1 John 1:1-4
After coming back from being off sick and looking at what was planned in terms of sermons for the rest of the year, I felt it right to draw to a close what we’d been doing so far on Living in the Story and pick up the Letter of 1 John. That doesn’t mean our theme is finished, because what we find in 1 John also fits and will fill it out further.
John’s Purpose in Writing
It’s not exactly clear to whom John was writing because he doesn’t say and there aren’t a lot of clues in the letter itself.
Neither is there a lot of information about what was happening for those he was writing to, although limited clues indicate that there could have been an issue with false teachers causing trouble.
While the context isn’t clear, John’s reason for writing is:
1 John 5:13 (NRSV) 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
This is what we keep in mind as we go through the letter: everything John writes is aimed at helping us know we have eternal life and what that life is like. We can safely assume John would write similar things to Gawler Baptist if he was still around, so as we read this letter that’s what we keep in front of our minds. We’ll consider more about eternal life shortly.
In these opening verses, John makes three declarations or announcements (although the first ‘declare’ is added in the NRSV, but there by implication):
- The Word of Life 
- Eternal Life 
- What We Have Seen and Heard—So That You May Have Fellowship 
We’ll look at the introduction to the letter under these headings.
The Word of Life 
John declares to us what was from the beginning. Immediately our minds are cast back:
Genesis 1:1 (NRSV) 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
John 1:1 (NRSV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
What John is declaring links with what he said in his gospel, and goes right back to the very creation of the world. That means there’s a huge amount of continuity—in fact, we could say John is continuing a story that started millennia ago!
There’s a very strong emphasis in these four verses on John being an eyewitness. He wasn’t speaking from something he’d read about or from the accounts of other people. This was his personal experience.
- He heard Jesus.
- He saw him with his own eyes.
- He looked at him and touched him with his own hands i.e. he didn’t just see Jesus but he paid close attention to him. He got up close and personal.
All of this makes it clear that John was an actual eyewitness to Jesus—saw, heard and touched Jesus himself—and as such he had exemplary authority to write.
Concerning the Word of Life
The word of life is what John saw, heard and touched. Jesus was God’s word, his message, his revelation of himself, to us. Jesus was God speaking and showing himself to us through everything he did, everything he said, and through who he was as a person.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said that anyone who’s seen him has seen the Father. What does it mean that he’s the word of life? He is life itself; he isn’t simply the one who gives life, but he is life itself.
Eternal Life 
Here is probably as good a point as any to ask what eternal life means.
John says the life, which is eternal life, was revealed. I suspect that when we hear about life being revealed, we are likely to think in terms of an eternal life with Jesus in heaven that will be ours when we die and are taken away from this earth. But when John says it was revealed he was speaking about something real and visible i.e. he was pointing to the person of Jesus rather than the possession of unending life. Jesus himself is eternal life, and he was writing about his experience of Jesus as eternal life and what that life is like.
We Already Have It
This isn’t something that awaits the people of God in the future. It’s clear from what John wrote that it’s something we already have. As we’ve said already earlier in our series, we have to get out of our minds the thinking that eternal life is something exclusively reserved for some point in the future when Jesus comes back, the world comes to an end, and we’re taken off to be with him—somewhere out there—for eternity. It’s something that’s been announced to us [1:2] and we already have.
What Is It?
Jesus was eternal life in the sense that he was with the Father even before he came here to the earth. But he was also eternal life in the sense that he brought the life of heaven to earth. Jews divide the history of the world into two periods. First there’s the present age. That’s what we’re living in now. It’s less than ideal because there’s a lot of pain and suffering in this age and it also includes death. Then there’s the age to come. That’s the age the Jews keep hanging out for because it will be much better. In that age, when the resurrection of the faithful happens, everything will finally be put right and there won’t be any more pain, suffering, oppression or death and dying. I tell you that to say this: the fact that Jesus is eternal life means that the life of the age to come has come into the present age. Jesus is the advance party of what’s coming later. He’s the promise, if you like, that what we see here and now is not as good as it gets, but there is something better coming. It’s life of a quality consistent with the age to come: life as it is meant to be lived in all its fulness, a life which has ultimately overcome death. The future came into the present and the present was never the same again. They/we have seen the future.
John declared all of that so that the people to whom he was writing would have fellowship with him and with the Father and Son. Experiencing mutual relationships of that kind is part of what it is to have eternal life. Fellowship with each other is possible because of the fellowship God the Father has with his Son Jesus. The fellowship they have is as close as anybody could get with anyone else. It’s a deep mutual relationship where they fully know, and are fully known by, each other. There’s nothing that gets in the way of their relating to one another, nothing hidden, where there’s 100% trust, and the one can’t be himself without the other.
There’s two things about the fellowship between the Father and Son. First, because they have that kind of relationship with each other it makes it possible for us too. In fact, the most amazing thing is that we’ve been invited to share in that fellowship with them. When we consider the nature and quality of their relationship, we actually see it from the inside rather than form the outside looking in. That blows my mind every time I think about it, and I feel as though I’ve still got so much more to know and appreciate about it.
Second, when John says we have fellowship with one another, it means the quality of relationship is the same as that between the Father and Son. I guess to some extent that’s always going to be an ideal, but that’s where we’re heading and that’s part of what eternal life is all about.
One other thing about this fellowship. it isn’t limited just to us who are already followers of Jesus—such is his grace that he invites anyone else to be part of it too. Jesus was the Word of Life, the means through which God communicated himself to the world. God spoke in Jesus; now he speaks the invitation of fellowship through his people. Such people who respond to the good news of Jesus come into fellowship with those who have previously responded, and their fellowship is already with God and Jesus (through the Spirit—even though he’s not mentioned here). If knowing and experiencing all that doesn’t fill our hearts and live with joy then I don’t know what will.