To understand where John is coming from in his first epistle, we must understand where he is. John has brought us with him into the heavenly Temple.
The atomising of Scripture, even in expository preaching, means that we often miss the case that the author is building. And all biblical authors build according to patterns found in the Torah. This includes the “architectural” process of Covenant, and if the three epistles of John do indeed form the “Ethics” section of the final cycle of the New Testament,1See DNA of the New Testament then John’s first epistle is fundamentally “priestly” in nature.
John was born a Levite, but now in Christ all believers are not only priests, that is, legal representatives with Sanctuary access, we are also blameless, voluntary, fragrant sacrifices. After the resurrection, the nature of “firstfruits” changed from offering tithes of the fruit of the Land and also the womb (via animal substitutes) to the firstborn from the dead. 1 John is not about the offspring of Abraham but the sons of God, those born of the Spirit not the flesh. Like Christ, and only in Him, we are perfect Isaacs who can be offered on behalf of others without animal substitutes.
Since we are so familiar with the text, the eccentricity of John’s literary structure is often overlooked. We must ask not only why he is saying what he says but also why he arranges it in the way he does. John’s use of the “Bible matrix” Covenant-literary form is the key to understanding his message. By utilising the patterns of the Torah, he not only grounds his authority in biblical history and literature, he reveals how the elements of that history have been fulfilled by Christ in the Spirit.
TRANSCENDENCE: Creation – Genesis (Ark)
That which was from the beginning, (Initiation)
which we have heard, (Delegation)
which we have seen (Presentation)
and have touched with our hands, (Vindication)
concerning the word of life; (Representation)
- Identifying the “Genesis” theme reveals the connection between the dominion offered to Adam and that given to Christ. Notice the progression from hearing, to seeing, to touching, which corresponds to Eve’s reaction to the fruit of the Tree of Judicial Wisdom. The eyes of the Christian are opened just as the eyes of Adam were opened, but the kingdom which was temporarily prohibited to Adam, and stolen “before God’s time” is given freely to us in Christ.
- The “thread” which shines here is the process of legal representation. It begins with God’s command, works through the cutting, burning and fragrance of the sacrifice and ends with the purified worshiper as God’s ambassador to the world. Israel went through this process via the annual festal calendar every year. However, the ethical qualification at the centre of this stanza is that of Jesus, the true Israel, the true firstborn. John’s point is not merely that the disciples saw God incarnate, but that God incarnate was holy. This explains John’s reference to “touch” at Atonement/Vindication/Day 6. Unlike the holy things in the Tabernacle, seeing Christ (Numbers 4:20), gazing upon Him (Exodus 19:21) and even touching Him (Numbers 4:15) brought life instead of death.
HIERARCHY: Division – Exodus (Veil)
- At Hierarchy, the focus moves from the incarnate source of life to His representatives, just as it does in the early chapters of the Revelation. The “thread” which shines here seems to be the Tabernacle, the representative “microcosmos” constructed in the latter half of Exodus.
- John’s subject, however, is not the Tabernacle but its fulfilment in humanity. The life which was made manifest fulfilled the Law of Moses. The Spirit of Christ removed the veil which remained over the minds of Jewish unbelievers. The witness of the blood in heaven was the subject of the witness of the firstfruits church on earth. The proclamation began with the “lampstand” tongues of fire at Pentecost. Life eternal is “resurrection” life. It comes from the Father via Jesus, our sacrificial High Priest, and through Him this revelation is the union of heaven and earth, the indwelling Christ.
- The greatest shift in this Division stanza is that from circumcision of flesh to circumcision of heart, the latter making the former entirely redundant.
ETHICS – PRIESTHOOD: Ascension – Leviticus (Altar & Table)
That which we have seen (Creation)
and have heard, (Division)
we proclaim also to you, (Ascension – Priesthood)
and with His Son, Jesus Christ. (Conquest)
And these things we write that our joy might be complete. (Glorification)
- Stanza three summarises stanzas one and two but moves into the purpose of this testimony: the fellowship of the Spirit. The New Covenant priesthood is not silent, being more like that of the Temple than the silent servants of the Tabernacle. We are not priests. We are priest-kings, after the order of Melchizedek.
- The placement of the Father at Maturity (Prophecy) relates the maturity of the New Covenant as a body united in mind by the Spirit, not based on ties of flesh, whether land or womb, blood or soil. We have graduated from Father Abraham to the eternal Father.
- The placement of the Son at Conquest lifts Jesus up as High Priest within this “firstfruits” stanza. He is named as the true heir of Covenant history, the Joshua who was meek before God and would thus inherit the Land, which implies that the Herods and unbelieving Israel would soon be cut off.
- The “offspring” of the Gospel are celebrated at Glorification. This is a joy that comes not from the womb but from the tomb, life from the dead. The means of transmission is dissemination rather than insemination, and this step corresponds in other places to royal decrees to all nations.
ETHICS – KINGDOM: Testing – Numbers (Lampstand)
And this is the message, (Initiation)
that we have heard, (Delegation)
from Him (Presentation)
that God is light, (Vindication)
and there is no darkness in Him at all. (Representation)
- The central stanza of the cycle declares that God is light, and as stanza 4 it corresponds to the lights created on Day 4. In “Covenant Renewal Worship” it corresponds to the preaching of the Word.2Covenant Renewal Worship orders the worship service based upon the same patterns found in the Bible Matrix. See Jeff Meyers, The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.
- Since the veil of the Old Covenant, along with its lunar feasts, is gone, so is the half light of its types and shadows. The purpose of its dark sayings is now as noonday to those who have the Spirit of Christ.
- The triune office is “crystallised” in the Ethics section. If the preacher offers himself as a sacrificial lamb (Ascension/Presentation), he is worthy to open the sealed book (Testing/Purification) to the fragrant, prophetic body of Christ (Maturity/Transformation).
- The placement of God as light at Conquest/Vindication alludes to the opening (or tearing) of the veil on the Day of Atonement.
- The dawn heralds Sabbath rest, and the indwelling Shekinah, tying the coming of Kingdom to the law of the Spirit. At Pentecost, believing men and women became the “governing lights” of this present age.
ETHICS – PROPHECY: Maturity – Deuteronomy (Incense)
If we should say that we have fellowship with Him, (Sabbath)
and yet in the darkness should walk, (Passover)
we lie and do not practice the truth. (Firstfruits)
And the blood of Jesus, His Son, (Atonement)
cleanses us from all sin. (Booths)
- Priests stand in service in the Garden, kings sit enthroned in judgment over the Land, but prophets walk throughout the World. As invested prophets, Christians are either true or false, and John calls us to integrity. Unity in word and deed by the Spirit is the God-ordained means of church unity.
- As the stanza which corresponds to “Trumpets” and Deuteronomy, John is Moses exhorting a new Israel to keep short accounts with God. He musters us around the cross of Christ just as the troops of Israel were mustered for ten days before the Day of Atonement for a day of mourning for sin. As prophets, our swords are our flaming tongues, which must be clean and sharp.
OATH/SANCTIONS: Conquest – Joshua (Mediators)
If we should say that we have no sin, (Ark of the Testimony)
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (Veil)
If we should confess our sins, (Bronze Altar)
If we should say that we have not sinned, (High Priest & Sacrifices)
a liar we make Him, and the word of Him is not in us. (Shekinah)
- As Trumpets focussed on fellowship via cleansing, so the Atonement stanza focusses on testimony via cleansing.
- The “Creation” ordering of the Tabernacle furniture shines once again, splitting Day 3 into Altar-Land and Table-Fruits.
- As the “Day 6” stanza, it ends without rest, just as it did for Adam, and for Israel according to the flesh. Both blasphemed the Spirit of God.
SUCCESSION: Glorification – Judges (Shekinah)
- John’s use of the word “children” is explained as a reference to Succession, but Succession transformed. Unlike the Old Covenant genealogies, he is not referring to sons of men but Sons of God. The New Covenant is neither tribal nor genealogical. Its Succession is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh.
- Stanza seven speaks of legal representation, and here it is made clear that our advocacy for the nations depends on the advocacy of Christ in heaven on our behalf.
- Corresponding to the Feast of Booths, the final line of the final stanza in this cycle refers to the ministry of the Church, as the new “prophetic” Israel, to all nations.
If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See DNA of the New Testament|
|2.||↑||Covenant Renewal Worship orders the worship service based upon the same patterns found in the Bible Matrix. See Jeff Meyers, The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.|