Today’s reading will take us through the first three chapters of John’s letters. This is the apostle John that we’re talking about as the writer of this and the next two letters (2 and 3 John). As you’ll notice as you read through, there is a great emphasis on love, on believing that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that He came in the flesh, and finally on obedience. John addresses these themes a number of times in cycles from the perspective of walking in the light, of abiding in light, of living in the truth, and of overcoming the world.
It is thought that John is writing these letters toward the end of his life (AD 85-100), and it is possible to see that the man who Jesus had originally nicknamed (along with his brother James) one of the “sons of thunder” had mellowed considerably after years of Christian maturity.
With these introductory matters out of the way, let’s dive into a few passages in the text
We have seen and touched — 1:1-4
Although it is generally accepted that gnosticism didn’t really emerge as a coalesced doctrine until the middle of the second century, it is also clear that the elements of gnosticism were already at play among the churches in the middle of the first century, as witnessed by some of Paul’s teachings and here in John. One of the tenets of gnostic thinking was that spirit was all good and matter (the material of this world) was all evil, and therefore, God could never come to this earth to become a physical man. This is the reason for John’s emphasis here about having actually seen and touched Jesus, the Word of Life. The gnostic understanding of spirit and matter were clearly way off — Satan is spirit and he is consummately evil, and Jesus did come in the flesh and He was consummately good and righteous. John’s point is that he was an eye (hand?) witness of the truth of this reality — Jesus did come in the flesh! John saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him! In every way that a person can know anything through the senses, John knew that Jesus, the Son of God, had come into the world as a physical man — and lived perfectly. This is great comfort to disciples of every age who did not get the chance to see Him. You can know!
Walk in the light — 1:5-7
Also, in continuing to deal with gnostic ideas, John wants to emphasize that how we live really does matter. Some gnostic-influenced Christians had taken the idea (see some of the churches of Revelation to see how these things played out) that since matter is inherently evil, that we humans cannot really do any good and it was useless to even try. And since God was forgiving us anyway, there was even less reason to try. John answers, “NO!” There is no darkness in God and anyone who claims to have fellowship with God and walks in darkness is simply lying! We are in fellowship with Him, if we walk in the light; and it is then that the blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us of all sin.
John continues with this thought through chapter 2 and notes that knowing Jesus — the emphasis to these gnostics (the word meaning “one who knows”) was on the word “know” — means keeping His commandments. Anything else was simply deception, not the truth. There are things here that we need to pay attention to: we need to try in our Christian life. I know Christians, I suppose you do too, who seem to have bought the attitude that once they were baptized that they are “in” and cannot be “out”. Although it is true that we do have significant and comforting security, it is also true that we need to be trying to live a Christian, crucified, godly life. Will we mess up? Yes. But will we also grow? Yes.
What it means to hate one’s brother — 2:8–3:15
One of the great themes of John is love for one’s brother. This doesn’t seem to be particularly addressed to gnostic principles, and such exhortations are regularly addressed broadly to churches throughout the New Testament, even to good and growing churches. Why? Let’s be honest, loving our brethren will always be a little challenging. As long as churches are composed of human beings with all their baggage and moods and weaknesses, we’ll have to work at loving our brother. We should not be surprised at this, since we have difficulties in loving our blood families from time to time, too. So, as encouragement to love our brothers, John tells us what not loving our brother really is…
- Abides in darkness (2:9-11) — You are not walking in the light, if you don’t love your brother. This is to say that love is so fundamental to Christian living that living an unloving life is the very same thing as living in darkness — such a “Christian” is in a lost condition.
- Abiding in death (3:14) — Why would I say that they are in a lost condition? They are abiding in death, another way of saying that they are lost. It’s just that serious.
- A murderer (3:15) — A murderer? Jesus connects these in His sermon on the mount, doesn’t He? Matthew 5:21, 22 ““You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
A definition of the anti-Christ — 2:18-16
The anti-Christ gets a lot of attention from conspiracy and premillennial interested folks. Who exactly is the anti-Christ? There have been a number of candidates put forward over the centuries — often politically motivated selections. But it should be noted that although there will apparently be one great one, there are apparently more than one. Here we find the definition of them:
- There will be many, v. 18
- He will come from within, v. 19
- He will deny both God and the Christ, v. 22
- He deceives, v. 26
The thing about the great anti-Christ is that he is a mystery in the true sense of the New Testament usage. Mysteries in the New Testament are things that God has revealed, but only vaguely — as it were behind a veil, so that one can see the general outlines, but not the finer details that would clearly identify him. My point is that attempting identify him before the time will be pretty much impossible. Mysteries are usually clear only AFTER the fact.
How great a love! — 3:1
It still amazes me — doesn’t it you? — that we are actually considered children of God! Considering how far away we were from the Lord, considering the rebellious nature of our hearts, considering how much it would cost to rescue us and make the adoption possible — it is truly a Wonder of wonders! Remember that today. You are loved, deeply, consistently, and unconditionally. Now, go live like it; live like you are a child of God! Because you are!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.