We begin a new series in this lesson, concerning the first
letter of John. We will get to the Scripture momentarily.
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.
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.
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
Finally, he warns of deception in the church. We shall see this
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
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
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.
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
The alternative came from the Gnostics. They didn't believe in
the humanity of Christ. At this time there were two versions of this:
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?
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
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
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
John was Jesus' best friend; who would know better of his divinity and
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
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
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."
We may now examine the concept of testimony and being a
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.
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?