The first thing John wants to tell us is that Jesus Christ really lived. John was writing at a very precarious time in the life of the early church. This letter was written late in the 1st century (probably between 70–90 ad), so it’s been about 50 years since Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. The first generation of believers, those who actually encountered Jesus, have just about died off. John was one of the last living apostles. So he’s writing to Christians who never personally encountered Jesus of Nazareth but heard about him from someone who did (or those who heard about Jesus from someone who heard about Jesus from someone who actually met Jesus—you get the idea). As time went by, things got a little ragged. Questions come up. Doubts creep in: Did it really happen? Is it really true?
Well, John is writing to people with those questions. They weren’t there when Jesus lived and taught and died. They’re going on hearsay. Not only that, but enough time had passed that people were beginning to mess with the message. Some were questioning the humanity of Jesus. Others were questioning the divinity of Jesus. A particular strain of false teaching going around was that Christ wasn’t really human. He just appeared to be human. He appeared to have a body. He appeared to die.
So John writes to these believers at this precarious time in the life of the church to set the record straight. Jesus Christ really lived. We saw him, he writes. By “we” he means not only himself, but any other apostles and first generation believers who might still have been alive. We saw him heal the sick and multiply the loaves and fishes and calm the storm at sea and raise Lazarus from the dead. We heard him say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and, “I and the Father are one.” We even touched him, he writes. Maybe he’s remembering how he leaned up against Jesus at the last supper.
- [Q] Are you a first generation Christian (your parents were not Christ-followers), a second generation Christian (your parents were committed believers), or a third generation believer (both your parents and grandparents were Christ-followers)?
- [Q] What is something good about being a second or third generation believer?
- [Q] What can be the problem in being a second or third generation believer?
- [Q] What kind of doubts and questions have you had or still have about Christ? [Q] What kind of evidence convinces you that what you know of Christ is true and helps you stay faithful to him?
Leader’s Note: We don’t have time for a lengthy discussion of the historicity of Jesus in this study, but it’s good to note that we have compelling evidence. We have four eyewitness accounts of his life and death and resurrection, each written from a distinctive point of view, yet all telling the same story. We have more manuscript evidence for Jesus than we do for any other figure of antiquity. And in addition to Scripture, we have several remarkable non-biblical references to the life of Jesus Christ—the Jewish historian, Josephus; the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius; and Pliny the Elder. We also have the worldwide movement that bears his name—Christianity—one of the most dominant and widely believed faiths on the planet.
Optional activity: Go to leestrobel.com and choose one of the videos on his site that addresses evidence for Christ and Christianity. Watch it as a group and discuss the evidence presented.
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