The Word of Life

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“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—“  1 Jn. 1.1

The Progressive Revelation of Christ

I have come to be enamored with this verse of scripture.  Something in it seems to suddenly explode with what Christianity and the Gospel of Christ is all about.  It is a progressive revelation of Jesus Christ, from an earthly encounter to a heavenly experience.  This brought to mind the account of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28.  While on a journey to a place of his own people to find a bride for himself, he came to a place of rest.  Jacob put a stone under his head for a pillow and went to sleep.  In his sleep he dreamed of a ladder and that rested on the earth with its top reaching up to heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down it.  This was a place of revelation to Jacob, a place he later called Bethel, the house of God.

Now to apply this illustration to our scripture, 1 John 1.1—refer to the Illustration.  The first encounter of the disciples with Jesus was in the natural; where they could see, hear and touch Him, who is the Son of Man. They could use their bodily senses, intellect, and emotions in knowing him.  But then He was crucified, buried, and resurrected in an eternal body; it was an altogether different body.   Somehow they could still see, hear and touch the Lord in His glorified spiritual body while they were still in the natural state.  This was a further revelation of Christ, as the resurrected Son of God.  And then a far greater revelation of Christ of Christ came to the disciples, a revelation 100% spiritual in nature which could only be understood spiritually; for Christ, as “The Word of Life,” is invisible and intangible and must be received and understood by faith.

From the Word of God Incarnate to the Word of Life

Our verse begins with a mere description of John’s encounter with Jesus:  he had fellowship with Him; he heard His teachings and daily conversations about life in general; he saw what He did, went where He went, and witnessed the miracles He performed. In but a short time, Jesus became a major part of his life.  Along with Peter and James, John was a part of the inner circle of Jesus seeing and hearing of things no one else on earth was able to witness. 

It seems that as John began to write the opening line of this letter, something began to stir within; a crescendo begins to build as he further proclaims “which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” –they actually were able to look upon and touch the resurrected body of the risen Redeemer.  Above all the teachings of Jesus Christ, and all the miracles He performed, this alone is the quintessential, the central most element of our Christian faith: which is the fulfilling of the promise of His resurrection.  Jesus was not just resuscitated from the dead and brought back to life in that tomb where He was laid following His crucifixion. This would have been a miracle in itself.  But something far, far more glorious and powerful took place that shook the heavens and the earth for all eternity—the resurrection. 

The Resurrection

The slain body of Jesus was miraculously transfigured, as the power of Almighty God, in the Holy Spirit, surged through His corpse and the earthly elements of that body transformed into something altogether new, now composed of heavenly elements; changed from a natural body subject to pain, hunger, earthly limitations and death, into a spiritual body never to die again. Jesus remains spirit, body and soul, the firstborn from the dead. (Col. 1.18)  The “Good News” of the Gospel is that the very nature of this resurrected body is now promised to all believers.  As it is written,

1 Jn. 3.2 – “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

As believers, this is our hope, the resurrection from these earthly bodies into a new spiritual body where we too, along with our Lord, will live eternally in His presence in spirit, soul and body. Our hope is not heaven, mind you, for there can be no heaven for anyone without the resurrection; there can be no eternal fellowship with the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without the resurrection.  There can be no enjoying the new heaven and new earth without the resurrection. There can be no continuing fellowship with God without the resurrection, as it is written,   

Rev. 21.22-23 – “But I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.” 

The resurrection is the key to salvation; it is the door to the everlasting Kingdom; it is the hope of the Church.   John was not only an eye witness to the resurrection of Christ,  but he was able to interact with the Him, talk with Him, eat with Him, and perhaps even lay his head upon the breast of Jesus as he did at the last supper when he leaned back on Jesus and asked who it was that would betray Him. (Jn. 13.25)  But this time Jesus was in His glorified body; one in which He would suddenly appear in a closed room, and in which He would be seen to ascend into heaven. The glory that surrounds this scene is overwhelming and can fill the imagination.  This is the testimony of an apostle, one who witnessed the words and miraculous works of the Messiah before His crucifixion as well as handling the risen Lord. This testimony is not of John alone, for more than 500 disciples witnessed His resurrection at one time, as it is written,

1 Cor. 15.3-8– “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

As the focus of Easter quickly passes from the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus Christ, to that of His resurrection, so too must our focus pass from the gratefulness for the crucifixion to the anticipation of our resurrection, and to the present work of God in our lives in preparation for our eternal fellowship with God.  As we will always remain spirit, soul and body, the grand objective of God is that our regenerated spirit and transformed soul will be joined with our eternal resurrected bodies. This is the fullness of salvation.

 The Word of Life

But then the crescendo of this revelation of Christ rises to its loudest in this opening verse as John reveals Jesus Christ as, “The Word of life.”   The emphasis of his letter suddenly changes.  There is nothing now in the natural concerning this statement, “The Word of life;” there is no seeing, or hearing, or touching anything visible or tangible, either of Jesus in the flesh or of Him in the resurrected body.  The focus is now 100% spiritual, entering the invisible and intangible realm of faith and experience in the spirit.  Both nouns, “Word” and “life” cannot be understood with the natural mind, for they are spiritual concepts issuing forth from the Spirit of God. It is as Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 2.13,  “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”    We must approach this understanding with a new mindset.

We now live our lives in the present time fixed in this creation of time, space, and matter. For example, consider the statement, “At 10 o’clock we are going to Church and take communion.”  This statement involves time, “10 o’clock;” space, “going to Church;” and matter, “taking communion.”  Living in this dimension is what we have known all our lives.  In the natural we have to see something, touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it to know and understand it. We then commit it to our reasoning power and emotions. However, we are now challenged to think outside the box of creation and the natural realm, as it is written in Col. 3.1-3:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  

As born-again believers, we are now free from ceremonial religion which operates in the natural realm, by which we comply in obedience to its commandments and rituals.  We have only known the “written word” of the Bible but are now called to know the “personal Word” who is Christ.  We must now walk more closely with God as the “personal Word,” in spiritual obedience to this Word, (Note, written with a capitol “W,”).  Things of heaven are one thing, things of the earth are quite another; they are contrary to one another; both cannot be followed in obedience together; one is an outward compliance, the other is inwardly rooted, a matter of the heart.  Our mindset and affections for one approach to God will diminish and weaken as our focus and affection for the other approaches.

For instance, regarding sin, we may religiously come to know the commandments of the “written word” and exercise our wills and determination to keep them, thereby attempting to be clothed in a Christian lifestyle.  On the other side we who are born again, by faith consider we are dead to sin, because its power over us has been broken, as written in Rm. 8.2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death,”

And so the power of sin is gradually subdued by our walk of faith in the saving grace of God; there comes a progressive, day by day, transformation of our souls.  This is the nature of “the Word of Life” that we enter into.

John here targets the realm of the regenerated spirit which can transcend from the natural earthly realm to the spiritual heavenly realm. In spirit we are no longer confined to the earthly elements. For example, recall that it is written,

Eph. 2. 4-6 – “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Do you see and understand here it is written that the regenerated spirit of the believer, which is becoming alive to God in Christ Jesus, is actually “the Word becoming Life,” it is written has been raised up with Christ and made to sit in heavenly places in Christ.  This spiritual ascension happened in the past for the believer, when born again of the Spirit, and is now a present reality. This realm in which our spirit now abides has transcended time, space and matter; the spiritual reality of our present state of relationship with God is real and factual to the one who receives it by faith.  And as Heb. 11.6 reads, “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”   It is by faith one enters in and approaches God and is thus rewarded with God drawing near to him.  By acting on this faith is doing what is acceptable to God; unbelief is doing what is unacceptable and unapproved by God.  It is as written in Rm. 12.2,

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

This is behavioral righteousness, doing the acceptable will of God.  The sense here is that such a renewed mind is essential to successfully press in to know the will of God.  Having this mindset, and the disposition to obey the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, actually produces spiritual life in us; internally we change. The phrase, that you may prove the good and acceptable will of God, means that we may now be enabled to discern, approve, and know His will, and not merely speculate with our personal opinions, as by continuing to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But we have come to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, who is Christ, by which we experience and practice Godly righteousness by sensing His will.  This is factual, our consciences will prick us when walking in or doing sinful or spiteful things; the following repentance is eminent, even as it is written,

1 Jn. 3.9 – Whoever has been born of God does not (continues in, or practice) sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot (continue in or practice)sin, because he has been born of God.

This is the power of spiritual life, the Word of Life working in us to do and to will of His good pleasure.  This is life that cannot be duplicated by religion.  If there be any assignment to religion it is to lead us to the living Word of Life, then quietly disappear.

Religion or Spiritual experience

In 1 John 1.1 the “written word” reveals Christ as the eternal one, existing before time began, and declares Him to be the eternal “personal Word” of God, incarnate in the flesh, and now resurrected.  There is the word of God in the text of the Bible, and there is the Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  Scriptures declare Jesus to be “The Word,” with a capitol W, meaning He is the Son of God in whom has been hidden from eternity all that God has to say to man, and who was and is the living expression of the divine nature and will of God.  This is Jesus Christ, the personal, living, Word of God.  And the Word is life!

John uses of Jesus the phrase “the Word of Life.”  What he is declaring here is of his own “experience;” and that experience is life, not the mortal life of the body, nor the life of the soul, but of eternal life having already begun within our hearts and continuing on to everlasting life.  This life is known in the Greek as zoe as opposed to soul life or the life of the body.  God is the source of all life, and of zoe life in particular.  Zoe is of His own uncreated life; it is everlasting life.  John, and not John alone but the other disciples present with John, came into a living contact with this life, and noted in the following verses of 1 John 1.2-4—note the use of the plural “we,” “us” and “our,”

the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 

In other words, this was the “experience” not of the apostle alone, but of the local church—this spiritual fellowship with the Father and Son.  What is spiritual became factual and experiential in their lives.  They did not learn it as a teaching, or develop it by meditation, or the practice of yoga, or any other contemplative techniques; they came to know it in “experience” by faith.  Encountering the Word of Life produced a life in them they had never known before.  If one stands in the brightness of the sun something of the sun will be imparted into him, a heat energy that continues to build the longer you stand in its intensity. So to as one stands in the presence of the Son of God, the Word of life, something of life is imparted into him. 

We all have experienced the life of “religion,” whereby we have practiced the routine of special services, of selective prayers and songs, of doing certain rituals, of observing moral obligations, and of conforming our lives to certain doctrine and dogma.  Our lifestyles were altered and our behavior modified.  But God is not so much interested in all these “things” of religion by which we are clothed as in putting on a garment, as much as He so desires the impartation of the life of His Son, the incarnate Word of God, into our lives as an altogether new life.

Entering that Presence

It is a truth that most anyone can practice religion, at least to one degree or another, but only the born-again believer can experience this life from within.   It is a fact that man, by his very nature is alienated from God; (Eph. 4.18)   It is written our iniquities have separated us from God.  (Is. 59.2)  All the religions of the world combined, including Christianity practiced as a religion, could not repair the divide between man and God.  This divide between God and man is the same divide between light and darkness, life and death, righteousness and sin. All religions are imperfect in their approach to God because they all rely to one degree or another on the self-efforts, self-sacrifices, self-determination, and self-works of man—who is imperfect.   

What religion cannot do, life in Christ is able to do, for the Perfect has come as the Lamb of God, to do away with self-sufficiency and sin.  Consider Heb. 10.19-23,

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,  and having a High Priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” 

“The veil” represents that separation between God and man, between sin and righteousness, between light and darkness and between life and death.  In its symbolic nature, Mt. 27.51 records that at the moment Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross,  “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.”  Thus the barrier of separation between God and man was torn—Christ opened “the Way” to God.

 One may seek many things in his or her days upon this earth, but the one who seeks “life” in and through Christ Jesus will find it.  Whether it be expressed as the life, or the eternal life, or the Word of life, they all plainly mean the same thing; they represent Him as the origin and root of divine life and its source to all who partake of Him. The personal “Word of Life;” is analogous to the “tree of life,” “the water of life,” and “the bread of life,”—where, in all cases, the prepositional phrase, “of life,” is the defining way, the essential determination to this life; it defines the source and availability of eternal life, and that is a person: the Word, The Son of God, who is Jesus Christ.  Note,

Jn. 5.26 —  “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself,” and

Jn. 15.5 – “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

If we take Jesus’ words of Jn. 15.5 as a parable, or simple illustration, or exemplary story, and deny its power and spiritual reality, we are practicing our Christianity only as a religion. But to receive its truth, that the branch cannot live detached from the vine, and that only by remaining firmly attached to the vine may the branch draw the life-giving sap from the vine.  There is no eternal life independent of Christ.  It is not something we have been given of our own; it abides in Christ alone.  May we conclude with 1 Jn. 5.12,

He who has the Son has (the) life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have (the) life.”

It is in “the life” and in “the life” alone do we experience the reality of true fellowship with God the Father and the Son and come to know its transforming power that works within— for without Me—the Word of Life, the Son of God, Christ Jesus— you can do nothing.  This life is not only the new spiritual life, being made alive to God, but is also eternal life.  This eternal life is not given to the whole world, or even to all Christians as a church or body of believers; it is given to individuals, soul by soul, according as each one either believes in Christ and receives Him into their hearts, or to those who do not accept the Word of Life, the Son of God and thereby rejects the grace of God for salvation of their souls.

He who has the Son has (the) life— a life which is not a vital energy given apart from Christ, a vitality independent of Christ, but only as life that issues forth from His indwelling presence in the heart of the believer. The believer thus has a spiritual and experiential real-time knowledge and fellowship of God, the Father and Son, and finds a rest in Him, a peace and joy.

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Daniel DeVitis

Daniel P. DeVitis (Dan) has served in ministry for over 50 years. Since 1972 he has overseen a home church, Immanuel Fellowship, Shippensburg, PA, where he currently resides with his wife Petra. He was a professor of Geography and Earth Science at Shippensburg University until his retirement in 2003. He now serves as an elder in Unto Full Stature Ministries where he continues to author newsletters, write articles, and speak at leadership conferences and churches at and abroad.
Picture of Daniel DeVitis

Daniel DeVitis

Daniel P. DeVitis (Dan) has served in ministry for over 50 years. Since 1972 he has overseen a home church, Immanuel Fellowship, Shippensburg, PA, where he currently resides with his wife Petra. He was a professor of Geography and Earth Science at Shippensburg University until his retirement in 2003. He now serves as an elder in Unto Full Stature Ministries where he continues to author newsletters, write articles, and speak at leadership conferences and churches at and abroad.

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