1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—
2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
Nelson, Thomas (2009-02-18). Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) (p. 1178). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
John wanted to assure his readers that the historical incarnation of Jesus was historical truth. Historicity is the bulwark of faith. In history, real knowledge exists. Someone lived, accomplished certain things, and then died. It is knowledge that can be verified. There were eye witnesses, and they spoke of what they saw. Faith draws upon knowledge, for there cannot be faith in non-existence. Genuine faith could not be placed in that which does not exists, because that which does not exists could not be brought to mind toward which one would claim, “I believe.”
From the outset, John established that faith pointed to what he saw, heard, and handled. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus move among the people, healing some and speaking to others. John touched Jesus and knew He was real. He was witness not only to Jesus’ life but also to His death and resurrection. His writing showed that he trusted what he saw and heard. One might argue, “Isn’t faith that which is in the unseen.” Yes, but it is also in evidence of what one sees. The writer of the Hebrews letter writes,
“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The world around us stands out visible to our eyes. Why then do we need faith? Observation is one thing, but understanding is quite a different matter. Both lend to faith. However, the understanding receives enlightenment through faith. That which one observes supplies evidence just as much as that which one does not see. We do not see words, and a deaf person does not hear them, nor can a blind person read them. However, their lack of hearing, reading, or touching does not at all discount their existence. How then does one know such words exists? Another brings the evidence of the reality of those words. It is valid for one to introduce evidence to another.
The hope, joy, and faith of John’s audience of his letter depended on the historical fact of Jesus and His death and resurrection. All that Jesus did and spoke was as true as the most recent events of the past. It was just as certain the accounts of the US presidential lines, the various wars in which the US fought, and yesterday’s news.
John gave witness that they [the apostles and others who knew and followed Jesus] heard, saw, and touched the living Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh, lived among fallen humanity, suffered persecution and opposition, was executed, and rose again from the dead. John had earlier written of these events in his gospel. Now he sets this very truth out as foundational when he writes to his audience. Since Jesus was who he said he was, that claim and historical fact makes all the difference for all who believe Him. That belief acts as an anchor of allegiance to Him as Lord of all.
There are different types and levels of allegiances. Many pledge allegiance to a political party, and that causes them to rally for that party through time and money regardless sometimes of the candidate. For many, the platform for that party are simply benchmarks for society as a whole and are the drawing card for allegiance. Nothing calls individuals to absolute obedience to them. They simply hold them as what the party stands for and can be changed for the next election cycle. They may not be burned into the minds and hearts of all who pledge allegiance to the party. It is allegiance to a non-personal. People can hold differing opinions and interpretations of the elements of this non-personal platform and still give allegiance to it.
Many pledge allegiance to a nation and the flag that represents that nation. The Constitution also stands as a standard for that nation. Yet, the Constitution’s interpreters can read into or skew the meaning of this Constitution to mean other than what the original writer meant until this document becomes meaningless. The pledge to the Constitution becomes a pledge to a generalized form in which the content becomes lost or changed over time as people go about living their lives as though it does not exist until the rights the Constitution bestows are removed. Then people get up in arms that a group or person stands in their way between them and that form. Their complaint is about the form and not so much their commitment to its contents.
The interesting thing about giving allegiance to a nation or a document as the Constitution is that a ruthless dictator can rule the nation while spewing out propaganda for gaining allegiance of the people. Germany was a good example during World War II. The document could also contain lies lacking any attachment to reality. Giving allegiance to such a national leader or document is giving allegiance to that which is false. Yes, people can give allegiance to something false or false knowledge, something not grounded in truth or evidence. Such an allegiance has occurred numerous times in history. Consider the false Greek and Roman gods without history or reality. Deceit undergirds this allegiance. The proprietors of the temple of Diana in Ephesus is a stellar example of profitable deceit. People deceive without giving evidence or verification of their claims.
However, John carries allegiance well beyond a party or document. Rather, he points to a living person and not some impersonal entity like a political party or document. Since an allegiance is to a person, it takes on a far different dimension. It is true that people give allegiance to other people. However, such an allegiance frequently takes on an external commitment. They give up their material goods and time to become involved in some sort of membership or group the person to whom they give allegiance represents. Jesus calls for an allegiance that is greater and deeper than the external. It is one that involves internal motives, thoughts and intents, feeling and desire, and behaviors untouched by a mere man. Following Jesus calls for an allegiance that renders internal change of all we are for expressing a new way of life.
Let us return to the Hebrews passage a moment. Observations of the world about us gives evidence that it came about some time in the past. How one understands what one observes depends on one’s interpretation of what one observes and how that interpretation agrees with reality. Since we are far removed from the origins of existence, all we can do is attempt to propose hypotheses and try our best to test them with the best tools available, which are better than those 200 years ago but probably inferior to those in 200 years from now. Nobody saw existence come about. That eliminates observation. Even then, much about origins is speculation and requires some sort of faith that whatever first thrust the elements of what exists also existed. Many scientists simply claim they do not know the origins of existence. The writer of Hebrews offers a starting point. All that we see did not come about from that which is visible. That is, all that began to exist did not give rise to that which began to exist. Rather, that invisible God created all that began to exist. Faith is required for both views of how things began to exist. However, the Hebrew writer claims that the invisible God as Creator is far more credible than the starting point of the visible giving rise to the visible or eternal matter.
The same thing holds true with John’s message. He wrote his opening statement based on living testimony (evidence), “That which was from the beginning” (1:1). If Jesus was from the beginning, as John claims from the mouth of Jesus Himself, would such first-hand evidence be more credible than drawing conclusions from lack of observation?
If all Jesus said was true, and John recorded what He said, would it not make sense to give allegiance to such personal first-hand knowledge, especially when Jesus supported this knowledge through His resurrection from the dead? The opening paragraph of John lays the foundation for this new way of life by setting forth the person to whom all allegiances are rendered. With this foundation established on a person, John can then set forth the argument that true allegiance assumes the same depth of personal allegiance as Jesus had with His Father, which John illustrates specifically as he works out throughout his entire letter of 1 John the substance of this allegiance to Jesus.