14 And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:14-16, NASB).
Faith of the Apostles
The same “we” who have come to know and have believed, are the “we” who have beheld and bear witness. I think John means this: we, the original disciples, beheld Jesus with our eyes and touched Him with our hands (1 John 1:1). He is a real guy. We ate fish with Him. We walked around with Him. We saw Him dead and we saw Him resurrected. We were there. We know first hand as eyewitnesses that the Father has sent the Son into the world. As the closest eyewitnesses, as friends of this amazing person, we are telling you our clear assessment: He is from the Father God, sent to be the Savior of the world. We have come to know (from the Holy Spirit, from experience, from His teachings) the love which God has for us. More than that, we, the eyewitness real-life in-the-flesh friends of His, have come to believe the love which God has for us. I think he is invoking the same language as in 1 John 1:1 here to imply that there is gravitas in saying that the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ fleshly life believe this stuff. Because they believe, we should have an easier time believing it.
So, the “we” in verse 16 is the early disciples who were eyewitnesses. They have come to know and believe the love which God has for us. This is an incredible thought. It says, this isn’t just a beautiful fairy tale; the people who really knew Jesus and walked with Him and were eyewitnesses to the events in His life are convinced this way, that His blood is a propitiation and that through that God demonstrated His love for us. It isn’t just some isolated Pauline interpretation. It is the true interpretation and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. John says so quite powerfully from his own perspective in this book.
There is a strange power in the idea that the actual disciple who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, who walked with Him and touched Him and ate with Him and saw His miracles, is saying that Jesus is the incarnate God, and that He died for our sins. It isn’t just a weird churchy doctrine dreamed up several hundred years later. It is really from God. John was there:
25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”
27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.”
29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth.
30 When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
(John 19:25-30, NASB).
(Since the 1st century, the “disciple whom He loved” has been considered to be John, the author of the gospel of John and the three epistles named for him. If you’re interested, there is an excellent wikipedia article to dig through on this.)
So John was an eyewitness to the event of the cross, when Jesus cried out “it is finished” and breathed His last. It is amazing to think that having actually lived with Jesus, and having been an eyewitness to His remarkable death, that He came to the same doctrines and ideas about the purpose of His death as Paul or Martin Luther or me or you. He seems very convinced that this was an act of love and was no accident or random injustice.
So it is John the eyewitness who says, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” It is John the eyewitness, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who confirms that mere belief in Christ allows us entrance into the privileged dwelling of God. This is quite powerful!
The Love which God has for Us
So, “we” – the eyewitness apostles together with the “mere” believers, together and equally have come to know and to believe the love which God has for us. In His reckless passion and throw-it-all-away desire for us, He has demonstrated that He has a very great and tangible love for us. We have not come to believe that we are responsible to love Him. We have not come to believe that God in His holiness maintains a conditional threat of ending over us. We have come to believe that even as we slay Him, He continues to love us. We have come to believe that even our sin, even our murder of Him, cannot stop Him from loving us. Where our love is imperfect and limited by conditions and rules and expectations, His perfect love cannot be undone and cannot be stopped. He loves forever to eternity, and even though we slay Him He resurrects to love us to the very end of time.
This is the thing we have come to know and believe. His perfect love transcends our imperfection; His one-way love triumphs over our two-way love. Even though He is killed, He is raised to abide forever in those who believe. Even though they sin, His love continues to abide because He has shed His blood and still loves to the uttermost. It is His love which conquers me, my sin does not conquer Him. This is our faith. No other belief produces the joyous abandon of the treasure finder selling all to get his treasure, because no other belief is really a treasure. The substance of our faith is not that we are to love God. The substance of our belief is that He loves us. So says the apostle, so says all the faithful from antiquity, and so say I. I have no trust in my love for Him, but believing only that He loves me, I come to love! Hallelujah!