1 John 1:1 – 2:2
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1 John 1:1 – 2:2 Biblical Commentary:
For the context, go to the INTRODUCTION TO 1 JOHN
1 JOHN 1:1-4: THAT WHICH WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD
1:1 That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life 1:2 (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1:4 And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.
The following verses are the Prologue of the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18), and have much in common with the Prologue of 1 John:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. 9 The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him. 12 But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about him. He cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me, for he was before me.'” 16 From his fullness we all received grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.
“That which was from the beginning” (1:1a). This brings to mind two scriptures:
- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made” (the Gospel of John 1:1-3).
In the verses from the Gospel of John, the Word refers to the Christ, as becomes obvious when we read a bit further. John says:
“The Word became flesh, and lived among us.
We saw his glory,
such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John (the Baptist) testified about him.
He cried out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said,
“He who comes after me has surpassed me,
for he was before me”‘” (John 1:14-15).
The “in the beginning” phrase in the Gospel of John 1:1-3 was obviously modeled after Genesis 1:1. The Gospel of John places “the Word” at the beginning with the Father. 1 John 1:1 strikes the same note. The Word––the Son––Jesus the Christ––is eternal, having no beginning and no end. He was in the beginning with the Father, and is with the Father now and for eternity.
“that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched” (1:1b). The apostles all saw the risen Christ, including Paul, who became Jesus’ apostle after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:16-17; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-29; 21:1-14; Acts 1:1-11; 9:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
- Jesus also appeared to the women at the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10).
- And to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18).
- And to two men on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32).
- And to five hundred people (1 Corinthians 15:6).
So John affirms that he and the other disciples heard Jesus, saw him with their own eyes, and touched him with their hands. Their experience of the risen Christ was firsthand. Their status as witnesses is unimpeachable.
Seeing the risen Christ transformed Jesus’ little band of disciples and gave them courage to come out from behind locked doors to face danger in Christ’s name. There is no other explanation for their newfound and persistent courage than that they had seen the risen Christ.
“concerning the Word of life” (1:1c). The Word of life could refer to the message of life––or to the one whose work on earth opens the door to life eternal. In this case, it means both, because the Gospel message merges with the one who made the Good News possible––Jesus Christ, Lord of Lord and King of Kings.
“and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify” (1:2a). In verse 1b (above), John made it clear that he and the other apostles had seen the risen Christ with their own eyes, had heard him speak, and had touched him with their hands.
- He could also have said that the apostles had been in a room with locked doors, when Jesus appeared in their midst. (John 20:19).
- He could also have mentioned that, because Thomas had said, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” Jesus later appeared to Peter, saying, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:25-27).
- He could also have mentioned that Jesus had eaten a piece of fish in their presence (Luke 24:42-43).
“and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us” (1:2b). John declares to these Christians “the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father”––and reminds them once again that God had revealed these things to the apostles.
“that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1:3). John’s purpose is to make it possible for these Christians in crisis to have fellowship with the apostles––and with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
John’s message has the urgency that we usually associate with EMT’s or emergency room physicians. It has life or death implications.
“And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled” (1:4). This isn’t what we thought John would say. We expected him to say, “that YOUR joy may be fulfilled,” but instead he says, “that OUR joy may be fulfilled.”
The apostles could not be joyful at the news of these churches in conflict and of disciples falling away. Such news could only make them sad. John is writing in the hope that these disciples might continue in faithful service. If his letter is successful, the apostles will indeed be filled with joy.
I am reminded of a professor, age 60 or so, who said, “As you get older, you will find that much of the pleasure of your life will be due to your work.” He was teaching in a Christian college, and was preparing students for ministry. His classes in Christian doctrine were renowned for their effect on students from several generations––and for the way that his former students had used what they learned from him to teach their congregations correct doctrine. This professor knew that his work had had a positive influence on many lives in many places, and that brought him joy.
So also, John is writing to these Christians in crisis to help them not to stumble so that he and the other apostles will find joy when remembering them.
1 JOHN 1:5-10: IF WE WALK IN THE LIGHT
1:5 This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1:10 If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5). Light and darkness are used in both Old and New Testaments as metaphors for good and evil––order and chaos––security and danger––joy and sorrow––truth and untruth––life and death––salvation and condemnation (Isaiah 5:20; John 3:19-21; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:17-18).
The Gospels do not tell of Jesus saying that God is light, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus did not say that in the presence of his apostles. The Psalmist said of God that “he covers himself with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2).
Others testified that Jesus was the light (Matthew 4:16; Luke 2:32; John 1:1-4)––and Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). He also told his disciples, “You are the light of the world,” and told them to let their light shine that people, seeing their good works, might glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
“If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth” (1:6). Light cannot coexist with darkness. The light of even a small candle will dispel the darkness throughout a large room.
We can assume that the false teachers claim to have fellowship with God, but John believes that they are walking in darkness––that their lives are evil––that they don’t tell the truth––and that they are living under the threat of condemnation. In that case, they are lying when they say that they have fellowship with God. They aren’t telling the truth. Jesus said:
“This is the judgment,
that the light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness rather than the light;
for their works were evil.
For everyone who does evil hates the light,
and doesn’t come to the light,
lest his works would be exposed.
But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his works may be revealed,
that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). Walking in the light is a metaphor for that which is good, for the sinner whose sins have been forgiven, for truthfulness, and for faith.
John says that those who walk in the light “have fellowship (koinonia) with one another.” The Greek word koinonia has a number of meanings: Fellowship, participation, sharing, or contribution. All of those meanings convey the image of open arms––of welcome––of community.
It is natural that those who walk in the light should fellowship with each other. As they say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” We see that in our churches. Likeminded people––people of faith––come together to worship and to fellowship with one another. They care for each other. They learn from each other. Their faith becomes mutually reinforcing, with this one growing in faith because of the witness of that one––and that one growing in faith because of the witness of this one. When those who walk in the light fellowship with each other, both their light and their faith will grow stronger.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:9). We can assume that the false teachers claim that they “have no sin.” That places them in jeopardy, because those who believe that they have no sin will neither ask for nor receive forgiveness.
The classic example is Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Pharisees, of course, were known for their meticulous observance of the law, and tax collectors were the spiritual lepers of their day. So the Pharisee prayed (to himself, Jesus says), “God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, feeling the weight of his guilt, stood afar with downcast eyes, beating his breast in contrition. Unable to muster a beautiful prayer, he was able to say only, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus said, “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
The danger for those who claim not to have sinned is twofold:
- First, they deceive themselves. Believing something that isn’t true is a prescription for disaster. The person who believes that which isn’t true is likely to make faulty decisions and live a life doomed to mistakes and failures.
- Second, they shut the door on the forgiveness that they claim not to need.
“If we confess (Greek: homologeo) our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). The word homologeo (confess) is a combination of homou (together with) and lego (to say). It can mean either a confession of faith or a confession of sin. It is the latter which is intended in this verse.
In verse 8, John warned us of the danger of saying that we have no sin. Now he specifies the rewards that accompany a confession of sin. The person who confesses sin can expect that God will both forgive and cleanse him/her.
To understand the meaning of confession, it would be helpful to examine scriptures having to do with it:
- Aaron the priest was required to lay his hands on a live goat and confess the sins of the people, so that the goat would bear the iniquities of the people (Leviticus 16:21-22).
- When people sinned against another person, they were required to confess their sin and to make full restitution, adding one-fifth to the amount (Numbers 5:5-7).
- The person who both confesses sin and forsakes it shall be forgiven (Proverbs 28:13).
- The Psalmist confessed his sin and asked to be cleansed from it (Psalm 51:2-7). Cleansing involves purification and forgiveness involves the removal of the offense. They are related but different.
- Ezra and the people wept when confessing their sins (Ezra 10:1).
- Nehemiah confessed his sins and those of the people of Israel, acknowledging the grievous offense they had caused God, and pleading for forgiveness (Nehemiah 1:6-11).
- John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance. People went to him, confessing their sins, and he baptized them. However, he rebuked Sadducees and Pharisees who came for baptism, telling them to bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:4-9; see also Mark 1:4-5). In this story, repentance, confession and baptism merge.
- “Many also of those who had believed came, confessing, and declaring their deeds. (Acts 19:18).
- James said, “Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (Greek: iaomai). The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective” (James 5:16).
These examples suggest that confession involves something more than saying, “I have sinned” or “I am sorry.”
- Confession was linked to repentance (not simply feeling guilty, but being determined to move in a new and more righteous direction).
- Sinners exhibited heartfelt sorrow for their sins, so they confessed and and pled forgiveness.
- In one instance, confession required restitution. In another instance, confession required bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
- In one instance, confession was to be made to “one another”––to fellow members of the faith community––so that those members could pray for one another for healing (iaomai)––restoration of spiritual health and salvation.
If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us” (1:10). As noted in the comments on verse 9 above, we can assume that the false teachers have claimed that they haven’t sinned––and that John is responding to that claim.
Various scriptures tell us that sin is our common condition.
- “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
- “Every one of them has gone back. They have become filthy together. There is no one who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:3).
- “All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
- “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
- The Apostle Paul spoke of his own struggle with sin:
“For I don’t know what I am doing.
For I don’t practice what I desire to do;
but what I hate, that I do.
But if what I don’t desire, that I do….” (Romans 15-16).
Those are the claims of scripture, and we have seen them verified in our own experience and in the lives of those around us. Anyone who says that he/she has not sinned is denying the truth of God-inspired scripture, and makes it seem as if God is a liar.
1 JOHN 2:1-2: WE HAVE A PARAKLETOS––JESUS CHRIST
2:1 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 2:2 And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
“My little children” (2:1a). The word that John uses here is teknion, which is best translated child. It would have been acceptable for a teacher or pastor (such as John) to address parishioners in this way.
These words do two things:
- First, they convey the deep affection that John has for these believers. While not able to be with them most of the time, he has a pastor-parishioner relationship with them.
- Second, they signal a transition. Until now, John has been countering problems raised by the false teachers. Now he begins to address his pastoral charges directly.
“I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (2:1b). The false teachers have separated themselves from the church, but they still present a danger to church members who might be persuaded to listen and to accept what the false teachers say.
Another problem is that, since God will forgive sins (v. 9), these new Christians might be tempted to sin promiscuously in the expectation that their sins will have no consequences.
The Apostle Paul dealt with this problem in his letter to the Roman church. He said:
“What shall we say then?
Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
May it never be!
We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?
Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death,
that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
so we also might walk in newness of life.
For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death,
we will also be part of his resurrection;
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him,
that the body of sin might be done away with,
so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin.
For he who has died has been freed from sin.
But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him;
knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more.
Death no more has dominion over him!
For the death that he died, he died to sin one time;
but the life that he lives, he lives to God.
Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin,
but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:1-11).
“If anyone sins, we have a Counselor (Greek: parakletos) with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous” (2:1c). The Greek word parakletos is used only five times in the New Testament––four in the Gospel of John to refer to the Spirit (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and once in this verse to refer to Jesus.
Parakletos can mean a lawyer who pleads your case or a witness who testifies in your behalf. It can refer to a person who gives comfort, counsel, or strength in time of need. It can refer to a person who comes to the aid of someone who is in danger. The literal meaning is “someone called in; but it is the reason why the person is called in which gives the word its distinctive associations…. Always a parakletos is someone called in to help when the person who calls him in is in trouble or distress or doubt or bewilderment” (Barclay, 194).
Parakletos has been translated Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, and Intercessor, but each of those expresses only one facet of parakletos. The original readers of this epistle would have heard the full richness of its various meanings. Some English-language Bibles use the word Paraclete, which is not an English word but a transliteration of the Greek word. The problem is that most people today don’t know what a Paraclete is, so using Paraclete without explanation won’t communicate clearly to most readers.
“And he is the atoning sacrifice (Greek: hilasmos) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (2:2). The Greek word hilasmos (translated “atoning sacrifice” here) is usually translated “atonement,’ “propitiation,” or “expiation”––words calculated to put people sleep––but the distinctions among them are worth noting.
ATONEMENT has to do with making amends for sins or repairing the spiritual damage caused by sins. It also has to do with restoring relationships that were broken by sin––in particular the relationship that we enjoyed with God prior to the introduction of sin into the world.
Some people interpret PROPITIATION to mean appeasing the wrath of God by offering a sacrifice. They believe it inappropriate to use the word propitiation in relationship to God, because they understand God as gracious and loving ––not wrathful––not requiring sacrifices to appease his anger.
EXPIATION, on the other hand, involves the removal of sin––or the forgiveness of sin.
Most Christian scholars today favor the words atonement or expiation rather than propitiation.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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