WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXIV) 11/19/20

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) points out that this message received by John and the other Apostles was not only for themselves. It was intended for the whole world, just as Jesus commanded.[1] John intended to present his message in striking contrast with the Gnostics or any other type of exclusive Christian sect of his day and ours. These sects are secessionists who want to establish a fellowship based on intellect and a modified Word of God. The Apostles desired to proclaim the same Gospel to humanity regardless of race, color, or creed. To do this, John uses the word “testify” about what was seen and heard by the Apostles. It was something that would stand up in any court of law.[2]

South African theologian Michael Eaton (1942-2017) highlights an essential factor illustrated in these first four verses about John’s concern over the physical reality of Jesus living in this world. It was in the face of those who, even back then, theorized that the Anointed One was only a phantom or appearing and disappearing spirit. But John’s efforts were to bring everyone who believed in a close fellowship with the Light, the Messiah. For this purpose, he provides the personal witnessing of himself and other Apostles who heard, saw, and touched Him while He was here on earth. If their testimonies are not accepted, and Jesus was nothing more than an apparition, how then could anyone claim to have a genuine personal fellowship with Him? That would also eliminate any connection with the Father because the two are one. And keep in mind, John is not writing to adversaries but those he calls “little children.” It then points out that true fellowship with God is not automatic, even in dedicated disciples’ lives.[3]

Ben Witherington (1951-) of Asbury Theological Seminary, feels that John’s writing in these first four verses resembles a newspaper reporter following the old formula: who, what, where, why, when, and how. It is also interesting that he combines the Anointed One and His message as “Light and Life.” In other words, Jesus was His message. His presentation is similar to writing a speech in which he purposely fills his manuscript with the repetition of various terms, which is common in intellectual rhetoric. However, his words are simple and do not cloud the point he makes in interpreting the mystery of how mere humans can have fellowship with the Trinity. John also uses the Hebrew poets’ “parallelisms.” It then should cause us to consider what audience he is addressing. Is it those who believe and are urged to remain faithful, or those who question the Anointed One’s whole story? No doubt, some of them are secessionists from the faith and the assembly.[4]

John W. (Jack) Carter (1951-) notes that here in verse four, the Apostle John explains one of the many reasons for writing this letter: to fill those who receive it with unspeakable joy. It isn’t that they don’t believe, but because of the cold wind of false teaching blowing through the Church at that time. John’s earnest desire is that his readers will appreciate their faith in God with sincerity, motivated by his knowledge of the tremendous blessing they have in salvation through the Gospel he preached to them.

He is not arguing with the heretics to win a philosophical or theological debate. He is not accusing the dissenters, nor is he pointing out their errors. Again, John is merely presenting the truth of the Gospel so that those who positively responded the first time would continue to enjoy their salvation and receive the abundant blessings that come with it. It is also proper to render the word “full” as “overflowing.”[5]

Bruce B. Burton (1954-) explains that when Jesus was on earth, His divine life illuminated the inner lives of His followers. Everywhere He was present, He gave light. This light penetrated people – exposing their sin and revealing divine truth. No one could come into contact with Jesus without being enlightened. So, it is for the Christian who is indwelt by the Spirit of the Anointed One. In His presence, we see our sin and His glory. Of course, a person can refuse to receive the light and remain in darkness (a term John used to characterize Satan’s realm in the world). But whoever comes to Jesus will see his fascinating moral and spiritual excellence and purity.[6]

Marianne M. Thompson (1954-) believes that Biblical writers continually looked for the day when their joy would come. But the Apostle John urges his readers to delight in their fellowship with God and each other. There is no need to wait any longer – full joy can be ours through Jesus the Anointed One. The thrill the Jews expected when the Messiah came is now ours. Keep in mind; we do not find heavenly bliss in some uplifting spiritual experience; it is part of our earthly life, nor is it a substitute for pain or an escape from sorrow. Our thrill at being a Christian does not depend upon eliminating things that weigh us down or trouble us. Joy comes from our solid trust in knowing that we are always in touch with God while we journey here on earth. Even when death stares us in the face, it cannot rattle our confidence that we will one day be in the very presence of God. Our satisfaction comes from knowing that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with us and in us now.[7]

Lawrence R. Farley (1954-) points out that when the Apostle John says, “And these things we write,” he uses the plural. He communicates as one of the apostles that “their joy may be fulfilled.” (John probably wrote our joy, not “your joy,” as some manuscripts have it). In writing this epistle and thereby solidifying their connection with the apostolic fellowship, John finds his joy completed. As a true pastor, he would grieve if any of his flock were lost,[8] and finds his joy fulfilled only as those he loves avoid the snares of heresy and deception.[9]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1962) looks at these first four verses from a grammatical view and notes that the Apostle John refers to three temporal junctures. The first juncture is “the beginning” (1:1) – the time of the Anointed One’s incarnate existence,[10] or perhaps even preexistence – leading up to a second juncture: the era when witnesses, like the writer of 1 John, came into physical contact with Him. The third temporal juncture is the time of John’s composing this letter. One could even speak of the fourth moment: the time when this epistle is read and responded to.[11]

Peter Pett (1966-) says that the term “His Son” is correctly connected with the Father on His divine side. Their essential oneness, in essence, is revealed here by the word “Son.” He is “the Son,” the One Who comes out from God and is of the very nature of God. And our union with the Father we are also united with His Son. For here, He is especially “His Son” on God’s side and yet has fellowship with us on our side. And that Son is identified, He is Jesus the Anointed One, the One Who walked on earth as a man among men. He is both God and man. So, from the earthly hearing, and seeing, and handling, from the physical relationship with the Word of Life, we move on into the enjoyment of a heavenly communion with Him in a glorious spiritual kinship such as redeemed believers can have with the Father and with His Son Jesus the Anointed One.[12]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) identifies a problem we all have seen in America in the last forty years. She makes the point that the proclamation of the Gospel as the exclusive truth about Jesus the Anointed One, having fallen out of favor with many who self-identify as “Christians.” The influence of cultural pressures such as rationalism and historical criticism, New Age spirituality, and radical ecumenicalism with non-Christian religions has reduced the Final Covenant to an irrelevant ancient artifact, at worst, or as simply one of the options for modern religion, at best. To preach the Gospels and Epistles as the exclusive truth about Jesus the Anointed One and His mission to reconcile humanity to God is often viewed dimly as an assertion of power and inappropriate behavior in our largely pluralistic modern society.[13]

Pastor and Bible scholar Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972-) mentions that we learn about apostolic fellowship in John’s first epistle’s prologue. Namely, the unique and eternal connection between the Father and Son manifested in the one-time-for-all-time exclusive event of the incarnation, observed by the Apostles at a particular point in history, has been through them extended to the universal church. Today, when someone becomes a Christian, he or she enters into a timeless, universal fellowship. It is communion springing from the Godhead, coursing through the apostles, and flowing through every genuine believer who has ever been or will ever be. We are now and eternally in living fellowship with the One who was “from the beginning.” That is a koinōnia[14] worth celebrating! It is also a koinōnia worth living out. Let us not grow weary of holding on to the Anointed One through holding on to the apostles and each other and holding out to the world the joyful good news of our Gospel.[15]


[1] Cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts of the Apostles 1:8

[2] Montgomery, John Boice: op. cit., p. 25

[3] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1, 2, 3, John, Christian Focus Publications, The Guernsey Press, Co., Ltd., Guernsey, Scotland, 1996, p.

[4] Witherington, Ben III. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John (Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Series) (Kindle Location 5827-5863). Kindle Edition.

[5] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude, op. cit., pp. 13-14

[6] Bruce B. Burton: Life Application Bible Commentary: 1, 2 &3 John, Livingstone Corporation, 1988, p. 19

[7] Thompson, Marianne M., 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 39

[8] Cf. John 6:39; 17:12

[9] Farley, Lawrence R., Universal Truth, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Sloyan, Gerard S., Jesus: Word Made Flesh (Engaging Theology-Catholic Perspectives series), 1995

[11] Yarbrough, Robert W., Baker Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 33

[12] Pitt, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, StudyLight, 1 John, loc. cit.

[13] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John, op. cit., p. 58

[14] koinōnia: Greek noun meaning, “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint-participation,”

[15] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean: 1–3 John, op. cit., pp. 14-15

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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