Notes on I John 1
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
1John 1:1 KJV 1 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, of the Word of life;
John is testifying that he has in fact seen, heard, and touched (handled) the “Word of Life”, Jesus Himself. John calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” several times in his Gospel.
Truly he had heard Jesus preach many sermons, teach many lessons, use and sometimes later explain parables (Matthew 13) even though John’s Gospel has no parables.
During the Last Supper in the Upper Room, John was reclining at the table, according to the custom of those days, with his head near Jesus’ chest or breast. He was the one who asked (quietly?) who was going to betray Jesus and heard Jesus reply that “it’s the one who takes the sop (morsel) from Me (John 13:25-26, paraphrased)”.
John also affirms that Jesus, the Word of Life, had no beginning. When Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, He once and for all took a body of flesh but never stopped being God. He—Jesus—was therefore the “God-man”, God in human form.
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen (it), and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
“Manifested” could mean “observed clearly”. John states again in this verse that he was a witness to the ministry of Jesus. “Showing unto you”--the readers--is similar to the purpose of John’s Gospel (see John 20:30-31).
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship (is) with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
John re-states that he had seen and heard—Jesus Himself—then explains a double purpose for fellowship: first, between believers but ultimately with the Father and Jesus both!
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
Now John explains the reason why—one, at least—he wrote this letter, that their “joy may be full”. This does not contradict the words of Jesus in John 16:24 where He encouraged the disciples to ask so that their own joy would be full. Thus we have a double means of having joy: by asking from the Father, and from reading our Father’s words to us.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Jesus had said, “I am the Light of the World “ at least twice (John 8:12, 9:5). The Apostle John wrote this about Jesus, ”That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John.1:9) and recorded the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Jesus also told His disciples, “YOU are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14, paraphrased)” in the Sermon on the Mount. Later He said that the light of the body was the
eye and if the light was darkness, “how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23, paraphrased)”.6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.
Now John begins a series of “if-then” statements. The first one refers to fellowship. There is a difference between “saying” a believer has fellowship with Jesus and actually taking part in the experience. Note also how John states plainly one of the requirements.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
John now contrasts walking in light, here, with the walking in darkness of verse 6. He also declares we, as believers, have fellowship with one another, something impossible for those who walk in darkness.
In the same verse, John declares that “the blood of Jesus Christ . . . cleans(es) us from all sin”. John no doubt remembered when Jesus Himself washed the disciples’ feet, and then said, “You are all clean (excepting Judas Iscariot)” in John 13. By now, John and other believers had come to know that the blood of Jesus Christ could and would cleanse anyone from all sin. They, as well as other Jews, knew that animal sacrifices were required, by the Law of Moses, but they did not remove the sins of the one offering the sacrifice.
They were covered, not removed.
The Day of Atonement was reserved for this. Now that Jesus had died and was resurrected from the dead, the sacrifice of His blood was enough. John may also be making an allusion to Hebrews 9, written, probably, several years before John wrote this letter.8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
John may be making a pair of referrals or allusions. Jesus had once been challenged (John 8:46) and asked the people if anyone could convict Him of sin. They could not, and did not, but insulted Jesus by calling Him a Samaritan and saying He had “a devil (was demon possessed), John 8:48. Years later, Paul asked a pair of questions in Romans 6, perhaps anticipating the questions of was it all right for a believer to commit sin.
John states that if we have no sin—even though the blood of Jesus cleansed us from all sin—we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us (our) sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Note that the forgiveness is unconditional (the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin!) and conditional, in that each believer needs to make personal confession. John included himself—“we”—in this explanation of forgiveness, cleansing, etc.10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Every believer struggles with sin, even Paul, who gave a confession of his problems in Romans 7. To deny one has sinned makes “him”—Jesus Christ—a liar. What a sobering thought.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)