11 February 2013

1 John 1:1 – 2:6

"We declare to you what was heard from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us." (vv. 1-2)


The author of this short but important letter, John, is generally believed to be the same person who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. Although he doesn't identify himself in the letter, its style is akin to the Gospel using simple Greek and containing similar contrasting images such as light and dark, love and hate, life and death. The letter was written between AD85-95, some 50 years after Jesus' death. You can imagine John, reaching the end of his life, wanting to pass on his final words of encouragement and teaching.

Given its date, it would have been addressed to second or third- generation Christians, many of whom would not have been born when Jesus walked the earth, or would not even have met men or women whom had been face to face with Jesus.

As such the thrill and excitement of Jesus would have been and gone, only to be replaced by a certain weariness. It is into this world that the first few verses of this letter arrive like a bolt out of the blue. The punctuation in the NRSV translation doesn't really do justice to the words. Try reading it again with some exclamation marks added and you can see the impact of the words.

The phrase "eternal life" can cause some confusion to modern readers. It is easy to come to the conclusion that the letter is referring to some spiritual afterlife, but it can also be translated as 'the age of God'. The Jewish people understood history to be divided into two periods: the present age, with its difficulties, pain and injustice; and the age to come, when God would put all things right. It is this second age that John is referring to.

It is through Jesus that we have been given a glimpse of that future age- "this life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it" - his words, his actions and his very life and given us a sneak preview of what is to come. And this is what John wants to share.

To Ponder

  • What do you imagine "the age of God" to be like? How would you describe it to someone who had no knowledge or understanding of the Christian faith?
  • When your faith becomes weary or discipleship seems a struggle, what encourages or reenergises you?
  • John would have been very old when he wrote this letter. What words or message would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Bible notes author

Ken Kingston

Ken Kingston preaches in the High Wycombe Circuit. He has worked for the Connexional Team since 1992 in a variety of roles and has been involved in 'Called by Name' and 'Time to Talk of God' amongst others.