CLAIM: John writes, “This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). But what does the “this” refer to? Does it refer to Christ? Or does it refer the Father?
RESPONSE: There are a number of reasons for believing that the Greek word outos (“this”) refer to Jesus—not the Father:
First, Jesus is the nearest antecedent. An antecedent is what comes immediately before the pronoun. For instance, if you wrote, “I talked with my friend about the governor! He is such an idiot!” To what does the he refer? It could either modify “my friend” or it could modify “the governor.” Grammatically, unless we have reason to think otherwise, the nearest antecedent is governor—not your friend. Thus you should assume (if all evidence is equal) that the nearest antecedent is in view.
Now apply this to 1 John 5:20. There we read, “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” To what does the “this” refer? If we follow the rules of grammar, the nearest antecedent is “Jesus Christ.”
Second, the word for “life” (Greek zoe) is used of Jesus, but never of the Father. Greek grammarian Daniel Wallace writes, “Christ is also said to be ζωή (zoe) in John’s writings (John 11:25; 14:6; 1 John 1:1–2), an epithet nowhere else used of the Father.”
Third, the word for “this” (Greek outos) is used of Jesus the majority of the time, but never used of the Father. Again, Wallace writes, “Of the approximately seventy instances in which οὗτος has a personal referent, as many as forty-four of them (almost two-thirds of the instances) refer to the Son. Of the remainder, most imply some sort of positive connection with the Son. What is most significant is that never is the Father the referent.”