Handbook of 1 John
Jesus is the Son of God
Those who Follow Him Must Live Righteously
If We are His We Will Love One Another
This Epistle, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, names neither its Author, nor the Persons to whom it is addressed, though it is very personal, as appears from the frequent use of “I” and “You”. From the beginning it has been recognized s a Circular Letter of the Apostle John to the Churches around Ephesus, to emphasize the Main Essential of the Gospel, and to warn against incipient Heresies which later produced a Corrupt and Paganized Form of Christianity.
According to long received tradition, John made Jerusalem his headquarters, caring for Jesus’ Mother till her death, and, after the destruction of Jerusalem, made his residence at Ephesus, which by the close of the Apostolic generation had become the Geographic and Numerical Center of Christian Population. Here John lived to great age, and wrote his Gospel, his Three Epistles and Book of Revelation. Among his pupils were Polycarp, Papias, and Ignatius, who became, respectively, bishops of Smyrna, Hierapolis and Antioch.
Background of the Epistle
Christianity had been in the world some sixty or seventy years, and in many parts of the Roman Empire had become an important religion and a powerful influence. Naturally there came to be all sorts of efforts to amalgamate the Gospel with prevailing philosophies and systems of thought.
A form of Gnosticism which was disrupting the Churches in John’s day taught that there is in human nature an irreconcilable principle of Dualism: that Spirit and Body are two separate entities: that Sin resided in the Flesh only: that the Spirit could have its raptures, and the Body could do as it pleases: that lofty mental mystical Piety was entirely consistent with voluptuous sensual life. The denied the incarnation, that Gad had in Christ actually Flesh, and maintained that Christ was a Phantom, a Man in Appearance Only. In Ephesus a man named Cerinthus was leader of this cult. He claimed for himself inner mystic experiences and exalted knowledge of God, but was a Voluptuary. Throughout this Epistle it seems that John must have had these heretics in mind, in insisting that Jesus was the Actual Material, Authentic Manifestation of God in the Flesh, and that Genuine Knowledge of Go must result in Moral Transformation.
God became Flesh, in Human Form. 21 times in this Epistle Jesus is called The Son of God. 12 times God is spoken of as The Father. Thus the Deity of Jesus, the Father ad Son relation of God and Jesus, is a special emphasis of the Epistle.
John was Jesus’ must intimate earthly Friend. For three years John accompanied Jesus in His journey over Palestine, ministering to Him day and night, as Jesus wrought His Mighty Miracles. At the Last Supper, John leaned on Jesus bosom, as Jesus talked of His approaching Crucifixion.
To John, Jesus was no Phantom, or Dream, or mere Vision; but a Real Person, the Embodiment of Life, Eternal Life (2).
And John wrote this Epistle that others might share his feeling of Fellowship, Companionship and Joy, in Christ and in the Father, and whit one another (3, 4).
That is the way John’s Gospel starts: the Word of God … the Light of Men (John 1:1, 4). Jesus had said, I am the Light of the world (John 8:12).
Light stands for God’s Realm of Truth, Righteousness, Purity, Joy, Ineffable Glory. Darkness stands for this World of Error, Evil, Ignorance, Wickedness and Abode of the Lost.
In a more real ad literal sense, Light may be an attribute of God beyond the understanding of fleshly eyes. God Clothes Himself with Light (Psalm 104:2). God dwells in Light Unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16). Father of Lights is one of God’s names (James 1:17). Jesus’ Garments, at His Transformation, became glistering White (Mark 9:3). The Angel at Jesus’ Resurrection was White as Snow (Matthew 28:3). The two who accompanied Jesus in His Ascension were in White (Acts 1:10). In the vision in Revelation 1:14-16, Jesus’ Head and Hair were White as Snow. (See further on Revelation 3:4).
Walking with God does not mean that we are Without Sin. We have Sinned in the past, and we still have Sin in our nature. It is by virtue, Not of our Sinlessness, but of Christ for our Sin, that we have our Companionship whit God. The moment we are conscious of any Sinful Act, if that moment, in genuine penitence and humility, we confess it, our Companionship with God may remain unbroken. The Saintliest of men invariably have been deeply conscious of their own Sinfulness.
One of the conditions of having our Sins Forgiven is that we Keep His Commandments (1-6). Yet Sin is itself the Failure to keep His Commandments. This is one of John’s paradoxes. (See further on 3:1-12.)
The word “Antichrist” is mentioned in 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7.
It occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It s commonly identified with the Man of Sin (2 Thessalonians 2), and the Beast of Revelation 13. But the Bible itself does not make the identification. The language implies that John’s readers had been taught to expect an Anti-Christ in connection with the closing days of the Christian Era (18). However, John applies the word, not to One Person, but to the whole group of Anti-Christian Teachers (2:18; 4:3). The New Testament idea seems to be that the Spirit of Antichrist would arise in Christendom, manifesting itself in many ways, both Within the Church and Without, finally culminating in One Person, or an Institution, or Both.
Here are some very strong statements about Sin. Whoever Sins knows Not Christ (6), He that does Sins is of the Devil (8). Whoever is Begotten of God Cannot Sin (9). Yet, John had just said, if we say that have No Sin we deceive ourselves (1:8). If we say that we have Not Sinned we make God a Liar (1:10).
How explain these paradoxical statements? There is a difference between Sins of Weakness and Willful Habitual Sin. It is largely a matter of the Inner Nature. An Eagle may dip its wings in the mud, and yet be an Eagle. A Righteous man may have Sins of Weakness, and yet Be a Righteous Man. John may have in mind certain heretic teachers, like Jezabel (Revelation 2:20), who, while claiming superior Fellowship whit God, were at the same time wallowing in the Filth of Immorality.
The dominant note f this Epistle is Love. We should Love One Another (3:11). He that Loveth Not his Brother is Not of God (3:10). we know that we have passed out of Death into Life because we love the Brethren (3:14). He that Loves Not abides in Death (3:14). Whoever Hates his Brother is a Murderer (3:15). Let us Love One Another (4:7). Everyone that Love is begotten of God, and Knows God (4:7). Love is of God (4:7). We ought to Love One Another (4:11). God is Love (4:16). He that Abides in Love Abides in God (4:17). If we Love One Another God Abides in us (4:12). Perfect Love Casts Our Fear (4:18). We Love because He first Love Us (4:19). If a man say, I Love God, and Hates his Brother , He Is a Liar (4:20). He that Loves Not his Brother whom ha has seen, How can he Love God Whom he has Not Seen? (4:20).
Apparently, Churches were beset by False Teachers, claiming Inspiration of the Holy Spirit for their Doctrines. Generally, says John, their trustworthiness could be tested by their Loyalty to the Deity of Jesus (2).
John returns to his favorite theme, Love, the keynote of the Epistle. He is very insistent that being Saved by the Grace of Christ Does Not Release us from the necessity of Obeying Christ's Commandments . And Christ's Chief Commandment is Love. We Know Christ if We Keep His Commandments (2:3). He that says I know Him, and Keeps Not His Commandments, Is a Liar (2:4). Whatsoever we Ask, we receive, because we Keep His Commandments (3:22). This is His Commandment, that we Love One Another (3:23). He that Keeps His Commandments Abides in Him (3:24). This Commandment we have from God, that he who Loves God Love his Brother also (4:21). This is the Love of God, that we Keep His Commandments (5:3). It is told of John that, when he was old and too feeble to walk, he would be carried into the Church, and, in speaking, would always say, "Little children, Love One Another. It is the Lord's Commandments."
"Know" is one of the key words of this Epistle. We Know that we know God (2:3). We Know that we are in Him (2:5). We Know that when He shall Appear we shall be Like Him (3:2). We Know that we have Passed from Death to Life, because we Love the Brethren (3:14). We Know that we are of the Truth (3:19). We Know that God Abideth in us (3:24). We Know that we Abide in God (4:13). These things have I written that you may Know that you have Eternal Life (5:13). We Know that God hears us (5:13). We Know that we are of God (5:19).
Many Christians are discouraged because they do not feel Sure that they are Saved. Sometimes we hear it said that if we do not Know we are Saved, that is a sign that we are Not Saved. We think this is an extreme assertion. Is is a mistake to identify Assurance with Salvation. A new-born babe scarcely Knows it has been born, but it has. Assurance comes with Growth. We believe it is possible for a Christian's Faith to get stronger and stronger till, to himself, at least, it reaches the Full Assurance of Knowledge.
Eternal Life (13), begins when a person becomes a Christian, and Never Ends. It is a Life of Divine Quality and Endless Duration. Assurance of it is the object of the Epistle.
The Sin unto Death (16), probably, refers to the unpardonable Sin spoken of by Jesus (Matthew 12:31-32. See note on Hebrews 6:4-6).