Post Series on 1 John 1:1-4:
- The Proclamation: The Word of Life has been Made Manifest (1 John 1:1-3)
- The Fellowship: With the Church, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3)
- The Joy: Filled up and overflowing in the Gospel (1 John 1:4)
As all the commentaries on 1 John will point out, most New Testament epistles begin with an introduction concerning the author of the letter. The opening of 1 John, however, introduces Someone else:
That which was from the beginning, which we have hard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and 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. (1 John 1:1-3)
More than a stylistic variation, John does this in order to set his priorities from the outset: this letter is written chiefly “concerning the Word of Life,” who was made incarnate for us and for our salvation: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The marvelous thing about John’s prologue to this letter is the way in which he can scarcely describe the One he is introducing, unable even to form a complete, proper sentence. John lacks nothing in writing skills; it is human language that lacks everything in describing fully the glory of the Lord Jesus.
Still, John manages to convey something of the scope of the Word of Life Made Manifest through two themes in these verses: (1) that the Word of Life was from the beginning, which means that he is Eternal Life Himself; and (2) that this Word of Life was made manifest among us in a very real, tangible, sensible way–John and the other apostles listened to Him speak, saw Him with their eyes, gazed upon Him, and even touched Him with their hands. They heard the voice of the Father cry out from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” They ate the bread and drank the wine of the Passover meal that Jesus transformed in front of their eyes to testify to himself, and to the work he was about to accomplish.
And as they lived in the presence of Jesus, they slowly came to understand the identity of their teacher: This humble man is Eternal Life Himself, the Fountain of Living Waters! This is the only begotten Son of God, the firstborn of all creation! This man Jesus is in fact God in the flesh, and he is worthy of our worship and our praise, in spite of the fact that we are forbidden from worshiping the creature, but only the Creator–for nothing exists that was not made through him!
Jesus’ humanity and his divinity were both revealed to John and the other Apostles. No one could have performed scientific experiments to determine these truths, nor could anyone have reasoned to these principles through any kind of philosophy. The truth of Jesus Christ–the Eternal Word of Life Himself Made Manifest as a human being–could only be discovered by his living, breathing, and teaching in our midst.
The problem for you and me, though, is that we live so many centuries after Jesus Christ did walk, talk, eat, heal, teach, preach, suffer, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. We saw none of this; we heard none of this; we gazed upon nothing; we touched nothing with our hands.
For us to come to a knowledge of these precious truths, then, requires relying on the testimony of those in whose presence Jesus did do all these things. To be an apostle meant being a witness of Jesus’ ministry, “beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22), and this is precisely the role that John is playing when he states that “we…testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life….that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.”
But of course, those of us who testify to this message and who proclaim it to others today do not have the direct, eyewitness testimony of the apostles. On what grounds do we preach the eternal life that is in Jesus Christ in our churches, and on what authority do we tell our friends about the Word of Life Made Manifest over coffee or a meal?
We do so because the Holy Spirit still to this day causes us to know experientially the Lord Jesus Christ. We neither hear him with our ears, nor see him with our eyes, nor gaze upon his majesty physically, nor touch him with our hands; nevertheless, the work of the Holy Spirit is to introduce us to him personally.
The reason we rely on preaching in our churches is that when we proclaim the proclamation of the prophets and the apostles who authored the Scriptures, we are not declaring the opinions and musings of mere men. Rather, we are proclaiming the very Word of God who was revealed to these men. And, as we proclaim the Word of God Made Manifest, the Holy Spirit who originally inspired these authors to deliver the message faithfully illuminates the Word in order to confirm it, to authenticate it, and to bring us to believe it without reservations.
There could be no weaker, more foolish means of communicating the good news of Jesus Christ–for example, imagine if Jesus had lived in the age of the video! What we could do if we had footage from the cross, medical records from modern doctors, and then an interview on film of the resurrected Christ! Wouldn’t that work much better?
In fact, no–the power of God is proclaimed when we speak the word concerning the Word of Life. Only through preaching does the Holy Spirit work powerfully to exalt Jesus Christ, in whom the Life that was with the Father from all eternity was made manifest in the flesh.