Christ the Life (1 John 1:1-4)


Christ the Life and Life in Christ: Commentary on 1 John to Encourage and Edify the Church

1:1–4, Christ the Life

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—[2] the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—[3] that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [4] And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." (1 John 1:1-4)

John's Grand Theme: The Life

John's grand theme that ties everything else together is, "the life" (v. 2). He also calls the life, "the word of life" (v. 1), and, "the eternal life" (v. 2). Everything we believe, have, and do as Christians depends on this life. If we miss the life or misunderstand the life, we miss absolutely everything about God's Word, will, and work in our lives and in the world. Without the life we have nothing. In the life we find everything. 

If there were ever an appropriate grand theme for a piece of literature, it is the life. I pray John's grand theme in 1 John, which is also the grand theme of all of Scripture, is the grand theme of our lives. May our affections, thoughts, desires, words, habits, and hobbies be captivated and captured by this wondrous life put forth by John the Apostle. 

The life is not an idea or a subjective spiritual experience. The life is tangible. The life was heard (v. 1, 3). The life was seen (vv. 1, 2, 3). The life was touched with hands (v. 1). And the life was made manifest (v. 3). First, John and the Apostles witnessed the life. Then, they gave their lives, by the grace of God, to testify to what they witnessed (vv. 2, 3). This testimony was for the sake of others, that they too might gain fellowship with God through knowledge of the life (vv. 2-4). 

Christianity is all about the life. The Bible is all about the life. The letter of 1 John is all about the life. I sincerely pray that your heart, mind, and life are all about the life. The life is not only the grand theme of this letter of 1 John, but it is the grand them of all things. As we begin to look deeper into the glorious nature and gracious ministry of the life, let us do so with humble and prayerful spirit. 

The Nature of the Life

Without the life all we have is death.

The burden of John's first paragraph is to describe his experience of the life and thereby clarify the nature of the life. How important is this topic? If we miss the nature of the life then we cannot experience the life. And if we do not experience the life then we remain alienated from God and strangers to His wonderful grace. How important is it to grasp the nature of the life? It is everything.


First, the life is eternal. The first utterance in 1 John is that the life, whatever else will be said about it, is eternal. The life is, "that which was from the beginning" (v. 1). Now if, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1), and if the life was there at the beginning, then the life precedes creation. That makes the life eternal. The life did not come after the beginning of creation, but rather the life was from the beginning.

This is good news for us because our salvation depends on the infinite power and divine authority of the life. If the life is not eternal, we are in trouble. If the life is not eternal, then the life is just one more created thing. But the life, beloved, is not like us. We are created, finite, temporal beings. The life is uncreated, infinite, eternal. This is exactly why verse 2 says, "the eternal life." The life is eternal. 

Since only God is eternal, the life is God. The life is holy. The life is love, The life is personal, spiritual, righteous, and good. The life is anything else Scripture says about God. The life is God; the life is eternal. 


Second, the life was personally experienced by John and the Apostles (see Acts 1:21-22). They had, "heard," and, "seen," and, "looked upon," and, "touched" (v. 1). In Jesus, "the life was made manifest," and, "seen," and again, "made manifest to us" (v. 2). The eternal One who "was with the Father" (v. 2), was "seen," and "heard," (v. 3) to the end that a personal relationship was established between the Apostles and God the Father through their relationship with God the Son Jesus Christ. They experienced God by experiencing Jesus, God in human flesh (v. 3b).


Third, the life was and is proclaimed to the world as the way of salvation. The Apostles were appointed by God to take all they experienced, learned, and receive through Jesus and, "testify to it and proclaim" (v. 2). God set them apart to "proclaim also to you" (v. 3). For what purpose? So that you, along with the original readers of 1 John would have "the eternal life" made manifest in Christ (v. 2). The Apostolic zeal–a zeal that lives on in the true church of God–was for sinners to hear the testimony of Christ and, "have fellowship," (v. 3) with God through Christ along with the Apostles and other believers.

The proclamation of Christ has the power to reconcile sinners to God (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Peter 1:23-24).

Apostolic preaching existed and exists, so that wicked sinners alienated from God and guilty before Him, "may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." Have you been brought into the family of God? Have you come to Christ? If so, you have come to God the Father and you have been spiritually united to the true church of God. If you receive Jesus Christ by grace through faith, you have life. The light of salvation has shown forth powerfully in your heart. We serve a merciful God.

The ministry of the Life lives on in the church, i.e., the Spirit-filled, biblical church walking in humble obedience to Christ in heaven. When the Apostles proclaimed Jesus based on eyewitness experience and the teaching of God through the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the way of salvation to the world. We today, striving to be obedient to our Lord and Savior, must continue to proclaim this Apostolic good news as expounded in the New Testament Scriptures. Without the way of salvation clearly, biblically, and passionately proclaimed in our community, the church has no meaningful purpose.


Fourth, the life is Jesus, the Son of God and the way to God. Verse 3 has the reason why John is talking about the life in the first place; "and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." This point is the key to everything. How can the invisible God be experienced personally as John has described in these verses? How can an eternal spiritual being be seen and touched in the temporal earthly realm? The answer is that God came to earth as a man, and that man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

The opening paragraph of 1 John presents the life as the way to gain fellowship with God. Sinners come into fellowship with God the Father by way of fellowship with God the Son. God the Son is called the life because He is the source of life in communion with God, i.e., eternal life. Again, "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."

The way sinners are received into the grace of God is by receiving Jesus by faith. If you enter fellowship with Jesus then you enter fellowship with God. Christ is the eternal life; and eternal life is found in Christ by the grace of God. The life is the bridge, the way, the door. And that life is God's, "Son Jesus Christ."

So then, not only is the life eternal, but the life also is a personal being, i.e., the life is Jesus. If you come to Jesus you have come to God. "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him'" (John 14:6-7).

  • The Eternal Word, John 1:1-4

This interpretation squares with the first chapter of John's gospel account. With a prayerful spirit and careful reading in faith, the opening of John's gospel speaks for itself. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:1-4). 

In 1 John 1:1, Jesus is called, "the word of life." He is sometimes called, "the life." But He also can be called, "the word." These are often given capitals because they can be seen as proper names of Jesus. He is the Life and the Word and the Word of Life as much as He is the Son of God, Son of man, Immanuel, and Lord. 

The Word and the Life refer to the same reality, and that reality is a "he" (v. 2), a "him" (vv. 3-4). He is eternal, hence, "In the beginning was the Word." He is personally distinct from God, hence, "and the Word was with God." He is God, hence, "and the Word was God." He predates creation but more than that is the agent, or the instrument of creation, hence, "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Circling back to 1 John, He is the source of life, hence, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men."

God speaks His Word and in His Word men find life. That Word is Christ Jesus.

  • The Word Made Flesh, John 1:14, 18

In John 1:14 we learn that the Word who gives and sustains life is the Son of God who came as a man. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." In verse 18 we learn that this is Jesus, God's climactic revelation of grace and truth. The man Jesus is God's clearest and highest shining forth of His very self and salvation. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [18] No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (John 1:17-18)

Jesus is the life and sinners can find life through faith in Him. He is the eternal and personal Word of Life. He is called the Word because He reveals the Father (see Hebrews 1:1-3). He is called the Life because He is the source of eternal life. That is, He is the source of Spirit-born communion with God that will never end. Since John was a believer, He could therefore say with confidence and great joy, "and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."

  • The Resurrection and the Life, John 11:25-26

Jesus' teaching recorded in John's gospel is quite helpful. "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this'" (John 11:25–26)? In verse 25 Jesus admits that the believer will die. He says, "though he die." Yet He also admits that the believer will never die. He says, "yet he shall live," and, "shall never die." How do believers die but not die? How shall we never die even though we die?

All believers will die bodily except those alive when Christ returns. Despite the death of our bodies, however, we will never taste the full curse of death under the curse of sin. That is, we will never know the darkness of consummate spiritual death in utter alienation from God's goodness and the goodness of his creation. On the contrary, when the body of a believer dies, his soul departs and enters a higher and more glorious phase of life than ever before. First, his soul is perfected in righteousness (Hebrews 12:23), free from the stain of sin. Second, his soul enters heaven and joins countless angels and saints gathered around the throne of God and the risen Christ (Philippians 1:23). 

Though this is not the eternal state of receiving a resurrection body in the new heavens and new earth, it is glorious beyond words. Jesus, after all, is not only the life, but He is, "the resurrection and the life."

  • Life before Death, 1 John 5:11-12 and John 5:25-26

The urgency could not be greater once we notice that this life in communion with God must begin before bodily death. Jesus said, "and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:26). Only those who already live will never die. Only those who have life before death will have life after death. Only those in fellowship with Christ the life while living bodily will continue in fellowship with Christ the life as a soul dwelling in heaven, and then ultimately in resurrection glory. And who is it that lives not that they may receive the fullness of life later? It is the one who believes in Christ as Savior. Hence, "and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." 

First John 5:11-12 confirms this in the vivid black and white language typical of John's style. "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." If you have the Son then you already have eternal life in spiritual communion with God. If you do not have the Son then you do not have life. Those who have found life in the Son have been reconciled to God, no longer alienated from Him, no longer under His judgment, and no longer staring down an eternity of consummate death.

People were already being brought from spiritual life to spiritual death during the earthly ministry of Christ. Jesus explained in John 5:25–26, saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." Whenever a person hears the message of salvation in Christ and receives Christ by faith, that person has come to life. Spiritual life is born within him. The Son is the source of spiritual life. Whoever has the Son, therefore, has life.  

  • The Mercy of Christ, John 10:9–11

In mercy Jesus came to give life to helpless sinners. He gave His life as a substitute for theirs (1 Peter 2:24). He died a shameful death so that you and I would find life. He bore the wrath of God to bestow upon us the forgiveness and favor of God. He said of His merciful mission: 

"I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. [10] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [11] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:9-11)

His death was the path to our life. He died that we may live. On the cross, Jesus took the sin, guilt, and shame of His people upon Himself (Matthew 1:21). He received in body and soul the divine judgment they rightly deserved (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus dying on the cross in this way, as a substitute sacrifice for the wicked, accomplished our salvation. It is God's supreme act of merciful love (John 15:13; Romans 5:6-8). And it is on the basis of Christ's sacrifice on the cross that we come to Him by faith for the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23), being brought from death to life by the very same mercy by which Christ died: 

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5).


The previous section was about how the eternal life is Jesus, the Son of God and how we gain fellowship with God the Father through faith in God the Son (see also John 17:1-3). We have simply been expounding 1 John 1:3, "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." The Apostolic testimony regarding "the life" was and is the only way to spiritual communion with God that will never end, i.e., eternal life. This is the testimony. This is the primary practical relevance of John's grand theological theme. 

The central topic of 1 John is that Christ is the life. The main application is that life is found in fellowship with Christ through faith. The rest of 1 John works out many details of living life in fellowship with Christ. But those make no sense unless you first come to Christ for life. 

Fellowship with Jesus is worth more than all the world's treasures. It brings the joy, peace, rest, and fulfillment that all the world's pleasures can never give. Spiritual communion with Jesus means spiritual communion with God. Jesus is God. Jesus is a man. Jesus brings God to sinful man and reconciles sinful man back to God.

To not have Jesus is to linger in death. Come to Him for life. Come to Christ and live in fellowship with God that none can take away.

All of this is why eyewitness testimony is critical. An eternal being who became a man and walked the earth? Did that really happen? Or did it just appear so? Or is it just the spiritualizing of things for religious purposes? It really happened. It was real. Therefore, we do know God. Our sins have been forgiven. We do have life that will never end, but only get better in the life to come. 

We rejoice that Christ died for us, and we rejoice that by God's grace we have found life in Christ. He is the life, and our life is now bound up with Him. 

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [3] For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4)

by: Matt Fortunato