Our Father, we have already sung these words and so we make them our prayer, the Spirit breathes upon the Word and brings the truth to sight, His law and promises afford a sanctifying light, be near us, Jesus, in all that we have heard, be near us, send Your Spirit, breathe upon Your Word. So we ask that You would speak, You would give us ears to hear, and You would, Father, by Your Spirit, draw us near to Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
When I was in college I went to a Christian college, but as too many Christian colleges are, you really had to be discerning in the classes, it’s always good to be discerning, but you had to be really discerning to know that if what you were hearing was really in keeping with what you had been brought up in the Church to believe, orthodox, evangelical, historic Christianity. In particular, I had a world religions class and the professor, it was a very popular class, he was likeable and affable and was a good teacher, and he taught the class in such a way to really maximize the apparent similarities between Christianity and all of the other religions.
I don’t know what was in the man’s heart, but looking back I would say he was at least an inclusivist, believing that you can be saved by Christ in many different religions, and he may have been a full-blown pluralist, believing that many religions save or even a universalist that ultimately all of us are saved. So he’d tend to emphasize all religions have prayer or have holy books, or have people who are petitioning God for help or for favors. There was definitely an aim to the class that we might sort of sense that all of these things are kind of doing the same thing.
One of the things, however, that stood out to me then and I was just a wee college student and so it’s become more apparent to me now as I’ve had opportunity in seminary and other places to study these things, is how not only are those similarities really quite superficial, and not only are there vast differences in the theology of these world religions, but in fact the very conception of theology and faith is vastly different.
Christianity is unique in how central faith is. It’s not that other religions don’t have some aspect of believing, of course they do, but faith. Faith not only as an act of the will or resting and receiving, but the faith, as a set of things that we hold to and believe.
Islam certainly has belief, but the accent is on certain things that you must do. Talk to most Muslims, that will be the accent on what they do. Maybe the pillars of their faith. Hinduism. This professor I had had been greatly influenced by time in India and so he was particularly respectful of Hinduism and presented it in ways that really tried to make it seem very much like a Christian offshoot, which of course it isn’t. But in Hinduism it’s the ritual that’s the thing. Of course, they have gods and goddesses and lots of them, but they don’t have a canon of Scripture in the same way and they don’t have a system of deposit of doctrine that’s important to believe.
Let alone in the many religions around the world that are animistic, folk religions, ancestor worship, spirits. Even in Judaism as it would go on to develop would tend to emphasize the halakhah, the how do we walk, how do we live according to the law, and the brightest minds would find the very deliberate ways to understand what the law would require of us.
You’re struck if you read some of the earliest Church fathers how soon in the history of the Church they’re talking about credo, that is I believe, what is that we then believe as a Church. From the very beginning, it was important that as a Church we don’t simply have faith in faith itself but belief and belief in certain truths, and a certain deposit of apostolic Gospel faith.
It’s so familiar to most of us that we don’t stop to think or to notice always why faith is that Rubicon, you might say, that crossing over point which has to do with, in history as Julius Caesar’s army crossed over the Rubicon and it was kind of a declaration of civil war among the Roman provinces.
Why is it that faith is to important and that we believe and that unbelief is not merely an inconvenience but a sin? That’s what this passage is about as we come to the end of 1 John. Turn to chapter 5. Following off where we were this morning and turning to the next paragraph, verses 6 through 12. You’re going to want to have your Bibles open in front of you because we’re going to look at this, line by line, sometimes word by word, and you want to see and test all these things against God’s Word.
Follow along as I read, beginning at verse 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. For there are three that testify: The Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 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. 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. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Very simple outline. There is no outline. But you have verses in front of you, so we are going to work through these verses, line upon line, but here’s the trick, we’re going to work backward. So we’re going to get the conclusion first and work our way back up from verse 12 up to verses 6 and 7 to understand what is lodestar, what is the foundation, what is the explosive truth that is leading to the conclusion that we’ll start with in verse 12.
So working from the bottom up: ” Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” That’s the conclusion to this section. Invites us to ask the question, “What kind of life are we talking about?”
Well, go up one verse, verse 11 tells us the answer, eternal life. “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
So verse 12 is telling us whoever has the Son has eternal life, eternal blessedness, life forever with God. Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have this kind of life.
The Bible has no place for universalism. That is, universal salvation that at the end of the age somehow, some way, all people ultimately are saved.
Beginning with Origen in the third century, there have been at various times in Church history Christian theologians who have argued for something like, and sometimes explicitly so, the final salvation of all people. But it has been an extremely minority opinion.
Some 40 or 50 years ago the New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham put it like this in an article: “Until the 19th century, almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell.” That is, until the 19th century this is virtually without question in the Church.
The reason is that the Bible speaks so graphically and in so many places about eternal punishment, and actually no one speaks more frequently and more emphatically on the subject than Jesus. One of the words for the afterlife, it’s the word usually translated hell in the New Testament Gehenna, is used 12 times, 11 of those 12 times come from the lips of Jesus. Jesus talked often about the dangers of not believing and about what would befall those who are wicked and unbelieving.
For example, Matthew 13, the Son of Man will send His angels and they will gather out His kingdom, all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So lest you or friends or family think boy, why did the medieval, why did the Puritans, why did those evangelical Christians, why did they ruin the nice loving faith of Jesus with this doctrine of punishment. Well, that’s from Jesus.
What does it mean, then, if that’s verse 11 and verse 12, Jesus at the conclusion is this stark divide. You have eternal life if you have the Son, you do not have eternal life if you do not have the Son. What does it mean, then, this is of utmost consequence, what does it mean to have the Son? How do we have eternal life in the Son? Is it something we do? Is it a kind of faith? What is it?
Well, it is the latter. It is by faith. Look at verse 10, the first half: ” Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” If you know John’s writing, both in the Gospel and here in his epistles, it’s one of the main themes in John’s writing that eternal life comes by faith and by no other way.
Famously, John 20:31. He gives the purpose statement for his Gospel that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we might have life in His name.
John’s Gospel is full of promises, full of promises of what we can expect through faith. Whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. John 6:35. Whoever believes in Me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. 7:38. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live.
Likewise, especially in John’s Gospel, there are many dire warnings of what we can expect if we do not believe. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because He has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:18. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. John 5:23. If God were your Father you would love Me for I came from God and now am here. John 8:42.
So Jesus says quite emphatically you do not know God if you do not love Me. Whatever other religions may say, whatever superficial truths they may have and say things that may use the same vocabulary about God, Jesus Himself states emphatically that now on this side of the incarnation, to know the true and living God is to know His Son.
From start to finish, John’s Gospel is an apologetic for conscious faith in Christ. We must believe certain things about Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. John 14:16.
So what then is the big deal about faith? Why in particular does unbelief figure so prominently in John? Even those of us who have been around the Church for a long time, we are apt to think of unbelief as merely the absence of belief, as a sort of non-thing. Faith, of course, is good and we want people to believe and we want them to have good doctrine, we want them to trust in Christ, so it’s a bad thing, and we know there are Scriptures that warn against unbelief, but we can conceive of unbelief as merely the lack of something good. You don’t have faith, wish you had faith, you simply have a vacuum.
I have a cup here and it’s full of all these great truths and promises and faith and you have a cup and it’s merely empty. That’s how we often think of faith. Unbelief is simply not having faith. Well, you could put it that way, but the Bible tells us it’s much more than that. It’s much worse than that. Unbelief is a sin, and a particularly heinous sin.
Why? Look in your Bible. I hope you still have it open. Look at the second half of verse 10: “Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar,” he’s made Him a liar “because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son.” This is why unbelief is not merely the absence of having right ideas or right commitments with God; it is a sin. The more light that you have, so people like you and many people that we know and love, if you have the privilege of knowing and hearing all of this precious truth, you may think, you may think, maybe some young person here who is “Why am I here at evening service? I guess I have to come,” and this faith that your parents have doesn’t really mean much to you. You think, “Okay, I’m not against I’m not against my parents doing this faith thing, but I just, I don’t have that.”
On one level we struggle with doubts and you may ask and God is teaching you things, but don’t be deceived to think that they have something and you just decided not to have that thing. God won’t let us view unbelief in that way.
John says in particular that to disbelieve in Christ is to call God a liar, to say all of the things that God has borne witness to about Christ. Think of it – His virgin birth, the angelic pronouncement even before His birth, and at His baptism, His miracles, what the disciples saw at the transfiguration, the supernatural events in conjunction with the cross, the darkness and the earthquake and the tombs coming open and the rending of the veil in the temple, and ultimately the empty tomb itself and the ascension into heaven. In all of those things and more, God was bearing testimony that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was and is the Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Son of the living God.
If you say, “Not for me, I don’t think so, not interested,” it is not simply a polite pass on Jesus. “You have faith; that’s not my thing.” You are calling God, according to verse 10, a liar. Everything that God has told you, has spoken by supernatural revelation in His Word, has spoken by the supernatural revelation of the events of redemptive history, all of that you’re saying no, what God says about His Son, God is not telling the truth. That’s that heart of unbelief. A liar.
I can’t say that without the voice from the Princess Bride, “liar, liar, liar.” But it’s worse than that. I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but when something goes missing, the immediate and sometimes the only explanation that anyone comes with, it might be from a younger child missing a stuffed animal, someone else missing a shirt, might be a missing card, I’m missing my keys, I’m missing a book, the only explanation that tends to enter their minds is outright thievery. It’s always, “Someone stole my shirt. Someone stole my $10. Someone stole it.” That’s the only conclusion, the only rational explanation for why something is missing, someone stole it. We live with a lot of potential thieves.
So the next question is, “Did you steal my Airbuds? Did you steal my $20?” Of course, the answer is inevitably “no,” which then means “liar!” That’s the next thing to come out of their mouth. Not only have you thieved but you’re a dirty rotten liar, too.
No one likes to be called a liar. You just, you cannot be trusted, you have told me a bold faced… And that’s why the whole thing escalates because no child or adult of any age likes someone to say, “No, you told me and I absolutely don’t believe you. You are a liar and your testimony cannot be trusted.”
Think of how that feels, somebody says that to you, treats you in that way. That’s the heart of unbelief. “God, all that You have said about your son, Jesus, I don’t believe it.”
And our unbelief is made even worse, even more culpable, because we trust in other areas of life.
So go up one more verse. We were in verse 10. Go up to verse 9: “If we receive the testimony of men,” so here’s an argument from lesser to greater, “if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.”
How do you know that Alexander the Great conquered the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, the Middle East, and parts of Asia? You may be saying, “I didn’t know that,” but you knew something like that. I had to look it up. What exactly were the parts that he conquered? So if you Google what did Alexander the Great conquer, you’re going to get four things I just told you.
How do you know George Washington was the first president of the United States? How do you know John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln? How do you know Neil Armstrong landed on the moon? You know those things because someone at some point gave testimony. They bore witness. They bore witness and they themselves spoke it. Someone else was there to see it and to pass it on. It was entered into some public record, some historian dealt with facts or some archivist dug it up or it was just widely known and everyone could understand it and it has been passed down to us and we know these things.
Or think out of the realm of history and just everyday life. How do you know you want to try a new restaurant? How do you know you’re going to try to watch that show on Netflix or go to that movie? How do you decide that next year you’re going to try this particular beach that you haven’t been to before? I bet in each of those cases it’s because somebody gave you testimony. Somebody said try this restaurant, it’s great. Try this beach, it wasn’t very crowded. It was wonderful, it was beautiful. Somebody gave you testimony and you believed them. Yes, I’ll accept that. I believe your testimony and I act accordingly.
Well, here’s John’s argument. All the time, even without thinking, we receive the testimony of men. That’s our natural predisposition. Though we want to be discerning, you can’t live your life always distrusting everyone, conspiratorial about everything. No, you receive testimony. You say, “Okay, I’ll try that, I’ll think that, I’ll believe that.”
So if we receive the testimony of men, often without giving it a second thought, what sin must it be when we do not trust the testimony of God?
Which brings us, going up, to the heart of the passage, the central affirmation and the most difficult part of the passage. All the conclusions, so we’ve been dealing with the conclusions first, working backward, and they’re important, obviously. But most of these conclusions we’ve seen at some other point in John’s letter. We’ve seen about the importance of faith and we’ve seen these truths and the danger of belief and unbelief. But now we come to something that is explosive and if not new at least put to us with new arresting power.
Let’s start with verse 7. So we skipped over verse 8, but verse 7 and 8 go together. We need to deal with a textual matter before we look at verses 7 and 8. Most of you are probably looking at the ESV, that’s what we have in the pews and what I have. Here’s how verse 7 reads in the King James. King James, verse 7: “For there are three that bear record in heaven – the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are One, and there three that bear witness in earth,” and then it passes on to the rest of verse 7 and 8. This is sometimes called the Johannine, just a fancy word for John, the Johannine comma, this statement here. If you’re looking at the ESV or almost any modern English translation, you’ll notice that it’s not in there. Not only is not in there, but there’s no footnote that says, “Well, some manuscripts think it should be in there,” because there really is no good evidence to suggest that that verse 7 as the King James has it should be in our Bibles.
Now I love the King James. I still read the King James sometimes, so I’m not against the King James, but the King James was based on a certain tradition of Greek manuscripts and you might think, “Well, the King James was 1611. They would have known things better because it’s older.” Well, actually as the science of textual criticism has developed, scholars have found better manuscripts, older manuscripts, so actually we’ve become more confident. So it would be wrong to conclude that, well, just because it was older 1611, then they must have had a closer, better sense of what the Greek text would be.
Erasmus was a famous scholar in the Reformation and he was persuaded to put into the Greek New Testament, which was really the framework for then the English Bible that we would get to us in the King James, Erasmus was persuaded to put into his edition of the Greek New Testament verse 7 as I’ve read it to you. But it isn’t found in any Greek manuscript until the 14th century. No Greek Church father cites it and you would certainly think that the Greek Church fathers who knew Greek that as they’re dealing with trinitarian debates, well, that would be a great verse, because it says right there, there are three, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. They would have gone right to that, but they don’t when debating the trinity.
It was one of those verses that was difficult to then determine well, these manuscripts don’t really, the best manuscripts and the oldest and most reliable, don’t really include this because it was for a time a great classic test in defense of the trinity, but hopefully it doesn’t undermine your confidence in the Bible but it gives you great confidence that we’re willing to deal with the evidence as it presents itself.
Even besides the textual evidence that there just simply isn’t good textual evidence for including that in the Greek and then translating it into the English, besides that it doesn’t really make sense theologically. Yes, it might be nice to have another verse that puts Father, Word, and Spirit together, but it doesn’t really make sense. The three witnesses in verse 8, we’ll come to, are saying something about the person and work of Jesus Christ, about God the Son. That’s what they’re bearing witness about God the Son. Wouldn’t really make sense to say, well, there are witnesses in heaven who are saying something about God the Son and those three witnesses are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So as best as we can figure, a zealous scribe at some point inserted this testimony of Father, Word, and Spirit, or maybe he was pulling from some other source or some formula. Certainly is saying something true, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, but in here it doesn’t make textual sense and it doesn’t even make contextual sense.
So having dealt with that, now back to looking at verses 7 and 8: “There are three that testify: The Spirit and the water and the blood.”
What does that mean? As you can imagine, there have been a lot of interpretations throughout history, good people have made arguments for a number of ways to understand verse 8. One popular explanation is to see that this is a reference to the sacraments. Makes some initial sense. Water/baptism, blood/Lord’s Supper, and as we’ll see in a moment, it is right to say that what this verse is about is the same thing that the sacraments are about, so they are about the same things but that’s different than saying that this is a verse which is explicitly meaning us to understand the sacraments, as if John were saying the water and the blood, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, testify. That would be strange in itself because John is talking about something that God, and in particular in the life of Jesus, has testified about Him. It would be putting things backward to then say, “No, here’s why you believe in Jesus, because of the sacraments testifying about Him.”
Besides, there is a confusion if we think it’s explicitly about the sacraments, that water is the sign, blood is the thing signified. Water is what we use in baptism as the sign of cleansing, but we don’t drink blood, we have juice, wine, and that is to signify the blood. So water and blood, though we are apt to think, “Ah, baptism, communion” because they’re about the same thing, but even as metaphors or analogies for the Lord’s Supper it doesn’t quite work.
Here’s another interpretation. We might think of water and blood mentioned here together because they are the two elements that are most often cited in Old Testament purification. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, there is purification with water, often if there is some kind of ritual uncleanness, the person is supposed to bathe and they’re unclean until evening or the next day. So there’s ritual ablution with water, and then there is sprinkling with blood. So water for the person and then blood sprinkled on the horns of the altar are the two elements that are most common as elements of cleansing.
But the context here in John is not first of all about the atonement, though again to see that there is some of that imagery carrying forward may be appropriate. That’s not first of all what it’s about.
So another understanding is that, and you’re saying I bet it’s going to be the last one. Ah, well, you’re tracking with me. Wouldn’t it surprise you someday if I just went back and said, “You know what? It was the second out of the five that I gave you.”
Well, there’s just four. So here’s the third one, and it’s not that the first two are wrong insofar of what they suggest, it’s just not explicitly what I think the text is about. This third one gets closer, but as you’ll see if by itself not the whole answer.
So the third interpretation is to see that water and blood are connected to some event in the life of Jesus. And that’s surely the case. We are surely right to see a connection between what John says here in his letter and what he says in his Gospel. So keep a finger here and I want you to go to John chapter 19, because John, of all the Gospels, makes a big deal of this water and blood.
So look at John 19:31: “Since it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for that Sabbath was a High Day, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him, but when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs, but one of the soldiers pierced His side with his spear,” here it is, “and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness, his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth that you may believe.”
You notice there the constellation of these same Johannine themes and words. We got water, we got blood, we got witness testifying, belief.
” For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of His bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on Him whom they have pierced.””
That last citation comes from Zechariah. The purpose of the book of Zechariah is to call people to repent and return, Zechariah 1 verses 2 and 3. Then the last oracle, this is citing from Zechariah chapter 12, is telling the listener how they are to repent, how they are to return. What does it mean? Why should we return to God? And the oracle at the end of Zechariah is to display what this promised Messiah will be like, and in particular this prophecy, “they will look on Him whom they have pierced.” You might think, well, that’s a strange thing, why does that help me want to return to God? A prophecy about the Messiah who will be pierced?
Well, because, we don’t have to see it in Zechariah, but it’s there. It is a scandalous, wonderful vision of the coming Shepherd King who will conquer by being conquered. He will kill sin by being killed Himself. He will scatter His enemies by being torn to pieces. He will break the backs of the proud by being killed for us. He will trample over the wicked by riding on a lowly donkey. Those are all prophecies in Zechariah. Then ultimately He will triumph as a king by being slaughtered as a shepherd for His sheep.
So this is why John, going back to John 19, thought the piercing of Jesus’ side was such a powerful incentive to faith. Why would John move from verse 34, blood and water came out, to verse 35, He bore witness, the testimony is true that you would believe.
What’s in John’s mind in verse 35 to think that okay, Jesus had blood and water come out of His side, don’t you want to believe in Jesus? It’s not something we instinctually make.
Well, he gives us the answer in verse 37, because it is in fulfillment of Zechariah they will look on Him whom they have pierced. In other words, it established Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Shepherd King, the suffering servant, who would be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. Further, I have to imagine John thinking of Zechariah’s prophecy as he saw the blood and water flow, he was perhaps thinking of Zechariah 13:1 – on that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.
Don’t we sing about there is a fountain filled with blood? In short, encapsulating all of that vision in Zechariah, in John’s mind, he says, “Don’t you see? This is the One we’ve been waiting for. That they will look upon the One. The Messiah was to be pierced. You didn’t understand it, but now you do. As His life literally pours out of Him in water and blood.”
So surely there’s some connection with John and his Gospel, so underscoring the water and the blood, with John and his epistle.
But we haven’t quite reached the bullseye, or the pinnacle. So go back to John’s epistle. Because the connection with John’s Gospel tells us, okay, this is important to John. The water and the blood is important. It’s testifying, and at the very least, it testifies this is the crucified Savior we were waiting for.
But there’s one more verse we haven’t looked at, and that’s verse 6, where this whole argument starts: “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”
Remember, John is speaking into a controversy. It seems as if, we have to do a little speculative but I think appropriately so understanding of what’s going on in this community, it seems that water and blood, water and blood, it becomes something of a buzzword. Maybe they were in a liturgical formula already. Maybe it really gets to the crux of the issue.
Remember, so much of 1 John has been about believing the right thing about Jesus Christ and in particular the false teachers we imagine that the difficulty is to believe that He is fully God, their difficulty was to believe that He was really fully man, or that God came in human flesh.
Remember this from last week? Go back to chapter 4, verse 2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
So that’s part of what the false teachers were denying, that Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, had come in the flesh. A divine being, we can accept that, but not a divine being in human flesh. That’s what John is combatting.
So look at verse 6 again, and there are two clues that help us understand, I think, what is meant by the water and the blood and the Spirit.
The first clue is this language of “came” – this is He who came. This is one of the reasons why sacraments don’t make sense here, neither as simply an allusion to the Old Testament sacrificial system.
What does it mean that Jesus came by water and blood? Well, maybe you’re thinking that’s a reference to His birth. Isn’t there water and blood in a birth? If my memory serves correct, there’s some messy stuff that happens there. But Jesus’ birth is never described in these graphic medical terms. I don’t think that’s it. Hold that thought.
Let’s look at the second clue. So the first clue is why does it say He came? What’s the importance here? He came by water and blood. Then the second clue is that word “only.” Why does John say “not by the water only but by the water and the blood”? Well, this tells us that this must be the debate, that there some people who could accept that Jesus came but water, “All right, we got that, He came by water, ah, not by the blood.”
John says, “Not water only but water and the blood.” This is the controversy then.
So what does this all mean? It means that Jesus Christ, the One we worship, the true, authentic, real, historical Jesus, did not come. Think of it as He was not presented to us, He did not manifest Himself to us, only by water. He manifested Himself to us by water and blood.
So what are we talking about? I agree with those interpreters, Tertullian would be one ancient witness, John Stott recently, who understand that the water here is a reference to the water of Christ’s baptism and the blood, of course, the blood of His cross.
The false teachers could accept that Jesus came by water. They likely had some kind of adoptionist Christology. That means that Jesus was somehow adopted into godhood or the Spirit came upon Him at His baptism. Right? It descended on Him as a dove. Maybe the Father declared Him to be the Son of God and He wasn’t the Son of God until that moment. So He was infused to become the Christ.
Then, as the false teaching might go, perhaps later the Spirit left Him and it wasn’t really that same Christ then that was crucified, but it was left to be the man Jesus. The Spirit left Him in Golgotha or on the cross or sometime before His death and the understanding then is you cannot have this God-man, or even a man who became God, you cannot have Him be crucified and killed. Against that error, that damnable error, John says if you want to know who Jesus is, you have to understand that this same Jesus, there’s not two Jesuses, He’s not in and out, this same Jesus who came by water also came by blood. The same Jesus who came down from heaven as the Son of God, passed through water at baptism, blood at the crucifixion. He’s the only begotten Son of God, christened as such by His Father at His baptism, and the crucified Son of God who died to wash away our guilt and cleanse us from our sins.
Not only that, but John says we have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. The Spirit who was there at every important moment in Jesus’ life and ministry, at His conception, descended upon Him at His baptism, ministered to Him in the wilderness, poured out on Jesus without measure, was there raising Him from the dead. This Spirit bears witness about who Christ is. The waters of baptism with God the Father saying “this is My beloved Son” declare who Jesus is, and the blood testify. We cannot ever separate the person of Christ and the work of Christ, who He is and what He did.
So let’s bring this to the conclusion. We had the conclusion, but here’s the conclusion as it starts. The law required how many witnesses in the Old Testament? I bet you know. Two witnesses. The law required two witnesses. Jesus Christ here has three witnesses. Why is it underlined – and these three agree? Because what happened at Jesus’ false trial? The sham trial there outside the garden in the courtyard? False witnesses came, remember the Gospels tell us, “and even the false witnesses did not agree with one another.”
So there are many people, past, present, and future, who will be wear witness about Christ, they will not agree. They will bear false testimony.
But here John says not only the two required witnesses, but three and these three agree. The Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Christ who tells us that Jesus is the Christ, who magnifies the Son, the Father’s perfect and beloved Son, and the waters of baptism testify that He is God’s Son and the blood tells us He is the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.
So the Spirit testifies, the water testifies, the blood testifies, and these three agree.
Remember John is about assurance. Part of what this is meant is to say you have good reason to believe. We don’t, we’re not fideistic. Fides is the Latin word for faith. Fideism means you just kind of just believe, just as an act of sheer will without any reason behind it. You just believe.
No, we believe, but we believe there are good reasons for our faith. I have to admit, before studying this I bet I’ve never in my own personal walk with Christ, relied on this text, but I ought to, and you ought to when you have doubts, when you wonder, “Is this really all true? Is this really right what we think about Jesus?” This text is meant to give you assurance.
There are three that testify and these three agree. What does the Spirit say about Jesus? What did His Father say about Jesus at His baptism? What happened at the cross? What does that tell us about the Son of God? Don’t make God into a liar. That’s the point.
Will you trust Him to forgive your sins, because if you say you don’t have sin, 1 John 1:10 tells us you make Him a liar.
John Stott puts it well – unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied, it is a sin to be deplored. It’s sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the word of the one true God and thus attributes falsehood to Him.
No wonder John concludes in this confusing but I hope now you see amazing passage, “Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” That’s the conclusion that God wants each of you to reach. And among the many good reasons, John gives us another one – that there are three witnesses and they have spoken and they continue to speak. Will you repent? Will you believe? Will you bow down and worship? Will you love? Will you obey? Will you, as John says in the opening paragraph, will you make our joy complete as you have fellowship with us and with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ?
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for all of the manifold blessings and reasons You give us to trust in Christ. Give to our hearts this assurance. Give to our heads a sure conviction and knowledge that these things are true. As we are born again by Your Word and by Your Spirit, may we then live as new people. Anyone here, anyone listening to this, anyone sometime years from now pulls up this sermon, seemingly they thought by accident but not. Would You so draw them, draw each one here, to saving faith in Jesus Christ, that we may be those who have eternal life? In His name we pray. Amen.