Friday, May 24, 2024

The Vision (5.24.24): The Three Heavenly Witnesses


Image: Christ RBC Meeting House, Louisa, Virginia

Note: Below is the full manuscript for last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 5:6-9.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (1 John 5:7).

So much of 1 John is dedicated to the horizontal aspects of the Christian life: Man’s relationship to man; believer’s relationship to believer. All this is epitomized in the call to love one another based on the New Commandment of Christ (John 13:34-35; see 1 John 4:11).

This is not to say, however, that John has not been concerned with the vertical. With man’s relationship to God. He twice declares God is love (4:8, 16).

John is especially interested in Christology, the doctrine of Christ. John is Christ-centered and Christ-focused. As noted, he is battling those who denied the full humanity of our Lord, that he had come in the flesh (4:2-3).

John piles up various key titles for Christ.

He is an Advocate with the Father (2:1);

He is Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1);

He is the propitiation for our sins (2:2; 4:10);

He is the Saviour of the world (4:14).

He is the Son of God (3:8b; 4:15; 5:5).

That was where our passage last Sunday had concluded in v. 5 with the question: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (cf. 3:23; Peter’s confession in John 6:69: “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the son of the living God.”; and the Eunuch’s confession in Acts 8:37: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”).

That interest in theology and Christology is going to continue in our passage today.

We can think of the background for John’s remarks here as being like a trial. The declaration that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is being tested, tried, and examined.

John is going to bring forward two sets of three witnesses.

There are three heavenly witnesses (v. 7) and three earthly witnesses (v. 8), and they all speak with one voice.

And we are in the jury left to draw our own conclusion and render our own verdict as to who this man Jesus really is.

I.                   Exposition:

V. 6 begins, “This is he that came by water and blood….” Matthew Poole’s commentary suggests that water and blood represent Christ’s purity (water) and his suffering (blood). Another source, suggests they represent his baptism (water) and his passion (blood) (MacArthur’s Study Bible).

We might also consider these as references to his birth as a true man, since this has been disputed by false prophets and antichrists in the church to which John was writing (see 1 John 4:2-3). John is here saying that Christ did not appear out of thin air. He was conceived in the womb of the virgin in an extra-ordinary manner, and he was born in an ordinary manner.

In his conversation with Nicodemus Christ contrasted being born by water (natural birth) and being born of the Spirit (supernatural birth (John 3:5). Likewise, in John 1:12-13 the Evangelist distinguishes between those born merely “of blood” and those born by the power of God to become “the sons of God.”

Coming by water and blood are both signs of the real human birth and, thus, the true humanity of Christ. It is estimated that 60% of the human body consists of water, and that 7-8% of a human body’s weight is blood.

Christ was a flesh and blood man. When the Roman soldier thrust his spear into Christ’s lifeless side after his death on the cross what came out? Blood and water (John 19:34).

John continues in v. 6, “not by water only, but by water and the blood.” Christ did not have just one aspect of a human body but all. It was his shed blood, in particular, that held atoning significance. See 1 John 1:7: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” He is “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10). In the upper room at the Last Supper with his disciples, Christ declared, “This cup is the new testament in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Paul, in Hebrews 9:22, affirmed, “without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

If Christ was not a real man with real blood, but only a phantom, a spirit, a Docetic Christ, there is no true salvation.

The scene again is like a courtroom. John speak of those that bear witness to Christ. In the moral law, the ninth commandment forbids the bearing of false witness. Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 19:15 it says, “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (cf. Matthew 18:16 where Christ applied this standard to working out difficulties among brethren in the church). John will in this passage bring forward multiples witnesses to affirm that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

John begins with the witness of the Holy Spirit: “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (v. 6b). In John 15:26, Christ said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto your from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”

Along with the testimony of the Spirit, John is going to add supporting witnesses. He gives two sets of three witnesses: Three heavenly witnesses (v. 7) and three earthly witnesses (v. 8). In each of these sets of three the Spirit is listed as one of the witnesses.

We look first at the three heavenly witnesses (v. 7). John says, “There are three that bear record [the verb is martyro-ō] in heaven….”

Heaven or the heavens, are, of course, the abode of God. It is his dwelling place. As Psalm 115:3 says, “But our God is in the heavens; he has done whatsoever he has pleased.” The three heavenly witnesses are the witness of God in heaven Himself. Here are the three persons of the divine Godhead.

First, God the Father bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 5:31 Christ said to the unbelieving skeptics, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” He added that there was another witness, John the Baptist, whom he calls “a burning and shining light” (vv. 32-35). He then states that he has a “greater witness than that of John” (v. 36), adding, “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me” (v. 37).

Second, God the Word [Logos] bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is of interest that the word “Son” is not used here but “Word [Logos], in keeping with an emphasis of John the Evangelist. His Gospel starts, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word [Logos] was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God” (John 1:1). See also John 1:14, “And the Word [Logos] was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Third, God the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit was there descending upon him “in a bodily shape like a dove” upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:21).

John concludes v. 7 with the statement: “and these three are one.” This is a declaration of the divine oneness. There are not three gods, but one true God. The Muslims says, You Christians are tri-theists, worshipping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One plus one plus one equals three. We respond that  one times one times one equals one. We worship one God who is from all eternity Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. There is one God in three persons, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.

1 John 5:7 has long been recognized as one of the great explicit proof texts for the Trinity within the New Testament. There are three such explicit proofs in the New Testament with one placed in each its three major divisions:

First, in the Gospels and Acts: In Matthew’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Second, in the Pauline letters:  In Paul’s benediction to his second letter to the church at Corinth: 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”

Third, in the General Letters and Revelation: 1 John 5:7: “For there are three that bare record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

It is also no surprise to learn that the authenticity of this passage has been challenged in the modern era. The great Reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687) noted that “heretics” in his day were attacking the authenticity of this verse (see Elenctic Theology 1:115).

John is saying in this verse that the triune God Himself bears witness in heaven that the Lord Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, and that he came in the flesh, by water and blood.

At the IRBS Conference held in Texas on May 17, 2024, Richard Barcellos cited Thomas Aquinas as saying of Christ’s incarnation: “He made himself small, not by putting off greatness, but by taking on smallness.”  Barcellos added, “We need a ‘womb to tomb’ righteousness, and in our Lord alone, we get this.”

In perfect literary parallelism, we have in v. 8 the three earthly witnesses (with the Spirit repeated as one of the three). Notice the chiasm in vv. 7-8:

(a)  Father, (b) Word, (c) Spirit;

(c’) Spirit, (b’) water, (a’) blood.

These three earthly witnesses are:

First, the Spirit. How does the Spirit bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? God’s Spirit is indeed here on earth making present to us in this realm the reality of the one God in three persons. Christ is now in heaven, seated at the Father’s right hand until he comes again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, but by the Spirit he is now present with us. Christ had promised his disciples that he would send them the “Comforter” to teach them all things and bear witness to them (cf. John 14:26; 15:26-27). In 1 Corinthians 2:10 Paul told the believers that God has revealed his wisdom to them “by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

Second, the water. How does water bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? We noted that it is a reminder of Christ’s true humanity (v. 6), but perhaps this witness is to the water of baptism. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, because we see that he continues to make disciples from among the nations, who confess their faith in and submit unto him in baptism, as did the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:37).

Third, the blood. How does blood bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? This takes us to the cross. It brings before us Christ’s five bleeding wounds. It recalls his propitiation (cf. again the “blood language” of 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10).

John ends by saying, “and these three agree in one” (v. 8b). One will note that the wording here is similar to v. 7b, but slightly and significantly different. While in v. 7b John says the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are one (the same in essence), here he says the Spirit, water, and blood agree in one (a prepositional phrase). The work of the Spirit, the testimony of baptism, and the preaching of the blood-drenched cross act in harmony to compel sinners to confess that Jesus is Lord!

John ends our passage in v. 9 first by a comparison between the witness of men and the witness of God. We believe or trust many things because of the witness of men. I’ve never been to Cuba but I recently met a man from Cuba who was describing it to me. I trust his witness and that of others to the existence of a place called Cuba, though I have never been there and seen it with my own eyes. Life requires a lot of trusting in men. I think of this every time I get on an airplane for a trip. I must trust the engineers who designed the plane, the pilot who flies it, the air-traffic controllers who direct it, and the stewards who serve it.

I also trust the witness of the apostles in the Gospels to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, even though, unlike Thomas, I have not yet seen our Lord with my eyes (cf. John 20:29).

Recall, however, that Christ said there is a “greater witness” than that of men (like John the Baptist, John 5:36). God’s witness to Christ is greater than that of men. I believe the Gospel witness to Christ, not because they were written by reliable men, but because they were breathed out or inspired by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16).

They provide various and constant witness to Christ:

God the Father bore witness to Christ:

At this birth, God sent his holy angel to proclaim, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

At his baptism, God’s voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

At his transfiguration that same voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Mathew 17:5).

God the Son bore witness to Christ:

As the incarnate Word, Christ declared a series of “I am” sayings, echoing the divine self-revelation of the LORD to Moses at the burning bush as the great “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

So, Christ said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the door” (John 10:9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and life” (John 11:25); and “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). He also declared, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), and when asked in his trial before the high priest if he was the Son of the Blessed, he replied, “I am” (Mark 14:62).

God the Spirit bore witness to Christ:

The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism, and then was poured out on his disciples at Pentecost so that they might boldly proclaim him (Acts 2).

John concludes this passage, “For this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (v. 9b).

II.                Spiritual Application:

We affirm today that there is one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one God bears witness in heaven that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Why do we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Because the triune God says he is.

We are in the jury box. What verdict will we reach in the face of this witness?

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ RBC, Louisa, Virginia

2024 VBS at CRBC: Monday-Thursday, June 17-20, 2024


Image: Scene from 2023 VBS

2024 Theme: The Great Writing Prophets:

Monday: Isaiah

Tuesday: Jeremiah

Wednesday: Ezekiel

Thursday: Amos and Jonah (Minor Prophets)

Daily Schedule (Monday-Thursday, June 17-20):

Arrival: 9:45-10:00 am


Opening: 10:00-10:15 am


Bible Lesson: 10:15-10:45 am


Recreation: 10:45-11:15 am


Refreshment break: 11:15-11:30 am


Craft/Drama: 11:30 am-12 nn


Bible Lesson Review/Closing: 12 nn -12:30 pm


Lunch on Site: 12:30-1:00 pm


Friday, May 17, 2024

The Vision (5.17.24): And his commandments are not grievous


Image: Rhododendron, North Garden, Virginia, May 2024.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 5:1-5.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3).

The apostle John calls here for obedience to Christ’s commands as an indicator that one knows the love of God. We sometimes call this the ethical or moral test of assurance. As Christ himself taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15; cf. John 15:14).

John concludes at the end of v. 3: “and his commandments are not grievous.”

One thinks of Christ’s teaching of his disciples in Matthew 11, when he told them, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv. 28-30).

Did you ever consider that the things that Christ commands of us, like personal righteousness, holiness, and uprightness, only appear to be “grievous” to us because of our fallen condition?

I was reading recently a little booklet addressing the topic of Christians and sexual purity. At one point the author wrote:

Imagine a juicy burger on your dinner plate. Now imagine that you know the meat is saturated with E. coli bacteria. Would you eat it anyway just because it looks good and would satisfy your hunger? Of course, you wouldn’t. Every rational person knows that having a full stomach isn’t worth eighteen hours of vomiting and perhaps a trip to the emergency room. Instead you’ll throw the whole thing in the trash and scour the plate with hot water and strong soap.

The author then adds:

Pornography is E. coli for your soul (Daryl Wingerd, Delivered By Desire, 25; you can read a free pdf of this booklet online here).

Let us consider: When Christ gives us commands to live holy and righteous and upright lives, when he commands us through his apostle, “Flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18a), is he telling us something that is meant to be “grievous” to us? Or is he telling us what will lead us to health and well-being, to avoid sickness and death, and we are just too influenced by the remaining corruption of sin in us to recognize this?

The immediate context in 1 John is not a negative admonition as to what to avoid, but a positive admonition as to what to pursue. It will be to the glory of God and to the spiritual benefit of ourselves and others if we will love the brethren as Christ has loved us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11). This should not be grievous to us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, May 10, 2024

The Vision (5.10.24): Love made perfect (1 John 4:17)


Image: Rhododendron, North Garden, Virginia, May 10, 2024. 

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon in 1 John 4:17-21.

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he , so are we in this world (1 John 4:17).

What does the apostle John mean when he says our love for God is being “made perfect”?

The Greek verb rendered as “perfect” here does not mean something like numerical perfection so much as it means to complete, or to accomplish, or to come into maturity. It is built on the root word telos, which means end, purpose, goal, or destination. In this life we will not be without sin (see 1 John 1:8, 10).

So, we might render it, “Herein is our love moved closer toward the goal and achievement of our true purpose as believers.” Or, “Herein is our love made more mature or more complete.”

Let me offer an illustration from the world of construction.

In the construction industry they use the term “finishing.” There is the task of building a house, which means building the necessary infrastructure that makes a house a house (e.g., the foundation, framing, roofing, shingles, electrical work, plumbing, drywall, etc.), and then there is the “finishing work.”

I found this description online:

….finishing work describes anything that is used to “finish” off your home (i.e. trim work, crown molding, window casings, millwork, shiplap, paneling, coffered ceilings, etc). All of these things are typically found in a home BUT they aren’t necessarily a “necessity” of building a home.

You can be saved and still be very rough around the edges. All of us are this way when we first come to faith. Some, sadly, do not get much beyond this. The thief on the cross was saved but he did not live long enough to experience a long period of slow and progressive sanctification.

Most of us, however, are granted time and opportunity for the Lord to do his finishing work on us, though it is never complete in this life.

When God saves a man, he begins this “finishing” work of sanctification. This work will only be complete when he enters the state of glorification (see 1 John 3:2: “and it doth not yet appear what we shall be”). But for now, we can be sure God is at work making our love for him and for one another perfect.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Podcast Recommendation: Pastor Christian Khanda defends the Reformation Text of the Bible


Pastor Christian Khanda of Holy Trinity OPC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida gives a clear and winsome defense of the Reformation Text over against the modern critical text of Christian Scripture on the Kingdom Polemics podcast.


Friday, May 03, 2024

The Vision (5.3.24): The Spiritual Test


Image: Azalea bush, North Garden, Virginia, May 3, 2024.

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 4:11-16.

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit (1 John 4:13).

One of 1 John’s great themes is assurance of salvation. If one struggles with doubts and worries about his salvation, this is the book we would first recommend for reading and meditation.

We previously noted at least three tests that provide assurance of salvation:

The Doctrinal Test: Do you say you believe? (1 John 2:23; Romans 10:9);

The Ethical Test: Are you seeking to obey Christ? (1 John 5:3; John 14:15);

The Social Test: Do you love the brethren? (1 John 3:14; John 13:35).

In 1 John 4:13 there is perhaps another kind of test, which we might call The Spiritual Test. We know that we dwell (or abide) in Christ, because we have the Spirit.

The same point is made in 1 John 3:24b: “And herby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” Paul likewise spoke of the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer (see Romans 8:9, 11, 15-16).

What are the evidences of the Spirit within us? Here are at least three scriptural evidences:

First, our consciences are sensitive to sin in our lives (see Galatians 5:17: “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh”).

Second, we begin to understand the Scriptures and the things of God in ways that the natural (unregenerate) man cannot (see 1 Corinthians 2:14-15: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God… But he that is spiritual judgeth all things…”).

Third, the Spirit helps us in our prayer life (see Romans 8:26: “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities” and “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”).

May each authentic believer receive assurance of salvation as he recognizes the presence of the Spirit in his life.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 02, 2024

2024 Presbyterion (the Eldership) Pastors' Fraternal Audio Posted

The Spring 2024 Presbyterion (the Eldership) Pastors' Fraternal for the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia was held on Friday, April 26, 2024.

Session 1 Marvin Jones, Elder, Redeeming Grace Church, Gloucester, Virginia addresses Confession 19, Of the Law of God.

Session 2 Luke Peterson, Elder, Emmanuel Reformed Baptist Church, Verona, Virginia addresses Confession 26:4, Is the Pope that Antichrist?