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, of the Word of
life.” So much for Docetists and their denial of the humanity of Christ!
None knew better than John that Jesus of Nazareth, the living Christ of God,
was the eternal, uncreated, self-existing Word made flesh. He was certainly
no phantom. John had already put it all in writing in his gospel. Indeed, the
first three verses of this letter appear to be a capsule summary of that gospel.
a basic difference can be found between John’s gospel and his first epistle:
the major emphasis in the gospel is on the essential deity of the Lord
Jesus Christ; the major emphasis in the epistle is on the essential humanity
of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was God. He was man. He was both!
through the ages, the internal conflicts of the church have often centered on
attempts to emphasize the deity of the Lord at the expense of His humanity,
or to emphasize His humanity at the expense of His deity. The truth is, He was
both God and man in the truest and fullest meaning of the words.
Old Testament illustration will be helpful. In the tabernacle and the temple,
a thick and gorgeous curtain hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
That veil, which was rent by God’s own hand when Jesus died on the cross (Matt.
27:51), symbolized the Lord’s person (Heb. 10:19-20). It was made of fine-twined
linen dyed red, blue, and purple – colors of great significance. The red
spoke of Christ’s humanity, for He was “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45),
and the name “Adam,” like the name “Edom,” simply means
“red.” The blue symbolized His deity, for it is the color of heaven,
from whence He came. The purple symbolized the Incarnation – the deity
and the humanity of Christ. Take a can of red paint and an equivalent can of
blue paint, and pour the one into the other, mix them so that it is impossible
to tell where the red ends and the blue begins, or where the blue ends and the
red begins, and the color purple is the result – a perfect blending of
the red and blue.
so with the Lord Jesus. His deity and His humanity were perfectly proportioned
and balanced. He was “God manifest in flesh” to such an extent that
we can tell neither where His deity ends and His humanity begins nor where His
humanity ends and His deity begins. As we trace His life on earth, as recorded
in the four Gospels, we never note him acting now as God and now as man. He
always acted as God and He always acted as man.
Him, for instance, as He sat by Jacob’s well near Samaria. He was “wearied
with his journey” (John 4:6), revealing His humanity. Along came a woman
from the nearby town. He asked for a drink because He was thirsty – further
evidence of His humanity. But within a few minutes He was telling this woman,
a complete stranger, all about her guilty past. Such supernatural insight is
evidence of His deity. Where does the one end and the other begin?
Him in Simon Peter’s boat. Again He was tired and went to sleep (Matt. 8:23-27)
– evidence of His humanity. Shortly afterward a storm threatened to sink
the vessel, but He commanded the howling winds and the heaving waves to be still,
producing a total, absolute calm – proof of His deity. Where does the one
end and the other begin?
Him, next, in the stricken Bethany home. His friend Lazarus had just died and
been laid to rest. His grieving sisters were inconsolable. John tells us that
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35) and that He “groaned in the spirit
and was troubled” – evidence of His humanity. A few minutes later
He commanded dead Lazarus to come back to life – evidence of His deity.
Where does the one end and the other begin?
from beginning and ending, the two natures were, in fact, so blended they evince
that ever and always He was both God and man – the God-man.
begins there. He does not introduce himself, nor does he follow Paul’s style
and sign his letter. Rather, he gets right down to business: “That which
was from the beginning,” he says. Here, beginning refers to the
Incarnation, at which the wonderful story of Christ’s invasion of our planet
gospel begins with similar words – “In the beginning was the Word”
(John 1:1). Here, beginning does not imply a start but a state.
It does not mean that Christ had a beginning but, on the contrary, is a reference
to the Lord’s eternal preexistence. This is reinforced as John continues in
his gospel with the statement “and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God.” John then describes the Lord’s role in Creation. Here, in his
epistle, when John refers to a “beginning,” he wants us to envision
One who had an eternal preexistence but who, at a specific moment in time, entered
into human life on planet Earth. When any other baby is born, it marks the beginning
of a new life. When Jesus was born, it signified something quite different;
it marked the coming into this world of a person who had existed from all eternity.
The Lord Jesus did not have a beginning. He was!
continues, exclaiming, “We have heard! We have seen with
our eyes! We have looked upon! Our hands have handled!” The
humanity of the Lord Jesus was genuine enough, as well John knew. So much for
the “high sounding nonsense” of the Gnostics (Col. 2:8). John had
heard Jesus speak many times, had seen Him with his own eyes, and had looked
upon Him year after year. John uses two words for seeing. Here the word for
“seen” is horao, meaning to see with the physical eye.
claims of the Gnostics notwithstanding, John had been there, and they hadn’t;
he had seen with his eyes, and they hadn’t. The testimony of an eyewitness is
far more convincing than the high-flown philosophies of dreamers and speculators.
The word used for “looked upon” is theaomai, which means to
view with attention, to gaze, to look with admiration. John used this word in
his gospel when he said, “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14).
John’s witness went beyond hearing and seeing, and looking long and closely.
He had also “handled” Jesus. The word John uses is pselaphao,
meaning “to feel” or “to touch.” The classic New Testament
use of the word is in connection with the Lord’s appearing in the Upper Room
in His resurrection body. The disciples were alarmed, thinking He was a ghost.
He put their minds at ease and laid the imagined “ghost” to rest by
inviting them to “handle” Him (Luke 24:39), to assure themselves that
He was real, that His body was solid and substantial. He also ate food before
them to further convince them that His resurrection body was real. The word
John used for “handle” (Luke 24:39) conveys the idea of moving one’s
hands over a surface, so as to feel its texture. Doubtless, too, John recalled
the Lord’s resurrection invitation to doubting Thomas to handle Him (John 20:27).
perhaps, had in mind the ever closer intimacy he and the other disciples had
enjoyed with the Lord during His earthly sojourn. John could remember the first
time he had heard Jesus speak, after John’s interest in the coming Christ had
been kindled by the preaching of John the Baptist. The first words that John
ever heard Jesus say, according to the New Testament record, were “Come
and see” (John 1:35-39). So John came and heard and saw. Over time, he
“looked” upon Jesus thousands of times and was an eyewitness to all
that He said and did. John tells us that he could, in fact, have filled libraries
with the things he had heard, seen, and observed in regard to Christ during
those amazing years of long ago (John 21:25).
had drawn very close to the Lord and had often touched Him. Earthly monarchs
like to keep their distance from their subjects and rarely allow them to come
close. Not so Jesus. John, who was the closest to the Lord of all the disciples,
actually leaned upon Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper (John 13:23).
wonder that John had no patience with the heretics who denied the actuality
of the Lord’s body.
describes Jesus as “the Word of life,” as “the Logos of life.”
In his gospel he says that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word had adopted a new mode of
being and “dwelt” (“tabernacled,” “pitched His tent”)
among men. Moreover, as the tabernacle in the wilderness had been crowned with
the Shechinah glory, so the Lord Jesus carried with Him everywhere the aurora
of another world, the glory of His Father in heaven.
Word! Thoughts remain invisible and inaudible until they are clothed in words.
With words, what we think and feel and are can be known. And just as our words
reveal us, so, too, the Lord Jesus, as “the Word of life,” clothes
and reveals the great thoughts and feelings of God regarding our sin and our
from Exploring the Epistles of John: An Expository Commentary by John
Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary
Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller,
or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607.
Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling