1 John 1:1–4
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—2 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—3 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. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
That…such an unusual word. Parents tell kids to go get that, go pick that up, that over there, etc…A neuter pronoun describing anything in the mind of the speaker or writer. So what is the “that” that John is writing of? he describes it in a five-fold manner.
First, from the perspective of time, it existed from the beginning. John is likely not speaking the beginning of creation, but the beginning of his own encounter with “that.” Second, from an auditory perspective, John and others heard or were listening to “that.” Third, John and others have seen “that.” Not only have they just seen “that”, but they have looked upon, meaning examined “that.” Last, they actually touched “that.” Who or what is “that”? The next phrase answers the question, “concerning the Word of life.” John is speaking of Jesus, but how do we know that. This could be mirroring the opening of John’s gospel referring to the Word in John 1 as precreation God and active in creation itself.
However, it could have a slightly different meaning since “word of life” is used as a distinct title. The closest reference we can ascertain is from John 6. After a difficult teaching by Jesus, stating that he was the manna, the bread of life come from heaven, many left him. He also said that the words he spoke were “spirit” and “life.” He then asks Peter and the eleven others if they were going to leave. Peter’s statement is significant. He responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So it is not a far reach for us to consider that the “Word of Life” is Jesus’s message or the Gospel itself.
So let’s revisit John’s opening. Jesus was from the beginning of John’s call to being a disciple. John heard the words of Christ. He not only saw him, but came to know him intimately over the course of 3 years. He lived life with him, rubbed shoulders with him, touched his resurrected body. He then came to understand who Jesus was, the Son of God revealed on earth. To this he was bearing witness as truth and proclaiming the message of the Messiah for eternal life was here and continues. He is declaring such to that others are brought in to union with Christ and the Father, and with other disciples. Those who by faith believe John’s message and declaration of truth concerning the Word of Life will have joy.
Looking at this, do you know Jesus? The testimony of the Apostles, Scriptures, and external contemporary sources validate what John is writing here. Have you heard what he has done for you? Have you grasped the gravity of eternity? Christian, do you hold on to the truth of the gospel despite the doubts that may arise.? Meditate on the reality of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and divinity.
Our joy is in Jesus and what he has done, not in our circumstances or station in life. John writes that the foundation of our joy is Christ and our relationship with Him and the Father by faith. Such an opening to this letter. So we must ask two questions. First, do we declare Christ? I am not speaking of milk crate preaching in the park, nor door to door evangelism, but is he our hope and answer that we so turn to when encountering the hopeless or unbelieving? Is Christ the answer for life and eternal life when we have such discussions? Second, is our joy full? We too often conflate happiness with joy. Despite our drama or trial, do we remember our relationship with God because of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection? Just a few thoughts…