The Book of 1 John; The similarities of John’s Gospel and this Epistle are easily noted. John the Beloved Apostle, that rested on the bosom of Jesus, is no longer the brash young boy who was one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He is the last of the Apostles, all others including Paul have died [killed] for the faith. John has not been exempted from persecution, just survived it. John is not yet in exile on the Isle of Patmos; he is the Elder statesman at the church in Ephesus. While many of the Apostles, especially Paul had to combat the Judaizers and Imperial henchmen, John is confronting a philosophical sect called the Gnostics. The sect believes in a duality of man; one where the flesh and the spirit do not necessarily affect each other. The Gnostics, also found in the book of Colossians, boasted of a superior knowledge about spiritual matters. The Gnostic’s were using cunning and crafty speech to dissuade many from following the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are several phrases that John uses to combat the Gnosticism philosophy: “By this we Know; If we Say; We Know.”
John uses his own John 13:34-35 as a basis for this epistle. By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another. Two phrases again show up – By this and will know. John writes with the specific purpose – 1 John 5:13 “These things I have written to you that YOU MAY BELIEVE in the Son of God, so that YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life. In combating the Gnostics, John writes to the church about those things that have already been established. There is great emphasis on obeying the commands of God and believing that Jesus has come in the flesh. Part of the Gnostic thought was that Jesus was not flesh, but only appeared as flesh. This heresy will not go away until the 1st Lateran council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It is at this council that Jesus will be affirmed as God, in the Spirit and flesh. The Incarnation is at stake if we hold that Jesus is only spirit. We then would have a High Priest that really has no idea about the things that we go through. [Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15]
John gives a number of easy tests to determine if someone is in the faith or only pretending. The “If we say. . . . ” and do not walk gives clear evidence that the truth is not in us. John has been an eye-witness to Jesus; his senses have affirmed that Jesus was/is real. He touched him, saw him, and heard him. If John were not around to contend against the Gnostic’s they might have gotten away with their heresy. But when there is a living witness to the things that have been reported, all else would be a lie that denies the events of the witness. For example no one living today can deny that 911 occurred, too many people saw with their own eyes what happened. However, did the Holocaust happen? Enough time has passed where many have died and some are trying to re-write history to eliminate the Nazi war crimes. We live in a forgetful culture who given the opportunity would like to write Christ out of History if they could.
Three things John brings to the minds of his readers:
1st – This is the message [1:5]; that Jesus has been born, sent by the Father, manifested as the Son of God and Savior of the world. His life, death, burial and resurrection are truths. Jesus came as Light into the world, because the deeds of men were evil [darkness]. We can have fellowship with God, but not if we Harbor sin in our lives. We cannot walk in the Light and have fellowship and retain a sinful habit of living. We know that we have come to know Jesus if we keep his commandments. Pretty easy test – John does not say that we keep all the church rules. Obedience is to God and His word. If someone says they know God and doesn’t keep His commands [Matt 22:37-38] then He is the liar, not God.
2nd – This is the Promise [2:25]; The Promise is eternal life. The quality and quantity – it is a duration and a kind of life that we are promised. Actually all mankind will have an eternity – one of separation, the other is fellowship and presence of God in Heaven. The objective of salvation is not heaven, but freedom and deliverance from a sinful nature, which enables anyone to be reconciled back to God, as it was in the beginning before the Fall. Eternal Life has been promised to all who believe, it is something we have now because Someone is living in someone and we have Eternal Life, Because Jesus is the Christian life – He who has the Son has Life! We have it now, for we who believe will not die [John 11:25-26].
3rd – This is the Commandment [3;23]; John is infatuated with the word love. 1 John 4;15-21 is filled verse after verse with the word love. John has really mellowed since his youth. I have already referenced John 13:34-35 and Matthew 22:37-38, in these verses we find that the sum of the Law and the Prophets – not a bunch of commands, not even the 10 Commandments, just two. Love God and Love your neighbor. Gone are the days of fulfilling the ritualistic laws of Judaism, not by works of practice, but out of a heart of love and compassion for each other, that includes the brethren and the lost world. John uses three stages of maturity for the believer to show how the love of the Father is manifested. [1 John 2:12-14] He identifies the little children they have been forgiven and KNOW the Father; the young men have overcome the enemy and the word strongly abides in them; then the fathers, who KNOW Him who was from the beginning. Progress in the faith must occur for every believer.
John makes a great distinction between Profession and Possession. Even to the point of “they went out from us, because they were not part of us.” Not everyone who calls on “Lord, Lord” will see the kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of My Father in Heaven.