1 John is a favourite go-to for a Christian’s devotions. Devotions (in case you aren’t up on the v.) are when Christians read their Bibles as regularly as they can to grow in their love and “devotion” to God. John is usually considered an “easy read” and so, many turn to his Gospel and letters for help in the devo dept.
I’d like to walk through, in cursory fashion (that is, brief, not slip-shod), John’s first epistle and ask you to consider some matters which draw my attention.
Before we start, I would like to lay down a ground rule, hoping to establish what I believe ought to be a guiding light as we read. What I would like to say is this. John is writing at the end of an historycal era and his choice both of theme and word is limited in meaning due to that fact. The precise reason John is writing is because he believes this fact. John believes his audience is right there with him in the t. of t. He knows they know at what point in history they are and, so, he doesn’t need to explain why he alludes here or there to this or that. He does not do this precisely because he knows they know.
But my saying John is writing at the end of an historycal era reveals that I also know what John knows; and I also know what John’s readers know. We know the same thing. We both know the event horizon is on the h. as it were. Now, some of you might be wondering, “What event? What event is on the horizon? What historycal era is coming to an end?” What I am getting at is this. Every book of the NT is presuming the same thing. They are all anticipating the same event horizon. Every gospel, every epistle, everything. They are all about the same thing. Which means if you don’t know what they are all about, you might need to reconsider things. Set your interpretation on “pause.” Suspend your j. for just a few m’s.
So, what is the big “E?” It’s the culmination of an historycal era. The old is passing, the new is coming. John says it this way, “That which was from the beginning we are proclaiming to you.” Still a bit enigmatic, no? In other words, John is proclaiming, “The story which began and held out hope, I am saying is now. What we have been longing for all our days–‘that’ day, “the DAY,” is here. (Please ask for more info if anything comes to mind.) Let’s look at what John says.
That which was from the beginning….
1. What which?
2. What beginning?
“That which was from the beginning,” in other words, means, “That for which we have been waiting since this all began…” But again, “since what all began?” Since God began to work with a recalcitrant child named Israel, that’s when; that’s what “beginning.” Since God started that project. At this point, please take a moment to read Deuteronomy 32 and familiarize yourself with its intention and meaning. I believe that what we see happening in the NT is the end of that song; rather, it is how the song ends.
Which we have heard; which we have seen with our eyes; which our hands have handled concerning the Word of Life.
Which which is which, John? Which what? Which hope. That hope which was held out as hope from the beginning? We heard it. We saw it. We touched it. It’s here. He’s here. Life is here. The life held out in the Garden is now.
the life was manifest and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and manifest to us…
When do you recall first coming across the idea of “eternal life?” For me, it’s the garden scene. The tree of life is in the midst of the garden and after the pair disobey God, they are barred from that tree lest they eat from the tree and live forever… Now, eternal life and living forever surely mean the same thing. But what we need to understand from the story of Genesis 2 is the trees are eras. They are historycal timelines, the one paving the way to the next. During the one tree’s history “life” is not possible because it is the historycal time leading up to the next epoch. Life could not be had until history had run its course. When life came at the appointed time, the former tree of wisdom was to be left behind for the bigger and better tree of life. Wisdom leads to life: do this and live; I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life.
Adam is told, “In the day you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon dying you will die.” Now most take this to mean that the actual date in history Adam eats from the tree is the day physical death enters the world. After all, that is what God says: the “moment” that fruit enters your stomach, you will die. Even though they do not die “that day,” the process is begun. After all, had God carried out the sanction who would “be fruitful and multiply?” There are numerous suppositions which influence this reading, however. One is this, that Adam and the Woman (she isn’t named Eve yet) are the first humans God creates and they are apparently fresh off the train and death isn’t a reality for them. Second, the Hebrew phrase, “dying you shall die,” is taken superlatively; that is, “you will most certainly die.”
If, however, as I suggest the trees are history itself; and, if, as I suggest the tree of life is the age which follows the previous tree of wisdom, then the “day” when the transition occurs is the day to which God refers. Eating from the tree, then, is not literal but symbolic. God has appointed a new moment in history when one age gives way to the next and if “Adam” chooses to eat from the tree of death instead of the tree of life, the covenant sanction of “eternal life” is forfeited and in “dying, you will not get back up again.” What this implies is that death is natural and that God had always planned on transfiguring and transforming mankind out of and in spite of death. What this also implies is the historycal order God had ordained necessitated the incarnation of the eternal Word. Death is normal and final unless the life provided through the Son is embraced.