By Walton Weaver
The third claim Jesus makes for Himself in conversation with Thomas and Philip, as recorded in John 14:5ff., is, “I am . . . the life.” He uses the definite article as he did in the first two claims. This use of the article, as in the other instances, demonstrates the uniqueness of the claim. He does not claim merely to be life, but he claims that he is “the life.” The last two claims that he is the truth and the life have special significance in their relation to the first claim that he is the way. Through his death and his going to the Father Jesus would open up the way into fellowship with the Father. He could not have accomplished this great work had he not been the truth and the life.
One sense in which Jesus is “the life” is that all life (cf. John 1:3), both physical and spiritual, finds its meaning and origin in him. Paul affirms that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and John begins his gospel by saying, “In him was life” (John 1:4). But when Jesus said, “I am . . . the life,” there appears to be no doubt that he meant spiritual life. John also likely has spiritual life in mind when he says, “In Him was life,” because he immediately adds, “and the life was the light of men,” where “light” must refer to the spiritual realm. But how is it that Jesus is “the life” in a spiritual sense?
In the statement “in him was life” there is a reference to the very essence of the Word who was “with God, and … was God” (v. 1). From this description of the divine nature of the Word as he was in the beginning, John takes up the word “life” and gives to it its truest and highest meaning. Life in the very best sense of the term belongs eternally to the Word which was with God, and was God.
The Manifested Life
1. The Word As The Life. The first epistle of John begins with the expression, “What was from the beginning,” and in so doing takes us back into eternity again when the Word was with God. We do not know for sure that this expression refers to the same Word we read about in the first chapter of the gospel of John until we read on in the verse. This becomes clear when we see John describe “what was from the beginning” as that which the eyewitnesses had “heard,” “seen,” “beheld,” and “handled.” At this point we can know for sure that he is speaking of the Word as he does in his gospel record. By this statement John indicates that what had been with God (“What was from the beginning”) had now come into the arena of human experience. The Word had made himself known in history: “And the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (v. 2). The emphasis in this verse “is the historical reality of that to which John bears witness. It is the eternal life, he says, which was with the Father and then appeared to us. The language used here is precisely that which was used of the personal Word which was with God in the beginning (Jn. 1:2). It was the personal manifestation of the eternal life in the historical person of Jesus which was of crucial importance for the writer and his readers” (I. Howard Marshall).
2. The Meaning of “Manifested.” The word “manifested” is the key word in the second verse. It is used two times in this one verse. The term means to bring to light or make known what already exists. What was it that had already existed but had now been made known? The “life” was what had been from the beginning, and now “the life was manifested,” or made known. This is a favorite word of John to describe Jesus’ first coming (1 John 3:5, 8; cf. John 1:31). He also uses it to refer to the second coming (1 John 2:28). But how was the Word manifested when he came into the world? John is more specific in his gospel when he says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
When the Word “became flesh” he was not converted into something different from what he was when he was “with God, and . . . was God.” He simply entered into a new state of existence. He assumed or took on a new nature when he became man, yet “the life” that was in him as the Word was ever the same. This life was now “manifested” in flesh.
The Eternal Life
John says that the life that was manifested was “eternal life.” Could we expect anything less when we consider that this “life” or Word not only was “with God” but also “was God”? Could he be God and not be eternal? This in itself shows that the words “became flesh” in John 1:14 do not mean transmuted into flesh. How could that which is eternal be transmuted or converted into that which is transient and temporary? The word “eternal” only brings out what is inherent in the concept itself. It describes the eternal quality and duration of the life which he is in himself.
Jesus tells us that “the Father has life in himself,” and “He gave the Son also to have life in himself’ (John 5:26). This describes the self-sufficiency of both the Father and the Son. Each has eternal life inherent in himself; or, perhaps we should say, life as an independent possession. Even though this life was in the Son as well as in the Father, it was “given” of the Father to the Son. At first this does not seem consistent with John’s earlier claim that “in him was life.” So, how are we to understand this statement from Jesus? Surely it must refer to the time when the Word became flesh. As the Word Jesus ever had life in himself, but as he stood before the unbelieving Jews and made this statement, “he was vindicating his own authority and action, by connecting them with the Father’s will and action. And he was not, as he stood before the Jews, simply theEtemal Word, but, rather, the God-man” (Alvah Hovey).
Life In The Son
1. God’s Eternal Purpose. God had planned from eternity to make life available to man “in Christ Jesus.” Paul refers to this eternal purpose of God as “his kind intention which he purposed in him” (Eph. 1:9). When the time was right God would “sum up all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth” (Eph. 1:10). John speaks of this plan of redeeming man in terms of life in Christ: “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:11-12). Only God who “has life in himself’ could make this life available, and no one but Christ, the Son of God, whom the Father “gave … to have life in himself’ could offer “life in the Son.” This unique Son of the Father in heaven was the only One who could lay hold of the claim, “I am . . . the life.”
2. Out Of Death Into Life. Jesus himself shows how one may pass “out of death into life,” i.e., by hearing his words and believing him (the Father) who sent him (John 5:24). To pass out of death into life is to leave the realm where death rules and to pass over into the realm where life rules. John shows that the realm where life rules is “in the Son.” Paul describes the sphere of death as “the power of darkness,” and the sphere into which one is transferred as “the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). One cannot have the life which Christ offers unless he is brought into him in whom life is found, that is, into Christ.
What is to be gained “in Christ” when one passes out of death into life? Redemption and forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), salvation (2 Tim. 2:10), freedom from condemnation (Rom. 8:1), and all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). But how does one come “into Christ”? He is “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:27). Other things must precede baptism into Christ, such as faith (John 8:24; Mark 16:16), repentance (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30, 31), and confession of one’s faith in Christ (Rom. 10:10; Act 8:37), but one comes “into Christ” at the point of his baptism into Christ.
In baptism one is “buried with him [Christ] through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Could we find a better description of how it is, and at what point, one passes out of death into life? We die with Christ in baptism, and we gain newness of life in him as we are raised up with him. He has “made us alive together with Christ (by grace ye were saved), and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Wonderful thought! Marvelous grace!
My friend, do you have this “life in the Son”? No one but Jesus Christ could claim, “I am… the life,” and no one but Christ can make you alive in him today! Would you not put your trust in him, and “arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16)? As Ananias asked Saul, “Why do you delay?” Jesus Christ is “the life,” obey him today!
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 19, p. 10-11
October 7, 1993