The First in a Series on the Epistles of John
I know of no religious truth claim quite like the one found in the opening verses of John’s first epistle. According to the author (John)–who claims to be an eyewitness to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ–God himself was manifest in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The author knows this to be true, because with his own ears he has heard God in the flesh teach and preach. With his own eyes, John has seen God in the flesh perform miracles, demonstrate his glory, and present himself alive after his resurrection from the dead. With his own hands, John has reached out and touched the very son of God. Even as John opens this epistle, he proclaims to us that we too may have fellowship with that same incarnate word whom John describes throughout this epistle as God manifest in the flesh. Therefore, Christianity is a religion of flesh and blood, anchored in the public record of history, and not in the secret recesses of the sinful human heart.
We begin a new series on the epistles of John. These epistles include the letters known to us as 1st , 2nd , and 3rd John. In order to interpret these epistles correctly, it is vital that we know something about the historical background and circumstances which led to their composition. Therefore, I’d like to spend some of our time this morning going through this material before we turn our attention to the first four verses of John’s first epistle, in which John announces his intention to proclaim to us that Jesus is the word of life, God manifest in the flesh.
The historical circumstances which led to the writing of John’s epistles is vastly different from that of the Book of James, or the Epistle of Jude, which we covered earlier this year. James was written about ten years after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians living throughout Palestine and Syria. John, on the other hand, is writing to a group of house churches in and around Ephesus (made up of Jews and Gentiles). Not only does John compose these epistles as much as a generation later, the churches to which he was writing are facing a number of false teachers who were denying that Jesus was God in the flesh. Sadly, many of those teaching such a thing are men who have departed from the faith. Thus John must deal with an entirely different set of circumstances than James. If James was the earliest letter in the New Testament, the epistles of John are surely among the last documents to be included in the canon of the New Testament.
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