NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXXX 03/03/23
5:12 Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
As a persuasive preacher and teacher, Wendall C. Hawley (1930) points out that humans do not have eternal life in themselves; they receive it from God’s Son. The Anointed One did not receive eternal life from any external source. He is “the life,” a uniquely divine characteristic unshared by any other creature. Those who have the Son of God living in them have eternal life, not life someday, not life later, not conditional life, but now.
Brilliant New Testament Bible professor Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) observes that we meet numerous people who advise us on what we should know, do, or need. Much of this informative advice we take for granted and even ignore. Intellectually we may accept advice, but it does not become part of us until fully convinced of its validity. We generally heed guidance concerning our physical well-being because it concerns the quality of our life. For example, someone informs us that the weather outside is cold and windy. However, we will not know how chilly it is until we have stepped outdoors to feel the temperature and experience the chill factor. We know then if our clothing is adequate to keep us physically comfortable.
When John says that we believe God’s testimony about His Son, we know this in our hearts. That testimony becomes part of us because of our relationship with Jesus. We experience His nearness, help, and love because we fellowship with Him and the Father. Accordingly, we can testify that God’s testimony is in our hearts.
A firm believer in God’s grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008), says that before specifying the content of God’s testimony, John paused parenthetically to remark that accepting this testimony internalizes it for the one who believes. Each believer has God’s truth in their heart. By contrast, anyone who disbelieves God makes Him out to be a liar. For John, there was no middle ground, no suspension of opinion. One either believes or doubts God’s truthfulness.
Having said this, John returned to the content of the testimony, which is that God has given us eternal life , and this life is in His Son. In light of John’s statement, God’s testimony seems directed against a claim by some antichrists that John’s readers did not have eternal life through God’s Son. But God has directly affirmed that eternal life is what He has given in His Son. To deny this is to call Him a liar.
Inspired by Jesus’ words, “go into all the world,” Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) contemplates the fullness of life in Jesus, the eternal Son of God the Father, to better understand the Father’s witness provided for us in Jesus about the life that He has given to us in and through His Son. The criterion of our accepting the Father’s witness is our belief in God’s Son. If we receive Jesus, we welcome the Father; we say “Yes” to the Father’s work in Jesus, the Father’s revelation of Himself, and the Father’s gift of eternal life to us in Jesus.
As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) emphasizes that saying God revealed eternal life in His Son is to say that He reveals the nature of the divine life. It also includes the means of transmission from God to believers. That supports John’s claim the one who has the Father possesses His Son. Therefore, having God’s Son means believing in Him as the revealer and giver of “the life” made known to us by His Father.
A dominating theme of 1 John is the characterization of our God-given life in terms of love. This truth was the great theme that spills over into much of John’s first epistle. Because the eternal life that was with the Father is in His Son, to have the Son is to have life. The description of “the one who has the Son” is an alternative to “the one who believes.” It also serves as the Christological confession in verses one, five, and six, which is an alternative to other statements by John. These are the things that separate the Johannine believers from their Gnostic opponents.
The lines of division between them are deeply etched. The line that separates the two groups is the confession of the true faith, the proper Christological confession. On these hang eternal life because the very nature of eternal life in the self-giving love of God is inseparably bound to that confession. Break the tie between God’s life and the human self-giving of Jesus, and eternal life has vanished.
Expositor and systematic theologist Michael Eaton (1942-2017) John wants to put this as sharply as possible. He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life. It is a simple either/or matter. The experience of eternal life is a question of having God’s Son or not. At this point, the entire human race divides into two groups. Eternal life is in Jesus alone. If you do not have Jesus, you do not have any spiritual liveliness toward God. Without Jesus, there is no hope of heaven or glory beyond the grave. But we do not have to wait until after the burial to get it! Anyone who has Jesus has this eternal life already. It is a foretaste of heaven. The energy of heaven, the praise of heaven, and the joy of God’s presence characterize heaven. We have it now if we have Jesus. Therefore, the way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until high noon. 
After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s subject theme, William Loader (1944) shares an alternative translation that reads: “And this is the witness that God has given us eternal life” and “I write so that you will know that you have eternal life now.” But this is not the only evidence of whether we have eternal life, but also that there is a witness in us. The witness in us is the quality of eternal life, which is the life found alone in the Anointed One.
What John says here conforms with the emphasis of Jesus being “the life” throughout the epistle. When we have the life which the Anointed One brings, that is the evidence we can rest upon that we have genuinely understood Him and grasped what He offers to those who possess “the life” in God’s Son. Thus, John ends this section and the primary body of the epistle with a solid affirmative and an equally strong negative: he who does not possess the Son does not have eternal life. We should not miss, however, the overwhelmingly positive nature of John’s attitude toward the Gospel. It is not primarily about escape from evil or even forgiveness of sins. It is about life.
Great Commission practitioner David Jackman (1945) sees Christians on one side recognizing the Anointed One’s authority and submission to His will. On the other side, the Lord Jesus lovingly accepts the sinner, calling them His and binding Himself to His people through unbreakable covenant promises. It is the quality of commitment a bride and groom affirm to one another as they give and receive rings in their marriage service, saying, “All that 1 am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” The Lord will never break covenant vows. He draws us to trust Him before we ever confess faith in Him. As He brings us into this living union through faith, we receive the life of the Eternal One here and now. If the Son has this life, then whoever has God’s Son has life. And those who have Him know Him to be God’s Son. Our relationship with Him depends on the future destiny of every one of us.
After studying the context surrounding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) observes the Apostle John standing against worldly heretics and critics, making the case from his experience, from the shared experience of the Apostles and disciples, and their collective experience in a relationship with God. His position agrees with the words of Jesus the Anointed One, with the testimonies of the saints, and with the entire content and context of the Word of God: salvation is found only through Jesus the Anointed One, God’s Son. The life to which John refers is a proclamation of eternal life in heaven with the LORD that begins now. They are overcomers because the One they trust has already overcome the world, bringing the richness of His blessings in this world and the kingdom to come.
A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) notes that verse twelve aptly concludes this section by explaining why John has been focused so intently on the Anointed One since verse six. In a word, to “have the Son” ‒ or in the words of verse ten, “to believe in Him” ‒ is to have the benefit of the eternal life mentioned in verse eleven. On the other hand, not having Him, or not giving Him a hearing and thereby coming to faith in Him, is to forfeit that same life. And then, John sets before his readers the factors of eternal blessedness on the one hand and eternal damnation and punishment on the other. Life or death: the reader can choose.
After a microscopic examination of the text, Philip W. Comfort (1950) concludes that those who do not believe that Jesus is God’s Son should realize that by rejecting what God has so plainly told us, they are calling God a liar. This has two aspects: refusing to believe what God has said about His Son and, consequently, refusing to accept the Anointed One who, because He is God’s Son, is the only one who can save people. What better reason can we have for believing something than that God says it is true! Those who believe receive the greatest gift from God: eternal life. This is not something we have to wait to get. We have eternal life now; we possess a new nature and enjoy fellowship with God. Therefore, a believer need not be uncertain about whether he or she has eternal life. Those who have eternal life now (as a present reality and experience) are assured of everlasting life in the future. 
Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and New Testament writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) allows that because God’s gift of eternal life is given “in His Son,” it follows that those who have the Son have everlasting life. What it means to “have the Son” is closely related to believing in the Son, as verse thirteen indicates. Faith in God’s Son is closely connected with accepting God’s proclamation. But the question remains: Is the expression “having the Son” a synonym for “believing in the Son?” Or does “having” the Son involve something more than this? We get some help from the “abiding” language of John’s Gospel. Because it relates to believers abiding in the Anointed One, it denotes continuing loyalty and obedience to the Anointed One, but it is not exhausted by this. There is a spiritual dimension to it as well. So, when it comes to the Anointed One abiding in believers, it has supernatural significance.
Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) observes the Apostle John’s dualistic contrast, which, as we have noted, is typical of this author: those who have the Son have life, those who do not, do not-or as C. H. Dodd, known best for promoting “realized eschatology,” starkly puts it, those who do not have the Son are spiritually dead. This fact is a little different from what we find in John’s Gospel, which clarifies that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father of all life except through the Spirit. We should not miss, however, the overwhelmingly positive nature of John’s attitude toward the Gospel. It is not primarily about escape from evil or even forgiveness of sins. It is about life. This is the life of which Jesus spoke of.
Speaking before his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius of Antioch later would say that Jesus is “without prejudice our life” and “the true life of ours.” So then, in verse twenty, the Apostle John goes on to say in fact that Jesus is eternal life. With our author, as is characteristic of ceremonial rhetoric, we are constantly dealing with opposites: the opposite of truth is the lie; the opposite of light is darkness; the opposite of love is not indifference, difference, but rather hate; the opposite of life is, indeed, death. With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) explains that there is a circle: life (in its true God-given sense as eternal life) made available through God’s Son and what He achieved. Therefore, experienced only by those who acknowledge God’s Son in the specific story told about Him ‒ the story of Jesus. God’s Son can be noted with confidence because He has given Him the ultimate testimony. Yet, testimony embodied in the reception and experience of eternal life is a last resort.
 Hawley, Wendall C., Tyndale Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 369
 Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, James and I-III John op. cit., pp. 358-359
 See 1 John 5:11-12
 Cf. Ibid. 1:19
 Cf. 5:13, 20
 Hodges, Zane C. John F. Walvoord, and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 901-902
 Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and the Faith, which is in the Root of Love, 1 John 5, op. cit., p. 315
 1 John 1:2
 Ibid. 4:7-12
 Ibid. 2:22-23; 4:2-3,15
 Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., Kindle Edition
 Cf. Proverbs 4:18 – New Living Translation
 Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 188-189
 1 John 4:1-5:12
 Loader, William: The First Epistle of John, The Witness of the Spirit, op. cit., pp. 70-71
 Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 156
 Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit. pp. 126-127
 Cf. 1 John 5:10
 Cf. John 3:36
 Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 291
 1 John 5:10
 Comfort, Philip W., Tyndale Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 371
 John 6:56; 14:23; 15:4-7
 Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition.
 “Realized Eschatology” holds that the eschatological passages in the New Testament do not refer to the future but to the ministry of Jesus and His lasting legacy.
 John 14:6
 Ibid. 20:10
 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 3:13
 Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Verse 4
 Witherington III, Ben: 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 Locations 7412-7419