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1st John (2011)

What We Have Seen

1 John  1:1-4

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Overview

We begin a new series in this lesson, concerning the first letter of John. We will get to the Scripture momentarily.

Authorship

In the early 1900s a scholar by the name of Paul W. Schmeidel brought forth the idea that the letters of John were written not by the apostle, but by another John whom he named "John the Elder." With a little sleight-of-hand concerning some ancient documents he put this forward as authoritative. At that time the "higher criticism" school of theology was in high form in Germany. The idea spread westward and was eventually adopted by a number of liberal scholars in English speaking countries. There is only one thing wrong with this theory: it's wrong. The ancient witnesses, including Iraneus, are unanimous on the point that the letters were written by John the apostle. It stands as a lesson for us: whenever some scholars says, "it must have been", it means almost certainly that he has no evidence for it whatsoever.[1]

It is generally agreed that the gospel of John was written after the other three Gospels. From the internal evidence, it appears that the letters of John were written well after the gospel of John. Most scholars hold that it must have been written after A.D. 70. The last of John's writings was Revelation. He had these visions in the salt mines of Patmos. It is likely enough that he was released from Patmos in A.D. 98. (This was caused by a change in Caesars.) So the general feeling is that his letters were written sometime in between.

One of the main reasons for attributing authorship to John the apostle is the Fact that he takes up the same themes as the gospel does, and deals with problems in the same way. Watchman Nee once remarked that Peter was the prototype preacher, because Christ called him to be a fisher of men. Paul was a tentmaker, and therefore he was the builder of the church. John was called while he was mending his nets, and therefore he is the mender of things in the church. We shall see this rather clearly in this letter.

Purpose

John clearly has three purposes in mind for this letter:

·         First, it is his intention that his disciples may experience joy to the full.

·         Second, he writes so that we will not sin but rather will have eternal life.

·         Finally, he warns of deception in the church. We shall see this clearly later.

Theme of the Work

John is quite consistent in the various themes that he weaves in his letters. This letter will concern itself with three primary themes:

·         First, there is authentic Christianity. This concerns itself with three things: the authority and nature of Christ, the doctrine of the church, and the fellowship of all Christians.

·         Next, he is concerned with fellowship. This means fellowship with God the father (a relationship of obedience), fellowship with Christ (a relationship based upon his teachings and example), and fellowship with each other.

·         Finally, he is greatly concerned with the truth. He wants you to know it, but more than that he wants you to live it.

The Nature of Christ

1 John 1:1-4 NASB  What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--  (2)  and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--  (3)  what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.  (4)  These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

The Heresies

One of the reasons for assuming a date late in the first century for this work is that it deals with some of the heresies which developed about that time. The assumption is that John knew of the heresies (there is plenty of extra-Biblical evidence for this) and was countering them. Here are the things which he was concerned with:

·         The first was the Arian heresy. The Arians denied the divinity of Christ; they held he was a created being, lower than God the Father, who therefore could not be divine. The modern equivalent of the Arians is the Mormon church. They believe this because of the special revelation in the book of Mormon.[2]

·         The alternative came from the Gnostics. They didn't believe in the humanity of Christ. At this time there were two versions of this:

o   The first was the Docetist  heresy. It held that Christ only appeared to have a body — when he walked, for example, he left no footprints. You would think the apostles would have noticed this over the course of three years with a man, wouldn't you?

o   The second was the Cerinthian heresy. The man who propounded this, Cerinthus, distinguish between Jesus and Christ. He said that Christ entered into Jesus at his baptism, and left him just before the crucifixion. Like the other heresy, this one denies the resurrection.

Tradition tells the story of the fervor of John's opposition to Cerinthus when John discovered Cerinthus in the same public bath house as John causing John to run out of the bath house yelling, "Let us fly, that the thermae (steam) fall not on our heads, since Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is therein." It gives you some idea of just how intense the debate might have become.

Divinity

Let us be perfectly clear: it is the assertion of every orthodox Christian that Jesus, the Christ, has always been, is, and will always be God. Jesus of Nazareth is in fact God in the flesh. It is also asserted that Jesus is not only God, but with God from the beginning. Before time began, the Son and the Father existed together. Sometimes you have to say it simply to understand the stunning effect that these assertions have had on humanity.

Some might ask, "isn't it possible that God divided, like an amoeba, to produce Jesus?" The answer is no. One specific reason for this is that we have the relationship between Jesus and God as an example for us. That relationship has three prime characteristics: the dependence of Christ upon God, the obedience of Jesus to the Father, and the love that each bears for the other. Dependence, obedience and love — a good model for all Christians.

Humanity

We might just be pedantic about it ask: "just what evidence is there for Christ's humanity?" There are three primary bits of evidence that I would give you from John's own right:

·         First, there is the fact that John spent three years walking around, listening to and for all we know playing Frisbee with Jesus of Nazareth.[3] John was Jesus' best friend; who would know better of his divinity and humanity?

·         It is in John's gospel that we find the story of Doubting Thomas. If ever there is proof of the physical humanity of Christ, this is Exhibit 1.

·         Exhibit 2 would come in that eerie scene at the lake. It's tacked onto the end of the gospel, as if it was so important it had to be added as that thundering footnote. Jesus, the Christ, cooks and eats fish with the disciples. He had a body, and evidently fish was one of his favorite foods. How human!

The Word

We now come to one of the most important doctrines in Christianity. It is necessary to understand that among all the apostles, John is the philosophical one. In today's language, he would be considered an intellectual Christian.[4] He proclaims Christ as being the logos, which is a Greek philosophical term meaning "word .”  The concept is unfamiliar to English speakers. It is somewhat related to the Platonic ideal form — the idea that every object has an ideal form, and the things we see are just poor imitations of that ideal form. It's not common idea today, but it does express the thought that there could be an ultimate form of something. Christ is the ultimate form of communication from God. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

Hebrews 1:1-4 NASB  God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,  (2)  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  (3)  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  (4)  having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Therefore, the actions and words of Christ are in fact the message of God. As God said to those about him at his baptism,

Luke 3:21-22 NASB  Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened,  (22)  and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

Testimony

We may now examine the concept of testimony and being a witness.

Witness

The word we use as "witness" is the one which is transliterated from the Greek as "martyr." In this sense of the word, it is the ultimate form of putting your money where your mouth is. It was expected in that time that if you testified something, in the formal manner which is referenced here, that you were willing to Back it up with your life. People took this stuff seriously in those days.

We maintain some of that sense today in the concept of a witness being "under oath." The threat of the penalties of perjury is supposed to keep the witness honest. John and the other apostles certainly had that test. Among the 12, he was the only apostle to die a natural death. The rest were executed — something which they could have avoided by merely testifying that this whole business of Christianity was faults. None of the original witnesses of Christ ever did that.

What was the purpose of being a witness? Simply put, it is so that you will believe.

John's Testimony

We may bring forward three aspects of John's testimony which I hope will serve to make it sure in your mind:

·         First, John is frequently referred to as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." John the apostle was the best friend Jesus ever had on Earth. He was his best buddy. Of all the human beings who have ever lived, John is most qualified to tell us about Jesus. His gospel shows us this, in that it includes many intimate details which were omitted from the first three Gospels.

·         John tells us here that this testimony is based upon his senses: he saw, he touched, he heard. This is not something he witnessed from afar, or hurt somebody tell them about. It's three years of his life with his eyes open, his ears alert and his hands ready.

·         In a larger sense, John's own life witnesses to the truth of Christianity. For example, he was sentenced to work in the salt mines of Patmos — when he was already an old man. All he had to do was deny the truth of the faith, and the Roman Empire would've let him live out his life in peace. He probably dug salt for several years, during one of which he had the visions which are written down in the Book of Revelation.

Testimony Leads to Fellowship

Testimony is worthless unless it produces some change in people's lives. But once it does, it produces true fellowship. One of my students once taught me this: "The secret of true fellowship is utter and complete devotion to Jesus Christ." It makes sense, for Christ is what we all have in common.  It produces fellowship in three ways:

·         It produces fellowship with the Father, by the Holy Spirit.

·         It produces fellowship with Christ. If we suffer with him, we will reign with him.

·         It produces fellowship with each other. There is a reason veterans go to reunions. If we suffer with each other, for his sake, how can we not love one another?



[1] See Barbara Tuchman's classic Guns of August, in the forward for some very cogent comments on this.

[2] The evidence for Mormonism quickly falls apart. Consider the climactic battle between good and evil which supposedly happened on the North American continent before Columbus. It featured wheeled chariots and horses — neither of which is known anywhere else on the North or South American continents before the arrival of Columbus. The Mormons own the site on which this battle supposedly happened and do not allow archaeological research therein.

[3] Though it is hard to see a game of Frisbee lasting very long when the Frisbee is made of pottery.

[4] The casual reader will please recall that the phrase "intellectual Christian" is not identical with the word, "hypocrite".

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