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Bible Commentaries
1 John 1

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Verses 1-2


The first letter of John is the second writing that we have of him in the Bible. His first writing is the gospel according to John. After his first letter there still follow a second and third letter. Also the book of Revelation is from his hand. Therefore we have five writings in total from him in the Bible. His five writings are characterized by Who and what God is. In his gospel he presents the Lord Jesus as God the Son. In his first letter he shows what eternal life is that God has given to the believer. That life is the Son Himself. That’s the life you possess, for “he who has the Son has the life” (1 John 5:11-2 Kings :). In the book of Revelation we see God in His government.

Therefore, since we are now going to read and study his first letter, it is about the believer in whom the new life, i.e. the eternal life, is present. The letter is not written to a local church, but to the individual believer, thus personally to you. At the same time you are being addressed by him as somebody who partakes of a company of believers, namely the family of God. The name ‘children of God’ also reflects that very well. Children who are born of the same parents are related to one another. Children of God are related to one another because they are born of God. That’s why they have life and indeed eternal life, i.e. life in its most abundant form (John 10:10). That eternal life is the Lord Jesus Himself (1 John 5:20).

John shows in this letter how that eternal life works in you as a believer. In order to see how it expresses itself, you should look at the Lord Jesus. After all He is that new life in you. Therefore you also see that new life in the gospels. Therein you see the Lord Jesus in His life on earth. Just as life is in Him and has been revealed by Him in the world, it also finds itself within you. Therefore it could not be any other way than that it reveals itself in the same way in your life.

Now you may say that in your life (and that I say also about myself) the Lord Jesus is not always clearly visible. That is true when it comes down to the practice of your life of faith. However – and it is important to ascertain and hold on to that at the beginning of reading this letter – John does not speak in the first place about our practice, but about the essence or the nature of the eternal life you possess. That goes together with absolute statements.

I will clarify that to you with an example. If you want to do a research on water, that is if you want to know what it consists of, then you should not do a research on coffee. Coffee indeed consists nearly one hundred percent of water, but it contains elements that change the taste and color of the water and thereby it is not one hundred percent water. You ought to take pure water in order to know what water consists of. In the same way, if you want to know what eternal life is, which is in you, you are not supposed to look at your practice. In your practice there are many elements that cloud the expression of that life. Therefore you should look at the Lord Jesus.

The Lord Jesus is that new, eternal life in its full form. In this letter John also speaks about the practice of your life of faith, but his starting point is the perfection of eternal life as it is in itself. This perfection is in the Lord Jesus and also in you, because you possess Him as your life. John writes intensely about that, because in his day false teachers crept into the church with a false doctrine that affects the perfection of eternal life. They teach that Christendom is quite a nice start, but that they have more light and a higher knowledge about God.

John makes it clear that if you have eternal life, you have everything. The eternal life is complete and not ‘quite a nice start’ of your relationship with Divine Persons. John exposes the spirit of the antichrist. He gives you the proofs that you really do possess eternal life, that this life is from the Lord Jesus and that this life in itself is perfect and unchangeably the same. Therefore, do not let yourself be fooled by people who claim that they are able to help you to go deeper into the mysteries of the Godhead. There is no development of the truth of God about Christ into something that would be more perfect.

The Word of Life

1 John 1:1. John begins to speak without any introduction about the Lord Jesus. He does that in an exceptional way. He presents Him as “the Word of life” which “was from the beginning”. He was like that with John and the apostles. The ‘Word of life’ was perceivable to people.

‘The beginning’ John is talking about is not the beginning of Genesis 1 (Genesis 1:1), where we are brought back to the beginning of the world, the creation. It also does not refer to the beginning he is talking about in the first verse of his gospel. That beginning surpasses time, to what had no beginning, for it is said “what was from the beginning” (John 1:1). What John means to say here with ‘beginning’ is the manifestation of eternal life on earth through the life of the Lord Jesus. This ‘beginning’ therefore refers to the revelation of the Lord Jesus as Man on earth, as God revealed in the flesh.

The letter is a response to the error of the so-called ‘gnosticism’. This error is to be found with people who claim that they ‘know it’ (the word ‘gnosis’ means ‘to know’ or ‘to be familiar with’). Gnosticism denies that the Lord Jesus really became flesh and it announces the error that He had only been on earth in a human appearance. In response to that John describes Him as a real Man Whom he and his fellow apostles have really seen and with Whom they had fellowship.

The response to all errors and deviation is Christ. In order to see Who He is, we ought to go back to the beginning, i.e. His coming and the life on earth. In Him ‘the Word of life’ has been manifested in all its perfection. Herewith John points back to the first verses of his gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:4). The fact that John calls Him here ‘the Word of life’, means that in Him you can see what life is. There is no life without Him. That what is separated from Him has no life. He alone is life and indeed life in perfection.

John and the apostles – he writes about “we” – have “heard”, have “seen”, have “looked at” and have even “touched” the Lord Jesus. In the words that John uses you draw nearer and nearer to Him:
1. ‘To hear’ can happen from a great distance;
2. ‘to see’ is closer;
3. ‘to look at’ is having your nose on top of something;
4. ‘to touch with the hands’ is the closest you can get.

The life that John is presenting to you in this way is therefore not a mythical story, but a concrete reality that is perceivable with the senses. He speaks about a true Person and not about a fictional person (cf. Luke 24:39).

In a certain sense you also have gone through in your discovery of the Lord Jesus the four phases that John mentions:
1. You first heard about Him and owing to that you came to faith. Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:14).
2. That made your eyes got opened for Him and you began to see Him by faith.
3. That caused you to look at Him by exploring further in God’s Word Who He is.
4. The result is that you also have touched Him with your hands in a spiritual way: you have really experienced that He is there and that He is Who He says to be.

1 John 1:2. If eternal life had not been revealed, you would have never been able to know what it is. You did not know how it was, just as it was with the Father. But the awesome thing is, that it has been revealed. The eternal God has come out in His Son, the Lord Jesus, and He did that in a place of humiliation and contempt. In that way He can be heard, He can be seen and looked upon and also be touched with the hands. He came out to introduce Himself to man. He came to bring you into the overwhelming fellowship with the Father. He manifested the eternal life.

What eternal life is, is to be seen in Him. He has shown it. He was born as a Baby. He, the eternal life, which was with the Father. Men were able to come that close to Him that they could even touch Him (Mark 5:27). He came to give to you too that exalted place of fellowship and the full enjoyment of it. As a human you were not able to observe it, still less able to enjoy it, if it was not revealed to you by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-2 Samuel :). What John mentions here, is also written in Micah 5 (Micah 5:2). There you read about the Lord Jesus as being born in Bethlehem and at the same time as the eternal One.

Before we continue with the next section, I would like to make a general remark about ‘eternal life’. Eternal life is presented in two ways by John. In the first place he is talking about eternal life which is in God and that He has given to you when you believed in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). That’s how you got eternal life within you. In the second place he also talks about eternal life as a sphere of the life in which you live, a life sphere or a living environment that you have entered and wherein you enjoy eternal life (John 17:3).

You can compare it with your natural life. You live, you move and you think. Those are expressions of the life that is within you. At the same time you also live somewhere. You may live in a city or in a rural area. That is your living environment.

Both of these aspects of eternal life show how full eternal life is. It is within you and you are living in it. It includes everything. Isn’t it awesome to partake of that? The next verses will demonstrate that to you.

Now read 1 John 1:1-2 again.

Reflection: What do you see of the Lord Jesus in these verses?

Verses 3-6

Fellowship and Complete Joy

1 John 1:3. John and the apostles cannot and do not want to keep to themselves what they have seen and heard. It was manifested to them, but they would love to pass it on to you and me. They want us to partake of that. They must “proclaim” it, for they cannot but speak about it (cf. Acts 4:20). Their mouths spoke out of the abundance of their heart (Matthew 12:34).

‘To proclaim’ has to do with drawing up a report or making a report of what you have learnt. John has learnt from the Lord and he made a report of that, in order to pass it on to us. Here it is written in a way that whenever you read his report, that proclamation comes to you. This is how I experience it too when I read it. When you read his report and you make yourself aware of it thoroughly, it is like time disappears and it makes you feel like you are in the company of the Lord Jesus during His life on earth.

The purpose of his report is that you “have fellowship” with him and the apostles as witnesses together. For the word ‘fellowship’ you could perhaps use the nowadays word ‘relationship’. However, I think that the word relationship does not rightly reflect the real meaning of ‘fellowship’. A relationship makes you think of being related to someone in a certain way or a connection you have with someone. But the word ‘fellowship’ contains much more. It means that you share something together with a person. You have the same portion.

Children of God have fellowship with one another, because they have Christ as their life. John wants you and me to have fellowship with him and his fellow apostles. By that he thus means that you and I share with them what we and they have in common and that is the Father and the Son.

But having fellowship with the apostles is not a goal in itself. It surpasses that. John wants you to be involved in the fellowship that he and his fellow apostles have “with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ”, i.e. with the Divine Persons. It is the desire of the apostles to expand the circle of fellowship. John’s intention is that you together with him and the other apostles have fellowship with the Father and the Son. By saying that he means that they share in the part that the Father has and in the part that the Son has. That fellowship together with the apostles is possible, because you have the same life as they have.

In the way John writes it down here – he mentions the Father first – the emphasis is on the fellowship with the Father. Of course the Son is not less, for He is God like the Father, He is one with Him (John 10:30). The distinction is that He, the Son, has explained the Father (John 1:18). All who have received Him, the Son, as their life, are now able to consciously enjoy the same fellowship with the Father like He has with the Father. You know the Father as the Father, because the Son is your life. What is always the case with the Son, is now the case with you too. Just like the Son, you want to glorify the Father and magnify and honor Him.

The fellowship with the Father is therefore at the front. Directly after that follows, as it were in the same breath, that the fellowship is also ‘with His Son Jesus Christ’. It is a fellowship that is at the same level as the fellowship with the Father. John is perfectly clear about that. By what has been declared to you about eternal life and what you have believed, you also have fellowship with the Son. The heart of the Father is focused on the Son and now your heart is also focused on Him.

I repeat what I said earlier, that it is not about the degree that you live up to and experience it, but about what is typical to the new nature that you have received.

1 John 1:4. John declares with words, but he also declares by ‘writing’. In that way he records what he has proclaimed for the coming generations, so that everyone who hears it in this way, can be involved in the fellowship. Everything has been recorded in the written Word. Therefore you do not need to follow some training or be taught by some or other enlightened spirit about this. It is written in God’s Word, you can read it yourself and personally enjoy it.

John appeals to all believers in what they have in Christ. He who has life, has fellowship. He who has fellowship, enjoys it. It gives the highest degree of joy. How could that be otherwise? There is a ‘complete joy’ if you enjoy fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

This joy is the joy of the Lord Jesus, Who speaks twice about “My joy” (John 15:11; John 17:13). It is a joy which He fully wishes His disciples to have. The road that He went, shows the content of His joy. He walked in undisturbed fellowship with the Father and always did what pleased the Father. That was His joy. He knew and enjoyed the undivided love of the Father. If you want to know and enjoy that full joy, His joy, you ought to abide in His love (John 15:9). That happens when you keep His commandments (John 15:10). The enjoyment of complete or full joy depends on a life in obedience.

You see that in the life of the Son. He is your life and therefore it is the same with you. You will certainly feel your incompetence. Do you know what you may do because of that? You can pray to the Father in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The result will be that you receive full joy (John 16:24).

1 John 1:5. After his introduction, in which he mainly deals with life, John speaks in 1 John 1:5 about light. In his gospel ‘life’ and ‘light’ are also closely related to one another (John 1:4-Deuteronomy :). The life that you received from God is life that is lived in the light. It belongs to the light and not to anything else. Your new life has got nothing to do with darkness and sin. That’s why that is the point of John’s message. He has not invented that message, but he declares what he has heard from Him, the Lord Jesus. The message says ”that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all”.

Actually, you will seek in vain in the gospel according to John for a statement of the Lord in which He uses these precise words. Such a statement does not need to be found anyway, for it is needless to say that His whole life declared that message, as it were. When you read about Him in John’s gospel and see Him, you see light, while you see nothing that has got to do with darkness.

When it is stated here that God is light, it doesn’t mean that it is a feature of God, but it is about His Being, about Who He is. His whole Being is light. All His features come from that. God is also love. That is said hereafter in the letter, even twice (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).

It is important to declare that God is light. It is about fellowship with Divine Persons. That fellowship can only happen in the light, in accordance with the perfect purity of God. God is always light. He was that too when there was no creation yet. He is light and is also in the light, He is surrounded by it (1 John 1:7).

The fact that despite that, it is still said that in Him “there is no darkness at all”, has to do with time. It indicates that God is related to His creation, where spiritual darkness entered through sin. You also read that the Lord Jesus came in the darkness and that the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5).

1 John 1:6. The fact that God is light and that our fellowship can only be enjoyed in the light, excludes any possibility of walking in the darkness. It is absolutely not possible to say that we have fellowship with God and the Lord Jesus, while we walk in the darkness at the same time. John speaks in general terms and even includes himself thereby. You can derive that from the word “we”. It is actually about speaking out a certain confession. Then it is something that concerns each one who confesses to be a Christian and says to be living in fellowship with God and Christ.

John points out that it is basically impossible that there is a relation between light and darkness. It is not possible to belong to light and to darkness at the same time. Here you see again that John presents the things in black and white. As far as he is concerned, as you may say, it is not about how you walk, but where you walk. According to him it is not about your practice, but about your new life. Practice is certainly important and your new life ought to be visible in it. We will pay attention to that later. The point now is, what is typical for the new life where that is taking place and where it absolutely cannot be taking place.

It is a lie when a person says that he has fellowship with the Father and the Son, while he walks in the darkness. Such a person does not live in accordance with the truth. He ‘does not practice the truth’, for he does not know it and does not have it. He may present himself as a person who knows and has the truth, but his walk in the darkness, thus apart from God, shows that he is lying.

Now read 1 John 1:3-6 again.

Reflection: What do you learn in these verses about fellowship and about joy?

Verses 7-10

To Walk In the Light and Cleansing

1 John 1:7. In 1 John 1:6 you have read about ‘walking in the darkness’ and now you read about “walk in the Light”. Needless to say that ‘walk’ does not regard an activity with your legs, but it is about your whole conduct. You may say that the ‘walk’ makes visible to others what you confess with your mouth. Furthermore it is important, I repeat, that it is about where you walk. The point is a person is walking either in the darkness or he is walking in the light. As a believer you do not walk in the darkness, but you are always in the light.

When you sin – and that unfortunately can happen, as it is also noticed by John – you sin, so to say, in the light. In that case you join together what can not to be joined together. The contrast between walking in the light and walking in the darkness is not the contrast between faithful believers and unfaithful or failing believers. The walk in the light and the walk in the darkness indicate the difference between the walk of believers and the walk of unbelievers. Every person who has new life, walks in the light. He who has no new life, walks in the darkness.

The walk in the light is the walk that perfectly fits with Him Who “is in the Light”. You do have Christ as your life. He is perfectly in the light and He is the light. Because He is your life, you are also in the light and you walk in it.

You certainly do not walk alone and by yourself there. You are in the light and you walk in it with everyone who also has eternal life. You have fellowship with everyone who walks in the light and everyone who walks there has fellowship with you. You share with one another what you have received in the Father and the Son. Therefore the new life is not a strictly individual matter, but something you share with others. It is about fellowship.

The basis of that fellowship is the cleansing “blood of Jesus His Son”. John mentions the name ‘Jesus’, which refers to Him Who became Man in order to be able to shed His blood. At the same time he calls Him ‘His Son’, which refers to His eternal existence as the Son of God. The value of the blood is eternally unchangeable. John emphasizes that the blood is the ground on which you stand before God. Only God knows its full value and He deals with you according to that. If you allow yourself to become thoroughly aware of that, it will give you peace in your heart. The important thing is not your valuation of the blood, but God’s valuation of it. If you realize that you may also know that it is the basis of all blessings that God has given to you.

1 John 1:8. This awareness will keep you from saying that you have no sin. You would deceive yourself if you would say that and it would prove that the truth is not in you. On the contrary, in the light of God’s truth you have seen rightly and also acknowledged what is in you. Maybe you do not run such a great risk to say that you have no sin. Nevertheless, it may happen that you do not specifically call sin ‘a sin’, but you call it a ‘little mistake’. You may also see sin as a disorder, as something for which you may probably excuse yourself, as if you could not help it anyway. In fact you are then saying that you have no sin and you are deceiving yourself. It is important that you specifically call sin a real sin. Then you really prove that the truth is in you.

1 John 1:9. The truth causes you to confess your sin. When you do that, God forgives you your sin. He does not do that only because He is full of love and because He is merciful, but also because He is “faithful and righteous”. When a person confesses his sins, He can, and you may even say, He has to, cleanse him from all unrighteousness. Why is it that you are allowed to say that he has to? Because otherwise He would be unfaithful to the value of the blood of Christ. He would be unrighteous if He would deny the power of the blood of Jesus, His Son. Of course He cannot deny the power of the blood. Therefore, when a person confesses his sin, He forgives him.

Besides, confession is a profound work. To confess means that you speak out that you judge sin in the same way that God does. Therefore you do not speak about a ‘little mistake’ and you do not look for an excuse. Only when you see the things in the way God does, you will understand the necessity of confession and you yourself will come to confession. The forgiveness you then will experience, will be a blessing, a relief. It will enable you and renew your strength to continue to live with Him (Psalms 32:1; Psalms 32:7).

1 John 1:10. If you know what it is to confess your sins, you do not say that you have not sinned. Such people were there in the days of John and they still are in our days. Like in 1 John 1:6 and 1 John 1:8 John again puts it in general terms in 1 John 1:10 and says: “If we say.” He again includes himself. He says it like that, because what he is talking about applies to everyone who confesses to be a Christian.

Saying that you have not sinned goes a step further than saying that you have no sin, as it is said in 1 John 1:8. He who says that he has no sin, denies that he has a sinful nature within himself. Saying that you do not have that sinful nature, is self-deception. But he who says that he has not sinned, claims that he has never committed a sin. That is much worse than self-deception, for in this way God is made a liar. After all, God says in His Word that all men have sinned (Romans 3:23). In such a person there is nothing of God at all. He shows an attitude of rebellion and an own will, an attitude that is clearly against the Word of God. “His word is not in” such a person.

Now read 1 John 1:7-10 again.

Reflection: What do you learn in these verses about walking in the light and about sin and the cleansing from it?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 John 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-john-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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