In the New Testament, salvation embraces much more than God forgiving our sins. Salvation is more than being born again and receiving eternal life. Salvation is even more than experiencing life in all its fulness which not even death can take away. In verse 3 of his first Letter, the apostle John tells us this.
our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Salvation means nothing less than entering into fellowship with God, fellowship with the Father and fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, koinonia with God. The message translates the word as “communion with God”. God shares his life with us. God opens up the relationship between Father and Son to include us too. We get to participate in the very life of God. Fellowship with God – a personal relationship with the Father and with the Son. This is what salvation is all about. John and his companions are experiencing this fellowship with God and he wants all the readers of this letter to experience that relationship with God as well.
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
John wants everybody else to enter into this relationship of fellowship with God as well, so he proclaims or declares to everybody the message of salvation. But this is not some message which he heard from somebody who passed it on from somebody else. John himself saw and heard first-hand what he wants to share with everybody. That is where his letter begins.
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
Let’s just step back a moment and ask who it is who is writing? There is no name mentioned in any of the Letters attributed to John, but that was the name attached to them in the very earliest days of the church. They are written with the kind of authority which only an apostle would carry. We will see that there are great similarities in language and content between these letters and the Gospel of John. Although some people point to some differences in grammar and style, these are no greater than the differences between Luke’s Gospel and Acts which everybody agrees were written by the same person, or even the differences between different Letters written by Paul. At the same time these three Letters deal with certain issues which scholars believe only began to trouble the church towards the end of the First Century. By that time other sources suggest that most if not all of the other apostles had been martyred. Differences in style can be explained if the Letters were written by the same man but decades later than the Gospel. So I have no problems in believing that these Letters were written by John the Apostle, one of the Jesus’s inner circle of Peter, James and John and described as “the disciple Jesus loved.
The Letter begins, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched
When John says “we have heard, we have seen, we have looked at, we have touched,” the “we” does not mean “Christians in general.” John is declaring himself to be an eyewitness of Jesus’s life and ministry, and of his death and resurrection. He himself heard Jesus’s teaching. He saw Jesus with his own eyes. More than that, he looked intently at Jesus, he had the opportunity to study and examine Jesus. And he had touched Jesus with his own hands!
this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. In this Letter John is passing on his own personal experiences of Jesus and his own experiences of the fellowship which he himself enjoys with God the Father and God the Son.
That which was from the beginning … the Word of life.
Of course this reminds us immediately of the opening verses of John’s Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
Let’s remind ourselves of what John teaches us about Jesus in his Gospel. There the apostle John didn’t want his readers to be in any doubt who the central character is. So he began with a Prologue, an Introduction, in which he summarised the whole message of Jesus Christ: who Jesus is, his role in creating the world and how he redeemed the world, and the most fantastic good news of how ordinary people like you and me can become God’s children. John didn’t begin with the birth of Jesus. He looked much further back and further away – outside space and before time, to the beginning of everything that is.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word,
It is no coincidence that John’s Gospel starts just as the Book of Genesis starts the whole Bible with the words “In the beginning.” John takes us back before the beginning of time and space when there was nothing but God. And he introduces us to a person who he calls “The Word.” “The Word” was there right from the beginning.
I’ve mentioned before that the Greek word for “The Word” here is “The Logos.” We can find the background to “The Logos” in Jewish thinking at the time of Jesus. Our words are the way we communicate with others and reveal ourselves to others. Our words embody our thoughts. We read in Genesis chapter 1 how God spoke into the darkness, and there was light. Whenever God speaks, things happen. Time and again God’s words brought everything into being. It was the Word of God, the Law and the Prophets which gave birth and life to the nation of Israel and sustained them in their faith. And the Word of God was God’s revelation to the prophets who said, “The Word of the Lord came to me”. So “the Logos,” “the Word,” is how God expresses Himself and communicates with the world. The Word is the embodiment of God’s thoughts. The Word is how God reveals Himself to the world.
More than that, in Jesus’s time the Jews had a version of the Old Testament which was their equivalent of the Message or the Living Bible. The Targums were a combination of paraphrase and commentary and in the Targums the phrase “The word of God” was sometimes used to avoid using God’s name. So for example in Genesis 3:8 the Targums said, “The Word of God used to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve.”
So the Jews already had a sense that the Word of God, the Logos of God, was something very very important. John tells us that the Logos was there at the beginning of everything. But more than that,
the Word was with God,
In John 1 verse 1 and again in verse 2 John tells us that the Word was with God. But there is significance in the choice of word for “with.” John said that the Word is “pros” God, which means more than just two thing being located with or alongside each other. The word is used of two people being together in each other’s presence. So saying that the Word was “pros” God is not about objects in proximity but about persons in relationship. A good translation would be that “the Word was face-to-face with God.” The Word is revealed to be a Person who was alongside God in relationship with God in the beginning.
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This means more than saying “the Word was divine.” A better translation would be, “What God was, the Word was.” “The Word was fully God.”
John is not saying that the Word was another God or a different God. He is saying that the Word is both God, and yet at the same time with God. This Word is actually God. The Word is both God and at the same time a distinct person present with or alongside God.
John 1:2 He was with God in the beginning.
From the very beginning, before creation, the Word was there with God. This brings us to the idea of pre-existence. The Word existed face-to-face with God, before anything else existed. And the Word was God’s agent of Creation.
John 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Psalm 33 declares that God created the world through His mighty Word.
6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth …. 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
God made the world THROUGH the Word. We can see here the three persons of the Holy Trinity working together in Creation. God the Father spoke the Word, God the Son was the Word that was spoken, and God the Holy Spirit was the breath which carried the Word and brought the whole of creation into existence.
Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God. Just as our words reveal and embody our unseen thoughts, so the Word reveals and embodies the unseen God. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said. He was there with God in the beginning.
So this is who John is talking about as he starts his first letter.
That which was from the beginning, …. this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
This Word of Life is the Logos, the Word who brings life to all who believe in him. John says that he himself heard and saw and looked at and even touched this Word of life who had existed “from the beginning”, since before the universe was created. John goes on to repeat that this is his personal testimony of what he has experienced of Jesus.
2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
“The life appeared”.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word, became a human being as Jesus of Nazareth. The life appeared and John saw him and bears witness to him. John himself saw the glory of the Son of God when the divine Word became a human being and lived among us. John himself saw God’s grace and truth revealed in Jesus, overflowing in Jesus’s life.
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
So John’s reason for writing his letter is so that his readers might enter into fellowship with him, or continue in fellowship with him. John wants his readers to share the same fellowship which he enjoys with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, He wants them to participate in God’s life, just as he participates in God’s life. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. The footnote here shows that some ancient texts say “to make your joy complete”. It doesn’t really matter which is the earliest form because fellowship with God is the source of complete joy for John’s readers as much as it is for John. The New Living Translation says, “We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.”
Perhaps the point is that John’s joy could not be complete until his readers did share the fellowship with God which he is experiencing. So this is why John shares his testimony of what he himself had experienced of God in the three years he had spent alongside Jesus.
We proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
Jesus, the Word of God was the source of life in creation. And he is also the source of eternal life, life in all its fulness to all who put their trust in him. John shares his experiences of Jesus so that others might believe in him as well.
The important things John says here in just four verses gives us confidence in what we believe. Our faith is not based on made up stories, or whispers of rumours. Our faith stands on the testimonies of people who were eyewitnesses to the historical events of Jesus’s life and his death and his resurrection.
But did you notice something else? The word “we” appears nine times in those four verses and is implied in the verbs another three times. Indeed, the word “we” appears at least once in very nearly half of the verses in this letter. In this short passage John also says “our” three times and “us” twice. This reminds us that we mustn’t be shy or embarrassed about sharing our own testimonies of the wonderful things God has done in our lives. We will tell our family and friends and neighbours and colleagues about Jesus’s life. But we will also talk to them about the difference Jesus makes to us day by day. We do this because we want them to experience the same fellowship with God which we have discovered. And we know that their joy and our joy will not be complete until they do.