Post Series on 1 John 5:18-20:
- He Who Was Born of God Protects You from the Touch of the Evil One (1 John 5:18)
- The Whole World Lies in the Power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19)
- Jesus is the True God and Eternal Life (1 John 5:20)
- Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
The third “we have come to know” statement as John closes his First Letter is this:
And we have come to know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
What could I possibly write to do justice to such a glorious verse? This is one of the most precious verses to me in the entire Bible.
First, John emphasizes both the objective and the subjective knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God. Objectively, Jesus has come. Though he is God, he emptied himself of the glory of his deity and humbled himself to take on the nature of humanity also, being born to a virgin in Bethlehem. This God-Man lived a perfect life, and then gave up his life on a Roman cross at the prompting of his own people. On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
This actually happened in real history. It is not merely something I feel or wish–Jesus was born, died, and rose again.
But subjectively, Jesus has given me understanding. Not only have I been made aware of the story of Jesus, but Jesus has opened my eyes to see, my ears to hear, my heart to believe, and my mind to understand the meaning of the story.
Why should I care that Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again? Because what Jesus did accomplished salvation for me–and for you, if you believe upon his name for salvation.
Second, the purpose of both Jesus’ coming and his giving us understanding is “so that we may know him who is true.” This means far more than “so that we may be aware of him who is true,” in the same way that I am aware that Barack Obama is the President of the United States–I have seen him on television, but never had a conversation with him in real life.
The knowledge John is talking about is far more intimate, even more so than the intimacy I share with my own wife. Knowledge of God is something that is personal and relational, and the joy of this kind of knowing God is eternal life itself. This is the way Jesus defined eternal life in prayer with his Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Third, John writes that our experience of God runs far deeper than knowledge, even the kind of intimate relational knowledge we just discussed: in fact, “we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” There is some debate about whether the Father or the Son is in view in some of the pronouns here, but here is how I would explain this.
The earlier phrase “so that we may know him who is true” almost certainly refers to the Father; this is clear because the next phrase speaks of “his Son Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the Father’s Son.
But, when John writes, “and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ,” I cannot see but how this second statement refers to anyone other than the Son Jesus Christ. The “in” statements seem to point to the same person: “in him who is true” = “in his Son Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, when John writes the climax of the entire book, “He is true God and eternal life,” he is still referring to Jesus the Son, who is himself true God and eternal life. The word translated “he” has the sense of “this one,” which would refer to the previous phrase (“and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ”), which spoke of Jesus.
Lenski describes the glorious way in which John slowly revealed more, bit by bit, before this stunning declaration that Jesus is himself true God and eternal life:
So John has hitherto called Jesus “the Son of God” and “his (the Father’s, God’s) Son,” and now, here at the end and the climax, John duplicates and calls also Jesus Christ the real God’s Son because he is the real God’s only begotten Son (4:9), yea, “the real God.” As the Father is the real (genuine) God, so his Son is the real (genuine) God, and this Son places us in fellowship with the Father. Need we add the words that Jesus himself spoke in John 10:30; 12:45; 14:9? (The interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 544-45)
Because Jesus is himself true God and eternal life, all the riches of the Triune God are ours if we are in Christ–the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Father, and share in the inheritance of the Son of God as fellow sons and daughters of the Father.
This is the unspeakably glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s Son who is himself true God and eternal life. Let us fall to our knees in worship before him!