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Confessing the Son (1 John 5:4b-12)

Confessing the Son
1 John 5:4b-12

Minister’s Summary:
John moves to the conclusion of this epistle with a strong confession of the testimony God has given concerning his Son. Our faith must grasp and confess the same Spirit-revealed objective reality that Jesus has come “by water and blood.” Just as the Son identified with our humanity in his baptism (i.e., water), so did he offer himself as an atoning sacrifice (i.e., blood) for the entire human race.

Exegetical Notes:

The certainty of victory over the world is rooted in the work of Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ is the certainty of our victory.

The Victory of Faith (5:4b-5)

The dualism that pervades John's writing again enters here. It is believers against the world, and faith is victory over the world. But it is faith that "Jesus is the Son of God" (which is the confession of 4:15). Jesus, as the Son of God, was revealed to destroy the work of the Evil One (3:8).

What is it to "believe in the Son of God" or to "confess the Son of God"? I think we get a clue in 5:11. What we believe is that God gave eternal life in his Son. We believe that Jesus is the revelation of God's love, light and life. We find in Jesus the revelation of God himself. The blood of God's Son cleanses us--making us holy; the Son is the eternal life of God; and the Son is the revelation of God's love in his own person. Christology is the central theme because the Christological revelation is theocentric: it reveals who God is and offers God's eternal life. Thus, the believer in Jesus shares in the life of God through a mutual indwelling based upon what God has done in Jesus Christ.

The Testimony of Spirit, Water and Blood (5:6-8)

The testimony about Jesus is three-fold: (1) Spirit; (2) water; and (3) blood. This is a divine testimony about Jesus Christ.

Three Understandings "Water and Blood"

(1) water and blood refer to the sacraments of baptism and Supper (Luther, Calvin, Cullmann).

(2) water and blood refer to death of Christ as in John 19:34 (Augustine, Thompson, Grayston).

(3) water and blood refer to the baptism and death of Christ (Brown, Smalley, Burge).

John is clearly offering some counterpoint to what was being said about Jesus. It was said that Christ only came by water, but John says he came by "water and blood." Perhaps John is opposing a Cerinthian-like notion that Christ came at the baptism of Jesus but was not present at the death of Jesus. John affirms the unity of "Jesus" and "Christ" (he is "Jesus Christ"), and the unity of his life (baptism and death).

However, Brown and Smalley are probably correct when they argue that it is not a Certinthianism that is at stake here, but rather an interpretation of Jesus' baptism that makes the bestowal of the Spirit the most significant salvific event. Thus, the view he opposes would think water and Spirit were the significant moment in the life of Jesus and de-emphasize his death. But John's point is that it is was the atoning death of Jesus that is significant, not just his incarnation or pneumatic experience/mission. In either event, John opposes a view that devalues the meaning of the cross in Christology. This contrasts also with current movements in contemporary theology were atonement theology or "blood" theology are seen as ancient relics, superfluous or even superstitious. The Johannine Christianity still affirmed the central significance of both incarnation (water; baptism as identification with humanity through real flesh) and atonement (blood; the cross as the authentic death as human being).

Because of the charismatic/pneumatic tendencies in the community, John emphasizes that the Spirit bears witness to the death as well as the baptism of Jesus. In what way did the Spirit testify? Is this a reference to the Gospel of John itself where the Beloved Disciple testified about the death of Jesus as well as the baptism of Jesus (cf. John 19:35). In any event, no pneumatic witness can deny the significance of the cross because the Pneuma Himself (the Spirit) has testified to its salvific role. And this is a divine testimony.

The Testimony of the Father (5:9-12)

God has testified about Jesus Christ, and those who believe his testimony have that testimony in their hearts. This is the subjective, experiential dimension of Christian experience to which John points. This testimony is in our hearts.

But if we do not believe God's testimony about his Son, then we make him a liar. What is God's testimony? What is the point? It is that God gave us eternal life in his Son. Without the Son, no eternal life; without the Son, no divine presence. Thus, the salvific presence of God in the world is Christological.

Theological Perspectives

The experience of love in community is rooted in God’s love for us. The root of this experience, however, is faith. Everyone who believes is born of God, and those born of God have the love of God within them. Faith, then, is the victory; it overcomes the world. It transcends the world and overcomes it. Faith affirms a reality that is not apparent from living in the world. Faith asserts that something decisive has happened that has changed everything—changed from darkness to light, from death to live. It affirms victory when there is only apparent defeat. Faith empowers a life, a love that transcends the world and conquers it because faith arises from something transcendent that is beyond the world and radically different from it.

This faith is rooted in the reality that Jesus Christ came in the flesh to destroy the Devil but to atone for the world. Faith believes that transcendent light and love entered the world to redeem it, and this light and love came “by water and blood.” It is no fairy tale; it is real, concrete and authentic. The Eternal Life, the Son of God, truly came in the flesh—he was baptized and he died. These were real events, but events the involved the Transcendent One. God came to us in Jesus and revealed eternal life to us.

God, by this Spirit, has given his testimony—and this testimony is that life is found in the Son. But this testimony is not merely the concrete, historic event—a matter of history discerned within the pages of Scripture or history books. Rather, it is a testimony that exists in the heart of believers. The Spirit authenticates this story—this history—in the hearts of believers as they experience the transcendent reality in their own lives through transformed living which is evidenced by living in loving community with others.

Teaching Perspectives

The Eternal Life Came by Water and Blood (5:4b-12)

Function of Text: The certainty of eternal life is grounded in the testimony of the Father and Spirit through the water and blood.

Theology: The certainty of faith is rooted in the reality of the Son of God who experienced water (incarnation/baptism) and blood (atonement/death). The Spirit and the Father testify to this reality.

Application: You have the testimony of God himself that he has given us eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Do you believe it?

Teaching Outline: Water and Blood.

1. What is the essence of the Gospel? How would you summarize the singular events of the gospel? What saves you?

2. Our study through 1 John has focused on the incarnation and atonement of Jesus Christ. In this section John summarizes that by the phrase "water and blood." Both of these elements point to the reality of the flesh of Jesus Christ, but they are also the foundational events of the gospel itself.

3. Jesus came by water--he identified with sinners through undergoing the ritual of immersion designed for sinners, he was anointed by the Spirit as the Son of God, and he lived out his ministry as the incarnate one among us.

4. Jesus came by blood--he offered his own life for an atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

5. This is God's testimony about himself. He has given eternal life in Jesus Christ. Without the Son, there is no redemptive divine presence in the world. God gives eternal life through Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ provides it through "water and blood."

Questions for Discussions:

1. How has God given witness about Jesus through “water” (his baptism) and through “blood” (his death)? What is the point of each of these events?

2. How does faith in this testimony become a victory that overcomes the world? What does it mean to say that faith “overcomes the world”? What kind of victory does this describe?

3. What convinced you that “true life” was found in Jesus? What is the testimony that you believe? How have you experienced this testimony?

4. What is the function of the Spirit in relation to the water and blood? What is the role of the Spirit in our experience of assurance? How does the Spirit’s testimony “agree” in terms of the objective (water/blood) and subjective (our experience) dimensions of assurance?


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