God Has Given Us Eternal Life in His Son
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Last week’s passage began and ended with reference to the importance of right belief concerning Jesus. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1). “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). For John, it is of utmost importance that we understand who Jesus is and that we accept him for who he really is. We cannot afford to be wrong about this. If we believe wrongly about Jesus, we cannot be “born of God” and we will not be able to “overcome the world.”
In John’s day there were many who did not believe rightly about who Jesus was. John wrote his Gospel and this letter for the express purpose of persuading people to believe rightly about the identity of Jesus. In our day the same problem exists. The question that Jesus once asked his disciples—“Who do you say that I am?”—is still a relevant question for us today.
It is surprising to hear how people answer this question. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that he is an angel, the first created being of God. Mormons say that he was naturally procreated through a relationship between God and Mary. Muslims say he was a prophet and a great moral teacher. And if you think that deviant beliefs about Jesus are believed only by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and Muslims, think again. Some prominent voices in the church are steering dangerously close to the teachings of men like John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar who shamelessly teaches (among other things) that Jesus was born through normal conception from Mary and Joseph. It is amazing that even so-called evangelical Christians can now suggest that the essence of the Christian faith is not undermined by denying the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
So the question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” remains a controversial question to this day. And according to what John has written, getting that answer wrong is eternally dangerous. So how can we be sure that we get the answer right?
That’s the subject John writes about in the next seven verses. He wants to give us his perspective on who Jesus is and he wants to give us the evidence for his perspective.
TESTIMONY: WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT JESUS
In order to find out who Jesus is we need to hear some testimony about him. Ten times in these verses John uses words referring to the “testimony” about Jesus. What is meant by a “testimony” concerning Jesus?
John’s concern is not that we take a poll about what other people say about Jesus. John is not interested in popular opinion. He wants to get at the truth of who Jesus is, whether or not people accept him as such. So John shares with us a testimony concerning Jesus. This is not the only place we can find a testimony about Jesus. The Book of Mormon is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” But John says that what he writes here is God’s testimony concerning Jesus. What does God have to say about this Jesus from Nazareth?
Jesus is the Son of God
In verses 6-9 we find the testimony of God concerning, as verse 9 says, “his Son.” This is the essence of what our passage today is all about. John says that the testimony that God gives about Jesus is simply that Jesus is the Son of God.
We have already learned that when John says that Jesus is the Son of God he is saying that Jesus relates to God in a unique way. He is the only example in the category called God’s “Son.” For John, only Jesus gets the title “Son of God” because no other being relates to God in the same way that he does. Jesus must, therefore, be much more than human. And he must be something much different than an angel. John’s readers would have understood this testimony and the claim that Jesus was the Son of God as a claim that Jesus shared the divine nature with God. It is abundantly evident in John’s Gospel that the title “Son of God” applied to Jesus was understood to mean that Jesus claimed to be God. Because he claimed this title, the Jews considered it blasphemy. John 15:18 tells us, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (See also John 10:30-39.) Even the pagan ruler, Pilate, understood the gravity of this claim. After hearing that Jesus was calling himself the “Son of God” Pilate became afraid and questioned Jesus further, saying, “Where are you from?” (John 19:7-9).
So let’s do away with this nonsense that the Son of God is “the one God created first” or “the most powerful of all of God’s creatures.” John’s readers understood that the Son of God would also possess the divine nature. John is not trying to convince us in this passage that the Son of God is equal with the Father in nature, because that was understood by all of John’s readers. What John wants to convince us is that Jesus, the man who walked this earth 2,000 years ago, is that Son of God.
God’s Three Witnesses
There is little doubt that the historical person Jesus is the most important person who has ever lived on this earth. His is the most recognized name on the planet. Virtually every religion has something positive to say about Jesus, even if the testimony each gives about him differs from the others.
John says that God’s testimony about this Jesus is that he was and is the Son of God. That is a controversial claim, so John proceeds to give us some supporting evidence for this claim. God has three witnesses that give a unified testimony about Jesus. We read in verses 7 and 8: “For there are three that testify; the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”
We need to understand what John means by “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in order to understand how these three witnesses give evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. But before we do that, I need to make a comment about what seems to be missing in these verses in comparison to the reading of the King James Version. Verse 7 in the King James reads, “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” The additional words continue in verse 8: “And there are three that bear witness in earth.”
The extra words in the King James Version are exactly that—extra words. They are clearly not part of what John originally wrote. We could spend the rest of our time this morning stating all the reasons why the verses must not be considered original, but I’ll just mention one. The passage is not found in the text of any Greek manuscript prior to the sixteenth century. In fact, the editor of the Greek text upon which the King James Version is based, Erasmus, did not include the passage in his original edition for the very reason that he could find no Greek manuscript that included it. But because of the criticism he faced for leaving the disputed passage out, he promised to include it in later editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that included it. Eventually one such manuscript appeared, and Erasmus kept his promised but noted at length his suspicions that the manuscript had been specially prepared in order to prove him wrong for leaving it out in the first place.
The disputed words, had they been original, would form the clearest expression of the unity of the Trinity in the Bible, and therefore many want the verses to be original for this reason alone. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not depend upon the authenticity of these words, and it would be just as wrong to add words to Holy Scripture as it would be to leave them out. In fact, including these words breaks up the argument of the passage, another good reason for dismissing the originality of this reading. John is trying to give evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. He is not concerned here with the unity of the Trinity.
The testimony of the water
What does it mean that Jesus came “by water” and how does this “water” testify that Jesus is the Son of God? The meaning of the water and blood in these verses is disputed, but John’s original readers no doubt understood what he meant. Most Bible scholars agree that the water John is talking about here is a reference to the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry. John is saying that we can look to the baptism of Jesus for evidence that he was, in fact, the Son of God.
John gives us an account of the baptism of Jesus in John 1:29-34.
The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Notice that twice in this passage John the Baptist says about Jesus, “I myself did not know him, but...” What we find here is that one of the purposes of the baptism of Jesus was to make him known. John the Baptist said that he did not know him. This seems curious given the fact that when he saw Jesus he called him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And in Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:13-17), John at first refused to baptize Jesus saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” So it is clear that John knew something about Jesus before his baptism.
So apparently something happened at the baptism of Jesus that led John the Baptist to say that I really didn’t know him before. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came up out of the water, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” The baptismal waters of Jesus revealed something more about Jesus to John the Baptist than John previously knew. He apparently knew that Jesus was a chosen one of God, chosen to bring about the forgiveness of sin. He probably concluded that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. But it was at the baptism of Jesus that John concluded something else. Jesus was not just Messiah; he was also the Son of God.
The testimony of the blood
There is a second witness that John mentions, namely, the blood. Again this reference has caused much debate, but the best explanation is that John is using the blood to refer to the violent death of Jesus on the cross. So John is saying that the crucifixion of Jesus tells us something else about him. What do we learn at the cross?
We might ask the centurion and the others who guarded Jesus’ cross. Let’s read Matthew’s account of what happened at the death of Jesus.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54).
The death of Jesus was another way that God gave credible testimony that Jesus was not just an ordinary human being. The water and the blood serve as “bookends” to Jesus’ life on earth, from the moment he began his public ministry to the moment of his death. In referring to the water of Jesus’ baptism and the blood of Jesus’ cross as witnesses, John is in effect saying that the whole of Jesus’ life demonstrates who he is, and so all of who Jesus is must be believed in order to overcome the world (v. 5).
This second witness, the blood, appears to be of particular interest to John. Notice how verse six in our text reads. “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” Certainly this emphasis could be a way that John is combating the heresy of Cerinthus who maintained that the spirit of Messiah left Jesus prior to his death. But that’s not all that John wants to combat. He wants to combat heretical views of Jesus on both ends, either the one that takes too low a view of Jesus by denying his deity or the one that takes too high a view of Jesus by denying his humanity. John is saying that the water and the blood testify that the fully human Jesus, the one who went through the waters of baptism and also went through the crucifixion, is also the Son of God. He is fully human and fully divine.
The testimony of the Spirit
John says that there is one more testifier to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. Verse six concludes this way: “And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” Indeed, it is not until verse eight that the water and the blood are called witnesses, too. John says first that it is the Spirit who testifies, and the reason the Spirit does so is because “the Spirit is the truth.”
It is the role of the Holy Spirit to point to Jesus and to magnify him. Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26). And earlier in this book John told us that we can know the Spirit of God in this way: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2). So it is the Holy Spirit’s role not to magnify himself but to magnify Jesus. And it is the Spirit’s role to give credible testimony because he is a Spirit of truth.
But how does the Holy Spirit testify? Verses 7 and 8 suggest that the Holy Spirit gave his testimony about Jesus by means of the water and the blood. In other words, the witness of Jesus’ baptism and his death that was effective in causing John the Baptist and the centurion to see Jesus as the Son of God was made effective by a role that the Holy Spirit played. Hundreds of others had been baptized; many others had been crucified. But what made Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion so compelling was the testimony of the Holy Spirit (see for example the role of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism, John 1:33).
There may be more. The testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood are described in the present tense in verses 6-7. Their testimony continues in some sense. It is possible that what John means in these two verses is that the water and the blood, signified by the Christian practices of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, continue to give testimony through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God. If this is the case, then we can even say that it is within the Church that the Holy Spirit continues to give credible evidence of who Jesus is.
Whether or not this is the exact point of the Spirit, water, and blood in verses 7 and 8 we can observe one final thing. In the closing words of verse 8, “these three agree.” That is, their respective testimonies converge upon the same basic truth, validating the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth. The law required 2 or 3 witnesses to validate a given testimony (Deut 19:15). John has given us his three witnesses.
DECISION: WHAT TO DO WITH THE TESTIMONY OF GOD?
Having concluded the testimony of God about Jesus, John forces us to not just hear the testimony but also to decide upon it. But the jury should not have to deliberate very long because this is no mere testimony that we have just heard.
The testimony of God is greater than the testimony of men
John says in verse 9, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.” What John wants to emphasize in this verse is that this testimony we have just heard about Jesus is much more worthy of being accepted simply because it is God’s testimony, and not merely the testimony of men. If we readily accept the testimony of men, especially when that testimony is validated by 3 witnesses, how much more ought we be ready to accept this testimony of God?
John’s argument is, of course, watertight. But he makes it precisely because so many reject this testimony about Jesus. Those who reject the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus do so without knowing what they are really doing. They do not know that they are rejecting God’s testimony about Jesus. John is preparing us to see how perilous it is to not grasp the gravity of the situation before us. The situation is equally dangerous for the sincere cultist and for the nominal Christian. We have just heard the testimony of God. What will we do with this testimony?
Believe, or accuse God of lying
John presents us with two options. We can accept the testimony of God or we can reject it. To accept God’s testimony about Jesus involves a deliberate action, however. John says, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” Notice, to accept the testimony of God means to believe in the Son of God. We cannot accept God’s testimony about Jesus and then refuse to believe in Jesus! Believing in God’s testimony means that we believe in the Son of God. It also means that we have the testimony in ourselves. This seems to refer to the subjective evidence the believer possesses that he is a child of God (see 1 John 4:13).
But the wording here suggests a different understanding. John uses similar terminology three times in the book of Revelation (Rev 6:9; 12:17; 19:10), and each time the idea of having the testimony refers to “holding fast” to one’s faith. For example, Revelation 12:17 says, “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” So here in verse 10 John is apparently saying that those who believe in the Son of God also persevere in their faith. They “hold fast” to the testimony (see similar language in reference to perseverance in Matt 13:21).
The only other option we have is to deny the testimony of God concerning Jesus. But to do so is tantamount to accusing God of lying. Once again John does not mince words. The subject we are talking about today is more serious than the economic crisis or the presidential election or healthcare or foreign policy. We either believe and persevere in the testimony of God concerning Jesus, or we deny God’s testimony and conclude that he is a liar. Everything is at stake in this decision.
RESULT: WHOEVER HAS THE SON HAS LIFE
Verse 11 begins, “And this is the testimony,” but John does not follow that up with more information identifying the content of the testimony. As we have said, the testimony of God in this passage is simply this: the historical person Jesus was not merely a man but was fully man and fully God as the incarnate Son of God. What John wants to tell us in these final two verses is not so much the content of the testimony, but the intended result of the testimony, namely, eternal life.
God gave us eternal life
Here John focuses on the subject of the testimony. God has done something for us. He has given us eternal life. Earlier in this book John said that eternal life is a promise that God has made to us (1 John 2:25). So eternal life is the great intention of God in the Bible. He wants to give it to us. This is right at the center of the message of the entire Bible. The reason God has testified about his Son is because he aims by this testimony to dispense eternal life to us. That means that the testimony of God regarding his Son is first and foremost good news! It is a testimony about life.
What is eternal life? It is eternal, unending fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life should not be thought of as a place but as a person. God’s ultimate purpose is not to give us a mansion but to give us himself! John began this book by saying that he was writing to proclaim what he had seen and heard “so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). The greatest gift we can receive is God himself.
Eternal life is in God’s Son
But, as we’ve said, the testimony of God is a testimony about his Son. So John continues, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” That is, God has already made good on his promise to give eternal life by providing for us his Son. Life is to be found in the Son, meaning that the means of having life is Jesus.
It would be hard to overestimate the centrality of Jesus in the revelation of God, and this passage reminds us of that fact. God could have given us life in whatever way he pleased, and he chose to do it through his Son. God’s testimony is principally about Jesus! It is God’s intention to exalt his Son so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow (Phil 2:10).
The Son is the Only Way to Life
So God has given us eternal life by giving to us his Son. But there is one more thing John wants to emphasize here. In verse 12 he writes, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” In no uncertain terms John makes it clear that the only hope one has in obtaining eternal life is through Jesus, the Son of God. The Apostle John was an exclusivist!
That means that one cannot hope to enjoy eternal life apart from Jesus. A surprising number of self-identified evangelicals do not agree with this statement, according to a Pew Forum survey released earlier this year. So once again a rather clear teaching from the Bible is being denied by more and more people who claim to be Christian. The need for us to be alert to these trends is important, and the need for us to hold fast to these truths is even more important.
Now John says that in order to have eternal life one must “have” the Son of God. So how do we “get” him? It is by accepting the testimony of God concerning his Son. It is by seeing and believing and holding fast to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. It means that we humbly but gladly submit to him in every way since we truly believe that he is not merely our friend; he is first and foremost our God. We must ask ourselves, if we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, what implications does that have for how I should live my life? We simply do not have the option of considering him to be mildly important.
May God give us the grace to see Jesus for who he really is and to be forever stunned by him so that we are not just a people who acknowledge him with our lips but believe in him with our hearts.