Summary: The opening twelve verses of the first Epistle of John introduce us to three main themes: fellowship, sin, and propitiation.
ADVOCACY AND FELLOWSHIP
The opening of the First Epistle of John is not unlike the famous Prologue of his Gospel (John 1:1-14). It too takes us back to “the beginning”, and introduces us to “the Word” - and it soon becomes clear that the Word is none other than Jesus the Messiah. John here adds his apostolic fingerprint: “we” have seen with our eyes, looked upon, and our hands have handled this “Word of life” (1 John 1:1). This no doubt takes us back to the Upper Room, after the resurrection. Jesus is risen, not as a mere phantom, but as a flesh and bones man (Luke 24:39).
“That which” is from the beginning refers not only to Jesus the Word, but also to the manifestation of the Word: the gospel in its entirety (1 John 1:2). Some people had evidently removed themselves from the fellowship of the church because they no longer believed the truths which they had once seemed to receive (1 John 2:19).
We are called into fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). Jesus prayed that His people would be “kept” in the type of unity which reflects the Oneness of the Godhead (John 17:11; John 17:20-21). Jesus says that He has given us His glory (John 17:22). The “Spirit of glory” (1 Peter 4:14) is the same Spirit who makes possible our efforts to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). There is a community of the Father and the Son within the Godhead (John 17:23). We are drawn by the Spirit into that Oneness.
I had always thought that this epistle was a covering letter for the Gospel. It certainly serves that purpose. On reflection I have come to concede that perhaps it addresses problems which emerged after the Gospel had been received (1 John 1:4). The Apostle is concerned that his congregants should have ‘fullness of joy’ (cf. Psalm 16:11). Happiness depends upon happenings, but joy abides through both good times and bad times.
John again emphasizes the integrity of the message of the gospel. The light of which he speaks is uncreated, original light, found in God Himself (1 John 1:5). John elsewhere refers to Jesus as the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world (John 1:9). Jesus claims to be “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). To substantiate this, He healed a man born blind whose testimony is echoed by all who have been saved from the blindness of ignorance and ungodliness: “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
Now John addresses the specific problem which has caused the schism within – or out from – the congregation (1 John 1:6). If God is light, and we are walking in darkness, then we cannot honestly claim to have fellowship with Him. This does not mean that we won’t have questions, but if we talk the talk without walking the walk how can we possibly claim to be His?
When we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we are enabled to have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). Fellowship on the horizontal plane is only possible when we first have fellowship with Him. We also learn what it means to have our sins washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
It would be untrue to say that we are suddenly sinless (1 John 1:8), but at least the habit of sin is no longer the ruling principle in our lives.
There is still, however, the need for the confession of specific sins, to God Himself, in the name of Jesus (1 John 1:9). Then we find God to be faithful (true to His promises); and both righteous and making righteous through the blood of Jesus (cf. Romans 3:26).
If we imagine for one moment that we have not sinned, then we make God out to be the liar, instead of ourselves, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:10).
John is writing so that we might “sin not” (1 John 2:1), in the full knowledge that we will, from time to time, fall into sin. In that eventuality, we still have an Advocate with the Father, ever interceding on our behalf at the right hand of God (cf. Romans 8:34). Jesus’ advocacy does not involve the calling forward of ‘extenuating circumstances’ to make excuse for our guilt, but the constant appeal of His own blood and righteousness.
Jesus Christ the righteous is the only true covering for our sins, absorbing the wrath of God that we so much deserve (1 John 2:2). Without the shedding of His blood, there is no remission (cf. Hebrews 9:22). Just in case we should claim some kind of exclusive right to that privilege, whether by ethnicity or by denomination, John reminds us that Jesus is the propitiation not for our sins only, but for the whole world.