THE LIFE MANIFESTED
1 John 1:2
“For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.”
It is very evident that John’s first epistle was designed as the sequel to and companion of his gospel (compare 20:31 and 1 John 5:13), and since he opened the one by a presentation of the deity of Christ, it was most fitting that he should commence the other with a setting forth of His humanity. This he does in the first verse, where most convincing proofs are supplied by reliable witnesses. “That which,” (namely our Lord’s manhood) “was from the beginning,” (of this Christian era). “That which we have heard”—speaking personally and audibly to us, and in power to our hearts. “That which we have seen with our eyes” in tangible form, furnishing conclusive evidence of the reality of His manhood. “That which we have looked upon” as none of the world did: the surpassing splendor of His countenance when He was transfigured upon the holy mount; His anguished face in Gethsemane, when His features were more marred than any man’s; the marks of the cross in His resurrection-body; His beloved form as it gradually receded from our view at the time of His ascension, (Acts 1:11).
“And our hands have handled.” John, moved by the Holy Spirit, was determined to certify unto his readers the verity and corporeality of his Master’s manhood, that there might be no doubt whatever on that score. There was no possibility of the apostles being misled by an optical illusion. Peter had felt the firm grasp of Christ’s hand when He caught hold of him and delivered him from sinking in the sea. John himself had actually reclined upon His bosom. Thomas and his fellows had been invited to handle Him after He came forth triumphantly from the tomb. It was something far more substantial than an ecstatic vision which John was here relating. “The nature which Christ took when He was born of Mary, He lifted out of the grave at His resurrection. We have, therefore, a Saviour, who not merely became a man, but wears His glorified humanity in heaven. His incarnation is thus associated with the redemption of man. He took our nature, stood in our place, and has taken possession of heaven as our Representative,” (James Morgan).
“Of the Word of life,” or more accurately, “concerning the Word of life;” that is to say, what has been so much insisted upon in the preceding clauses is intimately related to Him—His manhood is an essential part of the Mediator’s complex person. This title “the Word of life” at once informs us that the One whom John had in view was more than a man. “Life” is one of the prominent terms of this epistle, occurring no less than fourteen times. Three different words are employed in the Greek: here it is “zoe” the one which has the fullest signification. It is used in John 1:4— “in Him was life;” all life resides in Him. But that hardly seems the thought here, for it is not the Word in His essential being, but as incarnate: “For as the Father has life in Himself; so has He given the Son to have life in Himself,” (John 5:26)—to administer and impart unto others. John’s design here was not so much to declare what the Saviour is in Himself, as to show what He is to His people—the Communicator of life to them.
“The Word of life” in this verse we regard as being almost parallel with His own averment in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”—the Giver of life. As “the Word,” (Logos) He is the highest expression of God’s mind, the Revealer of the Godhead unto us, as “the Word of life” He is the Bestower of life upon us, and thus is the Link connecting us with God. If it is asked, What is the precise character of the “life” which Christ gives to His people? the answer is, Every kind that can be conceived. First, natural life, for He is the Author of our beings, (Col. 1:16). Second, spiritual life: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live,” (John 5:25), that is, those dead in trespasses and sins shall be quickened by Him. Third, resurrection life: “. . . the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life,” (John 5:28-29). Fourth, the life of glory: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory,” (Col. 3:4). Well may He be designated “The Prince of life,” (Acts 3:15)!
We can see no reason whatever why verse 2 should be placed in parentheses, for it is obviously a continuation of the former one, though with most important additions. This is yet more evident in the Greek, for it opens with the word “kai” which is usually translated “and” and scarcely ever “for:” “And the life was manifested.” A Divine person descended into the human domain. It was into a realm of darkness that the Light entered. It was unto a fallen and sinful people, a world which lay in the wicked one, that the Son of God now came. It was in the midst of a scene where death reigned that the Life was manifested. This Divine title is very emphatic. He is life essentially, He is life manifestatively, He is life communicatively. Christ may well be styled “The Life” for the natural life of all creatures is in Him and from Him. He is the spiritual life of angels as well as the Church. From heaven He came to earth to exhibit a life which had no beginning, no limitation, no end, and for the express purpose of conquering death, and becoming eternal life to His people, (John 17:2-3).
In the first two verses of his epistle John sets before us Christ in His theanthropic character, His twofold nature of deity and humanity. This was frequently the manner of New Testament writers. Mark commences his Gospel thus: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Paul began his treatise to the Romans by announcing that the gospel unto which he was separated, the contents of which he was about to expound, concerned “God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,” (1:3). The epistle to the Hebrews opens with a setting forth of Christ as the final revelation of God in His sevenfold mediatorial glory. In the first chapter of his Gospel John had affirmed the absolute deity of his Master (vv. 1-4), and then spoke of Him as incarnate, tabernacling among men (vv. 10-14). The reason for this is not far to seek. “The assumption of human nature by the Son of God is the most stupendous fact in the history of providence. Angels ‘desire to look into it,’ and are amazed at it. It will be the subject of devout inquiry and adoring wonder to the whole intelligent and holy creation of God throughout eternity. In the meantime, the salvation of the sinner is suspended upon it. In the incarnation of the Word there is provided for him an all-sufficient Saviour,” (James Morgan).
In the first verse the whole emphasis was thrown upon the visibility and tangibility of our Lord’s humanity. But John, ever jealous of His dignity and glory, would not have his readers form a false or inadequate concept of Christ, so in the second verse he makes clear His deity, both by the titles there accorded Him and by affirming His equality “with the Father.” In Christ all the perfections of God shine forth resplendently; through Him the whole Godhead is displayed. As another of His servants declared, the incarnate Son is “the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person,” (Heb. 1:3). He is the Mirror in which all the Divine perfections are exhibited to us. “God, that He might help our weakness, and attract our faith to Himself, hath been pleased to come, as it were, out of His unapproachable light, and manifest Himself in attributes such as wisdom, holiness, justice, grace, mercy, power, with the like. These rays of the Divine perfections are let down (in Christ) that we might sanctify Him in our hearts, that our souls might be in a posture of holy humility, fear, love, joy, and obedience, suited to those excellencies in Him,” (E. Polhill, 1678).
“And the life was manifested” in flesh, in open view of men. Since fallen creatures could not ascend to heaven in their sins, the Son descended to earth to be a Saviour for the lost. In order for the Life to be evident and apparent, the Infinite took upon Himself the limitations of the finite. In order that the Invisible might become visible, He was clothed in flesh and blood. We consider that W. Lincoln, in his brief lectures on this epistle, brought out the most helpfully the thought here, by making the term “manifested” a summary of the preceding verse. “From the beginning” conveys the idea of issuing forth: Christ coming from heaven to earth, from God to men.
The four verbs there show us Christ, as it were, approaching nearer and nearer, in ever clearer manifestation. A person at a distance may be heard. But “which we have seen with our eyes” means that person has come within the range of our vision he is near. “Which our hands have handled”—all distance is now obliterated. It is Christ drawing closer and closer, with ever-increasing intimacy, until He is clearly “manifested.”
But while the primary reference in “the life was manifested” is to the Divine incarnation, it is by no means to be restricted to that. The Life was manifested not only in bodily form, and through His gracious ministry, but still more especially in His salvation. As previously intimated, this title speaks not so much of what Christ is in Himself essentially considered, but what He is unto His people. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” (John 10:10)—than what they originally had in Adam before the fall. Christ indeed had life in Himself, (John 1:4) and therefore was He fully qualified to act the part of Mediator, interposing Himself between God and those who were dead in trespasses and sins, and thus become a Source of new life to them. But that necessarily involved His death in their behalf and in their stead. Therefore, right after announcing He had come “that they might have life,” He added, “I lay down My life for the sheep ... I lay down My life, that I might take it again,” (John 10:15-17).
These words in John 6 are to be regarded as a condensation of our Lord’s statement, “I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever. And the bread which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh... Unless you have eaten the flesh of the Son of man and have drunk His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood has everlasting life. And I will raise him up in the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood is living in Me, and I in him,” (John 6:51, 53-56). Those verses bring out more definitely the connection between the vicarious sacrifice of Christ and the communication of life. The atonement stands in causal relation to our receiving life from Christ: His crucified flesh is the fountain from which we derive spiritual life. So, verses 1 and 2 make known how perfectly qualified Christ is to bestow life and thus equip us for fellowship (v. 3).
“And we have seen” Him. The apostle now proceeds to amplify the foregoing statement, for in this connection “manifested” had the force of to be made visible. The “we have seen” is reiterated here because Christ’s tabernacling among men in tangible form was the most wonderful fact of all history. As S.E. Pierce expressed it. “The greatest event which ever took place in the world.” Yet, as that writer pointed out, “We are not so deeply sensible of this in our minds as we most certainly ought to be. The sufferings, agony, and bloody sweat of Christ, and His sustaining the very curse due to our transgressions, seem to fix a deeper impression of His love on our minds than His taking our nature. Yet there is more love expressed in the incarnation than we can ever possibly conceive. Out of it the whole execution of our salvation proceeded. He could love us in heaven with as great a degree of love as He will to the ages of eternity; but He could not be made sin and a curse for us in heaven.... The incarnation of Christ was a most astonishing proof of His love.”
“We have seen.” The senses of the body have their place and value, being given to us by God for the purpose (among other things) of imparting knowledge to the mind. They are therefore a means of information and verification. The apostles had beheld Christ in a manner that the patriarchs and prophets had not done, for they had seen Him only in prophecy and promise, in types and visions. Though He had occasionally appeared unto them in human form (the “theophanies”) they had not looked upon Him as actually incarnate, clothed with flesh and blood, dwelling among and conversing with them as He did with the apostles. Thus, as Calvin pointed out, there is “an implied contrast” in this “we have seen.” Though the Old Testament saints were partakers of the same Life as us, and though their faith rested upon the sure promise of God, nevertheless they were shut up under a hope yet to be revealed; whereas in the case of the apostles that hope was manifested in bodily and visible form.
“We have seen and bear witness.” It was not a second-hand report which they proclaimed, but something they had personally heard and seen for themselves. When Judas apostatized and another was needed to fill his office, it was required that he be “of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection,” (Acts 1:21-22). The apostles were eye-witnesses as well as ear-witnesses, and therefore did one of them declare: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty,” (2 Pet. 1:16). It is that very fact which renders excuseless all those who refuse to receive their testimony, for “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him?” (Heb. 2:3).
Christianity fears not the light, but welcomes the most searching investigation, for not only are the historical facts on which it is based attested by the most reliable witnesses and “by many infallible proofs,” (Acts 1:3), but it is able to supply rational conviction and solid persuasion of its verity both to the understanding and to the conscience. Many others indeed heard and saw Christ during the days of His flesh, yet they enjoyed not personally that constant closeness to Him as had the twelve. They were not specially called, but supernaturally qualified, being given the power to work “both signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will,” (Heb. 2:4). Thus a peculiar dignity and position was theirs, for in the foundations of the new Jerusalem are “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb,” (Rev. 21:14). Thus, in the very nature of the case, they could have no “successors.”
“And show [better, “report,” as the Greek word is rendered in the next verse] unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father:” This is brought in to guard the glory of the One spoken of in the preceding verse, telling us that “the Word of life” came from the bosom of the Father. Though He had only recently been “manifested,” it was not then that He began to be. On the contrary, He had ever been with the Father: thus the “which was with” rather than “which is”—after the ascension. Thus this declaration is parallel with the “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” of John 1:1. “The Life,” then, is a Divine Person, distinguishable from the Father yet in eternal fellowship with Him. One in the undivided essence of the Godhead, but possessing distinct personality. “That eternal life which was with the Father.” His duration evidences His excellency and sufficiency. In our judgment this statement indicates that “From the beginning” in verse 1 does not have the force of from everlasting: had it done so, there would not have been any need to say that the Life was “eternal.”
“That eternal life which was with the Father.” “The preposition (pros) is very significant. It might be translated ‘toward’ or ‘to’ and suggests that the Eternal Life was face to face with the Eternal Father,” (Levi Palmer). As Christ, speaking as “Wisdom” informs us, “Then when God appointed the foundations of the earth] I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him,” (Prov. 8:30). “Wonderful words! How can we apprehend their meaning and force? He dwelt with Him as His ‘Fellow,’ and partook in common with Him of eternal life. Christ, as the Son of God, is essentially possessed of life in its highest exercises and enjoyments. It is of Him John says in this epistle, ‘This is the true God and eternal life,’ (5:20). Life is His to impart it to sinners. ‘This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son,’ (5:11). It is laid up in Him, in His mediatorial person, as in a fountain, to which sinners may ever come and receive out of His fullness,” (James Morgan).
“And was manifested unto us.” This is by no means a repetition of the first clause of the verse: that was general, this particular—as the qualifying “unto us” shows. The reference is to the peculiar privilege enjoyed by the twelve. All the Lord’s ministers, and in a lesser degree His people, are witnesses unto Him; but not all in the same way, or to answer the same end for which the apostles were appointed. Christ prayed that, from His ascension till His return, all the election of grace might believe through their word, (John 17:20). The Church is said to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone,” (Eph. 2:20). In them was specially fulfilled His promise, “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth,” (John 16:13), so that they could not but give an accurate and Divine account of Christ in every particular which they delivered of and concerning Him. The apostles were under the immediate control of the Spirit. After the day of Pentecost their conceptions of the truth were directly from Him. They were infallibly taught by Him. We may therefore rely on their testimony with absolute assurance of its integrity.
But something more is needed than a firm persuasion of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the apostolic report, namely a personal knowledge of and saving acquaintance with Christ for ourselves. In reading and re-reading the first three verses of this epistle, one cannot fail to be struck by the earnestness of John, how evidently he longed that Christ might be truly apprehended by his readers; and it is equally clear from much that follows that he feared, notwithstanding all his plainness and urgency, they might still remain ignorant of Him. The manifestation of Christ in the flesh is one thing, the manifestation of Him to the heart, by His Spirit and Word, is another. Have you, dear reader, an experiential acquaintance with Him? Have you proved Him to be “the Word of Life” by His effectual working in your own soul? “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:3). Unless you are taught by Him you can neither discover your need or discern the sufficiency of Christ to meet it. But if He is your Instructor you will really feel and confess both. Pray, then, for His divine illumination and a fuller understanding of Christ.
Were we to sermonize the last clause of verse 1, together with the whole of verse 2, our title and divisions would be: The Life openly revealed. (1) The Person spoken of; (2) The titles accorded Him; (3) The manifestation made by Him; (4) His eternal preexistence; (5) The witnesses to it; (6) The peculiar privileges granted them.