1 John 1:1-3 says, “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, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
The Apostle John
The Apostle John is believed to have written 1 John, along with 2nd, 3rd John and the Book of Revelation.
John, along with Peter, Paul and James (the brother of Jesus), were all leaders in the Jerusalem church, following the death and resurrection of Jesus. By A.D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed, and Peter, Paul and James had all died by martyrdom.
The Apostle Paul, shares a moment when the four Apostles were together in Jerusalem. Galatians 2:9 says, “And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
No longer able to make his home in Jerusalem, Peter took up residence in Ephesus. At that time John was probably in his mid-thirties, and for the next thirty years, until his death, Ephesus remained his home. It was there in Ephesus that John is believed to have composed this letter.
Heresy In Early Church
The Christian faith was under attack almost from the beginning. In a world where religious beliefs were propagated on every corner, false “ideas” made their way into newly planted churches.
So that, not only were Christian beliefs persecuted from beyond church doors, there were also disputes and rivalries within the churches causing division. 1 John is written to address growing disputes taking root among believers.
At the root of the disputes were beliefs derived from Gnosticism. In the epistle John denounces false teachers and their doctrines. He makes it clear that ideas and thoughts that sprout from human hearts, minds and philosophies cannot become supplementary teaching material for the gospel.
1 John 2:18,19 says, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrist have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
John was aware that the gospel was being corrupted by believers who were members, or had been members of churches founded by the Apostles. Churches were splitting, and people were being drawn away by religious leaders who mixed their own ideas and philosophies into their teaching about Jesus.
Their false teaching had correlations with Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that matter was evil, and that God did not create matter, nor have contact with matter. Therefore, the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus was inconceivable; impossible.
Gnosticism postulated that “Christ” came upon the man “Jesus” at baptism, and left him before his crucifixion. For it was impossible for God to incarnate in Jesus, die on the cross, and be resurrected.
Gnostics taught redemption through Christ, but it was a redemption from matter, and not from sin. Gnostics also claimed to have attained special knowledge, which the ordinary believer was incapable of possessing.
Gnosticism is complex and would take many pages to delineate, and so here I am providing a small synopsis of Gnostic beliefs that are relative to the false beliefs and ideas that are delineated in John’s epistle.
At the heart of Gnosticism was the belief that knowledge was supreme and the true purpose of life. Knowledge was the crown of life and the highest good that human beings could attain. It was loveless intellectualism; the complete opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When reading 1 John in context, we can see the presence of ideas, thoughts, philosophies and doctrines making their way into the teaching of the church that were not accepted by the Apostles as true to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Below is a sample of modern day religions, which have emerged since the beginning of the Christian era.
Religion, Human Beings, Modern Idealism:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses developed in the United States in 1870. This was a group of bible students led by Charles Taze Russel. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is God’s only-begotten Son, and that his life began in heaven. He is described as God’s first creation, exact representation of God, but a separate entity and not part of a Trinity. Jehovah’s Witness believe the soul does not continue to exist of death; death is a state of non-existence. The only hope for life after death is resurrection, which entails recreation of same individual but with new body. They teach that 144,000 people will be resurrected to life as spirit creatures in heaven as priestly rulers under Christ.
- Scientology developed in the United States in 1952. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the organization began with a body of beliefs and practices creating a self-help system (Dianetics). It teaches that human beings are immortal alien spiritual beings, trapped on earth in meat bodies, who have forgotten their true nature. Scientology teaches people to achieve greater spiritual awareness; progression from level to level is called “The Bridge to Total Freedom.” Jesus is recognize in Scientology as part of its religious heritage, and is seen as only one of many good teachers. As far as Jesus’ atonement of mankind’s sins through death of the cross? Man is basically good; nobody but the individual could die for his own sins, and to arrange things otherwise was to keep human beings in chains.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), started in 1830. Joseph Smith believed that after the death of Jesus and the twelve Apostles, the priesthood authority was lost and important doctrinal teachings, including the text of the Bible, were changed from their original form, thus necessitating a restoration prior to the Second Coming. The restoration, according to church doctrine, began during the life of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was visited by various angelic messengers from whom he received the everlasting gospel. The messengers conferred upon him priesthood authority with its various keys, so that mankind again possessed the “fullness of the Gospel” with authority administer in the ordinances thereof. The church’s view of the Godhead breaks away from the belief that God, Jesus, Holy Spirit are consubstantial (one substance) and incomprehensible. They teach that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate persons. Early leaders taught that Jesus had many wives and children (promoted polygamy).
Facts Stand Above Ideas
And so our text says, “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, concerning the Word of life.”
The phrase “from the beginning,” anchors the gospel in the life and teaching of Jesus and his disciples. False teachers are introducing new ideas, and teaching; consequently, John writes to the churches ensuring them that the apostolic doctrine has not changed.
The Apostles where witnesses to all Jesus taught, and all the events that took place leading up too, and including his crucifixion. The apostolic “beginning,” begins when John The Baptist, baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
1 John 2:7 says, “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.
1 John 2:24 says, “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
These two verses support the meaning intended in the word “beginning.” And so, the false teachers will come, but the gospel does not change. The gospel is written by Apostles, and records the events and teaching of Jesus witnessed by the disciples and many others.
The phrase “Word of life,” is used to in reference to the “life giving gospel.” Some have associated it the “Word,” (Logos) as in John 1:1. But here John goes on to talk about the quality of life manifested in human beings through the indwelling of His Spirit.
And so, as we begin to read 1 John, it is with the understanding that the gospel is history; it is a record of facts written by men with first hand experience, i.e., those who were with Jesus from the beginning. The apostles and the life-giving gospel they testify to, is not a record of ideas; it is The Word of Life.
Reflection: There are 18 major world religions, and I have studied all but two on the list below, and the Holy Spirit has kept my faith grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible.
Athesim/Agnosticism, Bahai, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Druze, Gnosticism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Traditional African Religions, African Diaspora Religions, Indigenous American Religions.
Father, in the name of Jesus, your only begotten Son; thank you for salvation, mercy and grace. Lord, thank you for the revelation of your Kingdom, and for opening the doors and inviting us to enter therein. It’s so nice, and it fills our hearts with joy to know that we are safe in your Kingdom.
Father, you are God and beside you their is no other God. You created us in your image and likeness and we are yours; we belong to you. Thank you for the revelation of truth; for the gospel and the Holy Spirit who indwells believers, keeping us safe from doctrines and philosophies created by human beings that are contrary to your word. Thank you, that your Word is True, and that is does not change. In Jesus name we honor, praise and worship you, O Lord. Hallelujah! Amen