1 John 1:1
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—
(a) From the beginning. John was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (Matt. 4:21). He was one of the Lord’s closest friends.
The “from the beginning” phrase appears seven times in John’s first epistle and twice in his second epistle. John has at least three beginnings in mind. Here in 1 John 1:1 “the beginning” refers to the beginning of John’s experience with Jesus. Elsewhere “the beginning” refers to the first time you heard about Jesus or his message (1 John 2:7, 24, 3:11, 2 John 1:5, 6). And sometimes “the beginning” refers to the beginning of time (1 John 2:13–14, 3:8).
(b) What we have heard, what we have seen… what we have looked at. John is establishing his bona fides as a witness of what he is about to discuss, namely the good news of Jesus Christ. John heard and saw the Lord’s ministry. He witnessed his death, resurrection, and glorious ascension. Unlike the many false prophets who have gone out preaching a false message (1 John 4:1), John is a credible witness. He was there.
(c) What we have touched. John was part of a small group of people who physically touched the Risen Lord (Luke 24:39). John is refuting the Gnostic view that the material world was evil and a spiritual God would have nothing to do with it. Jesus was fully human. He had a physical body. Anyone who said Jesus was not from God or had not come in the flesh was a deceiver and an antichrist (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7).
(d) The Word of Life is the Word of God and the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is the Word or the Message or the Revelation of God (Rev. 19:13). Just as we reveal ourselves by what we say, God reveals himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:3).
1 John 1:2
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—
(a) Was manifested. Jesus, who was previously with God in heaven, “was manifested to us” on earth. In other words, “Jesus, the Word of Life appeared, and we (apostles) heard him and saw him with our own ears and eyes.”
(b) Eternal life is not merely endless life; eternal life is divine life. It is Christ’s glorious life as opposed to the broken short-lived disease-ridden life we inherited from Adam. Eternal life is not something we receive in the future, but something we can have now (1 John 5:13). And where do we find this life? “This life is in the Son” (1 John 5:11). He who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12). Throughout John’s writings, Jesus is synonymous with eternal life (1 John 5:20). You can’t have one without the other.
See entry for New Life.
(c) The Father. God is not just the Maker of heaven and earth; he is the Father of the Son and all who believe (1 John 2:1). “God is our Father.” This was a stunning revelation when Jesus first said it, but John bought into it completely. More than a dozen times in this short epistle he reminds us that the Almighty is our Father.
1 John 1:3
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.
(a) What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you. You do not need a degree or years of study to be a witness for Jesus. All you need is to tell others what you have seen and heard. Tell them what has the Lord has done for you.
(b) Fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship (koinōnia) means more than friendship or church meetings. It is partnership, union and participation in the zoe-life of the Godhead. God designed you to be connected to him so that together you might release his life-giving blessing to others.
When Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches,” he was giving us the secret for abundant life (John 15:5). It’s found in living joyfully out of our connection with Christ. In union with the Lord we experience the freedom to know and be known, to give and receive, to love and be loved. In koinonia-partnership we receive the blessings of heaven (see entry for Eph. 1:3). In Christ we are forgiven, accepted, holy, righteous, and eternally secure (see entry for Eph. 1:7). In him we are complete (Col. 2:10).
(c) So that you too may have fellowship. In the opening chapter of his letter, John is preaching to the lost—those walking in darkness (verse 6) and who do not have the truth in them (verse 8). He writes so that they may come into fellowship or union with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9).
Humanity’s problem is not sin, per se, but separation from the life of Christ. Like a disconnected electrical cord, we lost our connection with the Source of life. Jesus came to restore that connection. He came “so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). This shared life is called eternal life (1 John 1:2) and it is found in the Son (1 John 5:11). How do we do receive or partake of eternal life? By putting our faith in Jesus (John 3:16).
(d) Being united with Jesus brings many blessings, of which John identifies four here: (1) eternal life (1 John 1:2), (2) forgiveness (1 John 1:9), (3) fellowship with us, meaning authentic community among fellow believers, and (4) fellowship with the Father and Son, meaning acceptance, intimacy, and all that implies.
Further reading: “The many benefits of union.”
1 John 1:4
These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
(a) These things we write. What did John write? The apostle wrote three epistles, and he likely also wrote the Gospel that bears his name and the Book of Revelation. Why did John write? At the end of his Gospel he said he wrote so that you may believe in Jesus (John 20:31), and he says something similar at the end of this epistle (1 John 5:13).
(b) Our joy. Once upon a time, John had been a fisherman. Then he met Jesus and became a fisher of men. Just as a fisherman’s joy is to catch fish, John’s joy is to win souls for Jesus.
But John was not just a catcher of fish; he was also a mender of nets, and this is what he was doing when Jesus first met him (Matt. 4:21). John’s joy was to mend the church nets, so to speak, to ensure that those who heard the gospel would not be lured away by false prophets and deceivers (1 John 4:1). This is why he rejoiced to see his spiritual children walking in the truth (3 John 1:4).
1 John 1:5
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
(a) The Message we have heard from him. John’s message came straight from Jesus. It was not something he invented or heard second hand.
(b) God is Light. There is no shadow in the Father of Lights (Jas. 1:17). He is good all the time and he is good to you all the time. His face is always shining upon you in love.
(c) Darkness is a metaphor for evil and sin and anything untouched by the God-who-is-light. Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12). Any place the good news of Jesus is not heard or received remains in darkness.
(d) God does not bring darkness into your life for a season, because in him there is no darkness at all. He will never take your job or your kids or give you sickness. Everything he does and gives is good.
1 John 1:6
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
(a) If we say. We may tell ourselves all sorts of things, but the beliefs and intentions of our hearts are revealed by what we do (1 John 2:4, 9).
(b) We have fellowship; see entry for 1 John 1:3.
(c) If we walk in the darkness, we can hardly claim to have fellowship with or know the One who is light (1 John 4:20).
(d) We lie. John is not talking about believers who know the truth (1 John 2:21). Since those in Christ are sons of the light (1 Thess. 5:5), it is impossible for the believer to walk in darkness. He is talking about those who reject the God-who-is-light and prefer the darkness.
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
(a) If we walk in the light. Only those who know the Light of the world can walk in the light. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Just as the sun does not shine at night, the believer cannot walk in darkness.
John is not saying we can manufacture light. He’s saying there are two kinds of people; those who walk in the light (because they have the light of life) and those who don’t (because they have no fellowship with the God who is light; see verse 5).
(b) We have fellowship with one another. Some say we have to walk right to maintain fellowship with the Lord, but John is talking about our fellowship or relationships with one another. True connection is only possible when we love one another with the unconditional love that Christ showed us.
(c) The blood of Jesus. You are not forgiven or cleansed because you walk right or review your sins and shortcomings. You are clean because the blood of Jesus cleanses you and goes on cleansing you.
(d) Cleanses us from all sin. It is faithless to think that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from only some sin. “Jesus saved me, but now it’s up to me to maintain my salvation.” All sin means all sin, past, present, and future. There is no sin Jesus did no carry.
When you sin, don’t heed the voice of condemnation; listen to Jesus who speaks for you (1 John 2:1). When you are reminded of something you did, remember what Jesus did. When the accuser points to your faults, point to Jesus by whose blood you have been washed whiter than snow (Rev. 12:11). His blood has secured your eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).
1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(a) If we say that we have no sin. Self-righteous people have convinced themselves they have no sin. “I’m basically a good person.” They are deceiving themselves, for the truth is we all fall short and none of us is righteous (Rom. 3:10, 23). We all need God’s grace.
Although the teachings of first-century Gnosticism are a matter of speculation, it is likely that the Gnostics were among those who claimed to have no sin.
(b) Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6) who speaks truth (John 8:45) and who reveals the grace and truth of heaven (John 1:17). In John’s epistles, the words truth, Jesus, and Spirit are more or less interchangeable (1 John 5:6).
(c) The truth is not in us. John is referring to people who do not have Jesus; he is not referring to Christians who are going through a bad patch. In his second letter, John says the truth abides in us forever (2 John 1:2). Jesus does not come and go.
When reading the Bible, it’s important to identify the audience. Here in the first chapter, John is speaking to those who are disconnected from Christ (verse 3), are walking in darkness (verse 6) and do not have the truth (Jesus) in them (verse 8). He is talking to unbelievers.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(a) If we confess our sins does not mean going to confession or reviewing our sins one by one in the hope of meriting forgiveness, for that would be tantamount to preaching salvation by works, and dead works at that. We are not saved by confessing sins but by confessing Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9).
The word confess means to agree with or say the same thing as another. In context it is to concede that “I am a sinner,” which is the counterpoint to the “I have no sin” of the preceding verse. The sole condition for receiving God’s forgiveness and grace is to admit your need for it. Ask and you shall receive.
Remember, John is speaking about people who are disconnected from God. They have no fellowship with the Father or the Son (1 John 1:3). They have not received the free gift of forgiveness because they don’t believe they need it (1 John 1:8). Having told them the bad news—“you are deceiving yourselves”—he now tells them the good news: “Admit your need for forgiveness and you shall have it!” And how many times do we need to do this? Once is enough. The moment we confess our need for Jesus we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Forgiveness is not something we earn through our acts of confession; it is a gift we receive by faith (see entry for Acts 13:38). In Christ, we have the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). In him, you are completely and eternally forgiven according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).
Sadly, some hijack this verse to condemn those whom Christ has redeemed. They say things like “You have to confess your sins to stay forgiven or maintain fellowship with the Lord.” This is why we need to read all John says. You have been cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7). You have been 100% forgiven on “account of his name” (1 John 2:12). Jesus has done it all!
(b) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. God does not forgive us because we are good, but because he is good. He is the faithful and righteous One who loves us in our sin (1 John 2:2) and sends his Son to save us (1 John 4:14). Forgiveness is a done deal—Jesus will never return to the cross—but you will never experience God’s forgiveness unless you receive it by faith.
(c) And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All means all. John’s message is one of total and complete forgiveness.
Some use the words of 1 John 1:9 to preach dead works, as in we must confess to make ourselves righteous. That is not what John is saying. Jesus is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1) and it is his righteousness that God freely offers us by grace (Rom. 1:17). The good news of 1 John 1:9 is that God’s grace is greater than your worst sin. The blood of Jesus cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
Some also say that we must confess our sins and keep short accounts to maintain fellowship with the Lord. John says nothing of the kind here (or anywhere). While being open and honest about our mistakes is healthy in any relationship, God’s love is not for sale, and his fellowship is not purchased through confession. God has promised to never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). His Spirit or truth abides with you forever (John 14:16, 2 John 1:2).
Further reading: “Healthy vs unhealthy confession”
1 John 1:10
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
(a) If we say. John is not talking about Christians but self-righteous unbelievers who think they are without sin. “I’m basically a good person.” He is repeating what he has said in verse 8, but with one important addition…
(b) We make him a liar. Someone who says, “I have no need of grace” is essentially calling God a liar (1 John 5:10). They are blaspheming or slandering the Holy Spirit who seeks to convince them of their need for Jesus (Matt. 12:32). They put themselves beyond help because they don’t want help.
(c) His word is not in us echoes what John says of unbelievers in verse 8; “his truth is not in us.” Jesus is the word or the truth or the light or the life that unbelievers lack.
Further reading: “What is the unforgivable sin?”
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- 1 John 1:1
- 1 John 1:2
- 1 John 1:3
- 1 John 1:4
- 1 John 1:5
- 1 John 1:6
- 1 John 1:7
- 1 John 1:8
- 1 John 1:9
- 1 John 1:10