The Word of Life: 1 John 1:1-4

John’s testimony of Jesus Christ as the Word of life is the foundational truth that exposes the lies of the false teachers in 1 John. These antichrists who are attempting to destroy the churches in Asia Minor, taught lies regarding the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The readers to whom John was writing were already saved, but they needed to understand his letter if they were to enjoy real fellowship. Fellowship with the Father and Son through the testimony of the apostles was in jeopardy, if the deceit and lies of the false teachers are heard or followed. Fellowship with God is only through the revealed Christ Jesus of the Scriptures (John 14:6) and no other way.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

For these false teachers, Jesus Christ was either an emanation from God that appeared to be man (Docetic Gnosticism), or He was a man upon whom the Christ resided from His baptism to just before the crucifixion (heresy of Cerinthius). God could not become man due to their belief (from Greek philosophy) that matter is evil.

John presents the witness of the apostles as absolute proof of His humanity. These early gnostics believe that Christ was of God, even though in the case of the Cerinthians, it was only for a time. God becoming man as an essential truth for our redemption was at issue.

The “Word of life” combines the two truths that (Christ Jesus) is Himself life and that He imparts it, as the life (John 14:6), He is the personal expression of what God is, the interpreter of His nature (cp. John 1:18); but, as He also Himself said, He came that they might have life (John 10:10).[1]

Jesus is the ultimate divine revelation. He was distinct from the Father, a separate Person in the Godhead, yet one with the Father in essence. He is eternal God who through the power of an indestructible life is bringing many sons into glory. God became man so that He could redeem man and bring him into relationship with Him.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… Heb 1:1-3

The Word (Gk. Logos) of John 1

The Word of Greek Philosophy

John’s use of Word (Gk. logos) to describe Christ was a term understood by the culture of the first century as they were well-versed in Greek philosophy. To them, the logos is the rational mind or the logic of God which orders the universe. The soul was seen as a spark of the divine gods that was imprisoned in an evil body of lust and desire.

Logos in common Greek means speaking, message, or words. Logos was widely used in Greek philosophy. As a Greek term it was familiar to John’s readers and certainly the false teachers who were mixing apostolic teaching of John with Greek philosophy.[2]

The gospel identifies Jesus as eternal and unoriginated God who was the agent of creation and the source of all life. As the Word, He was always in intimate relation with the Father.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5

The Word Enters His Own Creation

The God of Greek philosophy, similar to the Deist of the 18th century, is impersonal, transcendent, and passionless. For them, God was not involved in the life of man. John’s revelation of Christ is that God entered into His own creation for the purpose of man’s redemption.

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1:9-13

The Word Became Man

The testimony of John was that the Word or logos was not a creation or emanation from God, but very God Himself. The logos as a personal and eternal God who took on flesh and became man was incoherent to the thinking of those in the first century (as well as for many up to the present moment). Matter was seen as evil. It was impossible for a perfect God to take on evil matter. The antichrists had to progressively alter God’s revelation of the Son to fit the prevailing philosophy of the day. This made them heretics and children of the devil.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

No one can come to the Father except through or by the Son. Only by knowing the Son can we learn of the Father.

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18

Purpose of the Proclamation of the Word of Life

The purpose of this proclamation is so that the readers might share in fellowship with the author, a true fellowship, which is with the Father and the Son as well. John writes both a polemic against the deceit and lies of the false teachers, and an exhortation of reassurance to the saved believers who remain in his fellowship and apostolic teaching.

The authors main focus is upon the manifested life, the earthly life and ministry of Jesus that is under attack by the opponents. Logos refers back to John 1:1 but the focus of John’s testimony and writing is upon the life (the manifested eternal life of God).

The opponents were denying the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in the plan of salvation. It is precisely this earthly ministry of Jesus to which the Apostle John and the other apostles were witnesses… (I0t is that eyewitness testimony to the earthly career of the Word become flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, which the author of 1 John puts forward in the prologue at the outset in his refutation of the opponents’ position. [3]

John, the disciple Christ loved, presents in His gospel and letter some of the highest Christology in the Bible. Everything John wrote and taught about centered upon Christ Jesus. This we would expect from the disciple who had the closest relationship with the Lord. He was with the Lord during His time on the earth in a similar way to Christ’s relationship with the Father – John was with Him, loved Him, and laid His head on His chest (or bosom).

The epistle focuses upon the life that was manifested in the words, miracles, and deeds of Christ. The Word of Life describes Christ as very God, in the bosom of the Father. The Son’s obedience saves man from death and sin. God has spoken definitively and for all time through His Son, the Word of life.

 V.1  Introduction to the “Subject,” the Word of Life

The Reality of the Incarnation

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—     1 John 1:1

Christ never had a beginning. Whenever there was a beginning He was there (Gen 1:1, John 1:1, John 2:11; 1 John 1:1). He always “was.” Vine states, “The apostle sets forth Christ as having come into human existence from the eternity of the past. Having been pre-existent He became manifested.”

From the beginning alludes to eternity past and the Logos with the Father, but the focus is from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. The beginning in John’s letter primarily relates to the gospel proclamation of the truth about God’s Son as witnessed by the apostles. Antichrists are progressives whose teaching is not from the beginning. Their teaching has added Greek philosophy and the understanding of first century culture to the gospel testimony of the apostles. The antichrists are false prophets who teach a heretical Christ.

As the Word of life:

  • He is the source of all life (John 14:6)
  • He reveals and explains the Father’s nature (John 1:18)
  • He is the personal expression of God’s essence

The Word of Life

The title, the Word of Life for Jesus Christ, signifies Him as the pre-existent One from eternity past who created all things, and is the source of all life: physical and spiritual (John 1:4; 5:26; 6:57; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; 17:3; 20:31). He was the Father’s agent in the creation of the universe, and then He filled it with life. The Father’s plan of redemption required the eternal Word to take upon Himself flesh, and to add to His deity the nature of man. God became man so that he could die. The substitution of His death for ours and the payment of our penalty for sin provides the life of God, eternal life, for all who receive Him through faith. He is God, He explains and reveals the Father to man, and He is the source of all life. He is the Word of Life.

The life to which he bears witness, the life that was with the Father, is precisely the life manifested in the historical person of Jesus. This supernatural life is disclosed in the incarnate Christ. It is the eternal life that comes from the Father and becomes the life shared individually and corporately by the company of believers. It is what causes the oneness of faith. “The Koinonia (Gk. for fellowship) is the union in common faith brought about by the proclamation” (Bultmann, p. 12) …(about the Word of life). [4]

Paul uses the term “word of life” for the testimony of the gospel. The Living Word of life brings His life to man through faith in His written Word.

…holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. Phil 2:16

“The word of life” is not here the Living Word, the Person (as in 1 John 1); only John uses logos in that sense; it is the message, the gospel. It is called the word of life because it ministers spiritual life and imparts the knowledge of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, which the Lord said “is life eternal” (John 17:3).[5]

V.2 Facts About the Word of Life

…and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 1 John 1:2

Eternal Life with the Father

God’s Son, who is eternal life (1 John 5:20), is the true God. The antichrists substitute a god of their making for Him. Eternal life is unoriginated existence of the Son.There was never a time when the Son was not present.

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20

Manifested Life

The reality of the incarnation for us today comes through personal testimony of those who were there. He was not an illusion, a phantom or mere emanation.

Have seen               Personal Experience

And declare           Public Testimony

Declare unto you   Personal Testimony to Church

The verb revealed in v. 2 is frequently used in the Gospel of John to refer to Jesus’ revelation of himself to his disciples (John 2:11, 21:1; 21:14). The author’s statement here that it was the eternal life that was with the Father echoes John 1:1 where it was the Word who was with the Father. Thus in 1 John 1:1-4 it is the term life rather than word which refers to Jesus as he revealed himself in his earthly career, including his person, words, works, death, and resurrection. This subtle shift in emphasis is precisely in keeping with the author’s stress on the importance of the earthly career of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Word in his dispute with the opponents Harris p. 57

Thus in 1 John it is “life” (Gk. zoe) rather than “word” (Gk. logos) which refers to Jesus as he revealed himself in his earthly career, including his person, words, and works. [6]

The seeing, hearing, and handling of the Person of Christ relates to His earthly ministry as well as His ministry after the resurrection. Here, He is man with flesh and bone but also Lord and God. The testimony of Thomas is the climax of the gospel of John.

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.    John 20:27-29

V.3   Fellowship, the Purpose of the Proclamation of the Word of Life

…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3

Redemption Based Upon the Word of Life

Vine states that, “The life was manifested not merely to reveal God but to bring the redeemed into a relationship with Him.” Fellowship with God is based upon Jesus as the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). Jesus is the source of the life of God, eternal life. He who has the Son has life. Our fellowship with God is through the life of Christ. The apostolic testimony is the truth that brings us into that fellowship.

The doctrinal foundation of all true fellowship is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no true fellowship with those who hold false views concerning Him. The first two verses teach His eternity and the reality of His Incarnation. The same One who existed from all eternity with God the Father came down into this world as a real Man. The reality of His Incarnation is indicated by the fact that the apostles heard Him, saw Him with their eyes, gazed upon Him with deep meditation, and actually handled Him. The Word of life was not a mere passing illusion, but was a real Person in a body of flesh.[7]

The basis of all fellowship is the testimony of the apostles regarding Jesus. He who has the Son has the life. He who has the Son has the Father. If one does not have the Son, He has not the Father. His very name is a witness to His humanity (Jesus) and deity (Christ). Christ is God’s anointed one or the Messiah. Through John’s apostolic testimony the believers to whom the letter is written have been brought into fellowship with the Father, the Son, the apostles, and with each other. Those who have left do not share this fellowship. In the polemic portion of the letter, John will present evidence that the opponents, regardless of what they claimed, were never truly saved.

The author and the recipients of the letter share in common the apostolic (eyewitness) testimony about who Jesus is, a reality not shared (in the opinion of the author of 1 John) with the opponents.[8]

V.4 The Fulfillment of Joy in Fellowship

These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 1 John 1:4

The author now states his purpose (so that) for writing these things … he does so in order that his joy might be fulfilled as the believers to whom he writes continue in fellowship with him and the other apostolic witnesses and with the Father and the Son (as opposed to breaking that fellowship by siding with the secessionist opponents). The phrase these things refers back to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about the earthly career of Jesus which has been the theme of the prologue up to this point [9]

Their obedience will result in the completion of joy in him, and therefore also in them and in the whole fellowship. The joy he refers to is mentioned in his gospel: Clearly this joy is inseparable from the salvation that is present in the Son, but it is directly bound up with the person of the Son, who is himself present in the fellowship.[10]

The joy John speaks of is the joy that He imparts through fellowship and joint-participation in His work. “Our” joy is the joy of the apostles, and all who are in fellowship with His eternal life. The fulfillment or perfection of this joy results from walking in truth, light, and love.

The world cannot provide joy. Lasting joy can only come through a relationship with God. When a person is in fellowship with God and the Lord Jesus, he has a deep-seated joy that cannot be disturbed by earthly circumstances.[11]

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.   3 John 4

I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 2 John 4

Jesus also spoke of His joy being fulfilled in the disciples as He explained to them their relationships would change due to His “going away.”

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.    John 15:9-11

Although He is going away, Jesus explains to the disciples (and us) that our requests when prayed in His Name, and with the Father’s will, fulfills our joy.

Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. John 16:22-24

He also explains to them…(t)hat His followers would live and work in full fellowship with Him in seeing the extension of His kingdom, would (also) mean that His joy, in the outworking of the will of the Father, would be fulfilled in each of their lives. [12]

I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are… But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. John 17:11, 13

The world, however, was the scene of so much that would tend to cast down and depress (and He was leaving them in it), that He repeats this great desire, addressing it to (the Father) to whom He was coming, that the joy that characterized (Jesus) might continue and be fulfilled in them. But not only was His own sustaining joy to be theirs, it would be maintained by the Word He had given them, the Father’s Word. The Word of God, accepted and kept, ministers joy to the heart. To keep His Word is, however, contrary to the spirit of the world and produces its hatred. [13]

John will speak much more of the Father’s love and hatred of the world. Unfortunately for the false teachers, John’s diagnosis is that they are sold to the world, having turned their backs upon salvation offered through the testimony about the Word of life.

Next: Walking in the Light: John 1:5-2:2


[1] Vine, W.E., (1996), Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1 John

[2] Walvoord, John, Zuck, Roy, (1985), Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.BKC

[3] Harris, W., Hall, (2009), 1,2,3, John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis, Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, pp. 51,54.

[4] Gaebelein, Frank (General Editor), (1982), Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1 John.

[5] Vine, W.E., (1996), Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1 John.

[6] Harris, W., Hall, (2009), 1,2,3, John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis, Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, pp. 57,58.

[7] MacDonald, William, (1995), Believer’s Bible Commentary, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1 John.

[8] Harris, W., Hall (2009), 1,2,3, John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis, Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, pp. 51,54.59

[9] Ibid, p. 60.

[10] Gaebelein, Frank (General Editor), (1982), Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1 John

[11] MacDonald, William, (1995), Believer’s Bible Commentary, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1 John.

[12] Vine, W.E., (1996), Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, John.

[13] Ibid