1 John 1:1-4


“What was from the beginning...”


With these words, John begins the introduction to his epistle.  Just as the Gospel of John begins with a prologue that introduces the subject matter of the rest of the book, so this epistle also begins with a similar prologue that sets the stage for everything that is to follow.  This means if we miss what John is saying in the prologue, it is very likely that we will miss everything that follows.  The following mechanical layout will be helpful in visualizing the flow of thought:


1 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‑‑ 

2  and the life was manifested,

and we have seen

and testify

and proclaim to you

the eternal life,

which was with the Father


was manifested to us‑‑ 

3 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,


with His Son Jesus Christ. 

4 These things we write,

so that our joy may be made complete.


This section can people outlined in two major points.  Verses 1-2 deal with the reality of the message of the Word of Life and the fact that this is a message that is rooted in history and substantiated by eye-witnesses.  Verses 3-4 relate the reason why this message was proclaimed.  These verses can be said to state the purpose and theme of the entire epistle.





From the outset, this epistle does not sound like a letter.  It has no salutation in the beginning and it has no personal greetings at the end.  It seems instead to be a sermon.  It is a sermon dealing with Christians and with pagans and to show that there is a dichotomy between the two.


This sermon is given in the face of heresy.  This heresy was confronting the church.  It is like the woman who called an insurance company and asked, “Can you insure a house over the phone?”  The insurance agent replied, “No ma’am, we will have to come down and take a look at your house.”  The woman shot back, “Well, you’d better hurry.”


John looked and he saw the presence of heresy in the church.  One such heresy was the forerunner of what eventually came to be known as “gnosticism.”  The name is taken from the Greek word for knowledge.  It claimed that those who were spiritual had a special experiential knowledge that surpassed that of normal Christians.  As a result, John is going to talk quite a lot about what we KNOW.


Another heresy was docetism.  It is the belief that all matter is evil.  It was a holdover from Greek philosophy.  The idea was that God would not have anything to do with matter.  Because of this, there was a tendency to deny that Jesus became flesh.  It was supposed that He only “seemed” (Greek word dokeo) to become flesh.  As a result of this wrong view, John will speak about the importance of believing that Jesus has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2).


1.         The Reality seen in its Pre-Existence:  What was from the beginning (1:1).


In his gospel account, John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the word.”  This is different.  It has the same imperfect tense that carries the idea that “in the beginning something was already taking place.”  It is still speaking of that which was already in existence at the time of this beginning.  But instead of speaking of that which was “in the beginning,” it refers to that which was “from the beginning.”


Some have taken this to refer to the beginning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ as though it directs our attention to the time when He was born of human flesh.  I do not think so.  I suggest that John is being consistent with his terms.  He is looking back to the beginning of all things.  He is going to speak of the One who is the only person who can truly be said to be “from the beginning.”  This phrase does not look to the source or the origins of Jesus, but to the fact of His pre-existence.  He existed from the beginning.


2.         The Reality seen in Personal Experience:  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 (1:1).


The “we” spoken of here and throughout the next three verses look to John as a representative of the apostles.  Most or possibly all of the apostles were dead by this time except for John.  But their testimony lived on in their writings.  They had heard the preaching of Jesus.  They had seen Him.  They had touched Him, both before and after His death and resurrection.


With these words, John takes us from the concept of Christ’s eternal existence to the historical manifestation of that existence.  He does this with the use of four verbs.  Each describes the witness of the apostles and each brings a greater intensity to the testimony.


    •       We have heard.

    •       We have seen with our eyes.

    •       We have looked.

    •       We have touched with our hands.


It is also interesting to note the change and interplay of the tenses that are used with these four verbs.  The first two are in the perfect tense, describing completed action while emphasizing their continuing results.


We have heard

We have seen

We have looked

We have touched

Perfect tense (Continuing results)

Aorist tense (simple action)


Those things that were heard and seen were written into the Scriptures and will continue in such testimony forever.  The witness of the apostles lives on in the Bible.


The second two verbs are in the aorist tense.  This tense emphasizes the point in time in which these historic events took place.  The focus is upon the action that took place in history.  It serves as a reminder that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a fairy tale that begins in a “once upon a time” setting.  It is a living reality and it took place in space and in time and in history.


3.         The Reality seen in the Character of the Messenger:  The Word of life (1:1).


John is no stranger to the concept of the Word.  He speaks in John 1:1 of this concept when he tells us:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He goes on in John 1:14 to tell us how the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.  In John 1:4 he tells us that in Him was life.  John takes these two titles—the Word and Life—and combines them here into a single title.


    •       The Word.


This title looks to the fact that Jesus is God’s communication to man.  John 1:18 says that no one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.


    •       The Life.


This speaks of the eternal life that is provided by Christ to those who believe in Him.  There is no other source of this life.  He is the provider of life for all who come to Him.  He is also the communicator of that life and that is why He is called “the Word of life.”


4.         The Reality seen in the Manifestation of the Message: The life was manifested (1:2).


The use of the aorist tense takes us back in history to the point where this took place.  It emphasizes the historicity of the event when the life God gives was manifested in the coming of Christ.


John is not describing some mystical, other world experience.  This is not an existential experience that could be neither seen nor understood.  He is speaking of something that was seen in history.  Not only was it seen by people, it was seen by John himself.


5.         The Reality seen in the Eye-Witness of the Message:  We have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us (1:2).


There is a movement here from the past to the present.  Just as there were four verbs in verse 1, there are four more that are found here in the first part of verse 2:


The life was manifested

We have seen

We testify

We proclaim

Aorist tense

Perfect tense

Present tense


Because of what took place in the past, both as to its manifestation and well as to the visualization by John and the other apostles, there is a message now being proclaimed.  They merely tell what they have seen.


It is hard to argue with an eye witness.  You can argue all day about philosophical concepts and what one thinks about the nature of the universe.  But there is not much room for argument when someone says, “I saw that with my own eyes; I heard it with my own ears; I touched it and held it in my hands.”


It is of interest to note the similarity of John’s introduction here in his epistle with the prologue given to his Gospel account.


1 John 1:1-2

John 1:1-18

What was from the beginning (1:1)

In the beginning was the Word (1:1)

What we have heard (1:1)

He has explained Him (1:18)

What we have seen with our eyes (1:1)

We beheld His glory (1:14)

Concerning the Word of life (1:1)

In Him was life (1:4)

And the life was manifested (1:2)

And the Word became flesh (1:14)





The coming of Jesus and the message He brought produced several results.  Three of those results are given in verses 3-4.


1.         The Message came for Mutual Fellowship:  What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us (1:3).


The purpose clause (“so that”) introduces the first of the reasons that John and the other eye witnesses continue to proclaim the truths of what they have seen and heard.  It is so that those who hear may have fellowship with them.  The reason these witnesses continue to preach the gospel is so that people may enter into this fellowship.

What is fellowship?  The Greek word is koinonia and is taken from the root word koinos, meaning “to share.”  Fellowship involves a sharing of things in common.


This term has been so misused in modern times that it has almost lost its meaning.  We must therefore be careful not to place a 21st century meaning onto a first century word.  Koinonia is used about eighteen times in the New Testament.  The only time John uses this term in here in the first chapter of 1 John.  On the other hand, Paul uses the term a number of times.


    •       He uses it to describe the giving of money as a means of sharing things in common (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Philippians 1:5).


    •       He uses it to describe the union into which we have entered with Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:16).  In this sense, Paul asks what can light have in common with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14).


    •       Paul also speaks of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10), the fellowship of the faith with another believer (Philemon 1:6), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1).


This helps us to understand the words of John.  The reason he continues to proclaim the message of the gospel is so that the recipients of that message may share in the union that is ours in Jesus Christ.  Christians are very different from one another.  Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all look alike or talk alike.  We don’t necessarily have a lot in common except for Jesus.  The only basis that any believers have for sharing things in common is the fact that we share a unity and a common identity in Christ.  This is made clear in the next section.


2.         The Message came for Divine Fellowship:  And indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1:3).


We have already said that John is preaching so that his hearers can have fellowship with him, but this is not an end unto itself, since fellowship with John would merely be to have something in common with a guilty sinner.  John has entered into union with God and he wants other people to enjoy that same spiritual union.  This is the union into which all enter who hear and believe the preaching of the gospel.  We can illustrate the principle like this:


Those who hear John’s message...

have fellowship

...with John and with other believers...

Because their fellowship is

with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.


Thus the end result of the preaching by John and the apostles is that their hearers will have fellowship with God.  This will result in joy.


3.         The Message came for a Joyful Fellowship:  These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete (1:4).


This joy looks both to the proclaimers of the gospel as well as to the hearers of the gospel.  It is a twofold joy.  First there is the joy of a new believer who enters into this relationship with God.  John writes so that believers can more fully appreciate what they have in Jesus Christ.


There is also the joy that fills the one who proclaims these truths, for he is happy to see others join in the blessings he possesses.  Paul reflected this same concept in his first epistle to the believers at Thessalonica:


            For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?  20 For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19‑20).


Paul’s joy was to hear that these believers were in Christ and that they were walking in the truth of their position.  There is a joy that results in bringing people to know the Lord and then to watch them grow in that relationship.


Do you have fellowship with God?  Do you share certain things in common with Him because of your union in Jesus Christ.  Such a union is available to all who will come to Him.  You cannot buy it.  You cannot earn it.  You can do nothing to merit or deserve it.  You can only accept it as a free gift.


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