By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXXIX) 03/02/23

5:12 Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

We may also say that eternal life, the divine existence, is the “energy core” of our Christian faith. This eternal life is God’s Son, who embodies the Triune God moving and working within us as an anointing. This anointing is from the energy of eternal life. Eternal life is not a thing; it is a Person. Now, this person abides in us to anoint us with Himself, with eternal life and the essence of this life. Therefore, when eternal life unites us, it joins us with the Triune God. This gives us the basis and the means to live a life that practices the divine righteousness, divine love, and overcomes the world, death, sin, the Devil, and idols.

Chinese philosopher Confucius taught that the highest learning was cultivating and developing the “illustrious virtue.”[1] However, through continuous anointing, we will progressively develop the nature and attitude of the Triune God through His abiding Spirit, making us think and act the same as He. Then we will live a life full of righteousness and love that spontaneously overcomes worldliness, death, sin, the devil, and idols. We do not need to try to live such a life alone. As long as we dwell in the gift of eternal life, we will spontaneously practice righteousness and love and simultaneously overcome all negative things.[2]

With his finely tuned spiritual mind, Ronald Ralph Williams (1906-1970) explains that although there are nine verses yet to examine, verse twelve is the end of the letter. True life is found only in God’s Son through faith and fellowship with Jesus the Anointed One. As God’s only begotten Son, He opens the way to fellowship with the Father. Thus, verses six to eight, with their vague reference to “water” and “blood,” may seem to move in a sphere more extensive than ours. But in the end, the message is expressed in simple, timeless language. It is as valid today as it ever was that “the life,” true life, eternal life, is to be found from one source alone, from Jesus according to God’s Word. That Word must be preached and heard even where the name of Jesus is unknown or rejected. They should be able to listen to the Gospel fully, clearly, and decisively of Jesus the Anointed One, of the historical Jesus, His words, and deeds, and in the living the Anointed One, active in and through His Church throughout the world.[3]

As a liberal evangelical specialist, William Barclay (1907-1978) agrees with the Apostle John’s assessment that such a life comes through Jesus the Anointed One and from no other source. Why should that be? If “the life” is God’s life, it means that we can possess that life only when we know God and are enabled to approach Him and operate in Him. We can do these two things only by having Jesus the Anointed One in us. The Son alone thoroughly knows the Father; therefore, only He can fully reveal to us what God is like.

John said in his Gospel, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is divine Himself and is very close to the Father.”[4] And Jesus Christ alone can bring us to God; It is in Him that the new and living way into the presence of God becomes open to us.[5] Again, we may take a simple analogy. If we wish to meet someone we do not know and who moves in a completely different circle than we do, we can achieve that meeting only by finding someone who knows that person and is willing to introduce us. That is what Jesus does for us regarding God. Eternal life is God’s life, and we can find that life only through Jesus the Anointed One. [6]

A very down-to-earth Bible commentator and writer, William Neal (1909-1979), a retired Baptist minister who served as a campus minister and journalist takes what the Apostle John says here as God’s Word to us. Our experience confirms it, though we may choose to reject it. In short, it comes to this: God has given us the possibility of life in the fullest sense through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. Without Him, we are nothing and have nothing.[7] [8]

As a significant scriptural expositor, Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) mentions that in Jesus, the age that is to come and its kingdom, arrives. Therefore, in Jesus “the life” of the age to come is “received and enjoyed now” by all who trust in Him. So, in verse twelve, the first of three consecutive, concluding citations to “life” marks further with those that follow as a fitting end to this final passage of the Epistle’s main body of work.

So, now the Apostle John we have the final doctrine details as a balance of oppositions that characterizes verbal teaching, helping with the dual precept at the beginning of subunit three.[9] Its two references to “the one who” help also with the two references to “everyone who” with which the passage begins,[10] framing the passage.

Thus follows John expressing thinking. First positively in verse twelve (a), then negatively verse twelve (b). Then with the finality with which John speaks makes his message doubly emphatic, as again he defines the stakes, the consequences, of abiding in or departing from the fellowship of the Anointed One and His Church. [11]

A conscientious objector and prisoner of war acquainted with grief, Bible scholar Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) decrees that the evidence of this verse is inevitable. “The person that has God’s Son has life.” “Those who do not have God’s Son, are spiritually lifeless.” The teaching is unmistakable. Eternal life is not found in education, philosophy, science, religion, or church. To have eternal life one must have the Son of God. Eternal life is inseparable from Jesus the Anointed One who is “the Life.”[12]

As a dedicated researcher on the Apostle Paul’s journeys and Bible expositor, Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) sees the Apostle John’s point in verses ten to twelve that the internal possession of eternal life is a witness of God concerning His Son. It is, in fact, God’s testimony that Jesus is His Son. The apostle’s reasoning seems to be that the person with eternal life can know that they have it. They know this because God’s Spirit “bears witness with their spirit, that they are God’s children.”[13] Put another way, believers know they have eternal life because they are experiencing fellowship with God. Furthermore, Christians also know that they entered this life experience by trusting in Jesus the Anointed One. Thus, the fact that the Anointed One brought eternal life is a testimony that Jesus is, in reality, God’s Son.[14]

As a spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) notices that the Apostle John offers a straightforward formula: “To have the God’s Son is to have eternal life, not to have God’s Son is not to have eternal life.”

Some sixty years ago while Blaise Pascal’s work, I was struck by one paragraph that read:

“What, then, do this avidity and impotence make known to us, if not that there was once in man a true happiness, of which there now remains to him only the mark and the empty mold, which he tries in vain to fill from all that which surrounds him, seeking in absent things the succor which he does not find in present things, which are all incapable of it, because the infinite gulf can be filled only by a being infinite and immutable, that is to say, by God Himself?”[15]

This is very close to what John is saying here about a God-shaped vacuum in our souls that only God’s Son can fill with eternal life. Unfortunately, the world has used this exclusive creed to accuse Christianity of intolerance. Believers affirm this teaching not on the principle of being exclusive but for God’s glory. This statement of faith is a sacred test for all professing Christians and a warning against all claims that “we are the only true church.” Eternal life is more than a person’s future well-being; it is the eternal security of a person’s soul. Not only that but note that it is a present possession.[16] [17]

As a previous doubter but now a defender of personal salvation, John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) notes that the Apostle John passes on from the unbeliever and summarizes the blessing granted to the believer. First, they receive and respond to God’s testimony, which is the same expression as that in the middle of verse nine, which the NIV translates as “it is the testimony [of God].” There it looks back to the water, the blood, and the Spirit. However, here it seems to include also the ‘further’ testimony which, according to verse ten, believers receive ‘in their hearts.’ This truth becomes plainer when we consider how John describes the testimony, namely that it is God-given (RSV, rightly, ‘gave’) us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. To what event does this gift of life refer? Some commentators refer it to the historical career of Jesus,[18] and others to our conversion, at which we appropriated, or received, “the life” of the Anointed One.[19]

Perhaps both are true and part of God’s historical and experimental testimony concerning His Son. Historically, God’s testimony concerning Jesus is not only that He is the divine-human Anointed One but also the life-giver, the world’s Savior.[20] Not only is He God’s Son, but that in Him is “the life.” As such, eternal life is emphatic in the sentence, such as the testimony that it is eternal life which God gave us by giving His Son. But the object of the testimony is not only the Anointed One as the life-giver but subjective in the gift of life itself. Eternal life is a gift that God gives to those who believe in His Son, and the reward of “the life,” the experience of fellowship with God through the Anointed One, which is eternal life,[21] God’s final testimony to His Son.

John previously wrote: “Anyone who believes in God’s Son has this testimony in their heart.”[22] He now puts the same truth in these words: “He who has the Son.[23] The alternative is clear and uncompromising because of its simple logic. Eternal life is in God’s Son and found nowhere else. It is as impossible to have life without the Anointed One as it is to have the Anointed One without having any spiritual life. It is because the Son is “the life.”[24] [25]

As a warrior against boring Bible preaching, John Phillips (1937-2010) notices the second thing that happens when receiving the biblical record is an internal revolution. The unregenerate person has a body, soul, and human spirit. But all is empty and without God. Consequently, the unregenerate person is spiritually dead, no matter how brilliant, loving, or decisive that person may be. Therefore, they “have no spiritual life.”

By contrast, the human spirit of a regenerated person has the indwelling of God, His Son, and His Holy Spirit of God and the Son of God. Therefore, that person “has life.” A person, then, is either indwelled by Christ‒or not. There is no middle ground, for God does not mince matters. [26]

Historical-critical method researcher, Catholic priest, and prominent Bible scholar Raymond Edward Brown (1928-1995) finds a comparison of the positive line in verses ten and twelve. It shows that believing in the Son is equivalent to being possessed by God’s Son. Similarly, having God’s testimony within oneself is the same as having spiritual and eternal life. A good parallel to the positive line in verse ten, “All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true,” is in John’s Gospel.[27]  As for the negative lines in verse ten, “Those who don’t believe this are calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about His Son,” they leave no room for ignorance or misconception.

It is sad to realize that the opposing line in verse twelve, “Whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life,” brings the main body of John’s epistle to an end. Although John described the rejection of God’s emissary as “one’s own,[28] the goal was optimistic. You may believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, God’s Son and that you may possess life in His name.”[29]  But a decade has passed, and the Johannine Community that received the Gospel has not lived up to the evangelist’s hope. It has divided, and the majority has gone out into the world, so John ends his message with a dire warning, paradoxically echoing the Gospel of promise. The last line before the conclusion is a condemnation of former members who no longer possess God’s Son in their hearts and do not have faith or eternal life through His name.[30]

[1] Confucius: The Great Learning, written around 500 BC

[2] Lee, Witness: Life-Study of 1, 2, 3, John, Jude, op. cit., Ch. 36

[3] Williams, R. R., The Letters of John and James, op. cit., p.58

[4] John 1:18

[5] Hebrews 10:19-23

[6] Barclay, William, The New Study Bible, The Letters of John and Jude, op. cit., pp128-129

[7] Read 1 John 5:6-12

[8] Neil, William: Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 530

[9] See 1 John 5:10a, 10b

[10] See 5:1a, 1b

[11] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 543

[12] Snaddon, Daniel C., Plymouth Brethren Writings, 1 John, loc. cit.

[13] Romans 8:16

[14] Burdick, Donald W., Everyman’s Bible Commentary, the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 90

[15] Pascal, Blaise: Les Pensées, The Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, N.Y., 1901, p. 115

[16] Cf. John 10:28

[17] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., p. 57

[18] Cf. 1 John 1:2; see John 10:10, 28; 17:2

[19] Cf. 1 John 3:14

[20] Ibid. 1 John 4:14

[21] Cf. John 17:3

[22] See 1 John 5:10

[23] Ibid. 1 John 2:23

[24] 1 John 1:2; John 11:25; 14:6

[25] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 183

[26] Phillips, John: Exploring the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 173-174

[27] John 3:16

[28] Ibid. 1:11

[29] Ibid. 20:31

[30] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 601-602

About drbob76

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