trusting in answers to prayer and the truth of Christ’s coming to earth. He is the true God and eternal life! (1 John 5:20).
Lessons for us
- If we sin, we cannot have fellowship with God, but through Christ there is forgiveness.
- Believing in Christ implies obeying His commandment of love.
- The antichrist denies that Jesus is the Christ. We have to arm ourselves against this heresy with the right confession.
- God is love. Jesus is the true God and eternal life.