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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

1 John 2

Verse 1

My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

In this verse, John seems definitely to have had in mind the possible perversion of the teachings he had just written. "If we can never in this life be done with sin, why strive after holiness?" and "If escape is so easy, why dread falling into sin?"[1] The promise of forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:9) and the mention of its universality (1 John 1:8,10) might indeed, on the surface, be thought to encourage a light view of sin. As Orr said, "Some might say, `I may as well commit sin; everyone else does; God will forgive me; what else is he for?'"[2] John contradicted all such false views. Furthermore, the force of this passage may not be diminished by the interpretation that "sin" in this passage means "a life of sin." "Both verbs are aorists; acts of sin, rather than a sinful course of life, are in view."[3]

My little children ... Commentators are sharply divided on the meaning of this expression in this chapter. While it is generally admitted that John here used "little children" as a designation of the whole congregation, the repeated use of the word, especially the use of two different words for children, namely, [@paidia] and [@teknia] seems to suggest a different meaning later in the chapter. [@Paidia] is the word used in 1John 2:13,1 John 2:18.[4] The other word is used in 1 John 2:12,28; 1 John 3:7,18; 1 John 4:4, and 1 John 5:21. See more on this under 1John 2:13,1 John 2:18. By John's use of "little children" as a reference to the whole church, some have concluded that John was an old man when he wrote this.

That ye sin not ... Despite the fact that John had just admitted that no one was able to be sinless, he nevertheless stated without equivocation that, "The hallmark of the Christian life is the absence of sin."[5]

Advocate with the Father ... The word here rendered "Advocate" is exactly the same word translated "Comforter" in John 14:16,26; John 15:26 and John 16:7. Of course, in those passages, the Comforter refers to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send to be "with the Christians," especially the apostles; but here the Comforter is the Christ who is "with the Father." Dodd and other critics have tried to make a big issue out of this so-called difference; but there is no difference at all. In both cases, the Comforter is for the advantage and encouragement of the Christians, Christ with the Father, the Holy Spirit with the Christians. Furthermore, did not Christ himself make this perfectly plain when he said, "He shall give you another Comforter" (John 14:16)? Even in that passage, it is clear that Christ himself is the other one.

[1] David Smith, The Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 172.

[2] R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 610.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 20 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 79.

[5] Blaney, Harvey J. S., Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 359.

Verse 2

and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

The propitiation ... This rendition is to be preferred to "expiation" in subsequent versions. Although it is true that expiation is a synonym of propitiation, the latter meaning is a little different. Although this word appears frequently in the Septuagint (LXX), it is found only here and in 1 John 4:10 in the whole New Testament.[6] The objection to "propitiation" is purely "theological."[7] It is said to conjure up ideas of vengeful and vindictive pagan deities who had to be "appeased" by offerings and bribes, ideas which, of course, are foreign to any true ideas of God. Nevertheless, despite the scholars' support of their preference with "linguistic arguments,"[8] there is a sense in which the anger and wrath of Almighty God were indeed turned away by the sufferings of Christ. The Greek word to be translated by one of these words (propitiation, or expiation) is [@hilasmos], the primary meaning being "the removal of wrath."[9] It is this element of the meaning which some would like to get rid of. However, there is a divine wrath against every form of sin (Romans 1:18), and God's forgiveness is not merely the ignoring of this wrath. "Expiation" carries the meaning that Christ's blood indeed procured for people the forgiveness of sins, but it leaves out the connection with God's wrath. Full agreement here is felt with Stott, Morris, and others who preferred "propitiation." There are implications in the atonement wrought by the death of Christ that are completely beyond any total understanding by finite intelligence. "Propitiation" means the "removal of wrath," and "expiation" means the "removal of guilt"; but in view of the fact of God's wrath being a reality mentioned countless times in the New Testament, it would appear to be far better to retain the word that includes "removal of wrath" in its meaning.

And not for ours only, but for the whole world ... The "sins of the whole world" is actually the meaning implied in the last clause,[10] Inherent in a statement like this is the fact that the same basis for forgiving one sin is also the basis for forgiving all sins. There was no limit whatever to the satisfaction that Christ provided as the basis for forgiving sins. Of course, it is not implied here that sins are forgiven unconditionally, either those of persons now saved, or of the whole world in general. We must therefore reject such a notion as this: "Multitudes may be saved through this redemption who never heard of Christ."[11] Universalism is an attractive thesis for many, but there is no hint of such a thing in the New Testament.

[6] James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, 1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 40.

[7] Stott, John R. W., op. cit., p. 85.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Leon Morris, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1263.

[10] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 611.

[11] W. M. Sinclair, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 476.

Verse 3

And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

Contrary to the criterion accepted by many for determination if they are or are not saved, this denies that a person's "feelings" in such a question can be trusted. "It is all too easy to fall into illusions about ourselves if we make too much of our religious feelings, even those of an elevated kind."[12] Keeping the commandments of God is the prerequisite and the test either of loving God (John 14:15) or of knowing God. Macknight supposed that John here was teaching against "the Nicolaitans and Gnostics who affirmed that the only thing necessary to eternal life was the knowledge of the true God."[13]

Hereby we know ... Similar words are used several times in this letter to introduce "tests" by which the validity of one's faith might be tested (1 John 2:5,29; 1 John 3:19,24; 1 John 4:2,6,13, and 1 John 5:2). In the last analysis, it is keeping the commandments of the Lord, walking in the light, doing the truth, obeying the word, etc., which are the final determinator of whether one is saved or lost. Which commandments are meant? All of them. There is no way to limit these to the ethical or moral commandments; those relating to the worship of God are likewise included. To keep God's commandments is equivalent to keeping his word, "And this means the truth of God as it is in Christ."[14] The obligation extends to the entirety of the New Testament revelation.

[12] Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 226.

[13] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 41.

[14] Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 363.

Verse 4

He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;

This is the negative of the same teaching given in 1 John 2:3. John's converse statement of the same principle here is blunt, powerful, and incapable of being misunderstood. It reminds one of Jesus' saying, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). All talk of knowing God, loving God, or even of "believing" or "having faith" is meaningless in the mouths of people who dishonor the commandments of the Lord through disobedience and failure to do the "work of faith." It is even more than meaningless; it is falsehood.

Verse 5

but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him:

Whoso keepeth his word ... This is identical in meaning with "if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).

The love of God has been perfected ... Here is another glimpse of that absolute perfection which is the goal of all Christian living, mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 5:48, and referred to by all the New Testament writers. Although unattainable by humans in their own strength, it will nevertheless be achieved in them and for them by means of their being "in Christ" and thereby partaking of the absolute perfection of the Saviour himself (Colossians 1:28). Significantly, the necessity of being "in him" is the concluding thought of this verse.

Love of God ... This is objective, referring not to God's love of man, but to "man's love to God."[15]

Hereby we know that we are in him ... Although the grammatical structure makes "God" the antecedent of "in him" in this place, still the meaning is "in Christ," no man ever having been "in God" by any other means than that of his having been baptized into the spiritual body of Christ. Being "in God" and "in Christ" are exactly one and the same thing. This thought comes to the foreground a number of times in this letter. Thus John placed the same importance and priority upon this conception that are given to it in the writings of the apostle Paul who used the expression "in Christ" or its equivalent some 169 times. The idea of the corporate body of Christ was not developed either by Paul or by John but is derived from the Lord himself who gave the foundation of it in such teaching as that of his being the vine, the apostles being the branches, and all Christians abiding "in him," that is, "in the true vine" (John 15). Since one enters "him" through primary obedience (baptism), it is the true continuity of that holy relationship that John here declared us to "know" if we keep his word.

Before leaving this verse, we should note that love ([Greek: agape]) is one of the leading concepts, recurring again and again in John's work. In this letter alone, "it occurs 18 times, more than in any other New Testament book, 1Corinthians being 2nd with 14 times. In a book so short this is very significant."[16] As used in this place, the love to God is not a mere emotional response, "it is the response lived out in obedience. Love delights to do God's will."[17]

[15] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1056.

[16] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1263.

[17] Ibid.

Verse 6

he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.

Claiming to be "in Christ" carries the obligation of the claimant to exhibit the true likeness of Christ in his behavior. "Obedience, not feelings," is the true test of union; and the Christian who is really such has least to tell of experiences and special visitations."[18]

In him ... These words in 1 John 2:3, at a glance, seem to refer to being "in God"; but as Morris noted:

The reference to walking in this verse shows that "in him" means Jesus Christ. In any case John regularly associates the two in the closest possible fashion, and it is often difficult to be quite sure which is meant.[19]

[18] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22,1John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 21.

[19] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1263.

Verse 7

Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard.

No new commandment ... but an old ... The old commandment is here identified as "the word which ye heard," meaning the gospel of Christ; and this automatically gives the meaning of "which ye had from the beginning." The beginning in view here is the beginning of the gospel. Despite this, which it seems is obvious, one finds some strange views on what the old commandment is. The New Catholic Bible makes the old commandment to be "love promulgated in the Old Testament";[20] but since John's addresses were largely Gentile, it is not likely that the thing they had heard "from the beginning" was the Old Testament.

Verse 8

Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth.

A new commandment ... The new commandment must almost certainly be identified with Jesus' words when he said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). It is hardly possible that the apostle John could have meant anything else except this.

Wherein was it a new commandment? The Old Testament had taught God's people to love each other, and the new element here is the qualifier even as I have loved you! The Old Testament knew nothing of such love as that, for Christ had not yet revealed it.

Wherein is it an old commandment? It went back to Christ himself; and, also, some of the Christians might have been hearing this practically all of their lives, "From the beginning" here being best understood as "from the first of your Christian lives."[21]

Why did John stress the newness of it? He may have had in mind the word of Christ himself who declared that, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto the householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things both new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

The above view seems correct, since it answers all of the questions that naturally rise with reference to the verse; but, while holding to the above explanation, we also notice another.


"The contrast between the old and new is partly a contrast between the old and new covenants."[22] To love God and one's neighbor summed up all the law and the prophets, according to Jesus himself (Mark 12:29-31); and, of course, our Lord bound upon all people the same basic obligations. "From the beginning" seems naturally to suggest a more remote past than the beginning of one's Christian life; and it is impossible, always, to tell from the context just how John used this word. As Orr pointed out, "In a single sentence, John used the word truth in three different senses (2 John 1:1:1,2)."[23] Paul also used the word "Israel" in two different senses in a single sentence (Romans 11:25,26). In any case, such a view does no violence to the Scripture. As Macknight said, "Such a view makes out the least alteration in the sense of the passage."[24]

The thing John apparently had in mind was the proposition that what his readers needed was no new teaching, but a renewal of the teaching they already had. As Paul Hoon put it:

The British statesman, Lord Morley traveled from England to give an address to a Canadian university. As he came to the rostrum to speak, his first words were, "Gentlemen, I have traveled four thousand miles to tell you that there is a difference between right and wrong."[25]

Likewise, in the current era, the church needs no new doctrine or philosophy, but a renewal in people's hearts of those teachings received from the beginning of the church. And those great basics of the Christian gospel are always new, exciting and glorious in the hearts of those joyfully receiving them; and yet they are also ancient. What is older than the drama of birth or marriage? and yet how new such things always are in every experience of them!

[21] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1056.

[22] Paul W. Hoon, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 233.

[23] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 611.

[24] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 44.

[25] Paul W. Hoon, op. cit., p. 234.

Verse 9

He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now.

John's style of balancing one statement against another is evident here and throughout the letter. "He that saith" introduces the error he was about to expose. Note also the contrast between light and darkness. Christians are the children of light and walk in the light, but the wicked are children of darkness and walk in darkness.

He ... is in darkness even until now ... It is a mistake to understand John as merely refuting the erroneous teachings of Gnostics. While it may be true enough that Gnostics might have seduced many Christians of that era into receiving a lifestyle of "loveless arrogance,"[26] the great teachings of the apostle were not merely a reaction to such things. He was not merely reacting; he was proclaiming the tremendous truths already revealed by Jesus nearly a whole generation previously. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said: "If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23). Thus, the metaphor of light and darkness goes back to Christ himself. Paul likewise received and used the same metaphor, his message in Ephesians 4:17-18 reading thus: "For they live blindfolded in a world of illusion, and are cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness."[27] He also wrote, "Cast off the works of darkness" (Romans 13:12), "We are not of the night, nor of darkness" (1 Thessalonians 5:5), "What communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

He that saith ... "This is the fifth time in this epistle that John pointed out a possible inconsistency between profession and conduct (1 John 1:6,8,10; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 4:20)."[28] If people are troubled today because of the gap between people's profession and their performance, it might help to recall that the problem is indeed an old one.

[26] Ibid.

[27] J. B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches, a Translation of New Testament Epistles (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948), p. 106.

[28] Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1010.

Verse 10

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.

He that loveth his brother ... This speaks of genuine love, the existence of that emotion and attitude called [Greek: agape] in the New Testament.

Abideth in the light ... There can hardly be any doubt that John had in mind the great declaration of Jesus Christ that "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness" (John 8:12), and that this means abiding in Christ, a thought recurring repeatedly in John 15:1-10.

The love of brethren appearing in this verse is not a love tinged with passion or self-seeking; but it is "the pure disinterested seeking for another's welfare, of which Christ was the great example."[29] This is a far different thing from that humanistic love which is coming more and more to be the religion of our non-Christian world. Such love, cultivated for its own sake and without regard for Christ must ever prove to be artificial, powerless and disappointing. The fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be nourished and kept alive apart from the life-giving Spirit himself.

There is no occasion of stumbling in him ... One whose life is motivated and controlled by true love will not only walk in the light himself, but his actions will not be the cause of stumbling or failure in others. As Westcott said, "Want of love is the most prolific source of offenses."John 3edition (London: Macmillan and Company, 1893), p. 56.">[30]

[29] W. M. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 478.

John 3edition (London: Macmillan and Company, 1893), p. 56.">[30] Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John 3edition (London: Macmillan and Company, 1893), p. 56.

Verse 11

But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.

The threefold mention of darkness is an impressive comment upon hatred of a brother. Hatred deadens and destroys the soul itself, blinds the eyes, stops the ears, and hardens the heart and petrifies the central functions of reason and intelligence; and those who indulge in it receive "in themselves the recompense of their error" (Romans 1:27), becoming in their own persons the just reward of such wickedness. In this verse also appears the close connection between blindness, of which Jesus often spoke and the darkness which is another application of the same metaphor.

Notice the progressive power of three successive antitheses in 1 John 2:9-11. The antithesis of 1 John 2:9 is 1 John 2:10, and the antithesis of 1 John 2:10 is 1 John 2:11, the argument growing stronger with each new antithesis. The conclusions are arranged in an ascending order of power. 1 John 2:9 has "is in darkness"; 1 John 2:10 has "abiding in light, and there is no occasion of stumbling"; and 1 John 2:11 has a triple predicate: (1) "is in darkness"; (2) "walketh in darkness"; and (3) "knoweth not whither he goeth."

Verse 12

I write unto you my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.

My little children ... is usually thought to be John's loving designation of the whole church to which he wrote. See more on this under 1 John 2:13.

Because your sins are forgiven you ... The great purpose of redemption in Christ is precisely this, the forgiveness of sins. All of the wonderful social and environmental benefits of Christianity are tangential and not fundamental. Man's great problem is sin; and, with the sin problem fully resolved in Christ Jesus, man has the ability to solve other problems himself. The word for children here is [@teknia].[31]

Verse 13

I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father.

Having addressed the entire group of Christians in 1 John 2:12 as "little children," John here singled out three age groups: fathers, young men, and children, arranged quite logically in a descending order, and using a different word for "children" ([@paidia])[32] in order to distinguish the different meaning here from that in 1 John 2:12. Many scholars reject this interpretation, but the essential logic of it cannot be denied. Other scholars (including Westcott) "regard these words as indicating different age groups."[33] There has never been any other good explanation of why John used different words for children. The difference in "I write unto you" and "I have written unto you" is not clear at all and may be merely a variation of style. If "I have written" is understood as epistolary, the meaning of the various expressions is exactly the same.

It is by no means clear why many object to understanding children (especially in 1 John 2:13) in the ordinary sense. Many children who have reached an age of accountability are still "little children"; and those who had obeyed the gospel when John wrote were here included with young men and fathers as full participants in the total benefits of Christianity. Certainly, such an objection as that made by Barclay can have little merit. He wrote:

Literalism and poetry do not go comfortably hand in hand ... The fact that the passage is kin to poetry makes us think twice before insisting that so literal a meaning must be given to the words and so cut and dried a classification be taken as intended.[34]

Well, there you have it. This passage is "kin to poetry"; therefore, we do not need to take "children" literally! It must be a weak case indeed that requires support from an argument like this.

That the primary purpose of the whole passage is that of showing the full participation of various age groups is also derived from the synonymous nature of the affirmations made concerning each. There is no essential difference in them:

Of children (meaning the whole church), "your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake."

Of fathers, "ye know him who is from the beginning."

Of young men, "ye have overcome the evil one."

Of little children (literally), "ye know the Father."

The one and identical meaning of all these statements is that the persons indicated were walking in the light, enjoying salvation, possessed a knowledge of God and were abiding in Christ.

John extended his declarations further, mentioning two of the three sub-classifications again, that is, the fathers and the young men; but, in this case, the two groups stand for all three. Paul also mentioned three charismatic gifts in 1 Corinthians 13:8, making the three stand for all nine mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. John did a similar thing in the next verse.

[32] Ibid.

[33] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 612.

[34] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 52.

Verse 14

I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.

It is no problem that the essential truth of this verse repeats what had just been written. Christ himself repeated over and over again the great messages of the kingdom, sometimes with slight variations; and it was that quality of our Saviour's teaching that fully accounts for the so-called "variations" in the synoptic Gospels.

Verse 15

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Love not the world ... God so "loved the world" that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16), but "world" here has a different meaning. "It is an inclusive term for all those who are in the kingdom of darkness and have not been born of God."[35] It also regards the material and temporary character of it. It is "visible" and therefore must be classified among those things which "are seen," contrasting with the things which "are unseen" and designated by Paul as eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). Bruce noted the difference thus: "It is the world-system organized in rebellion against God which is in view - the current climate of opinion, as we might say."[36] He also observed that the word "love" is different here from that used in John 3:16. "In John 3:16, it is self-sacrificing love; here it is acquisitive love."[37] John will further explain his meaning in the next verse.

Love of the world ... love of the Father ... This strongly suggests the "love of God" contrasted with the love of mammon in Matthew 6:24; and John's statement that the love of the Father is not in one who loves the world corresponds with Jesus' declaration that "No man can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). Morris pointed out what he called John's little trick of "emphasizing a word by simply repeating it. He used world three times in this verse and another three times in the next two verses."[38] John used this word "more than twenty times in this epistle,"[39] and in more than one sense. Hoon thought that the "world" has the "sense of creation as contrasted with the Creator."[40] See under next verse.

[35] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 101.

[36] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 132.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1263.

[39] Paul W. Hoon, op. cit., p. 238.

[40] Ibid.

Verse 16

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

For all that is in the world ... is not of the Father ... This has the effect of explaining what John meant by his use of "world" in 1 John 2:15. It is that aspect of it which is "not in the Father." It is therefore incorrect to accept "world" in these verses as meaning God's glorious natural creation, described by the Father himself as "good" (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25). Jesus said the world loves its own (John 15:19); Paul said, "Be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2); and John declared that, "The whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19). In the light of these and many other passages in the New Testament, it is clear that John was here speaking of that phase of the world of people which is antagonistic to God.

Lust of the flesh ... lust of the eyes ... vainglory of life ... For ages, students of the New Testament have seen in this triad suggestions of the triple temptation of Eve: the fruit was good to eat ... beautiful to see ... and would make one as God, knowing good and evil; and likewise the triple temptation of Christ: he was hungry ... Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world ... such an exhibition of Jesus' power as that of leaping from the parapet of the temple unharmed would have been a vainglorious triumph. From such comparisons, the things mentioned by John in this verse have come to be called "the three avenues of temptation." The sins in view have been variously classified: sensuality, materialism, ostentation (C. H. Dodd);[41] voluptus (sensuality), avaritia (avarice), superbia (vain-glory) (B. F. Westcott);[42] appetites of the body ... desire to possess material things ... egotism, etc. A number of scholars are reluctant to allow that any correspondence of this passage with the temptations of Eve and of Christ is intended; but David Smith did not hesitate to affirm that, "Here is a summary of all possible sins, as exemplified in the temptations of Eve (Genesis 3:1-6), and of our Lord (Matthew 4:1-11)."[43]

Lust of the flesh ... All temptations which have their roots in appetites and needs of the body are included in this; but the appetites of the body are not in themselves sinful. Therefore, "flesh" is used here in "the ethical sense, meaning the old nature of man, or his capacity to do that which is displeasing to God."[44]

Lust of the eyes ... The eyes have been called the gateway to the soul, hence the point of entry for many temptations. 'tin John's day, the impure and brutal spectacles of the theater and the arena would have supplied abundant illustrations of these."[45] It is no less true of our own times.

Pride of life ... The central lust of the ego itself is indicated by this. The utterly selfish instinct in all human life that insists upon achieving the fulfillment of the person itself, the inherent passion of the soul to do its own will, fulfill its own desires, glorify its own ego, and to occupy the inner control-center of life - that is the pride of life. Salvation in Christ requires that this be denied. Macknight's comment on this was:

John means all things pertaining to this life, of which men of the world boast, and by which their pride is gratified: such as titles, offices, lands, noble birth, honorable relations, and the rest, whose efficacy to puff up men with pride and to make them insolent, is not of God.[46]

[41] R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 612.

[42] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 101.

[43] David Smith, op. cit., p. 178.

[44] Charles C. Ryrie, op. cit., p. 1013.

[45] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 24.

[46] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 50.

Verse 17

And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

All of the vain things that so charm, seduce and dominate the lives of people during their brief pilgrimage upon earth are actually endowed with no more permanence than a mirage. Whatever glory or eminence may come to man is only for the fraction of a moment; he builds for himself a house, a palace or an empire; but the whirling suns brush him into the grave, and where is he? Whatever achievement, success or honor may place upon his head for an instant some distinction or accolade, tomorrow cannot remember it. This tragic quality of all human glory is the reason why the apostles taught Christians to look to the unseen, the invisible realities of hope and faith in Christ for their true fulfillment.

As Paul put it:

We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul's words are an excellent supplement to what John wrote in this verse.

Verse 18

Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.

It is the last hour ... The apostles had asked Christ to tell them when the end of the world was coming, when the temple would be destroyed, and when the Christ would come. To these three questions, Jesus gave a composite answer (Matthew 24), but not distinguishing for them the fact that these events would not all occur simultaneously; however, Jesus did deny them altogether any answer as to the time of his Second Coming (Matthew 24:36,42). It is therefore the height of presumption to construe John's words here as meaning that Christ was coming soon. "The last hour" here has no reference whatever to the Second Coming and must be referred either to the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the world. Significantly, since Jesus failed (purposefully) to distinguish for his apostles that those two events (the end of all things and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem) would be separated in time by thousands of years, it may be legitimately supposed that the apostles might have thought they would come at the same time; but, even more significantly, no apostle ever said so. There is not a line in the New Testament that has any such declaration in it. However, in the providence of God, the destruction of Jerusalem was foreordained to be a type of the overthrow of the entire world; and in giving the signs that would precede the first event, Christ of necessity gave in those very signs the sign of the end of the world; but it was necessary for Christ to make the signs of Jerusalem's overthrow plain enough for the Christians to be forewarned and to enable them to escape from the city before its destruction. Otherwise, Satan might have accomplished the total destruction of the church itself in that disaster. Heeding those signs which Jesus had given, John here prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (perhaps supposing also that the end of the world was at hand, a supposition that he did not state, even if he thought it). And what sign did he stress? That there were antichrists who had already appeared. This was the very sign that Jesus had definitely connected with the destruction of the temple (involving also, of course, the overthrow of Jerusalem): "There shall arise false christs and false prophets" (Matthew 24:24). It was also indicated by Christ as being a signal for the "elect" to "flee out of Judea" (Matthew 24:16), to avoid "the end of the world"? Certainly not! To avoid the destruction of Jerusalem? Of course! Thus it is absolutely certain that John in this passage was not warning the Christians to get ready for the end of the world, but to get ready to flee the city of Jerusalem. That this is exactly what John and the other apostles did in such statements as this is proved by the fact that the Christians did flee Jerusalem, not a single one of "the elect" losing his life in the holocaust that overthrew the city in A.D. 70.

Despite the fact of "antichrist" being popularly understood as "a personal opponent of Christ at the end of time,"[47] and also being identified with Paul's "lawless one" (2 Thessalonians 2:8), there is absolutely no authority for such views. The "antichrists" in this passage are plural; the "lawless one" is singular; Christ associates the antichrists, or false christs, with the need for the "elect" to flee out of Judea (Matthew 24:16); whereas, Paul associated the "lawless one" with the "coming of the Lord," an association that John refrained from making here. Neither the "man of sin" nor "the lawless one" of Paul's writings has any connection whatever with what John wrote here. It was long after John wrote that "the name of antichrist was appropriated to that great adversary of Christ 'the man of sin' (2 Thessalonians 2:3)."[48] John's antichrist "falls far short of Paul's `son of perdition.'"[49]

As ye have heard, antichrist cometh ... Although only the singular is used here, it is clear from what John at once wrote that there were many of these. Where had the Christians heard of this? From the teachings of Christ, as recorded in Matthew 24.

It is the last hour ... Before leaving this, the error of the rendition should be noted. As Stott said:

This phrase should be translated "a last hour." Westcott makes much of this and writes that the omission of the definite article "seems to mark the general character of the period and not its specific relation to `end.' It was a period of crucial change."[50]

Morris also stressed the same thing, saying, "There is no article with hour. John is not saying it is the last hour, but that it is a last hour."[51] In the light of such truth, how ridiculous, therefore, it is for men to write such dogmatic opinions as the following:

"The last hour ..." The apostles undoubtedly anticipated the coming of Christ in the near future, etc.[52]

"The last hour ..." The expected immediate second coming of Christ to judge the world.[53]

Nothing but the unwillingness of Christians to admit that the apostle John could seem to be much in error about the nearness of the day of judgment could have raised a question about language so plain. This can only mean "the last hour before the Second Coming of Christ."[54]

A hundred other examples of the same kind of scholarly blindness could be cited. It never seems to have occurred to such commentators that there is no hint whatever of the Second Coming in this verse.

It is true of course that those who suppose that the apostles "expected" the coming of Christ to take place concurrently with the destruction of Jerusalem are probably correct in that supposition. Why? Because Jesus himself so mingled the prophecies of the two events that such a supposition might easily have followed. However, true exegesis of the New Testament does not consist in reading into its sacred texts what people suppose the apostles thought, but rather consists in studying what they wrote; and John wrote nothing here, either of the judgment or of the second coming of Christ.

[47] New Catholic Bible, op. cit., New Testament, p. 315.

[48] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., reprint, 1950), p. 908.

[49] Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 372.

[50] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 108.

[51] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1264.

[52] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1056.

[53] James Russell Williams, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 600.

[54] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 25.

Verse 19

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us.

From this verse it is plain that the "antichrists" were Christians who had defected from the truth. Their departure from the apostles and from the church indicated their hostility to the truth. Many of these were no doubt teaching the most shameful errors, justifying, or rationalizing the most wicked and dissolute behavior on the basis of Gnostic or other false teachings they had adopted.

Such a verse as this, of course, is made use of as a crutch for the proposition that a person "once saved is always saved"; however, it should be carefully noted that John did not here write of the false teachers that "they never had been of us," but that at an unspecified previous time, they were not. This is even more clear in the last clause where the word is not that they had never been of us, but that they are not of us. Their departure from the faith became final at some point prior to their leaving; but there is no suggestion by the apostle that those who departed had never been truly converted at the beginning of their Christian association. The fallen angels were not wicked from the beginning but became so; and Judas was not wicked when the Lord chose him as an apostle, but he fell "through transgression."

Verse 20

And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things.

As Morris said, "This is just another way of saying that all of them had received the gift of the Holy Spirit."[55] that is, the earnest of the Holy Spirit, which is given to all believers in Christ following their repentance and baptism into Christ (Acts 2:38f).

And ye know all things ... The marginal reading here, "you all know," is a better rendition because John did not mean they knew everything, else he would hardly have been writing to them. The thing he referred to here is apparent in other places in the letters of John, namely, that, as regards the basic doctrine of Christianity, called "the word" or "the truth" or "the light," the Christians had been adequately enlightened on all these things before they could become Christians. (Jeremiah 31:31-35). Thus he refuted the boasts of the false teachers that they had any vital new truth that could have benefited anyone. When people hear and obey the gospel of Christ, they have already reached the zenith of all knowledge as it regards the eternal redemption of the soul. There is another view of this passage which accepts it as a reference to one of the charismatic gifts mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:8, that is, "the discerning of spirits."[56] The thought behind this is that congregations generally, at the time John wrote, had among their members certain persons endowed with that gift; hence there was no need for them to be led away by false teachers if they heeded the information already available to them from that source. Although the other interpretation is preferred here, this one may not be ruled out altogether as possibly the true one.

[55] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1264.

[56] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 54.

Verse 21

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

This verse is the reason for preferring the first of two interpretations of the preceding verse. Jeremiah had prophesied that under the new covenant, "All would know the Lord, from the least to the greatest of them," the simple reason behind this being that one must know the truth in all of its essential aspects before he can even become a Christian (Jeremiah 31:31ff). It is obviously this very truth that John had in mind here.

The "lie" mentioned here is "any doctrine contrary to that taught by the apostles of Christ."[57]

Verse 22

Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son.

A comparison with 1John 4:15,1 John 5:1f suggests that the type of denial was that of refusing to accept the complete union of God with Jesus Christ. Certain Gnostics and Docetists theorized that Jesus was only a man, the natural son of Joseph, and that "Christ" descended upon him and inhabited his body at the time of his baptism, deserted him for the crucifixion, etc. The exalted view of Christ in John's writings, and throughout the New Testament refutes such nonsense fully. The Christian believes and confesses that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, that he is one with the Father, that he, in fact, "was God," that of his own volition he entered our earth life by means of the incarnation, that he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, and that he was born and passed through all the phases of human life without sin, that the power of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily during his ministry enabling the mighty works which were done by him, that he gave his life a ransom for all in his crucifixion, and that he himself arose from the grave, commissioned his apostles, ascended to the Father where he was before, and that he will come again to judge the quick and the dead at the consummation of all things. All the Christians of all the ages have tenaciously held these basic views regarding Jesus Christ our Lord. John was saying in this verse that any denial of such things is falsehood, and that such liars are antichrist. No distinction between the Christ and Jesus is of the truth, but belongs rather to the heresy of the Cerinthians.[58]

Verse 23

Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also.

The denial of the Son of God, through failure to confess him, results in the loss of the Father, because only the divine Son can reveal the Father. "No one cometh unto God but by me," he said. On the other hand, as John stated it conversely, the meaningful confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God leads to a full knowledge of God in the forgiveness of sins.

Verse 24

As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father.

That which ye heard from the beginning ... This is a reference to the gospel truth as proclaimed by the holy apostles of Christ, and as revealed in the sacred New Testament. Absolute and unwavering loyalty and devotion to that message, and to that alone, is here commanded; and the reward of doing so is indicated, those obeying shall abide in the Son, and in the Father.

In the Father, and in the Son ... This is a reference to the corporate body of Christ, a conception that was announced by the Lord himself in the analogy of the true vine (John 15:1-10). Thus John takes his place alongside Paul in the presentation of salvation "in Christ." A heavy emphasis upon this has been given throughout this whole series of commentaries; and, for a fuller discussion of it, see Romans 3 in my Commentary on Romans. Significantly, John here made adherence to the original gospel a prerequisite of abiding in God and in Christ. As Stott noted:

Christian theology is anchored not only to certain historical events, culminating in the saving career of Jesus, but to the authoritative apostolic witness to those events. The Christian can never weigh anchor and launch out into the deep of speculative thought.[59]

If the church of Christ in the present time would renew its vitality and increase the effectiveness of its evangelism, then let it return to a greater emphasis upon that which we have heard "from the beginning."

Verse 25

And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal.

No other religion, not any philosophy, nor any code of ethics, nothing whatever, throughout the long course of human history has ever promised eternal life; but this eternal life "in Christ" is the promise of our holy religion. It is not one of the side-effects or fringe benefits of the faith, but the essential heart of it. It cannot be required by people, nor earned; but it is given to all who are "in God and in Christ," and are "found in him" (Philippians 3:9) when the probation of life is over. John himself spelled this out in these epic words:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them (Revelation 14:13).

Inherent in this precious and exceedingly great promise is the fact of its being conditional, the primary condition being that of abiding in God and abiding in Christ, that in turn being conditional, everything in the last analysis being contingent upon whether or not people hear and obey the original gospel, that is, "abide in that which ye have heard from the beginning."

Verse 26

These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray.

This is John's reminder that he is still discussing the subject of the antichrists and their false teachings, a crisis which he met by a profound and forceful reiteration of what he himself and all of the apostles had preached from the very beginning of Christianity. Christians must still meet philosophical deceit and cunning perversions of the holy faith in exactly the same manner. No new teaching is needed, the original gospel being relevant in all situations tending toward apostasy.

Verse 27

And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him.

The anointing which ye received of him abideth in you ... Although this is speaking of the Holy Spirit (see under 1 John 2:20), it is clear from the last clause where the neuter pronoun and past tense are used that he is referring to the written records of the gospel. It was that which they had been taught; and it was that which was abiding in them, there being no difference whatever in the word of God dwelling in Christians and the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. See full discussion of this in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 97-99. Moreover, it was that original gospel which was alone sufficient for all their needs, enabling John to say, "Ye need not that any one teach you." The holy gospel has already given (note the past tense) all of the teaching that Christians will ever need.

That it is that gospel (we now call it the New Testament) of which John taught in this verse is proved by a careful reading of it:

That gospel is no lie.

It is the truth.

It taught you.

As a consequence of its teachings, you abide in him.

From this, it is absolutely certain, as Roberts stated it, that, "It is obvious that John does not mean that each individual has his own channel of communications by means of the Holy Spirit."[60] Furthermore, John did not teach that Christians had no need of further study. The whole passage must be understood as a plea for the all-sufficiency of the gospel as the complete and effective refutation of heresies. "The only safeguard against lies is to have abiding in us both the Word that we heard from the beginning and the anointing that we received from him."[61]

[60] J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1968), p. 72.

[61] John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 115.

Verse 28

And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

Abide in him ... See under 1 John 2:24. This admonition is actually the whole point of the letter.

If he shall be manifested ... This shows that John was by no means certain that such a period as "a last hour" which he had already positively identified as coming soon, would also include the coming of Christ; but there is a suggestion in this that he might have thought it very possible. Note, however, that he made no assertion regarding the second coming, except this, that if it did turn out that the Lord wag manifested in the events John knew were so shortly coming to pass, the Christians should strive to be ready for the Lord.

Abide in him that ... we may have boldness ... Such boldness will result from the identification of Christians with their Lord. Those who are "in him" and abide "in him" until his coming, or until death, will indeed be amply supplied with boldness in his presence.

It will be observed that John used a number of expressions having a great similarity:

We are in him (God) (1 John 2:5).

A new commandment is true in him and in you (1 John 2:8).

He that loveth ... abideth in the light (1 John 2:9).

The word of God abideth in you (1 John 2:17).

Let that (the word of the gospel) abide in you (1 John 2:24).

... Ye also shall abide in the Son (1 John 2:24).

... and (ye shall abide) in the Father also (1 John 2:24).

The anointing ... abideth in you (1 John 2:27).

Ye abide in him (1 John 2:27).

My little children, abide in him (1 John 2:28).

In all of these passages and a dozen others like them in John's letters the meaning is identical. Could there be any conceivable difference between one who was abiding "in the light" and another who was abiding "in the word of God," or "in God," or "in Christ," or "in the Holy Spirit?" Conversely, could there be any distinction between persons "walking in the truth" (as in 3 John 1:1:3) and those in whom the "word of God abideth"? Again, reference is made to a more lengthy study of this phenomenon in my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 97-99. In full consonance with the unity of thought in all such passages is the over-all consideration that every single one of them means, in the last analysis, believing and obeying the commandments of God, a fact inherent in the very next verse where John spoke of "doing righteousness" as evidence of one's having been born again.

Verse 29

If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that everyone also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him.

He is righteous ... is a clear reference to Jesus Christ whose coming was just mentioned; however, "begotten of him" in the very next clause means "begotten of God." As Smith said, "The abrupt transition evinces St. John's sense of the oneness of the Father and the Son."[62] In this sentence, he used "him" as a reference first to the son and then to the Father. He did a very similar thing in 1 John 2:27 where the indwelling Spirit (the anointing) is said to "teach you all things," whereas, it is clear that the gospel itself was their actual source of teaching. The essential unity of all such elements is the basis for seemingly diverse statements. After all, the word of God is the word of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17); and was it not the Holy Spirit who guided the apostles (including John himself) into all truth? (John 14:16; 16:13). An over-compartmentalizing of such Scriptural teachings as those of this chapter will only frustrate and confuse the student. The great wealth of John's thoughts in this glorious chapter contrasts with the poverty of language itself (not the apostle's lack), which is incapable of any complete revelation to people of the marvelous and glorious nature of the salvation which the eternal Father has made available to people in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.