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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.
In 1 John 5:6 we read that Christ “came by water and blood.” He came by water when He was born of a virgin. He came by blood when He was crucified, shed his blood for the sin of the world, and finally entered into the Most Holy Place to sprinkle His blood on the mercy seat in heaven (Hebrews 9:12).
His supernatural conception was confirmed by the heavenly witness later at His water baptism when the voice came from heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22). In other words, His birth, though natural, brought forth the Son of God on account of His supernatural conception by means of the Holy Spirit.
He “came by… blood” as well, and His blood testified to this effect. His blood was thus His second witness. Blood has a voice in the divine court. We know this from the example of Abel, whose blood cried from the ground in an appeal to the divine court (Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 11:4).
In fact, the blood of all the martyrs have a voice, as seen in Revelation 6:9-11. In their case, however, the “soul” is shown to be the voice of blood, because the law tells us in Leviticus 17:11 (literal rendering) that “the fleshly soul is in the blood.” If the soul, speaking on behalf of the blood, can appeal to the divine court, then too can the blood of Jesus—the ultimate Martyr—bear witness in the divine court.
The water bore witness that Jesus is the Son of God, based on the evidence of His supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit.
The blood bore witness that Jesus is the Son of God, based on the evidence of His completed work on the cross. Hence, His blood was acceptable and fully effective when sprinkled on the mercy seat in heaven. Full payment for sin was made, and all sin was covered.
The Third Witness
In 1 John 5:7, 8 KJV, after removing the spurious portion, tells us that “There are three that bear record: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.”
The previous verse (6) spoke only of two witnesses: water and blood, as if to say that only two witnesses were necessary to establish the truth. But the law allows a third witness to clarify and bolster the first two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Witnesses may testify either for or against someone. The law speaks of testimony against sinners, but Jesus presented three witnesses in a positive manner to prove Truth.
Hence, when Jesus explained the purpose of His crucifixion and resurrection to the disciples, He presented “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). The law and prophets were the main witnesses, while the Psalms (songs) provided the third witness. The third witness in this case set forth the law and prophets through music, which gave it timing (rhythm, beat, or cadence).
The law set the stage for these events by establishing blood sacrifice as the solution to sin. The prophets explained it, clarified it, and applied it to the nations in their calls to repent. But when Jesus was on the cross, He focused not on the law or the prophets but on the psalms in order to show that the timing of His crucifixion proved both the law and the prophets.
Hence, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 in its entirety. The title of the psalm, taken from its first few words, is “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). That psalm ended with “It is finished” (John 19:30). The NASB of Psalm 22:31 reads, “He has performed it,” or "finished" the work.
Getting back to John’s letter, the apostle tells us the Spirit is the third witness. No doubt John was referring to Jesus’ statement recorded in his earlier gospel. John 5:31-36 says,
31 If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which He bears of Me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 But the witness which I receive is not from man… 36 But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.
John seems to imply that Jesus was NOT the first witness, but actually, He was speaking legally. A single witness cannot establish truth in a legal sense, even if what he says is absolutely true. Throughout His ministry, He was careful not to claim that He was the Messiah. He only confirmed it to those who received it by revelation. Even when He was being tried by Caiaphas, He refused to testify on His own behalf until forced to do so by the law of public adjuration (Matthew 26:63; Leviticus 5:1).
To confirm truth is to be a second (or double) witness. So actually, Jesus did bear witness of Himself, but He was reluctant to be the first witness. So He said in John 8:14, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true.” In that context, He claimed to be a witness in the general sense, telling us a few verses later in John 8:17, 18,
17 Even in your law it is has been written, that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”
So in this context He and His Father were two witnesses establishing truth to satisfy the law.
Even so, in the broad sense it appears that John was Jesus’ first and primary witness, and Jesus’ works were the second witness cited earlier in John 5:31-36. Why, then, did John say later that the Spirit was the third witness? The Spirit was sent to bear witness of Jesus at His baptism. Matthew 3:16, 17 says, “he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’.”
Later, Jesus told the disciples that “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.” The witness of the Father and the Spirit are essentially equated and made to be a single witness from heaven.
So John writes in his first letter that there are three who bear witness that Jesus is the Christ: the water witness, the blood witness, and the Spirit witness. “The three are in agreement” (1 John 5:8).
Receiving the Witness of Truth
1 John 5:9 continues,
9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.
John the Baptist bore witness of Jesus at His baptism. His witness was “the testimony of men,” saying in John 1:32, 33, 34,
32 And John testified saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
John received revelation ahead of time that he would be able to identify the Son of God by seeing the Spirit descend upon Him. When it happened, then, he bore witness that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. John was the first to receive the witness of truth in this matter, for he recognized that the Spirit of God was a witness greater than his own.
The apostle enlarges upon this and admonishes everyone to follow John’s example. We too should know Jesus by an inner witness of the Spirit. The witness of men is good, but the witness of the Spirit is greater. 1 John 5:10 says,
10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [called] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son.
One cannot contradict the witness of the Spirit without making God out to be a liar. If the Spirit of God says that Jesus is the Son of God, but men say, “No, he is not,” they cannot both be right. Each calls the other a liar for bringing false testimony into the divine court. The commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness” (Deuteronomy 5:20). The penalty for bearing false witness is given in Deuteronomy 19:16-19,
16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 And the judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
If we apply this law to the dispute over the Son of God, we see that those who reject Jesus as the Son of God will receive an appropriate judgment suited to their false testimony. The judgment is that these false witnesses will not be sons of God. They forfeit sonship for denying sonship to the true Son of God. This is the negative side to the message of Sonship.
Of course, as with all sin and judgment, this penalty (debt to sin) is not permanent, for the law of Jubilee overrides all debt in the end. Nonetheless, when men stand before the Great White Throne, this dispute will be settled, and all who disputed Jesus’ calling and position as the Son of God will lose any position of sonship that they might have thought was theirs.
This goes back to 1 John 2:22, which says,
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
This dispute has a universal application, of course, but because John related it to “the antichrist,” it is clear that he was speaking of the great dispute between Jesus’ followers and the Jews who denied that Jesus was the Christ. As we have seen already, Absalom was the primary type of antichrist when he claimed to be the rightful heir of the throne.
John concludes by writing in 1 John 5:11, 12,
11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal [aionian] life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
“The life” is aionian life, that is, age-abiding life, or life in The Age. In other words, when this dispute is resolved at the Great White Throne, and when those who are judged to be false witnesses are condemned to lose the blessing of sonship, such people will “not have the life.” Instead, as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29, they will receive “a resurrection of judgment.”
They will have to serve their sentence in the final Age, not having that quality of life that they could have enjoyed had they borne witness that Jesus is the Son of God. The issue is not about whether one is of the natural seed of Abraham or not. It is not a question of biology. The issue is about believing that Jesus is the Son of God. Those who bear false witness against Jesus will “not have the life” in the final Age to come but will have to serve their sentence in a lesser condition until the great Jubilee sets all of creation free into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.