I John 1
vs. 1-4 - THE INTRODUCTION. It declares the writer’s authority, based on
personal experience; announces the subject-matter of his Gospel, to which this
Epistle forms a companion; and states his object in writing the Epistle. (The
writer, the apostle John, was one who had been brought into close contact
with the Person of the Lord Jesus)
These opening verses help to raise the reader to the high frame of mind in
which the apostle writes. Emotion, suppressed under a sense of awe and
solemnity, is shown by the involved construction through which his
thoughts struggle for utterance. We are reminded of the introduction to the
Gospel of John, especially in the first clause. Both announce to us the subject of
the writing which follows — the Word who is the Life. Both set before us, in
the simplest language, truths of profoundest meaning. But while in the
Gospel he seems to lose sight of his readers in the magnitude of his subject,
here the thought of his “little children” is uppermost.
The construction of the first three verses may be taken in more ways than
one; but almost certainly the main verb is ajpagge>llomen, and the clauses
introduced by o[ give the substance of the ajpa>ggeli>a.
ajpagge>llw, — ap-ang-el’-lo; from (575) (ajpo>) and the base of
(32) (a]ggelov); to announce: — bring word (again), declare,
report, shew (again), tell.
The sentence is broken by the parenthetical verse 2, after which the main part of v. 1
is repeated for clearness. Reduced to a simple form, the whole runs thus:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have
seen with our eyes, which we looked upon, and our hands handled,
concerning the Word of life, we declare to you also, that ye also may have
communion with us.”
v. 1 – “In the beginning beginning” is not quite the same as in John 1:1; there
that He was in existence before He was manifested. Thus far all is indefinite; the
philosopher, about to expound a law of nature, might begin, “That which
was from the beginning declare we unto you.” What follows is in a climax,
making the meaning clearer at each step: seeing is more than hearing, and
handling than seeing. The climax is in two pairs, of perfects and of aorists;
the aorists giving the past acts, the perfects the permanent results.
Together they sum up the apostolic experience of that boundless activity of
Christ, of which the world could not contain the full account (John 21:25).
“Beheld” ejqeasa>meqa is more than “have seen” eJwra>kamen. Seeing
might be momentary; beholding implies that steady contemplation, for
which the beloved disciple had large and abundantly used opportunities. “And
our hands handled” - we may see a reference to Luke 24:39, where the
same verb is used yhlafh>sate; and still more to John 20:27, where
demanded test of handling is offered to
confession of faith to which the whole Gospel leads up, “My Lord and my
“Those who read his letter could have no doubt that he was referring to the time
when he saw the face of Jesus Christ, when he heard His discourses, when he
grasped His hand, when he leaned upon His breast” (Maurice). Between the
first clause and what follows lies the tremendous fact of the Incarnation;
speaks with the authority of full knowledge, and that there is no possible
room for Ebionite or Cerinthian error. The first clause assures us that Jesus
was no mere man; the others assure us that He was really man. Precisely
that Being who was in existence from the beginning is that of whom St.
John and others have had, and still possess, knowledge by all the means
through which knowledge can have access to the mind of man. (For
“seeing with the eyes,” cf. Luke 2:21-32; for qea~sqai of contemplating
with delight [St Mark 16:11-16], John 1:14, 34; <440111>Acts 1:11.
incarnate, the Eternal Life made manifest (John 14:6); his hearing of His
words, his seeing with his own eyes His Messianic works, his contemplation of
the Divinity which shone through both; his handling of the body of the risen
v. 2 - The main thought of vs. 1 & 3 is, “We declare to you a Being both eternal
and yet seen and known by us.” That of v. 2 is, “This Being, in His character of
the Life, became visible, and in Him are centered all the relations between God
(“For the life was manifested) –
THE LIFE WAS MANIFESTED IN TIME. From what afterwards follows,
there can be no question that the apostle here refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And in thus declaring that He passed out of eternity into the limits of time, out
of the invisible to the visible realm, he thus avows the mystery of the
Incarnation. A mystery, without the assumption of which the words and life of
the Christ can no more be accounted for than the stability of the framework of
nature can be accounted for without the law of gravitation. The difficulties gather
rather round its denial than around its assertion. The Divine Life could only
be manifested to man by taking the form of man and this Jesus did when He took
our form, became like one of us, was tempted as we are, “yet without sin” –
“great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified
in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the
world, received up into glory” – I Timothy 4:16
“and we have seen it” – sums up the four verbs in v. 1.
“we…bear witness and shew” – carries a stage further – the communication
of the experience!
v. 3 - Compare
this verse with John 17:21.
Gospel is that the great High Priest’s prayer may be fulfilled — that
believers may be one in that communion of which the unity between the
Father and the Son is the pattern and the basis; may “be joined together in
the same body, the same belief, the same knowledge, the same sins, the
same hopes, the same destinies” (Jelf).
Jesus told Thomas “Blessed are they that see not and yet believe”. It is WE who
are here described, WE who are designated. Then let the blessedness take place in
us, of which the Lord predicted that it should take place. Let us firmly hold
that which we see not,
because those tell us who have seen” (
v. 4 – “that your joy may be full” - The joy is that of knowing that, though in the
world, they are not of it, but are one with one another, and with the Father and
with the Son. The gospel is always joy: “Rejoice alway” (1 Thessalonians 5:16);
“Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Philippians 4:4). To know that the Eternal Life
has been manifested, that we have communion with Him, and through Him
with the Father, must be joy.
FIRST MAIN DIVISION: GOD IS LIGHT!
v. 5-ch. 2:6 - Positive Side. What walking in the light involves; the condition and
conduct of the believer.
1 John 2:7-28 - Negative side. What walking in the light excludes; the things and
persons to be avoided.
v. 5 – “This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare
unto you” – John tells his readers where he got the information!
“that God is light” - that is His nature. This sums up the Divine essence on its
intellectual side, as “God is love” on its moral side. In neither case has the
predicate the article: oJ Qeo<v fw~v ejsti>n oJ Qeo<v ajga>ph ejsti>n. Light and love
are not attributes of God, but Himself.
Three ideas follow in order: lo>gov (word) -zwh> (life) and fw~v (light).
There, as here, fw~v immediately suggests its opposite, skoti>a (darkness).
It is on the revelation of the Lo>gov as fw~v, and the consequent struggle between
fw~v and skoti>a, that the Gospel is based. And this revelation is the highest:
men alone are competent to receive or reject it. Other organisms exhibit the
creative power as life: none but men can recognize it as light. And to know the
Lo>gov as light is to know the Father as light; for the Lo>gov is the Revelation
of the Father’s nature. That God is, in His very nature, light, is an announcement
the Possessor of light (1 Peter 2:9), dwelling in light (1 Timothy 6:16); but not
that He is light. To the heathen God is a God of darkness, an unknown Being;
a Power to be blindly propitiated, not a Person to be known and loved. To the
philosopher He is an abstraction, an idea, not directly cognizable by man. To the
Jews he is a God who hideth Himself; not light, but a consuming fire. To the
Christian alone He is revealed as light, absolutely free from everything impure,
material, obscure, and gloomy. Light was the first product of the Divine creative
energy, the earnest and condition of order, beauty, life, growth, and joy. Of all
phenomena it best represents the elements of all perfection. “This word
‘light’ is at once the simplest and the fullest and the deepest which can be
used in human discourse. It is addressed to every man who has eyes and
who has ever looked on the sun.” It tells not only “of a Goodness and
Truth without flaw; it tells of a Goodness and Truth that are always
seeking to spread themselves, to send forth rays that shall penetrate
everywhere, and scatter the darkness which opposes them” (Maurice). In
like manner, darkness sums up the elements of evil — foulness, secrecy,
repulsiveness, and gloom. In all but the lowest forms of existence it
inevitably produces decay and death. Everything of the kind is excluded
from the nature of God.
immediately emphasizes the great announcement with an equivalent
negative statement: “Darkness in Him there is not any at all” (comp. v.8;
1 John 2:4, 23, 27; 3:6; 4:2, 3, 6-8; 5:12). He does not say, “in His
presence,” but “in Him.” Darkness exists, physical, intellectual, moral, and
spiritual; there is abundance of obscurity, error, depravity, sin, and its
consequence, death. But not a shade of these is “in Him.” The Divine Light
is subject to no spots, no eclipse, no twilight, no night; as a Source of light
it cannot in any degree fail.
v. 6 – “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness,
we lie, and do not the truth” - If God is Light to the exclusion of all
darkness, then fellowship with darkness excludes fellowship with him.
By “walking” peripatei~n is meant our daily life, our movement and activity
in the world (John 8:12; 11:9, 10; 12:35; Revelation 21:24); this activity
will inevitably express the koinwni>a (fellowship) in which we live. To have
communion with Him who is Light, and be continually exhibiting a life of
darkness, is IMPOSSIBLE. We are false in both word and deed.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM should not perish, but have
EVERLASTING LIFE. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn
the world; but that the world THROUGH HIM might be saved. He that
believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned
already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of
God. And this is the CONDEMNATION that light is come into the world,
and MEN LOVED DARKNESS RATHER THAN LIGHT, because their
deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh
to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth
cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought
IN GOD. (John 3:16-21)
v. 7 - The change of verbs is significant: “we walk”, “God is in the light”. We
move through time; He is in eternity. Our activity involves change; His does not.
Like the sun, He both is Light and dwells in the light; and “if we walk in the
light”, which is His atmosphere, “we have fellowship one with another”.
Having fellowship with one another is a sure result of that fellowship with
God which is involved in walking in the light. Darkness is an unsocial
condition, and this the light expels.
Another result of walking in the light is that the blood of Jesus (His sacrificial
death) cleanses us day by day continually (present tense) from our frequent sins
of frailty. This cleansing is not the same as forgiveness of sins (v. 9). The latter is
the case of oJ leloume>nov, (bathed – washed from head to foot) the man that is
bathed (John 13:10); the former is the frequent washing of the feet (Revelation
7:14; 22:14). The expression, “the blood of Jesus”, in Christian theology, “is
dogma with pathos.… It implies, as no other word could do, the reality
By His blood new life-blood is infused into human nature.
v. 8 - After the great message,” God is Light” (v. 5) and its application to
ourselves (vs. 6-7), we are now told what walking in the light involves:
“If we say that we have no sin” - The present e]comen again shows that the
daily falls of those who are walking in the light are meant, not the sins
committed in the days of darkness before conversion. The Lord’s Prayer
implies that we must daily ask forgiveness. “We lead ourselves astray”
from the truth, and have no right estimate of the gulf between our impurity
and God’s holiness, if we deny this habitual frailty. In the sunlight even flame
throws a shadow; and that man is in darkness who denies his sin. The truth
may be near him; but it has not found a home with him — it is not in him.
Plana~|n (deceive ourselves – akin to the English word “planet) – wander,
roam, go astray) is specially frequent in the Revelation, and used always of
archdeceivers — Satan, the beast, antichrist, false teachers - it seems to
imply FUNDAMENTAL ERROR. (comp. 1 John 2:26).
v. 9 - As in v. 7, we have the opposite hypothesis stated, and the
thought advanced a stage. Not the exact opposite, “if we confess that we
have sin;” but “if we confess our sins.” It is easy to say, “I am a sinner;”
but if confession is to have value it must state the definite acts of sin. The
context (“deceive ourselves… He is faithful”) shows that confession at the
bar of the conscience and of God is meant. Circumstances must decide
whether confession to man is required also, and this
forbids nor enjoins. Note the asyndeton; there is no de>, as in verse 7. “He is
faithful and righteous”, Di>kaiov must be rendered “righteous” rather than
“just,” to mark the contrast with unrighteousness ajdiki>ti, and the
connexion with “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1). “To
forgive… to cleanse” - As explained in verse 7, the one refers to freeing us
from the penalties of sin, justification; the other to freeing us from its
It is God’s nature to be faithful and righteous; but it is also His purpose to
exhibit these attributes towards us; and this purpose is expressed in i[na
ajfh~| hJmi~n. – (to forgive us)
v. 10 - Once more we have no mere repetition, but a fresh thought.
“if we say we have no sin” (v. 8) refers to our natural condition; “If we
say we have not sinned” (v. 10) refers to definite acts. Note the climax:
“we lie” - (v. 6); we lead ourselves utterly astray (v. 8): “we make God a liar” –
(v.10). The whole of God’s dealing with man since the Fall, especially in the
Incarnation, is based on the fact of man’s innate sinfulness. To deny this
fact, therefore, is to charge the God of light and truth with acting and
maintaining a vast and persistent lie.
His word is not in us; i.e., we are cut off from all communication with Him
(John 5:38; 8:31). “His Word” is the sum total of the Divine revelation. That
which in itself is “the truth “(v. 8), when communicated to us is “His Word.”
(I find it very interesting that when God revealed Himself to Moses, He is
characterized as being “abundant ….in truth” – Exodus 34:6 – CY – 2009)
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v. 5 - WHAT “THE MESSAGE” IS.
Whom it concerns. “God.” “The announcement as to the nature of God
is a personal revelation, and not a discovery” (Westcott, in loc.). We know
something of God by reasoning upward from the works of nature. Nature
speaks (Psalm 19:1-4). Her works are a manifestation of God. But not
a full or a clear one. We want a testimony direct from God, as to what He
is, as to His thoughts towards us; and here it is.
What does it tell us about God? Positively: “God is Light.” Physically, light
is the splendour in which all else is revealed. Intellectually, light is knowledge.
Morally, light is purity. God is the One Being in and by whose existence all else
receives an adequate interpretation of its coming into being. HE HATH
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT LIMIT. HE HATH PURITY WITHOUT STAIN!
Hence the text speaks: Negatively: “No darkness at all.” Not the least speck. He is
ABSOLUTELY PURE. INFINITELY WISE. How much is summed up in the
three sentences which John has recorded: “God is Spirit;” “God is Light;”
“God is Love”! Not all the collective wisdom of man could have taught us so
much as this.
Who brought this message down to earth? The everlasting Son of the Father,
who came from Him. The “Sent”) – John 6:29 - This message was brought to man
directly by the greatest Messenger from the eternal throne that even heaven
itself could send! “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in
time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto
us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, BY WHOM ALSO
HE MADE THE WORLDS: Who being THE BRIGHTNESS OF HIS GLORY,
AND THE EXPRESS IMAGE OF HIS PERSON, and upholding all things by
the word of His power, when He had BY HIMSELF purged our sins, sat down
on the right hand of the Majesty on high: (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The message has remained unchanged from the beginning of the Christian age.
The verse of our text has as much force as if the Apostle John were now living and actually
uttering the words in our ears: “This is the message”.
Jude calls it “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” – v. 3
The right use of this message will yield us a knowledge of God and of
His Son, Jesus Christ, which is in itself “ETERNAL LIFE” – John 17:3
It is the Christian’s responsibility to share the truth of God, especially
the “truth as it is in Jesus!” – Ephesians 4:21
v. 5 – “God is light and in Him is no darkness AT ALL” –
God is “the Father of lights” – James 1:17
Jesus Christ is “the Light of the world” – John 8:12
It is God’s purpose that Jesus Christ light “every man than
cometh into the world” – John 1:9
We “were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as
children of the light” - Ephesians 5:8
THE PERFECT HOLINESS OF GOD. Light is pure and purifying. It
visits scenes of corruption and decay, and exercises a cleansing and healing
influence there, and pursues its glorious course without having contracted
any taint, still absolutely pure. Fit emblem of the infinite holiness of the
great God. “No stain can soil His robe of awful sanctity.” He is
preeminently “the Holy One.” “Thou only art holy.” The highest
intelligences ceaselessly praise Him, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of
hosts.” “His name is holy, and He dwells in the high and holy place.” His
holiness is the glory of His Being. He is “glorious in holiness.” As if to set
forth the entire purity and perfection of the Divine nature considered as
whatsoever has any place in Him. “Neither ignorance, nor error, nor sin,
nor death” is found in Him.
Let us reverence this Great and Holy Being! Let us seek His life-
giving, enlightening, and invigorating influences!
v. 7 – “and the blood of Jesus Christ, His son, cleanses us from all sin”
This implies that even they who walk in the light need cleansing from sin.
The requirement that we walk in the light, is confronted by the fact that
in us there still is sin and darkness.
The Progressiveness of this Cleansing. “The blood of Jesus His Son
cleanseth us.” The apostle uses the present tense. He does not write
“cleansed,” or “hath cleansed,” but “is cleansing us.” The cleansing is not
accomplished at once and for ever. It is a continual process. The precious
blood of Christ exerts its purifying and sanctifying influence until the heart
and the life are thoroughly cleansed from all sin.
This Cleansing is Thorough. “Cleanseth us from all sin.” No sin stains
are so deep as to defy its power. “Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow,” - (Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25;
It is the fullest and mightiest expression of the infinite love of God the Father
toward us, who “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all;”
(Romans 8:32) and of the infinite love of Jesus His Son toward us in His voluntary
self-sacrifice. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all
iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous
of good works.” – (Titus 2:14)
v. 10 – “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and
His word is not in us”
The Bible declares that ALL MEN ARE SINNERS” – Romans 3:10-18
The Bible declares that with God “there is FORGIVNESS” and with
Him is “PLENTEOUS REDEMPTION” - Psalm 130:4,7
The Bible warns “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper but
whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” – Proverbs 28:13
OUR SANCTIFICATION DEPENDS ON “THE EFFICACY OF THE
BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST AND THE AGENCY OF THE HOLY
GOD HAS PLEDGED HIS WORD TO FORGIVE US OUR SINS:
“I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own
sake, and will not remember thy sins. Put me in remembrance:
let us plead together: declare thou that thou mayest be justified” –
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our
transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:12