1 John 5:20
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
Jump to: AlfordBarnesBengelBensonBICalvinCambridgeClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctExp GrkGaebeleinGSBGillGrayGuzikHaydockHastingsHomileticsICCJFBKellyKingLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWMeyerParkerPNTPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBVWSWESTSK
1 John


1 John 5:20.

ONCE more John triumphantly proclaims ‘We know.’ Whole-souled conviction rings in his voice. He is sure of his footing. He does not say ‘ We incline to think,’ or even ‘We believe and firmly hold,’ but he says ‘ We know.’ A very different tone that from that of many of us, who, influenced by currents of present opinions, feel as if what was rock to our fathers had become quagmire to us! But John in his simplicity thinks that it is a tone which is characteristic of every Christian. I wonder what he would say about some Christians now.

This third of his triumphant certainties is connected closely with the two preceding ones, which have been occupying us in former sermons. It is so, as being in one aspect the ground of these, for it is because ‘the Son of God is come’ that men are born of God, and are of Him. It is so in another way also, for properly the words of our text ought to read not ‘And we know,’ rather ‘But we know.’ They are suggested, that is to say, by the preceding words, and they present the only thought which makes them tolerable. ‘The whole world lieth in the wicked one. But we know that the Son of God is come.’ Falling back on the certainty of the Incarnation and its present issues, we can look in the face the grave condition of humanity, and still have hope for the world and for ourselves. The certainty of the Incarnation and its issues, I say. For in my text John not only points to the past fact that Christ has come in the flesh, but to a present fact, the operation of that Christ upon Christian souls-’He hath given us an understanding.’ And not only so, but he points, further, to a dwelling in God and God in us as being the abiding issue of that past manifestation. So these three things -the coming of Christ, the knowledge of God which flows into a believing heart through that Incarnate Son, and the dwelling in God which is the climax of all His gifts to us-these three things are in John’s estimation certified to a Christian heart, and are not merely matters of opinion and faith, but matters of knowledge.

Ah I brethren, if our Christianity had that firm strain, and was conscious of that verification, it would be less at the mercy of every wind of doctrine; it would be less afraid of every new thought; it would be more powerful to rule and to calm our own spirits, and it would be more mighty to utter persuasive words to others. We must know for ourselves, if we would lead others to believe. So I desire to look now at these three points which emerge from my text, and

I. I would deal with the Christian’s knowledge that the Son of God is come.

Now, our Apostle is writing to Asiatic Christians of the second generation at the earliest, most of whom had not been born when Jesus Christ was upon earth, and none of whom had any means of acquaintance with Him except that which we possess-the testimony of the witnesses who had companied with Him. And yet, to these men-whose whole contact with Christ and the Gospel was, like yours and mine, the result of hearsay -he says, ‘We know.’ Was he misusing words in his eagerness to find a firm foundation for a soul to rest on? Many would say that he was, and would answer this certainty of his ‘We know,’ with, How can he know? You may go on the principle that probability is the guide of life, and you may be morally certain, but the only way by which you know a fact is by having seen it; and even if you have seen Jesus Christ, all that you saw would be the life of a man upon earth whom you believed to be the Son of God. It is trifling with language to talk about knowledge when you have only testimony to build on.

Well! there is a great deal to be said on that side, but there are two or three considerations which, I think, amply warrant the Apostle’s declaration here, and our understanding of his words, ‘We know,’ in their fullest and deepest sense. Let me just mention these briefly. Remember that when John says ‘The Son of God is come’ he is not speaking-as his language, if any of you can consult the original, distinctly shows -about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. In one aspect, no doubt, Jesus Christ had come and gone, before any of the people to whom this letter was addressed heard it for the first time, but in another aspect, if I may use a colloquial expression, when Jesus Christ came, He ‘came to stay.’ And that thought, of the permanent abiding with men, of the Christ who once was manifest in the flesh for thirty years, and

‘Walked the acres of those blessed fields

For our advantage,’

runs through the whole of Scripture. Nor shall we understand the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation unless we see in it the point of beginning of a permanent reality. He has come, and He has not gone-’Lo! I am with you alway’-and that thought of the fullness and permanence of our Lord’s presence with Christian souls is lodged deep and all-pervading, not only in John’s gospel, but in the whole teaching of the New Testament. So it is a present fact, and not only a past piece of history, which is asserted when the Apostle says ‘The Son of God is come.’ And a man who has a companion knows that he has him, and by many a token not only of flesh but of spirit, is conscious that he is not alone, but that the dear and strong one is by his side. Such consciousness belongs to all the maturer and deeper forms of the Christian life.

Further, we must read on in my text if we are to find all which John declares to be a matter of knowledge. ‘The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding.’ I shall have a word or two more to say about that presently, but in the meantime I simply point out that what is here declared to be known by the Christian soul is a present operation of the present Christ upon his nature. If a man is aware that, through his faith in Jesus Christ, new perceptions and powers of discerning solid reality where he only saw mist before have been granted to him, the Apostle’s triumphant assertion is vindicated.

And, still further, the words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed, in Christ Jesus and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing belief that rests on testimony into knowledge grounded in vital experience. At first a man accepts Jesus Christ because, for one reason or another, he is led to give credence to the evangelical testimony and to the apostolic teaching: but as he goes on learning more and more of the realities of the Christian life, creed changes into consciousness; and we can turn round to apostles and prophets, and say to them, with thankfulness for all that we have received from them, ‘Now we believe, not because of your saying, but because we have seen Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’ That is the advance which Christian men should all make, from the infantile, rudimentary days, when they accepted Christ on the witness of others, to the time when they .accepted Him because, in the depth of their own experience, they have found Him to be all that they took Him to be. The true test of creed is life. The true way of knowing that a shelter is adequate is to house in it, and be defended from the pelting of every pitiless storm. The medicine we know to be powerful when it has cured us. And every man that truly grasps Jesus Christ, and is faithful and persevering in his hold, can set his seal to that which to others is but a thing believed on hearsay, and accepted on testimony.

‘We know that the Son of God is come.’ Christian people, have you such a first-hand acquaintance with the articles which constitute your Christian creed as that? Over and above all the intellectual reasons which may lead to the acceptance, as a theory, of the truths of Christianity, have you that living experience of them which warrants you in saying ‘We know’? Alas! Alas! I am afraid that this supreme ground of certitude is rarely trodden by multitudes of professing Christians. And so in days of criticism and upheaval they are frightened out of their wits, and all but out of their faith, and are nervous and anxious lest from this corner or that corner or the other corner of the field of honest study and research, there may come some sudden shock that will blow the whole fabric of their belief to pieces. ‘He that believeth shall not make haste,’ and a man who knows what Christ has done for him may calmly welcome the advent of any new light, sure that nothing that can be established can touch that serene centre in which his certitude sits enshrined and calm. Brother, do you seek to be able to say,’ I know in whom I have believed’?

II. Note the new power of knowing God given by the Son who is come.

John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that ‘He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.’ Now, I do not suppose that he means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. Just as in the miracles of our Lord the blind men had eyes, but it needed the touch of His finger before the sight came to them, so man, that was made in the image of God, which he has not altogether lost by any wandering, has therein lying dormant and oppressed the capacity of knowing Him from whom he comes, but he needs the couching hand of the Christ Himself, in order that the blind eyes may be capable of seeing and the slumbering power of perception be awakened. That gift of a clarified nature, a pure heart, which is the condition, as the Master Himself said, of seeing God- that gift is bestowed upon all who, trusting in the Incarnate Son, submit themselves to His cleansing hand.

In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. The knowledge of which my text speaks is the knowledge of ‘ Him that is true,’ by which pregnant word the Apostle means to contrast the Father whom Jesus Christ sets before us with all men’s conceptions of a Divine nature; and to declare that whilst these conceptions, in one way or another, fall beneath or diverge from reality and fact, our God manifested to us by Jesus Christ is the only One whose nature corresponds to the name, and who is essentially that which is included in it.

But what I would dwell on especially for a moment is that this gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. Inasmuch as the Apostle declares that the object of this knowledge is not a truth about God but God Himself, it necessarily follows that the knowledge is such as we have of a person, and not of a doctrine. Or, to put it into simpler words: to know about God is one thing, and to know God is quite another. We may know all about the God that Christ has revealed and yet not know Him in the very slightest degree. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. You are not a bit better, though you comprehend the whole sweep of Christ’s revelation of God, if the God whom you in so far comprehend remain a stranger to you. That we may know Him as a man knows his friend, and that we may enter into relations of familiar acquaintance with Him, Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and this is the blessing that He gives us-not an accurate theology, but a loving friendship. Has Christ done that for you, my brother?

That knowledge, if it is real and living, will be progressive. More and more we shall come to know. As we grow like Him we shall draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to Him we shall grow like Him. So the Christian life is destined to an endless progress, like one of those mathematical spirals which ever climb, ever approximate to, but never reach, the summit and the centre of the coil. So, if we have Christ for our medium both of light and of sight, if He both gives us God to see and the power to see Him, we shall begin a course which eternity itself will not witness completed. We have landed on the shores of a mighty continent, and for ever and for ever and ever we shall be pressing deeper and deeper into the bosom of the land, and learning more and more of its wealth and loveliness. ‘We know that we know Him that is true.’ If the Son of God has come to us, we know God, and we know that we know Him. Do you?

III. Lastly, note here the Christian indwelling of God, which is possible through the Son who is come.

Friendship, familiar intercourse, intimate knowledge as of one with whom we have long dwelt, instinctive sympathy of heart and mind, are not all which, in John’s estimation, Jesus Christ brings to them that love Him, and live in Him. For he adds, ‘We are in Him that is true.’ Of old Abraham was called the Friend of God, but an auguster title belongs to us. ‘Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ Oh brethren, do not be tempted, by any dread of mysticism, to deprive yourselves of that crown and summit of all the gifts and blessings of the Gospel, but open your hearts and your minds to expect and to believe in the actual abiding of the Divine nature in us. Mysticism? Yes! And I do not know what religion is worth if there is not mysticism in it, for the very heart of it seems to me to be the possible interpenetration and union of man and God-not in the sense of obliterating the personalities, but in the deep, wholesome sense in which Christ Himself and all His apostles taught it, and in which every man who has had any profound experience of the Christian life feels it to be true.

But notice the words of my text for a moment, where the Apostle goes on to explain and define how ‘we are in Him that is true,’ because we are ‘in His Son Jesus Christ.’ That carries us away back to ‘Abide in Me, and I in you.’ John caught the whole strain of such thoughts from those sacred words in the upper room. Christ in us is the deepest truth of Christianity. And that God is in us, if Christ is in us, is the teaching not only of my text but of the Lord Himself, when He said, ‘We will come unto him and make our abode with him.’

And will not a man ‘know’ that? Will it not be something deeper and better than intellectual perception by which he is aware of the presence of the Christ in his heart? Cannot we all have it if we will? There is only one way to it, and that is by simple trust in Jesus Christ. Then, as I said, the trust with which we began will not leave us, but will be glorified into experience with which the trust will be enriched.

Brethren, the sum and substance of all that I have been trying to say is just this: lay your poor personalities in Christ’s hands, and lean yourselves upon Him; and there will come into your hearts a Divine power, and, if you are faithful to your faith, you will know that it is not in vain. There is a tremendous alternative, as I have already pointed out, suggested by the sequence of thoughts in my text, ‘the whole world lieth in the wicked one’ but’ we are in Him that is true.’ We have to choose our dwelling-place, whether we shall dwell in that dark region of evil, or whether we shall dwell in God, and know that God is in us.

If we are true to the conditions, we shall receive the promises. And then our Christian faith will not be dashed with hesitations, nor shall we be afraid lest any new light shall eclipse the Sun of Righteousness, but, in the midst of the babble of controversy, we may be content to be ignorant of much, to hold much in suspense, to part with not a little, but yet with quiet hearts to be sure of the one thing needful, and with unfaltering tongues to proclaim ‘We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him that is true.’

1 John 5:20-21. We know — By all these infallible proofs; that the Son of God is come — Into the world; and hath given us an understanding — Hath enlightened our minds; that we may know him that is true — The living and true God, namely, the Father, of whom the apostle appears here to speak; and we are in him that is true — In his favour, and in a state of union and fellowship with him; even — This particle is not in the Greek; in — Or rather; through; his Son Jesus Christ — Through whose mediation alone we can have access to, or intercourse with, the Father. This Ουτος, he, namely, Christ, the person last mentioned; is the true God and eternal life — He partakes with the Father in proper Deity, and our immortal life is supported by union with him. Little — Or beloved; children, keep yourselves from idols — From all false worship of images, or of any creature, and from every inward idol: from loving, desiring, fearing any thing more than God. Seek all help and defence from evil, all happiness, in the true God alone.

5:18-21 All mankind are divided into two parties or dominions; that which belongs to God, and that which belongs to the wicked one. True believers belong to God: they are of God, and from him, and to him, and for him; while the rest, by far the greater number, are in the power of the wicked one; they do his works, and support his cause. This general declaration includes all unbelievers, whatever their profession, station, or situation, or by whatever name they may be called. The Son leads believers to the Father, and they are in the love and favour of both; in union with both, by the indwelling and working of the Holy Spirit. Happy are those to whom it is given to know that the Son of God is come, and to have a heart to trust in and rely on him that is true! May this be our privilege; we shall thus be kept from all idols and false doctrines, and from the idolatrous love of worldly objects, and be kept by the power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation. To this living and true God, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.And we know that the Son of God is come - We know this by the evidence that John had referred to in this Epistle, 1 John 1:1-4; 1 John 5:6-8.

And hath given us an understanding - Not an "understanding" considered as a faculty of the mind, for religion gives us no new faculties; but he has so instructed us that we do understand the great truths referred to. Compare the notes at Luke 24:45. All the correct knowledge which we have of God and his government, is to be traced directly or indirectly to the great Prophet whom God has sent into the world, John 1:4, John 1:18; John 8:12; John 9:5; Hebrews 1:1-3; Matthew 11:27.

That we may know him that is true - That is, the true God. See the notes at John 17:3.

And we are in him that is true - That is, we are united to him; we belong to him; we are his friends. This idea is often expressed in the Scriptures by being "in him." It denotes a most intimate union, as if we were one with him - or were a part of him - as the branch is in the vine, John 15:4, John 15:6. The Greek construction is the same as that applied to "the wicked one," 1 John 5:19, (ἐν τῷ ἀληθινᾧ en tō alēthinō.)

This is the true God - o There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this important passage; whether it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, the immediate antecedent, or to a more remote antecedent - referring to God, as such. The question is of importance in its bearing on the doctrine of the divinity of the Saviour; for if it refers to him, it furnishes an unequivocal declaration that he is divine. The question is, whether John "meant" that it should be referred to him? Without going into an extended examination of the passage, the following considerations seem to me to make it morally certain that by the phrase "this is the true God," etc., he did refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1) the grammatical construction favors it. Christ is the immediate antecedent of the pronoun "this" - οὗτος houtos. This would be regarded as the obvious and certain construction so far as the grammar is concerned, unless there were something in the thing affirmed which led us to seek some more remote and less obvious antecedent. No doubt would have been ever entertained on this point, if it had not been for the reluctance to admit that the Lord Jesus is the true God. If the assertion had been that "this is the true Messiah;" or that "this is the Son of God;" or that "this is he who was born of the Virgin Mary," there would have been no difficulty in the construction. I admit that his argument is not absolutely decisive; for cases do occur where a pronoun refers, not to the immediate antecedent, but to one more remote; but cases of that kind depend on the ground of necessity, and can be applied only when it would be a clear violation of the sense of the author to refer it to the immediate antecedent.

(2) this construction seems to be demanded by the adjunct which John has assigned to the phrase "the true God" - "eternal life." This is an expression which John would be likely to apply to the Lord Jesus, considered as "life," and the "source of life," and not to God as such. "How familiar is this language with John, as applied to Christ! "In him (i. e. Christ) was life, and the life was the light of people - giving life to the world - the bread of life - my words are spirit and life - I am the way, and the truth, and the life. This life (Christ) was manifested, and we have "seen it," and do testify to you, and declare the eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us," 1 John 1:2." - Prof. Stuart's Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 83. There is no instance in the writings of John, in which the appellation life, and "eternal" life is bestowed upon the Father, to designate him as the author of spiritual and eternal life; and as this occurs so frequently in John's writings as applied to Christ, the laws of exegesis require that both the phrase "the true God," and "eternal life," should be applied to him.

(3) if it refers to God as such, or to the word "true" - τὸν ἀληθινόν (Θεὸν) ton alēthinon (Theon) it would be mere tautology, or a mere truism. The rendering would then be, "That we may know the true God, and we are in the true God: this is the true God, and eternal life." Can we believe that an inspired man would affirm gravely, and with so much solemnity, and as if it were a truth of so much magnitude, that the true God is the true God?

(4) this interpretation accords with what we are sure John would affirm respecting the Lord Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that he who said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" that he who said, "all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made;" that he who recorded the declaration of the Saviour, "I and my Father are one," and the declaration of Thomas, "my Lord and my God," would apply to him the appellation "the true God!"

(5) if John did not mean to affirm this, he has made use of an expression which was liable to be misunderstood, and which, as facts have shown, would be misconstrued by the great portion of those who might read what he had written; and, moreover, an expression that would lead to the very sin against which he endeavors to guard in the next verse - the sin of substituting a creature in the place of God, and rendering to another the honor due to him. The language which he uses is just such as, according to its natural interpretation, would lead people to worship one as the true God who is not the true God, unless the Lord Jesus be divine. For these reasons, it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this passage demands that it should be understood as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, it is a direct assertion of his divinity, for there could be no higher proof of it than to affirm that he is the true God.

And eternal life - Having "life in himself," John 5:26, and the source and fountain of life to the soul. No more frequent appellation, perhaps, is given to the Saviour by John, than that he is life, and the source of life. Compare John 1:4; John 5:26, John 5:40; John 10:10; John 6:33, John 6:35, John 6:48, John 6:51, John 6:53, John 6:63; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 20:31; 1 John 1:1-2; 1 John 5:12.

20. Summary of our Christian privileges.

is come—is present, having come. "He is here—all is full of Him—His incarnation, work, and abiding presence, is to us a living fact" [Alford].

given us an understanding—Christ's, office is to give the inner spiritual understanding to discern the things of God.

that we may know—Some oldest manuscripts read, "(so) that we know."

him that is true—God, as opposed to every kind of idol or false god (1Jo 5:21). Jesus, by virtue of His oneness with God, is also "He that is true" (Re 3:7).

even—"we are in the true" God, by virtue of being "in His Son Jesus Christ."

This is the true God—"This Jesus Christ (the last-named Person) is the true God" (identifying Him thus with the Father in His attribute, "the only true God," Joh 17:3, primarily attributed to the Father).

and eternal life—predicated of the Son of God; Alford wrongly says, He was the life, but not eternal life. The Father is indeed eternal life as its source, but the Son also is that eternal life manifested, as the very passage (1Jo 1:2) which Alford quotes, proves against him. Compare also 1Jo 5:11, 13. Plainly it is as the Mediator of ETERNAL LIFE to us that Christ is here contemplated. The Greek is, "The true God and eternal life is this" Jesus Christ, that is, In believing in Him we believe in the true God, and have eternal life. The Son is called "He that is TRUE," Re 3:7, as here. This naturally prepares the way for warning against false gods (1Jo 5:21). Jesus Christ is the only "express image of God's person" which is sanctioned, the only true visible manifestation of God. All other representations of God are forbidden as idols. Thus the Epistle closes as it began (1Jo 1:1, 2).

It is here signified how satisfying a knowledge and certainty sincere Christians had, that Christ was indeed come, by that blessed effect they found upon themselves, viz. a clear and lively light shining, by his procurement and communication, into their minds, whereby they had other apprehensions, more vivid and powerful than ever before, of

the true God, as John 17:3, so as thereby to be drawn into union with him, and to be in him: or, which in effect is the same thing, (so entire is the oneness between the Father and the Son), we are in his Son Jesus Christ, who also

is the true God, as John 1:1,

and eternal life, as he is called, 1Jo 1:2.

And we know that the Son of God is come,.... That the second Person in the Godhead, who is equal to the Father, and of the same nature with him, is come from the Father, from heaven into this world, not by local motion, but by assumption of nature; that he is come in the flesh, or is become incarnate, in order to work out salvation for his people, by his obedience, sufferings, and death; and this John and others knew, for they had personal knowledge of him, and converse with him; they saw him with their eyes, heard him, and handled him: he dwelt among them, preached to them, wrought miracles before them, which proved him to be what he was; and it may be known that the Messiah must become, since Daniel's weeks, which fixes the time of his coming, are long ago up; the sceptre is departed from Judah, and the second temple is destroyed, neither of which were to be till the Messiah came; and that Jesus of Nazareth is he who is come may be known by the characters of him, and the works done by him:

and hath given us an understanding; not a new faculty of the understanding but new light into it; a knowledge of spiritual things of himself, and of God in him, and of the truths of the Gospel, and of all divine and heavenly things; for he, the Son of God, is come a light into the world, and gives spiritual light to men:

that we may know him that is true; or "the true God", as the Alexandrian copy and some others, and the Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions read; that is, God the Father, who is the true God, in opposition to the false gods of the Heathens, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit; and the spiritual knowledge of him as the Father of Christ, and as a covenant God and Father in him, is only given to men by Christ, and this is life eternal; see Matthew 11:27;

and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ; the words "Jesus Christ" are left out in the Alexandrian copy, and in the Vulgate Latin version; however, certain it is, that Jesus Christ is meant by his Son, who is the Son of the true and living God, and is himself "true"; not only true God, as hereafter asserted, but true man, having a true body and a reasonable soul, and was true and faithful in the discharge of his offices, as prophet, priest, and King; he faithfully declared the whole will of God, and taught the way of God in truth; he was faithful to him that appointed him, by securing his glory when he made reconciliation for the sins of the people; and all the administrations of his kingly office are just and true; yea, he is truth itself, the substance of all the types, in whom all the promises are yea and amen, and who has all the truths of the Gospel and treasures of wisdom in him; now his people are in him; they were secretly in him before the world was, being loved by him, chosen in him, put into his hands, preserved in him, and represented by him; and openly, at conversion, when they are anew created in him, brought to believe in him, and live upon him, and he lives in them, and they are in him as branches in the vine; and this is known by his Spirit being given them, by the communication of his grace unto them, and by the communion they have with him.

This is the true God and eternal life; that is, the Son of God, who is the immediate antecedent to the relative "this"; he is the true God, with his Father and the Spirit, in distinction from all false, fictitious, or nominal deities; and such as are only by office, or in an improper and figurative sense: Christ is truly and really God, as appears from all the perfections of deity, the fulness of the Godhead being in him; from the divine works of creation and providence being ascribed to him; and from the divine worship that is given him; as well as from the names and titles he goes by, and particularly that of Jehovah, which is incommunicable to a creature; and he is called "eternal life", because it is in him; and he is the giver of it to his people; and that itself will chiefly consist in the enjoyment and vision of him, and in conformity to him.

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true {m} God, and eternal life.

(m) The divinity of Christ is most clearly proved by this passage.

1 John 5:20. In conclusion, the apostle indicates whence the εἶναι ἐκ τῷ Θεῷ (the result of the εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ) has come to him and his readers; and he does this by expressing it through οἴδαμεν as the substance of their Christian consciousness.

οἴδαμεν δέ, ὅτι ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἥκει] The conditioning cause of the former is the coming of the Son of God.

The particle δέ is here used to indicate the antithesis to the immediately preceding thought; Brückner has with justice decided in favour of this reading (contrary to καὶ οἴδαμεν; see the critical notes).

ἥκει is not = adest (Bengel), but: “has come;” the reference is to the incarnation of the Son of God.

καὶ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν διάνοιαν, ἵνα γινώσκομεν τὸν ἀληθινόν] Still dependent on ὅτι.

The subject of δέδωκεν is not: ὁ Θεός (Bengel), but: ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ, as the close connection of this clause with that immediately preceding clearly shows; τὸν ἀληθινόν, on the other hand, is not a description of the Son (Bengel), but of God.

By διάνοια we are not to understand, with Lücke and de Wette, “knowledge,” or even “insight,” but the capability of knowledge (Düsterdieck, Ebrard), yet in its living activity, hence “the faculty of knowing.”[331]

By ἵνα γινώσκομεν κ.τ.λ. it is neither the purpose: “in order that,” nor even the result: “so that,” that is stated, but the object to which the διάνοια is directed, and which it attains. We can only regard ἵνα as the particle of purpose, if we unjustifiably understand by διάνοια “the spiritual disposition” (contrary to Braune).

The idea γινώσκειν is here used with the same force as in chap. 1 John 2:4-5, where it is similarly connected with ἐν αὐτῷ εἶναι. By τὸν ἀληθινόν God is described, in distinction from all idols, especially from the idol which the false teachers made of God, as the true God; Calvin: Verum Deum intelligit, non veraccm, sed cum qui re vera Deus est, ut cum ab idolis omnibus discernat; comp. John 17:3[332] (similarly Lücke, de Wette, Neander, Erdmann, Düsterdieck, Myrberg, Ebrard, Braune, etc.). He is the true God, who has sent His Son into the world; the coming of Christ has not been ineffectual, but has produced in believers the knowledge of God—a knowledge which is one with being in God. Therefore the apostle continues: ΚΑῚ ἘΣΜῈΝ ἘΝ Τῷ ἈΛΗΘΙΝῷ. These words are not dependent on ὍΤΙ (Vulg.: et simus), but form an independent sentence. The ἘΝ Τῷ ἈΛΗΘΙΝῷ refers back to ΤῸΝ ἈΛΗΘΙΝΌΝ; considering the close connection of the two sentences, it must be the same subject, namely God, that is meant by the same word (Brückner, Braune); it is arbitrary to understand by τὸν ἀληθινόν God, and by Τῷ ἈΛΗΘΙΝῷ, on the other hand, Christ, and it is, moreover, forbidden by the context, in accordance with which the ΚΑῚ ἘΣΜῈΝ ἘΝ Τῷ ἈΛΗΘΙΝῷ states the consequence of the preceding, namely of the fact that the Son of God has come and has given to us the capability of knowing the true God.[333] Therefore also the following words: ἐν τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ, are not to be taken as apposition to ἐν τῷ ἀλ. (Weiss), against which even the αὐτοῦ testifies, for then it would have to be referred, not to τῷ ἀληθινῷ, but beyond it to τὸν ἀληθινόν. The additional clause shows in what the εἶναι ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ has its ground and stability (Brückner, Braune); ἐν is not = per, but indicates, as generally in the formula ἐν Ἰησ. Χριστῷ, the relationship of intimate fellowship: the believer is in God, inasmuch as he is in Christ.

Before the last warning, connected with this (1 John 5:21), the apostle expressively concludes with the statement: οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεὸς καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. As is well known, views have differed from old times about the meaning of οὗτος. While the Arians understand οὗτος of God, the orthodox refer it to the immediately preceding ἐν τῷ υἱῷ Ἰ. Χρ., and use this passage as a proof of the divinity of the Son. This interpretation remained the prevailing one in the Church, even after Erasmus had remarked: “hic est verus Deus” referri potest ad Deum verum Patrem qui praecessit; and against this the Socinians, and then Grotius, Wetstein, the English Antitrinitarians, and the German Rationalists followed the opposite view. It is not to be denied that on both sides the different dogmatic interests did not remain without influence on the interpretation, until in more recent times a more unbiassed consideration has led the way. Among the latest commentators, Rickli, Lücke, de Wette, Neander, Gerlach, Frommann, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Myrberg, even Brückner and Braune (who, however, leave room for doubt), similarly Hofmann (Schriftbew. 2d ed. I. p. 146), Winer (p. 142; VII. p. 148), and Al. Buttmann (p. 91), have decided in favour of the reference to God; Sander, Besser, Ebrard, Weiss, etc., for the reference to the Son. The dispute cannot be settled on grammatical lines, for οὗτος can be referred both to τὸν ἀληθινόν[334] and also to τῷ υἱῷ; the addition: καὶ ζωὴ αἰώνιος, seems to support the latter reference, for Christ, in the Gospel of John, calls Himself precisely ἡ ζωή, and also in the beginning of this Epistle it is the Son of God that is to be understood by ἡ ζωή and ἡ ζωὴ ἡ αἰώνιος. The former reference, on the other hand, is supported by the expression: ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεός; for, in the first place, it is more natural to understand here the same subject as is previously designated by ὁ ἀληθινὸς, than any other; and, in the second place, the Father and the Son, God and Jesus Christ, are always so definitely distinguished throughout the whole Epistle that it would be strange if, at the close of it, and, moreover, just after both subjects have been similarly distinguished immediately before, Christ—without further explanation, too—should be described as ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεός, especially as this designation is never ascribed to the Son in the writings of John, definitely though the divinity of the Son is taught in them.[335] To this it may be added that, after John has brought out as the peculiar characteristic of the Christian’s life, of which he partakes in the Son of God, the ΕἾΝΑΙ ἘΝ Τῷ ἈΛΗΘΙΝῷ, the clause in question has its right meaning only if it states who that ἈΛΗΘΙΝΌς is, namely that he is the ἈΛΗΘΙΝῸς ΘΕῸς ΚΑῚ ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝΙΟς. Now, though elsewhere it is only Christ that is called exactly Ἡ ΖΩΉ, yet He has the ΖΩΉ—according to His own words, John 5:26—only from the Father, who originally has the life in Himself (Ὁ ΠΑΤῊΡ ἜΧΕΙ ΖΩῊΝ ἘΝ ἙΑΥΤῷ), and may therefore be called ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝΙΟς no less than the Son. Besides, it is to be observed that ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝ. is here used without the article, so that the expression comes under the same category as the expressions: Ὁ ΘΕΌς ἘΣΤΙ Φῶς (1 John 1:5), ἈΓΆΠΗ (1 John 4:16), ΠΝΕῦΜΑ (Gospel of John 4:24).

The objection that “it would be a feeble repetition, after the Father had twice been called Ὁ ἈΛΗΘΙΝΌς, again to say: this is the ἈΛΗΘΙΝῸς ΘΕΌς” (Ebrard, similarly Weiss; also Schulze, Menschensohn, etc. p. 263[336]), is the less valid, as the apostle has already in view the warning of 1 John 5:21, and by ἘΝ Τῷ ΥἹῷ ΑὐΤΟῦ Ἰ. ΧΡ. it is indicated that He alone is the true God, with whom we are in fellowship in Christ: it is only the Father of Jesus Christ that is the true God.

The connection of the words: ΚΑῚ ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝΙΟς, as a second predicate, with ΟὟΤΟς, has appeared a difficulty to many commentators. Socinus wanted to take ΟὟΤΟς = ΤΟῦΤΟ, with reference to the whole preceding thought, and then he paraphrases ΤΟῦΤΟ by ἘΝ ΤΟΎΤῼ and interprets: in eo, quod diximus, est ille verus Deus et vita aeterna; nam quatenus quis habet et cognoscit Christi Patrem et ipsum Christum, habet et illum verum Deum et aeternam vitam; similarly Ewald, when he paraphrases: “this, both these things together, that we know and that we are all this, this is the true God and eternal life.” The arbitrariness of this explanation is self-evident. Others, as Clarke, Benson, Lücke (in his 1st ed.), supply before ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝ. an ΑὝΤΗ ἘΣΤΊΝ out of ΟὟΤΌς ἘΣΤΙΝ, referring ΑὝΤΗ either to Ὁ ΥἹΌς or to the idea ΕἾΝΑΙ ἘΝ Τῷ ἈΛΗΘ. Lücke has rightly withdrawn this explanation in his 2d edition as unwarrantable, and correctly says: “ΚΑῚ ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝ. can certainly not be grammatically connected directly with ΟὟΤΟς;” Lücke, however, thinks that there is an ellipsis in the expression, and that it is to be interpreted: “this … the true God is eternal life, which can either be understood of the fact that God is the cause and source of eternal life, or thus: His fellowship is eternal life.” But why could not John have described by ζωὴ αἰών. the substantial character of the divine nature? If God has ΖΩΉ in Himself (John 5:26), namely the ΖΩΉ which He has given to the Son, and which believers possess through the Son (John 5:24), then God in His very nature is ζωή, and ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝΙΟς too. As John mentions this as the characteristic of God’s nature, there certainly lies in this the indication that God is the source of life for us.

[331] It is quite arbitrary, with Semler, to interpret the idea διάνοια = μετάνοια καὶ πίστις. Paulus lays a special emphasis on διά: “thinking through (out) in contrast to a vague acceptance and thoughtless belief” (!).

[332] Baumgarten-Crusius thinks that ἀληθ. means more here than in John 17:3, namely: “he who gives a satisfaction, in quo uno acquiescendum est;” but if this were really contained in the idea here, that would be the case in John 17:3 also.

[333] This explanation is so much the more justifiable, as it is to be expected from John that at the close of his Epistle he would express in brief language the highest thing that can be said of the life of the believer, and this is the εἶναι ἐν τῷ Θεῷ (τῷ ἀληθινῷ).

[334] It lies in the very nature of the case that οὗτος may refer to the principal subject, nay, that this is the reference most suitable to the word; comp. 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7; Acts 4:11; Acts 7:19. Calvin’s rule, which Sander repeats, is erroneous: Pron. demonstr. οὗτος ordinarie, nisi evidenter textus aliud requirat, immediate antecedens nomen respicit ac demonstrat.

[335] It is only through a superficial consideration that, for the refutation of this assertion, appeal can be made to John 1:1; John 20:28, and the passages in the Apocalypse in which the predicate ἀληθινός is ascribed to Christ.—How little care is sometimes exercised in the proof of the truth that what is stated by John of Jesus Christ really proclaims Him as the true God, is shown, amongst others, by Schulze, in the way in which he appeals on behalf of this to John 17:23; John 14:20, since it would follow from this that even the disciples of Jesus could be described as the true God.

[336] Brückner and Braune also consider the “tautology” at least as something not quite out of the question; but a real tautology is here so far from being the case, that “Θεός” is here added to ἀληθινός, and the idea ζωὴ αἰώνιος is directly connected with the idea ὁ ἀληθινὸς Θεός.

1 John 5:20. The Assurance and Guarantee of it all—the fact of the Incarnation (ὅτι ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ ἥκει), an overwhelming demonstration of God’s interest in us and His concern for our highest good. Not simply a historic fact but an abiding operation—not “came (ἦλθε),“but” hath come and hath given us”. Our faith is not a matter of intellectual theory but of personal and growing acquaintance with God through the enlightenment of Christ’s Spirit, τὸν ἀληθινόν, “the real” as opposed to the false God of the heretics. See note on 1 John 2:8. ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ, as the world is ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ.

20. And we know] This introduces the third great fact of which believers have certain knowledge. The first two Christian certitudes are that the believer as a child of God progresses under Christ’s protection towards the sinlessness of God, while the unbelieving world lies wholly in the power of the evil one. Therefore the Christian knows that both in the moral nature which he inherits, and in the moral sphere in which he lives, there is an ever-widening gulf between him and the world. But his knowledge goes beyond this. Even in the intellectual sphere, in which the Gnostic claims to have such advantages, the Christian is, by Christ’s bounty, superior.

The ‘and’ (δέ) brings the whole to a conclusion: comp. Hebrews 13:20; Hebrews 13:22. Or it may mark the opposition between the world’s evil case and what is stated here; in which case δέ should be rendered ‘but.’

is come] This includes the notion of ‘is here’ (ἥκει); but it is the coming at the Incarnation rather than the perpetual presence that is prominent in this context.

hath given us an understanding] Or, hath given us understanding, i.e. the capacity for receiving knowledge, intellectual power. The word (διάνοια) occurs nowhere else in S. John’s writings.

that we may know] Literally, ‘that we may continue to recognise, as we do now’ (ἵνα with the indicative; see on John 17:3). It is the appropriation of the knowledge that is emphasized; hence ‘recognise’ (γινώσκομεν) rather than ‘know’ (οἴδαμεν). The latter word is used at the opening of these three verses: there it is the possession of the knowledge that is the main thing.

him that is true] God; another parallel with Christ’s Prayer; ‘that they should know Thee the only true God’ (John 17:3), where some authorities give ἵνα with the indicative, as here. ‘True’ does not mean ‘that cannot lie’ (Titus 1:2), but ‘genuine, real, very,’ as opposed to the false gods of 1 John 5:21. See on 1 John 2:8. What is the Gnostic’s claim to superior knowledge in comparison with this? We know that we have the Divine gift of intelligence by means of which we attain to the knowledge of a personal God who embraces and sustains us in his Son.

and we are in him] A fresh sentence, not dependent on either preceding ‘that’. ‘Him that is true’ again means God. It is arbitrary to change the meaning and make this refer to Christ. ‘The Son has given us understanding by which to attain to knowledge of the Father.’ Instead of resuming ‘And we do know the Father,’ the Apostle makes an advance and says: ‘And we are in the Father.’ Knowledge has become fellowship (1 John 1:3, 1 John 2:3-5). God has appeared as man; God has spoken as man to man; and the Christian faith, which is the one absolute certainty for man, the one means of re-uniting him to God, is the result.

even in his Son Jesus Christ] Omit ‘even’ which has been inserted in A.V. and R.V. to make ‘in Him that is true’ refer to Christ. This last clause explains how it is that we are in the Father, viz. by being in the Son. Comp. 1 John 2:23; John 1:18; John 14:9; John 17:21; John 17:23. Tyndale boldly turns the second ‘in’ into ‘through’; ‘we are in him that is true, through his sonne Jesu Christ.’ We have had similar explanatory additions in 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:16.

This is the true God] It is impossible to determine with certainty whether ‘This’ (οὗτος) refers to the Father, the principal substantive of the previous sentence, or to Jesus Christ, the nearest substantive. That S. John teaches the Divinity of Jesus Christ both in Epistle and Gospel is so manifest, that a text more or less in favour of the doctrine need not be the subject of heated controversy. The following considerations are in favour of referring ‘This’ to Christ. 1. Jesus Christ is the subject last mentioned. 2. The Father having been twice called ‘the true One’ in the previous verse, to proceed to say of Him ‘This is the true God’ is somewhat tautological. 3. It is Christ who both in this Epistle (1 John 1:2, 1 John 5:12) and also in the Gospel (John 11:25, John 14:6) is called the Life. 4. S. Athanasius three times in his Orations against the Arians interprets the passage in this way, as if there was no doubt about it (III. xxiv. 4, xxv. 16; IV. ix. 1). The following are in favour of referring ‘This’ to the Father. 1. The Father is the leading subject of all that follows ‘understanding.’ 2. To repeat what has been already stated and add to it is exactly S. John’s style. He has spoken of ‘Him that is true’: and he now goes on ‘This (true One) is the true God and eternal life.’ 3. It is the Father who is the source of that life which the Son has and is (John 5:26). 4. John 7:3 supports this view. 5. The Divinity of Christ has less special point in reference to the warning against idols: the truth that God is the true God is the basis of the warning against false gods: comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9. But see the conclusion of the note on ‘from idols’ in the next verse: see also note k in Lect. v. of Liddon’s Bampton Lectures.

1 John 5:20. Ἥκει) is come. Thus, ἡκω, Mark 8:3, note.—δέδωκεν, has given) that is, God: for in the preceding clause also the subject is by implication God, in this sense: God sent his own Son: and to this is referred αὐτοῦ, of Him, which presently follows.—διάνοιαν, understanding) not only knowledge, but the faculty of knowing.—τὸν ἀληθινὸν, the True One) Understand, His Son Jesus Christ: as presently afterwards. Whence it is perceived with what great majesty the Son thus entitles Himself: Revelation 3:7.—οὗτος) This, the True One, the Son of God Jesus Christ: to whom the title of Life eternal is befitting.—ζωὴ αἰώνιος, Life eternal) The beginning and the end of the Epistle are in close agreement.

Verse 20. - And we know. The "and" δέ is here rightly given - it sums up the whole with a final asseveration. Whatever the world and its philosophy chooses to assert, Christians know that the Son of God has come in the flesh, and has endowed them with mental faculties capable of attaining to a knowledge of the true God. The Christian's certainty is not fanaticism or superstition; he is "ready always to give answer to every man that asketh a reason concerning the hope that is in him" (1 Peter 3:15); by the gift of Christ he is able to obtain an intelligent knowledge of him who is indeed God. "Him that is true" does not mean God, who is not, like the devil, a liar, but "very God," as opposed to the idols against which St. John goes on to warn them. The Greek is ἀληθινός, not ἀληθής. Thus the Epistle ends as it began, with a fulfillment of Christ's prayer. In chapter 1 John 1:3 we had, "That ye also may have fellowship with us," which is identical with "That they may be one, even as we are" (John 17:11). And here we have, "That we know him that is true," which coincides with "That they should know thee the only true God" (John 17:3). This prayer of the great High Priest is fulfilled. "We are in him that is true," says the apostle, "(by being) in his Son Jesus Christ." This is the true God, and eternal life. Does "this" refer to God or to Christ? We must be content to leave the question open; both interpretations make excellent sense, and none of the arguments in favour of either are decisive. The question is not important. "That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," who was with the Father from all eternity, is the very foundation of St. John's teaching in Gospel and Epistles; and it is not of much moment whether this particular text contains the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ or not. But if, with St. Athanasius, we interpret "this" of Christ, the conclusion of the letter is brought into striking harmony with the opening of it, in which (1 John 1:2) Christ is spoken of as "the Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us." Moreover, we obtain a striking contrast with what follows. "This Man, Jesus Christ, is the true God: it is no idolatry to worship him. Whosoever says that he is not God makes us idolaters. But idolatry is to us an abomination." 1 John 5:20An understanding (διάνοιαν)

Only here in John's writings. The faculty of understanding. See on Luke 1:51. Westcott remarks that nouns which express intellectual powers are rare in the writings of John.

We may know (γινώσκομεν)

Apprehend progressively. Compare John 17:3.

Him that is true (τὸν ἀληθινόν)

Compare Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:14; Revelation 6:10. On true, see on John 1:9. "God very strangely condescends indeed in making things plain to me, actually assuming for the time the form of a man, that I at my poor level may better see Him. This is my opportunity to know Him. This incarnation is God making Himself accessible to human thought - God opening to man the possibility of correspondence through Jesus Christ. And this correspondence and this environment are those I seek. He Himself assures me, 'This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.' Do I not now discern the deeper meaning in Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent? Do I not better understand with what vision and rapture the profoundest of the disciples exclaims, 'The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we might know Him that is true?'" (Drummond, "Natural Law in the Spiritual World").


God the Father. Many, however, refer it to the Son.

Eternal life

See on 1 John 1:2.

1 John 5:20 Interlinear
1 John 5:20 Parallel Texts

1 John 5:20 NIV
1 John 5:20 NLT
1 John 5:20 ESV
1 John 5:20 NASB
1 John 5:20 KJV

1 John 5:20 Bible Apps
1 John 5:20 Parallel
1 John 5:20 Biblia Paralela
1 John 5:20 Chinese Bible
1 John 5:20 French Bible
1 John 5:20 German Bible

Bible Hub

1 John 5:19
Top of Page
Top of Page