Declaring The Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. – 1 John 1:1-4

How could God reveal Himself to mankind? He decided to send His Son – the Word of Life. Since man cannot transcend the physical realm into the spiritual on his own God sent Jesus to the physical realm by way of incarnation. This Life was historically attested to by twelve men selected to be Christ’s disciples. To them this Life would be revealed to their sense of touch, sight, and hearing. They in turn could report what they had concluded about this evidence to the next generation. Without the Word of Life there is no life in Christianity.

The Word of Life Examined from Beginning

The Word of Life is “that which was from the beginning (1:1a). John used the word “beginning” seven times in this letter (1:1; 2:7,13,14,24; 3:8,11). With this word he began is Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). So begins the book of Beginnings: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Obviously, Jesus is the Word and the beginning is creation in John’s Gospel, but what is he referencing in this letter? Is it creation, the incarnation, the mission of Jesus, etc.? Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem. He existed before from the beginning of time. He is eternal, that is, without beginning or end. Nonetheless, John and the other apostles could only witness the evidence after Jesus began His mission.

John makes reference to other eyewitnesses (“we”) who declare this proof of the Word of Life. Yet, no other apostles seem better equipped to be a witness of the incarnation of the Word than John. He, along with Andrew, was one of the first to follow Jesus at the moment when John the Immerser identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:35-37). He along with his brother James were rebuked by Jesus as “sons of thunder.” He was next to Jesus at the Last Supper and leaned upon His breast (13:22-25). John referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). He along with Peter and his brother, James, witnessed the raising of Jarius’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and they were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. John followed Jesus to His trial (18:15). He bore witness to Christ’s sayings and sufferings on the cross (19:25,26). It was John who was given the care of Jesus’ mother, Mary (19:26,27). John outran Peter to the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning to discover the tomb open and empty (20:2-4). He recognized Jesus when He came to them in Galilee (21:7). He would walk, talk, and eat with the risen Savior (21:20f).

Jesus was not a phantom or spirit. He was flesh and blood. John along with the other apostles were able to observe the Word of Life with their senses. Four verbs are used to show this: “heard’, “seen”, “looked” and “handled”. They are in the perfect tense indicating that the actions have been completed as a fact in the past. Yet it was a repeated action. They heard, saw looked upon, and handled Jesus over and over again throughout the three years they were His disciples on earth.

Evidence of the humanity of the Word of Life had been substantiated by the multitude of signs, wonders, and miracles the apostles saw performed by the Son of God. The many prophecies Christ fulfilled in His life gave proof. They heard His parables, sermons, private exhortations, etc. They heard Him forgive sins and claim to be equal with God. The Twelve “looked upon”, that is, gave Jesus a prolonged inspecting gaze for over three years. They touched his flesh. Jesus told them, “behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). Thomas handled the resurrected, crucified body of the Lord (John 20:24-29). Jesus was no optical illusion.

All of the evidence perceived by them and collected was concerning the “Word of Life.” Is this the written Word that gives life as the message is preached or is this referring to Jesus the Word from who has life and is the source of spiritual and eternal life? Obviously, it is not the Gospel message for only the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son of God could be heard, seen, looked upon, and handled as described in this context. He Himself is life (John 11:25; 14:6).

The Word of Life Demonstrated to Christians

The four verses which make up the preface of this letter form a single sentence in the Greek. Verse two represents a parenthesis in the middle of the sentence. The proofs of Christ were revealed to the apostles which now are made manifest to the recipients of this letter.

Again the “we” indicates apostles. First, Christ has to be “manifested” or “reveal, making visible what was hidden.” Then Son of God is manifested to the saints by them in three ways. 1) “Seen” is the same Greek word orao in verse three. It means to distinguish plainly what is perceived by careful observation. Surely the apostles displayed all the requisite credentials to report about what they learned concerning Christ. 2) The apostles could “bear witness” of what they saw in Christ It is from the Greek martyrein referring to the testimony of witnesses in court. 3) The third step in sharing the evidence of Christ’s deity is the act of declaring it audibly to listeners or in writing to readers. The apostles gave both verbal and written reports on the life of Christ.

The Word of Life is Eternal

Christ’s life was eternal (1:3b). He shared it with the God the Father. This fact was made clear to the apostles as they heard, saw, looked up, and handled the Word of Life. John begins with eternal life of Christ and ends with the assurance of our eternal life through Him (5:20).

The Word of Life Gives Fellowship

Christ did not reveal Himself through any secondhand experiences to the Twelve. He told them, “but blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:16-17). It is true, no one outside of that first generation of disciples could bear witness and report upon Christ as John as able to do. The proof he witnesses was seen and heard but once. This does not prove they had a greater advantage for believing than we do today. Jesus even told Thomas who handled, saw, and heard Him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). John may have had the physical nearness of Christ’s body, yet now we can have the spiritual nearness by fellowship with God through Christ.

Fellowship means “joint participation” in the life and with the apostles and with both the Father and the Son. Thus, John declares three areas of fellowship which all Christians share. Fellowship is one of the reasons John is reporting about what He was discovered about the Word of Life. We are now in a close relationship and working partnership due to the Word of Life. Mankind’s loneliness has now to countered with a return to the fellowship lost when he walked out of step with God in the Garden.

This fellowship can only be possible if there is an agreement among the parties upon all essential matters. It is based upon what the Apostles observed, testified, and reported concerning the Word of Life. Fellowship with God cannot be had without the Word of Life testified by the apostles.

The Word of Life Brings Fulness of Joy

A second reason is given for writing about Christ as the Word of Life: “and these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1:4). The Greek word for “joy” is chara which is related to the term charis translated “grace.” This joy is not something in the future but something they can experience in full now. The New English Bible renders this verse: “We write this in order that the joy of us may be complete.”

Karl Marx wrote, “The first requisite for the people’s happiness is the abolition of religion.” John would argue that true religion based on the facts concerning the Word of Life is the only way to experience complete joy. The joy lost in the Garden is returned in full with the fellowship restored with God. Jesus told His Disciples in the upper room on the night of His betrayal “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

– Daniel R. Vess

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