1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
What is “That which was from the beginning”? Whatever it is, it concerns the “word [logos] of life” according to the end of verse 1. Much can be learned about John’s prologue to this epistle by comparing it to the prologue of his gospel where he says much concerning the “logos”. “In Him [the Logos] was life and the life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4). There are many important words the first 18 verses of John but surely one of the most important is the word that the Word is the “true light which enlightens every man” in verse 9. In this passage, the word/message/wisdom of God is revealed personally in Christ to give light to the darkened eyes of the world. “The Logos became flesh…and we have seen…” (Jn 1:14).
Now, it is important to cast more light on the metaphorical terms (if, indeed they are metaphorical) light, darkness, eyes, touched, hands, etc. which pervade both John 1 and 1 John 1. Are these passages primarily offering what John literally saw (i.e. the light which bounced into his eyes) as proof for the gospel message? In the context, this seems implausible since “logos of life” is primarily propositional (i.e. it is a message, a word from God) and propositions cannot be literally seen, felt, or heard; they are understood. True, the word was seen and handled in the flesh but this seems to miss John’s point. A retreat to John’s usage of the metaphors in Isaiah will bring to light a more compelling interpretation.
When Isaiah was sent to preach to the people, God said: “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed. (Is 6:10)” Isaiah was given a word from God but his hearers received no light from it. Note here that their unhearing ears and their unseeing eyes are metaphors for their hearts which could not understand the message. These people did not literally have bad eyesight. Their minds were unenlightened. But, a few chapters later, the darkness would end. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (9:2).” Prophetically, when Christ comes (9:6-7) and the light of the gospel comes, the darkness is lifted and the people see.
In order to further confirm the metaphorical backdrop which John was writing in front of, passages such as Is 11:3, 44:18, Prov. 3:7, Jer 5:21, Ezekiel 12:2, and 40:4 might be quoted to show that eyes and ears frequently serve as illustrations for the mind. Jesus himself drew upon this metaphor in Matt 13:14-16 following Isaiah and John himself quoted Isaiah in John 12:40, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
An encouraging turn takes place in this introductions to 1 John and John. Now, people see, they hear, they feel. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. The logos of God has not only been revealed, not only been manifested personally in Christ, but now John rejoices that eyes see, ears hear, and hands handle. “The life was made manifest and we have seen it.” They not only understood it, they proclaimed it, and fellowship with God and Christians was the result.
Gordon Clark, in his commentary on 1 John says of fellowship: “Koinonia is the state of two persons who have something in common…there is a koinonia between two people who enjoy playing chess (22).” When we believe the truth, we have fellowship with God because our mind and God’s all-knowing mind coincide. Fellowship with God begins when the Holy Spirit produces saving faith in us; when we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Fellowship with God grows deeper as our minds share more of God’s thoughts; when our mind “is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:10)
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard…” is the message of the gospel received in minds enlightened by the Holy Spirit enabling us to share God’s truth with Him. It is, indeed, a word of life; a word of eternal life.
5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John now proceeds to reveal more about this message; this word of life. God is light. Light becomes the essential persistent metaphor of the rest of the chapter. In what way is God light? Gordon Clark points out that light travels at a velocity of approximately 186,282.397 miles per second but God doesn’t take 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach the earth from the sun. Light through a prism produces a rainbow but God is neither red nor blue (27). Exactly what do light and God have in common? Again, a retreat back to the Old Testament context should shed light on the univocal element of the metaphor.
A small sample of the Old Testament passages brings the meaning of the metaphor into focus. Psalm 43:3 says: “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” Here, the 2nd noun, truth, explains the 1st noun, light. The light is the truth which leads. Psalm 119:130 says “The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” Light is the understanding of the truth. Isaiah 9:2, quoted above, says that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” In the New Testament, when the logos comes in John, he is “the light of men” (Jn 1:4) and “the true light which enlightens every man coming into the world” (1:9). Light is most often used in the Scriptures as a metaphor for information from God; the revealed truth. God is light. God is truth without even a single falsehood. This is the message.
As the Scripture’s so fully and pervasively teach, believing in God and walking in light of these beliefs, while distinct, are connected as cause and effect respectively. Saving faith is always followed by doing the works of Christ (Rom 6:2, 6-8, 22). However, as James 2 teaches, a person may say he has faith but not have works. James points out that a verbal faith is dead faith because faith always produces good works. A belief in God results in actions. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” (Rom 8:9) Believers have the Spirit to lead them and the Spirit’s fruits become evident in the way they think, and even in the way they behave outwardly. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit.” (Matt 7:18)
To walk in the light is to believe the truth and to do the truth. In a general sense, to do the truth is to believe the truth, believe what it implies, and to physically act accordingly. More specifically, we must believe that God said “Thou shalt not steal” and refrain from stealing. If we say we have fellowship, yes, if we say we believe the same truth that God believes, we will act accordingly if what we say is true. If we bear bad fruit, our profession was a lie.
Don’t we all walk in darkness to some degree? Those who have been in Christ for a many see a contrast between the light they now know and the light they had to begin with. The truth they saw dimly at their conversion they now see in a fuller light because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. We will never walk perfectly in the light until we reach heaven. This passage encourages us that, to whatever extent believers fail to walk in the light, “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” We will still sin even as we improve at walking in the light, but the atonement covers those sins.
The remainder of this passage teaches that all of us do, indeed, continue to sin even as we are being perfected in the image of Christ. When (not if) we sin, let us confess our sins in the knowledge that Jesus forgives and cleanses. So then, we rejoice because the light has come into the world to be seen by the minds of God’s children. When we see the light of truth, by the Spirit we do the truth. When we fail, Christ’s blood cleanses.