Notes on 1 John 4:12-21

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

1 John 4:12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

In this verse, John makes a profound declaration: no one has ever seen God. There are a number of possible explanations why he says this:

A, he is referring to God the Father Whom no one has ever seen. This matches the statement of the LORD to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “And he (the LORD) said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”

B, he had seen Jesus, God in human flesh, but not the Son of God before the Incarnation, when Jesus, once and for all time, took on Himself a body of flesh. Paul spoke of this in Philippians 2 when he wrote that Jesus took the form of a servant and became humbled, even to death on the cross (paraphrased).

C, he remembered the words of Jesus to the woman of Samaria, when He told her that “God is Spirit (John 4:24)” and “spirit” is something that could barely, if ever, be seen.

It is also true that people have seen Deity but when this happened, the Heavenly Visitors always appeared in human form. Examples: the Three Visitors of Abraham (Genesis 18), the angels who escorted Lot out of Sodom (Genesis 19); Jacob, who wrestled with God at Peniel (Genesis 32); and the occasions when people saw The Angel of the LORD (Hagar in Genesis 16, Balaam (Numbers 22), Samson’s parents (Judges 13), Gideon himself (Judges 6), and Zechariah, making various references to this Angel in his book.

Daniel prophesied that the Son of Man would approach the Ancient of Days (Jesus and God the Father respectively) in Daniel 7. There will be some, then, who will see God at that time.
Further, it is true that the unsaved will see God when they stand before Him at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:12). This might be the last thing these sinners will ever see before they are cast into the lake of fire—forever.

But John goes on to say that if we do love one another (as we should) God dwells in us (see John 14:23) and His love is perfected or made complete in us. We as God’s children have the privilege of showing the world God’s incredible love!

13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

Besides the promise above (John 14:23,) Paul had also written that the Holy Spirit was the “earnest” or down payment or promise (compare 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5 with Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30).

14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son (to be) the Saviour of the world.

John’s whole Gospel had this purpose: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31).” Another pair of references say, ”That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. (John 5:23, KJV) ” and “36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God (John 10:36, KJV)?”

By this time, John was probably one of the few remaining who had seen Jesus alive after His resurrection. Some years before, Paul wrote that most of over 500 were still alive who had seen Jesus but certainly, over the years, many had died leaving only a handful of eyewitnesses.

Even so, the promise Jesus Himself made to Thomas still stands: blessed are those who never saw yet believed anyway! (John 20:29, paraphrased).

15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Certainly this would be more than merely an intellectual assent, or, “belief” meaning only “yes, I agree with what you’re saying.” James had written before that one may believe in One God, or that God is One, but demons believe in one God and shudder (James 2:19, paraphrased). The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) stated he believed Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 8:37) with all his heart, not just his mind, and the eunuch “went on his way, rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Later Paul would write in Romans 10:9-13 that anyone who calls on Jesus as Lord will be saved and that confession is made by the mouth (paraphrased).

16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

Here John repeats, probably for emphasis, that he knew God’s love and believed God’s love personally. No further comment is required for the last part of this verse.

17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

It is not clear why John used the phrase “day of judgment” in this verse. The phrase is found in nine other references in the New Testament, all of them seeming to refer to a future judgment of nonbelievers.

It is also uncertain what John meant by “as He is, so are we in this world”. One possible explanation is that as Jesus brought God’s good news to people, so may we—and if fact, the Great Commission (Mark 16:15 and other verses) commands believers to do this. There may be other interpretations.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

Now John reminds the readers that first, there is no fear in love and second, that perfect love casts out fear. The type of fear he mentions is most likely not the “fear of the LORD” mentioned so often in the Old Testament, but the other type of fear, most likely, perhaps caused by terror, feelings of inadequacy, or even unknown or unforeseen events. Jesus Himself had said to only fear God (Matt. 10:28, paraphrased).

19 We love him, because he first loved us.

The fallen (unsaved) man is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). John shows here that the Lord loves us first (John 3:16) and then we can love Him. O that many would experience this wonderful Love!

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

John here may be alluding to James chapter 2, where James—several years earlier—had sought to correct the concept that love in word alone was enough. The practical examples which James cited should have been enough, supposedly, for all believers to get the message. John gives a stern rebuke to this, calling anybody a liar who claimed to love God and hate his brother.

Then John asks a rhetorical question, namely, how can anyone love the unseen God when he or she hates a quite visible brother or sister? That question is just as true now as it was then.

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Jesus Himself gave the command for believers to love one another at least three times in John’s gospel alone (13:34, 15:12, 15:17) and several other times in the New Testament. This at the very least shows the importance of a believer showing love to another believer.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

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