The First Letter of the Apostle John : Study No.1

Study No. 1  Introduction

He was in the beginning

Out of all of the strategies Satan uses to distort the truth of God’s Word his favourite strategy has always been, and still is to this day, to attack pervert, to twist and to distort the Biblical revelation concerning the deity and pre-existence of the Lord Jesus the anointed Messiah. The apostle John in his gospel makes a clear statement concerning the true nature of the Lord Jesus when he writes…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (face to face with God), and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 1-3, 14).

The Lord Jesus was begotten, not created, that is to say He pre-existed from all eternity with God the father and with God the Holy Spirit. They were all together One God being equal in divinity. The same phrase occurs in Genesis 1:1 where we read “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The word used for God is “Elohim” and the Hebrew word is plural and not singular. Yes, there is only One God but eternally existing in three equally divine beings, not three gods, but One God revealed in three persons who are all equally divine in nature.

The idea of plurality within the Godhead is also revealed in the great Jewish confession which states: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The Hebrew word used for God is once again the plural word “Elohim” and the word used for “One” is “Echad” or “Oneness.” Within the Oneness of God there are three equally divine persons that have co-existed from all of eternity. This is what the text actually says in the Hebrew. The same word is used of Adam and Eve when we are told they became “one flesh.” The same word “Echad” is used. Adam and Eve were one yet within that oneness there was more than one person. So John is telling us that from all of eternity even before the universe was created that the Lord Jesus pre-existed with God as God the Son and was  face to face with God and with the Holy Spirit who Himself is also God the Spirit.

Not only this, but John tells us in his gospel that the Lord Jesus was also the creator of all things and that through Him the whole universe was created (John 1:10). The one who brought it all together and into being was the blessed Holy Spirit who “hovered over creation” and when the Word was spoken by God things that did not previously exist came into existence as the Holy Spirit went to work creating. For example God said “let there be light” and there was light” the Word, being the Lord Jesus and whose word has creative power in itself, went to work in unity with the Holy Spirit and brought about the creation of everything that exists, and that out of nothing that pre-existed.


John was writing to believers who were being confronted with a form of teaching that denied the deity of the Messiah our Lord Jesus. They were called “Gnostics.” The Greek word is “gnostikos.” They were claiming an inner “gnosis” or a form of mystical revelation or knowledge of spiritual truth that the leaders of the movement said were superior revelations than that revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles.  They taught that all physical matter was inherently evil and that God being good could have nothing to do with evil matter and that only the non-material, spirit-realm is good. They made a radical separation between the flesh and the spirit. This kind of thinking is also seen in antinomianism, a theology that says we are saved by faith without works and that even though our spirit is eternally saved our flesh will go on sinning because we are sinners by nature, with a fallen sinful nature and with a pre-disposition to sin anyway.

John also refutes this heretical thinking in all of his three letters and his gospel as the other apostles also affirm in their letters and in the other three gospels. John clearly teaches that if we have been born again and have within us the new nature of the Lord Jesus we cannot go on living a life of wilful habitual sin or a sinful lifestyle (3:4-10; 5:18). but our desire is not to sin and through the power of the Holy Spirit by keeping in step with Him we can be kept from sinning.

This is why we are commanded to walk in the Spirt or under the control of the Spirit and in so doing not be controlled by the flesh even though temptations to sin may be severe and at times unabated in their intensity and frequency (Romans 8:12-14) (Galatians 5:16-18). We also know that if we do sin, and we all do at times that when we confess it for what it is without excuse to God the blood of His Son our Lord Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Existentialism and Post-Modernism

The Gnostics also taught that God cannot be known personally and that He gave rise to many lesser spirit beings called Aeons. They entertained the idea that an evil lower spirit being was the creator who made the universe. Gnosticism itself never deals with sin only ignorance. They taught to obtain salvation one needs to get in touch or experience inwardly a form of secret knowledge or ‘wisdom’ which today we would call existentialism, namely whatever your inner spiritual experience or revelation of God is then that is right for you. It is a bedfellow of Post-Modernism today which says you have a right to believe what you want to believe about God and there is no absolute truth concerning Him.

The Gnostics in John’s time chose to believe that God could not have been incarnate in evil matter such as a flesh and blood body; therefore they concluded that the Lord Jesus could not have been God manifest in flesh. In this first letter John uses two Greek words for Knowledge. One is “Oida” meaning “to have an intellectual knowledge.” The other Greek word used is “Ginosko” “to know by inner experience or by an inner supernatural revelation.” The Gnostics also saw Jesus as one of many ways to God but not the way, the truth and the life and the only way to God (John 14:6). They had once been members of the fellowship but had left because they could not accept the fact that the Lord Jesus was God manifest in flesh (2:18-23).

To deny the incarnation, that God took upon himself a flesh and blood body in order to tabernacle among us and to bring salvation is to deny the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus’ death to make atonement for sin. In fact any religious system or belief that denies the incarnation of Jesus, His eternal deity and His atoning death is a form of Gnosticism and the spirit of antichrist (2:22-23; 4:1-3).

Denying the Tri-Unity of God (The Trinity)

A denial of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is the spirit of antichrist and a denial of the Tri-Unity in the Godhead also called the Trinity. These false teachers, that had been members of the fellowship but had now left, said that only a mystical type of inner spiritual experience revealed only to those initiated into their ranks was all that mattered and that conduct did not matter because after all the flesh was sinful. Like the New Age thinking we see today that says how you perceive God and experience God inwardly is relevant for you but that there is no absolute objective truth. Many believe that the Lord Jesus did exist but believe that He is only one of many ways to God. Of course this thinking fits in well with Interfaith and ecumenical thinking and with those within wider Christendom who do not see the Lord Jesus as God manifest in flesh (John 1:14).

Set free from the power of sin

John was writing to correct the gnostic error that denied the deity of the Lord Jesus and the need to live free from the power of sin. Conduct was important and John, like the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the other apostles, also affirm this to be true. We cannot have a relationship with God through faith in the Lord Jesus and be living a wilful and habitual sinful lifestyle while at the same time living in spiritual darkness because light and darkness have nothing in common, and where there is light darkness cannot exist. They have nothing in common with each other at all (2:3-6, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:18-19). Religion cannot deal with the problem of the sin nature, if anything it promotes it because in ourselves apart from the power of God, we cannot help sinning even if we try to supress it by good works, human will power or religious observances.

The only remedy to be set free from sin is the blood of the Lord Jesus the Messiah (1:7-9) (Revelation 1:5b), This is the blood of the Messiah that not only brings justification by faith to the repentant sinner but keeps that ‘sinner’ clean from the ongoing defilement of sin in the life so long as they continue to walk after the Spirit and not the flesh (1:7) (Romans 8:1-14) (Galatians 5:16-25)

Fellowship with the Trinity

John also writes to encourage us who believe in the Lord Jesus to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. He speaks about the joy of fellowship with God the Father and with the Son and with the Holy Spirit and with each other as believers (1:3-4). It is a very satisfying and fulfilling spiritual experience to have fellowship with God the Father with God the Son and with God the Holy Spirit and to appreciate their specific unique roles within the Godhead and the way in which they relate to us as believers in our Lord Jesus. Once again in needs to be said that we are not talking about ‘three gods’ but three equally divine persons in the One God who is three in One and One in three, a God who is One yet Triune in nature. No wonder Satan attacks the Trinity as he has always done down through the history of Christendom. All religions and gnostic belief denies this unique and eternal Biblical truth concerning the Triune nature of God.

The Source of Eternal Life

The Apostle John also wants us to know that in the Lord Jesus we have eternal life, not an abstract concept or form of it or something we receive after we physically die but the very eternal nature and character of God Himself living down on the inside of us in the person of the blessed Holy Spirit (5:13) (John 20:31). This Eternal Life is an eternal quality of life, God’s own eternal nature that becomes ours the moment we believe in the Lord Jesus to save us from the power and penalty of sin. When we are born again we become partakers of the divine nature, God’s very own life and power (2 Peter 1:4).

As the Lord Jesus Himself also said; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) and again He said; “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes… “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:21, 23). The fact that He is the source of that eternal life shows that He is God.

God is Light and Love

The letter is dominated by two great themes, namely God is Light (1:5) and secondly God is Love (4:8, 16). God is the source of light to the mind “Oida” and the source of love to the heart “Ginosko.” We need a revelation from the Holy Spirit to our mind as well as our heart of the true nature of the Lord Jesus and what He has accomplished for us spiritually by His atoning death and physical resurrection and that He is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Only when the truth of God’s Word penetrates the heart does the new birth take place (John 3:3). King Solomon wrote; “The end of the matter after all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) or better still what the Lord Jesus Himself said; If you love Me keep My commandments” (John 14:15). and again keeping in mind what John himself writes; “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one does not touch him “(5:18).

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