Meditations in 1 John : 1 : We Know!
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.
I like the opening of 1 John in the same way I like the opening of Luke 1, for both of them are so down to earth. Luke wrote, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account.” (Lk 1:1-3) Luke spoke of eyewitnesses who had passed on what had happened involving Jesus. John goes one step further and is basically saying, “I was one of those eyewitnesses!”
After the first chapter, John uses the word ‘know’ 33 times! John writes near the end of the first century and if persecution was often a problem for the early church in the first three hundred years of its life, the growing presence of heresies in that part of the world was possibly even a greater enemy to be resisted. Truth was thus a primary currency of the early church and they considered it vital to pass on the truth about Jesus and to resist the perversions of the truth that a variety of heretics sought to bring.
One particular group of heretics were the Gnostics who majored on having special knowledge. For them knowledge was all important but their knowledge declared that matter was evil and because of that God could not have existed in a sinful human body, i.e. the incarnation could not have happened. Their knowledge was that of a special group, not given to the world at large. John combats this by declaring all these things in his letter openly, for anyone to see and know. Christianity was to be a faith open to all; all it needed was repentance and submissions to God.
And so, even with the opening of his Gospel, John has this slightly mystical or philosophical feel to his writing which would appeal to many of his era: “that which was from the beginning”. This beginning was not merely the beginning of Christianity but the beginning of everything. In his Gospel he had begun, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:1-3) For John there was no doubt about Jesus: he was with God and was God and had been God from beginning of time, and had been part of the godhead bringing creation into being.
Although he does not name Jesus in these verses it is clear that this is who he is referring to. At the end of verse 2 he calls him “the Word of life.” Referring to Jesus in his Gospel he declared, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) and to make sure no one misunderstood, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). A word is a part of communication and this ‘Word’ was God’s communication to us, His Son.
But with John there is nothing mystical in all this. Their experience of the Son of God had not been some weird experience induced by drugs. No, it has been in daily experience: “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”. This is why I said this is all so down to earth. God isn’t found in strange and mystical experiences. Eastern religions are so often like certain modern philosophies that demand some ‘special out of body type of experience’ to authenticate or make sense of life. In his book Kim, Rudyard Kipling has his young hero, Kim, encounter a holy man in India who is seeking some such experience. Eventually the old man, short on food and drink, falls into a water-filled ditch and has his ‘experience’. That is the sort of weird and wonderful deception the enemy seeks to bring to the world and it is a far thing from Christianity which is based on factual history.
This is why we have the Gospels, factual accounts of the things that happened in time-space history. John, writing near the end of that first century, is aware of the tendency of human beings who like the strange, the weird, and the spectacular. Yes, there is the divinely supernatural at the heart of Christianity but it is not to exalt man; it is simply the working of Almighty God. The same sort of thing was seen in unbelieving Naaman when he was sent to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy and was told by him – via his servant! – to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was furious: “Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:11,12)
No, our faith is based upon facts of time-space history and we respond to the God who brought all things into being and who, in the course of time, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. It all happened back there in history and John saw it, John had been there with Jesus and had travelled with him for three years. Oh yes, John knew, and he wants to pass that knowledge on to us to act as a foundation for our faith. Let your faith be built as you read God’s word intelligently.