1 John 1:1-5
The book of 1 John is commonly called an “epistle” but it lacks the characteristics of an epistle. The meaning of “epistle’ is a “letter” and 1 John lacks a greeting and a closing so if it was a letter, no one knows who it was originally addressed to. Some believe it was a circular letter sent to a number of churches in some particular region. The date of the writing is somewhere between 75-95 A.D. It cannot be pinpointed to a specific date. The author is definitely the Apostle John based upon the testimony in the first three verses stating that “we have seen.” This means an eyewitness account of the Lord Jesus Christ is in view and only the Apostle John would fit that bill in this case.
This book was addressed to many churches which may have had some struggles with the problems of unbelievers versus true believers. There was a definite problem with heretics and John attempted to correct this error so no one else would become entangled in this web of false teaching. The heretics had falsified the true teachings of Christianity and these teachers were not sent from God but were of the world. When a person calls themselves to teach, it is very dangerous because God did not make everyone a teacher. It is a position that is public and much envy for it has caused many to go astray. As with all my other commentaries when I use a phrase such as “John said” does not mean that this is John as the source but the Holy Spirit is the source of Scripture who used human hands to pen them. I use terms like “John said” for brevity and not to take anything away from the divine origin of Scripture.
1 John 1:1 (KJB)
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;
Heard - Hearing with understanding
Seen - Look upon or contemplate
Looked upon - Gazed upon
Handled - Touch or feel for something
John begins this book with a dive into some pretty strong biblical truths. There was a move afoot during John’s time known as Docetism. The Docetics basically believed that Christ did not have a physical body and only seemed to die on the cross. The word “Docetic” comes from the Greek word “dokeo” which means “seem, think, or appear.” Gal 2:6 (KJV) But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: They believed that Jesus possessed a spiritual body and that it was impossible for spirit to die. Docetism was a form of Gnosticism which taught that the human body was evil and there is no way that God would ever come to earth in human flesh. Immediately John begins to point out the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ possessed a human body while on earth. John may be taking the life of the Lord Jesus Christ back to eternity but here he is speaking of the fact of Christ’s humanity from the beginning and that was His incarnation. First of all, John reveals that they physically heard the Lord Jesus and many times since they traveled with him. Secondly, their eyes had seen Him physically for at least three years as they traveled with Him. Thirdly, John states that they looked upon Him which carries with it the meaning of gazing or contemplating. To gaze is to fix ones eyes on something or someone with strict attention. The Sermon on the Mount would have been a good example of all eyes gazing at the Lord while He intently taught.
Fourthly, this would have been the zenith of John‘s apologetic against the belief that Christ had a spiritual body. After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, He stood in the midst of all the disciples and gave them this offer. (Luke 24:39 KJV) Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. Jesus then issues an offer to Thomas. (John 20:27 KJV) Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. He was proving at this point that He was flesh and blood and that He arose from the dead in the same body He went into the grave with except that it was no longer weak flesh but it was flesh. He then proceeded to ask them if they had any food. Spiritual bodies do not require physical sustenance. Then John identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as the Word of Life. Jesus is the one that John has in view as the one they heard, saw, gazed upon, and handled.
1 John 1:2 (KJB)
(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
Manifested - Revealed or disclosed
Seen - Look upon or contemplate
Show - Declare, make known, or report
Now John goes a little more into detail concerning the life. In the first verse he spoke about the fact that they experienced the Lord Jesus Christ in human flesh but here he is revealing that the life of the Lord Jesus Christ was an eternal, glorious life which He had with the Father before coming to earth. (John 17:5 KJV) And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. The eternal life which the Lord Jesus Christ manifested to the Apostles is now being declared to other Christians through those who were physical witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. John is stating that the same eternal life which was manifested to them is now being declared to all Christians. There is no difference because they were Apostles as all the redeemed of God stand on the same level.
1 John 1:3 (KJB)
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.
Declare - Report
May have - In the present tense which means fellowship would be continuous
Fellowship - Communion, sharing, or association
John once again reiterates the fact that they were personal witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ and that they are declaring to the other Christians that they may fellowship with the Apostles but by means of salvation they would truly have fellowship with the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That fellowship is a continuum and will never be broken. Peter, James, and John was the inner circle of the Lord Jesus Christ and John here is no doubt comparing the inner circle fellowship with the fellowship that all believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. No believer will ever be on the outside as all have been redeemed by the blood. In other words, the inner circle of the Lord Jesus Christ is comprised of all believers.
1 John 1:4 (KJB)
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
John was revealing these major truths so that all those who became saved will enjoy the fullness of joy. John was not just dispensing information for the purpose of negating the teachings of the heretics, but along the way he wanted the Christians to have joy in the things which God has revealed in His Word. With the constant threat of persecution, joy was the main ingredient in the believer’s life to endure those threats and realities. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and never changes because the Lord Jesus Christ never changes. Happiness can change very quickly based upon circumstances but joy under girds the believer in all circumstances.
1 John 1:5 (KJB)
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.
Here John gives a major principle concerning understanding God the Father. The message which was given to them by the Lord Jesus Christ is that God is light and possess no darkness at all. The light is referring to His holiness and other pure attributes and the darkness referred to is the wicked and hostile system of the world which is opposed to the truths of God, which is sin. We can always tell if a belief system is true by how it deals with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. If any type of darkness is attributed to the two, then we know that it is a false teachings. The Docetics did not understand the incarnation of Christ and therefore rejected it, so we know instantly that their system is false and one to be avoided. Rejected truth is also a tenet of darkness. One need not only teach darkness but reject the light which means they are in darkness. Those who are truly born again, do not see any darkness in God because we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Those who walk in darkness assess things out of a spiritually dead understanding which in reality is no understanding.