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Lesson 1: Jesus and the Johannine Letters *

Introduction: Have you ever gotten a phone message that seems important, but the person forgot to leave their name or phone number? What about people who call you and don't say who they are? What about fax messages to the "main office" fax machine that are not addressed to you? These things annoy me because it makes it more difficult to receive and understand the full message. Our study of the book of 1 John presents a similar problem: it does not clearly say who wrote it. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn about this mysterious messenger and his(?)message!

  1. Bible Detectives

    1. Read 1 John 1:1. What clues do we find about the author of this book? (The "Word of Life" must mean Jesus, so this was an eye witness to Jesus. Someone close enough to claim to have listened to Jesus and even touched Him. That considerably narrows the list of potential authors.)

      1. Is there more than one author? What is this "we" business? As in "we have heard," "we have seen," "we have looked?" (The author must think that people will identify him as part of a group.)

      2. Is there a clue in the very fact that the author does not say who he is? (People who call me and who do not say their name are people who think I already know their voice. What they don't know is that I cannot distinguish some voices on the telephone. This author, this "we," believes that those to whom this book is written know him. That is a clue that this is one of Jesus' disciples, an apostle. Being an apostle is to be a member of a clearly known group.)

    2. Read John 1:1-2. Now re-read 1 John 1:1. What clue do we have here about the author? (The two books have a similar "beginning" and use similar "Words." This is a clue that the apostle John was the author of both books.)

    3. Read 2 John 1:1 and 3 John 1:1. What clue do we find in the term "elder?" (The author is "the elder." That is pretty cryptic, but we are making more progress in our detective work.)

      1. What does "the elder" suggest to you? This is more evidence that the author is a respected leader of the Christian community who believes that he needs very little introduction.)

    4. Barnes Notes, in his introduction to the epistles of John, tells us that prominent Christian leaders, as early as the second century, referred to the apostle John as the author of these three letters. We need not go into this in more detail, because there is little doubt that the apostle John is the author of these epistles.

  2. Jesus and John

    1. Re-read 1 John 1:1. If we are right that Jesus is "the Word of Life," what does John say about Jesus? (That Jesus was there from the start.)

      1. The start of what? The ministry of Jesus on earth? (Read John 1:1-4. John means Jesus was present from the beginning of the universe and that Jesus possessed "life.")

    2. Both in 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1 Jesus is called the "Word." Any idea why? (Read Genesis 1:1-3. Genesis tells us that God spoke the universe into existence. Calling Jesus "Word" or "Word of life" credits Him with the power to create the universe by merely speaking.)

      1. Think about that a minute. John also says in 1 John 1:1 that he has heard, seen and touched Jesus. Does it seem reasonable that John should claim Jesus spoke the universe into existence if Jesus is someone who could be touched by humans? (Right at the beginning John makes the most extraordinary claim for Jesus: that He is our Creator.)

      2. Does John think that the Genesis account is some sort of "creation myth" given to primitive humans to tell them that God was generally supervising the evolutionary process? (John makes the claim that the universe was created by verbal command - and that Commander was Jesus.)

        1. John must think this subject is important if he starts out both his gospel and his first epistle on this topic. Why is this issue (Creation vs. Evolution) important? (It has everything to do with the power of God and God's claim to authority over humanity. Either we serve a God who has the power to speak the universe into existence, and has spoken us into existence, or we serve a God who is more like us - limited in our abilities.)

        2. If evolution is a correct theory of origin, what reason is there to believe a God exists? (This is one of those "grand theory" answers which you either understand or you do not. If the universe came about by chance, then there is no need to believe in a God. However, if the universe was created, then you know a God (of some type) exists. Naves catalogs 104 Bible texts (under "Creator"), ranging from Genesis to Revelation, where God either directly or indirectly stakes His claim to authority over humans on the fact of His Creation. John understands this clearly, many so-called Christians these days do not.)

    3. Read 1 John 1:1-2. John tells us that the "Word of Life" "appeared" and was seen, heard and touched by John and others. What other reason might John refer to Jesus as the "Word of Life?" (Words are tools to communicate. John is telling us that Jesus is giving us a message from heaven.)

      1. What role does John play in the work of the Word? (Just as Jesus communicates meaning and understanding about God the Father, so John repeats these important messages to us.)

  3. John, the Reliable Witness about Jesus.

    1. Lets assume that you had a UFO ("Unidentified Flying Object") encounter last night. Also assume that you and I do not know each other. You want me to believe your story and I'm pretty skeptical. What would you say to make me believe? (Since we do not know each other, you cannot appeal to my trust in you. So you have to appeal to what makes a trust-worthy witness.)

      1. Lets look at the law a minute. There are a few rules that help the fact-finder focus on reliable, competent evidence. These rules exclude the fact-finder from even hearing very unreliable, incompetent evidence. One well-known evidentiary rule is the "Rule Against Hearsay."

      2. What does the hearsay rule exclude? (Testimony from people who are not in the courtroom. If you are the one who saw or heard the evidence, you have to be in court to be able to talk about it. I can't testify, "My Uncle Bob saw that the light was red." If Bob saw it, he has to be the one in court declaring it. It requires first-hand knowledge - so Bob can be effectively cross-examined.)

    2. When you consider 1 John 1:1-2, does the apostle John sounds like he knows about the hearsay rule? (Yes! He says that he is an eye-witness, no hearsay here.)

      1. But, if John is so well-known and respected by his readers, why does he need to be concerned about the hearsay rule in his letter? (He expects the letter to be passed on to others.)

    3. Aside from personal knowledge, what are some other things you would guess a lawyer relies upon in cross-examination to show that someone is or is not a reliable witness? (The ability to observe, to see correctly. This ranges from distance issues, to lighting issues, to the condition of your eyesight, to weather conditions, to bias, etc.)

      1. What does John say to bolster his testimony (our willingness to believe him) beyond having first-hand knowledge? (That he heard and that he touched.)

      2. Notice that John says he saw it twice. "We have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at." What does that mean? (The Greek means more than just looking, it means he contemplated it. Sort of a long, serious look. Not just looking, really seeing.)

        1. Why would John say that? (Eye witnesses can be wrong. So John says his was a long, hard look at Jesus' credentials. John spent time with Jesus. His conclusion is not a casual matter.)

    4. Let's step back a minute. John is claiming that Jesus is the Creator of the universe. How can John claim first-hand knowledge about that? (Obviously, John cannot. I think he is making a logical argument. John does not think his readers doubt whether Jesus was a historical person. Instead, the issue is the nature of Jesus' life on earth and whether Jesus is now alive. Whether there is a resurrected Jesus. John says, "I sensed Jesus' miracles in every possible way, and I am a first-hand witness to Jesus' resurrection. I believe Jesus is God and I believe He is the Creator of the universe.)

    5. Friend, how about you? Will you accept that Jesus is God and the Creator of the universe? This is the first step to salvation and (as we will discuss next week) the path to joy!)

  4. Next week: Experiencing the Word of Life.
* Copr. 2009, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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