John wrote his first epistle to set forth objective standards by which those under his care could evaluate their spiritual experience. In a day when many were claiming to have subjective standards of spirituality, John sought to bolster his reader’s faith by providing factual criteria for charting one’s relationship with God. Near the end of 1 John he wrote, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Though John never explicitly quoted the Old Testament in 1 John, he repeatedly linked his descriptions of God, Jesus, and Christian living to passages of Scripture that would have been familiar to his readers.
(1) In 1 John 1:1, John described the Word of life in reference to Gen 1:1. John’s phrase “what was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1) echoed the opening line of Genesis, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” At the outset of John’s description of Jesus in 1 John, he identified Jesus with God. Later in 1 John 1:1, John referenced Jesus’ incarnation stating that he and others had touched the Word of life with their hands. Parallel to John 1:1-4, here John established the point that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
(2) In 1 John 1:1b-3, John portrayed the revelation of the Word of life in terms that recalled God’s revelatory acts in Psalm 19. The psalmist reflected on God’s revelation in the natural world (Ps 19:1-6) and in His word (Ps 19:7-14). The psalmist portrayed the heavens as living, communicative beings that speak of God’s glory as Creator. Since the heavens surround the globe, there is no habitation on earth hidden from God’s revelation of His glory in creation. As God has revealed His glory pervasively in creation, He has revealed His moral expectations to His people through His word so that humanity might walk uprightly before God, the Redeemer. John wrote that the Word of life was revealed and seen and proclaimed so that those who heard of the Word of life might have fellowship with God.
(3) In 1 John 1:5-6, John coordinated the metaphor of God being light with His requirement of moral uprightness, echoing a theological portrait of God in the Old Testament. Psalm 27:1 begins, “The LORD is my light and my salvation.” In Ps 18:28, the psalmist described God as the lamp that guided his feet in the darkness. In Ps 43:3, the psalmist said, “Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place.” Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would be the everlasting light for His people after the Lord restored them from those whom He had sent to violently oppose them for their sin (Isa 60:17-22). John maintained the same theological understanding as the psalmists and Isaiah. Since God is light, those claiming to know God must walk in moral purity lest they be found false and fail to walk in the truth (1 John 1:5-6).
(4) In 1 John 1:7 and 2:2, John noted that Jesus’ blood provides cleansing for sins, recalling the connection between blood and cleansing in Israel’s sacrificial system. When the Lord instituted the Passover festival in Exodus 12, He told Moses that the blood on the doorposts and lintel of the homes where the Passover was eaten would distinguish His people from the Egyptians (Exod 12:7, 13). During the covenant ceremony in Exodus 24, Moses sprinkled blood on the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you concerning all these words” (Exod 24:8). The blood of a bull or lamb sacrificed as the sin offering atoned for sins in Israel (Leviticus 4) and the blood of the bull and goat offered on the Day of Atonement annually atoned for Israel’s sin (Leviticus 16). John’s frame of thought in 1 John 1:7 and 2:2 portrayed Jesus’ blood as the realization of what Israel hoped to enjoy through the sacrificial system of the law.
(5) In 1 John 2:9-11, John described the importance of loving other believers, echoing Lev 19:17-18. In Leviticus 19, Moses recorded laws for community maintenance in Israel. As Israelites directly confronted one who sinned against them, avoided taking revenge, and loved their neighbors as themselves, they would reflect the Lord’s presence among them. Jesus said that love for neighbor accompanied love for God as the greatest commandment in the law (Matt 22:39//Mark 12:31//Luke 10:27b) and told His disciples that all would know they were in fact His disciples if they loved one another as He loved them (John 13:34-35). In Rom 13:9 and Gal 5:14, Paul said that all of the commandments of the law were summarized in love for neighbor as described in Lev 19:18. James called Lev 19:18 the “royal law” of Scripture (Jas 2:8). John wrote, “The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now” (1 John 2:9).
(6) In 1 John 2:20-27, John coordinated the concept of anointing with knowledge, reflecting Jeremiah’s description of the new covenant in Jer 31:31-34. Jeremiah prophesied that in the new covenant, the Lord would put His law in the hearts and minds of His people so that each could know Him in a personal way. John was concerned that some false teachers were persuading his audience and suggesting that to know God they needed further knowledge beyond the message of Christ. The audience had received this knowledge in their minds when God anointed them; they needed nothing else.