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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 John 2

 

 

Verse 1-2

‘My little children, these things write I to you that you may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.’

Here the ageing John addresses his readers with great tenderness, they are as it were, his little children (teknia - in this he is following Jesus - see John 13:33), those for whom he feels great responsibility. And he assures them that he does not write to them like this so that they may feel that they can freely sin, or feel that they cannot help but lose the battle against their known sins. He does it so that they may not sin. His longing is that they may be so aware of the God Who is pure light that they shy away from sin. That they seek earnestly to be sinless. His desire is that they will be a pure people walking in the light.

For while it is not possible to be totally sinless, it is possible for the Holy Spirit to empower men so that they have victory over all known sin, all sin of which they are aware. If they walk by the Spirit they will not fulfil the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

But he is aware that sin will, for many, break in again and again. And when it does, he assures them that they need not despair. For when they do sin they have One Who is their advocate with the Father, One who will plead their cause, One who will on their behalf claim that He has offered up Himself to be the propitiation for their sin. This is Jesus Christ, the righteous One. And His pleas will be heard because He is the Righteous One (Hebrews 7:26). He needs not to plead His own cause, for He is righteous. And He therefore comes on behalf of others and the basis of His plea is always righteous and thus well-pleasing to the Father.

And His plea is on the basis of His propitiating work (Romans 3:24-25). He knew that God as the Light had an aversion to sin, and He has removed through His own offering of Himself that which God held in aversion. That which stirred up God’s deserved wrath against man has been removed for those who are His through the blood of |His cross. He has thus made it possible for God to look with continual mercy on the forgiven sinner. For this was God’s plan in sending Jesus, and this is what He has accomplished.

‘And not for ours only, but also for the whole world.’ And there is no limit to this offer, for what Jesus has done is sufficient for the whole world if only they will receive it. If they would but come to Him the whole world might be saved. This salvation is open to all who will come.

This concept of ‘the world’ as a whole appears elsewhere in, for example, John 3:16. It does not strictly mean ‘every person in the whole world’. The thought is not individual but overall. The world is seen as a whole. But any one person from the whole world may respond and find that this propitiation is effective for him. It becomes individualised as men respond.

‘We have an advocate with the Father.’ The word for advocate is ‘parakleton’, the one called alongside to help. It is the same word used by Jesus of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16; John 14:26; John 16:7. There it referred to One Who would be with them for ever, Who would be alongside to assist them at all times, Who would reveal to them truth, and bring home to them all that Jesus had taught them and illuminate their hearts about it (John 14:26; John 16:13). He would indeed bring home to them Jesus Himself (John 15:26). He would be God acting with them and in them. But here the thought is of an Advocate also acting for them, on their behalf, interceding for them (Hebrews 7:25), pleading the sinner's cause with the Father whenever it becomes necessary, as when Jesus prayed that Peter's faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32). But it especially here refers to ensuring the continual application to them of the benefits of His Atoning Work, ensuring that they are cleansed when they come to God with their sins, ensuring that they are ever seen as righteous and clean in God’s sight.

‘Jesus Christ the righteous.’ Note the contrast between the many sinners and the One Who alone is righteous. Earlier He has been Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father (1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:7), divine in being and essence. Now He is the Righteous One, the One fitted to plead and sufficient to make satisfaction for man’s sins, the unique Righteous Man and the righteous God.

‘He is the propitiation for our sins.’ The word used for propitiation is the same word as that used in the Septuagint for the Mercy Seat which was placed on the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh in the Holiest of All in the sanctuary. It is the place where God meets man in mercy by virtue of the shedding of blood, the blood of a substitutionary and representative offering and sacrifice. And for us there is but one offering and sacrifice, made once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Christ Himself offered Himself up for us (Hebrews 10:12). And it is through Him that we find mercy at the throne of God, and it is He Whose offering of Himself acts as a propitiation for our sins, averting the antipathy of God towards sin.

In the ancient world the significance would undoubtedly be the ‘turning away of wrath’. But in Scripture the wrath of God, while prominent, refers to His aversion from sin and his determination to have done with it, rather than to personal anger which somehow needs to be mollified. It is not personal wrath but holy wrath, the necessary clash of moral light with sinful darkness. Thus the point of propitiation here is the removal of all that makes a man unacceptable to God.


Verses 3-6

‘And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, I have known him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly has the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him. He who says he abides in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.’

The way that we can know that we have come to know Him Who is the Word of life, and Him Who is the light, is in that we keep His commandments. The word to ‘keep’ means not only to do them but also to hold them in our hearts and minds, continually meditating on them because we love to please Him. We treasure them because we want to be like Him. Thus we love His word. And as we obey it we can come to His light without a sense of guilt (the past has been atoned for) and without fear.

The ‘Him’ primarily in mind here must at first sight be Jesus Christ, for we are later told that we should walk as he walked (1 John 2:6). But other references and the use of ekeinos in 1 John 2:6, suggesting a change of person, might suggest otherwise (see below). And anyway it is doubtful if John is making such a clear distinction between Father and Son. In 1 John 1:5 the fellowship is with the God Who is light. In 1 John 2:6 the abiding is in Jesus Christ. But John has emphasised from the beginning that our fellowship is ‘with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3), and the transition from talking about ‘Him’ as referring to God, to ‘Him’ as referring to Christ, is smooth and unobvious, wherever it occurs, because he sees it in effect as referring to the same thing. To walk with the God Who is light (1 John 1:6-7) is to walk with Jesus Christ (1 John 2:6).

Other references to commandment(s) in John’s writings can be found in John 13:34-35; John 15:12 where it is Jesus Who says that He is giving the disciples a new commandment, and in John 14:15; John 14:21 and John 15:10 where Jesus speaks of ‘my commandments.’ That might support reference to Jesus here. Yet Jesus also speaks of a commandment He Himself has ‘received’ from the Father (John 10:18; John 12:49-50; John 14:31; and in the plural in John 15:10). Furthermore, references to ‘His commandment(s)’ occur eight times in 1 John, in 1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 3:22-24; 1 John 5:2-3 (twice), along with one reference (1 John 4:21) to a commandment ‘from Him.’ In two of these instances (1 John 3:23 and 1 John 4:21) the context makes it clear that God the Father is being referred to. Thus for the sake of consistency we might argue that the remaining references to ‘His commandment(s)’ should also be seen as referring to God the Father, including the references here in 1 John 2:3-4. This is open to question, however, and the ambiguity suggests that it would probably not have been seen by John as important. The commandments of the Father and the commandments of Jesus were one.

‘By this we know that we have known him.’ The change from present to perfect indicates that the latter refers not just to the present but to the experience of the past as well. They know Him now because at some point in the past they came to know Him and that experience has continued. And this is evidenced by their ceasing to be lawless and keeping His commandments.

‘If we keep his commandments.’ The ‘if’ represents a theoretical position that is open to being true one way or the other. There are those who will hear his letter read who will not be keeping His commandments, thereby demonstrating that they have not known Him.

Then he adds that those who claim to have come to know Him, (through some mystical rite?), but do not keep His commandments in their hearts and through their lives, are liars. They are showing that they have not really come to know Him, for He is light and they are walking in the darkness of sin. They are demonstrating by their lawlessness that they do not know Him, that they do not have the truth within them. Note the more indirect ‘the one who says’ in contrast with the earlier ‘if we say’. John is distancing these from himself and his fellow Christians.

On the other hand those who do ‘keep’ His word, do hold it in their minds and hearts, and seek to fulfil it, truly have, and will have, the love of God perfected in them (compare 1 John 4:12). It is evidence that God’s love has entered their lives, and is being made perfect within them, so that His love will shine forth in them and from them and through them. God’s love will have done its perfect work in their hearts, and will continue to do so. This connection of God’s love and His people’s responding love through obeying His word will continue throughout the remainder of the letter. One main purpose of God’s love is to produce righteous men.

‘Hereby we know that we are in him.’ Thus the way in which we can know that we are in Him is by the fact that we keep His word in our hearts and live it out in our lives. We ‘keep His commandments’. Like James (and Paul), John has no time for those who consider that they can be Christians without living according to His word. It is not that living according to His word makes them Christians, it is to draw attention to the fact that, if they have become Christians through God’s free grace, the love of God will have truly entered their hearts, and will thus accomplish this within them, because His love will be perfected in them and will do its perfect work. God does not fail in His endeavours.

But if this makes anyone begin to feel doubt about their salvation the remedy is quick and easy. Come to the light and walk in it. Openly admit your sinfulness. And God is faithful. He will justly forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The blood of Jesus Christ His Son will cleanse you from all sin (1 John 1:7). Then go on in your walk with Him, walking in the light.

‘He who says he abides in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.’ This is John’s final conclusion. God is light, and Jesus Christ is the Righteous One, so that the one who abides in Him Who is light, dwelling in His presence and partaking of Him by faith, will necessarily walk as He walked Who is the Righteous One. It is a moral necessity, and no other possibility is mooted. As Jesus Himself had said, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matthew 6:24).

‘To walk even as he walked.’ This involves a study of His life and walk, and thus His teachings too, which would be possible through the reading out of the traditions concerning His life and teachings in the churches. It is to hold within us (to keep) such a view of Him, brought about by meditation on such teaching, that we light live as He lived and (as far as we can) be as He was. Abiding in Him involves such meditation and involves such walking.

‘He abides in Him.’ Abiding is a central theme of this letter. It occurs especially in John 15:4-7 where it has in mind ‘abiding’ in the vine as an illustration of abiding in Christ, thus indicating that abiding indicates the maintenance of permanent, unrestricted, and fully receptive contact. It denotes openness, receptiveness and response. And the idea is found continually in this letter. But the idea is even more widespread, for abiding signifies being continually present with the one in whom the abiding takes place. Thus the Holy Spirit will abide with and in His disciples for ever (John 14:16-17) ensuring the abiding with them of Jesus Himself (John 14:18). The idea is of permanent two-way contact.

So to ‘abide in Him’ is to maintain constant contact, to make constant response, to enjoy a constant loving relationship and to dwell constantly in His presence in obedient awareness of Him through His word, receiving life from Him as the branches of the vine receive life from the vine. And to do this and not to walk as He walked is seen as unthinkable.

When you ask someone ‘do you live there?’ you usually mean ‘do you abide there?’ It signifies permanent residence and presence. Those who are His demonstrate it by permanent residence in God and in Christ.

Note. The question is often asked, does all this refer to being a Christian or to being as it were in a special inner relationship with God? In our view the question is artificial. We must doubt whether John made such a distinction. We suspect that to him one who did not live like this, at least so some degree, was hardly seen as a Christian at all, only possibly as ‘a hopeful case’ which the future would reveal as genuine or otherwise. As emphasised elsewhere, the future would tell. That salvation is freely given in response to faith in Christ is indisputable. That salvation can be received and not be effective in daily life must be severely questioned. If a man is not changed by receiving Christ it must be questioned whether he has really become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

Of course in many cases, especially in an environment where being a Christian is not seen as special, and where Christian standards have become the norm, the inward effect may take time to work out and be obvious. We start as babes and need to grow. But if God’s saving work is taking place within us then it will surely eventually force itself on our attention, and then on the attention of others, and then on the attention of the world. How can it be otherwise? And if it does not, we have to question whether it is happening at all. And no man who is not experiencing God’s saving work can truly call himself a Christian. What John wrote here was to all Christians. By their response they would be known (1 John 2:19). End of note.


Verse 7

‘Beloved, no new commandment do I write to you, but an old commandment which you (plural) had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard.’

Having described them as his ‘little children’ John now addresses them as his ‘beloved ones’. He exemplifies in himself the truth he is exhorting them to. And he wants it immediately clear that he is not bringing to them something new, but something that they had ‘from the beginning’, from when they first responded to Christ. Others may come with innovations but he will bring to them only the true word which was spoken by Jesus and which they received when they were first converted and which has been responsible for all their blessing.

And what is that old commandment? It is what God commanded. Jesus said, ‘for I did not speak from Myself, but the Father Who sent me, He has given me a commandment, what I should say and what I should speak, and I know that His commandment is life eternal. The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father has said to Me, thus I speak’ (John 12:49-50). So it is what He told them. It is ‘the word that they heard’. And what is that word? It is the commandment of eternal life (John 12:50). It is concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). It is His word through Jesus.

It includes the wide scope of the teaching of Jesus seen as included in one commandment, the commandment of eternal life. It is that they must look to Christ as the light of the world, the light of life (John 8:12). It is the word of the cross, that Christ crucified is the power of God to salvation through His work on the cross and through His resurrection (1 Corinthians 1:18 compare 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2; John 6:52-59; Mark 10:45). It is that sin must be abhorred (1 John 1:7-10). It is that they must keep His word and His commandments, His teaching (John 14:10; John 14:23 with John 14:15; John 14:21; John 15:7 with John 15:10) as those who enjoy eternal life. It may be seen as including that they must love one another, although that is the emphasis of a new commandment (John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17). Thus they are to look back to the old foundations that they first received in the traditions about Jesus. Compare here 1 John 3:10 where doing righteousness (which includes loving God and one’s neighbour) and loving one’s brother are two major aspects of the Christian life.


Verses 7-11

The Old Commandment and the New Commandment (1 John 2:7-11).

Here John stresses the need to stand by what they have originally learned and experienced and by the Light that is already shining among them, and not to seek to those who claim to bring new light but only bring darkness, which is evidenced by their failure to love those who are true to Christ.

In interpreting these verses it is easy to jump ahead in the letter and then interpret this old commandment as the command to love one another. But in John 13:34 it is the ‘new’ commandment that is to love one another, (as in fact here in 1 John 2:8), while the ‘old’ commandment’ is the offer of eternal life (John 12:50 compare John 14:31) which leads up to the new commandment, and encompasses the commandments as found constantly in the teaching of Jesus, which connect with this and are referred to constantly (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23-24; John 15:10; John 15:14). It is those who hear His word and follow Him who receive eternal life (John 10:28). Thus while the new commandment is emphasised in John (as one commandment - John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17) His other words and commandments are also much emphasised. The disciples were to observe the whole width of His teaching, not just the commandment to love one another, however important that might be.

So we may see the principle commandment, ‘His commandment’, as the offer of life eternal (John 12:50), which is received by hearing His voice and following Him (John 10:28). Compare 1 John 2:25. This is further proved in 1 John 3:23 where God’s commandment is that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ (and thus receive eternal life). That is then followed, importantly but secondarily, by a second commandment that we need to love one another in accordance with His commandment. So there we have two commandments also (1 John 3:24 a).


Verses 8-11

‘Again, a new commandment I do write to you, which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shines. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.’

But he will now also bring them the new commandment. This is revealed in the new commandment given by Jesus (John 13:34) that they love one another as He has loved them. It is something which therefore, unlike the false teaching they are being offered, is true both in Christ and in them, for He loves them, and they are to love one another (John 13:34). And it comes with the recognition that the true Light is already shining (compare Matthew 4:16; John 1:4-5; John 1:9; John 3:19; John 8:12; John 12:46), and the darkness is passing away. Thus all who are true and who recognise that Light will walk in it and will love their brothers, and will not stumble, nor cause others to stumble, and they will be loved by Him. There will be love and unity among those who walk in His light.

In order to grasp the full meaning of these verses we must read them in the light of Jesus’ teaching in John’s Gospel concerning himself as the Light in contrast with other false light which is only darkness. There He declared Himself to be the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5) and warned that any other light was darkness (compare Matthew 6:23). Only those who followed Him would not walk in darkness (John 12:35). And He warned that those who did not believe on Him as the Light and become sons of Light, would,as here, find themselves walking in darkness and not know where they were going (1 John 2:11; John 12:35-36).

So this is John’s challenge to those who are seeking to lead the churches astray. It would seem possible that they were referring to a light that they offered, a light that could come to men through their teaching, a light coming in the darkness, a new light, a better light, which men must follow them to receive, possibly a light that they claimed was bringing, a new slant, a new truth, a new teaching, a new ‘knowledge’ (gnosis?). It was a light that was little concerned with sin, yes, even denied that it was sin. His reply is that that is not so. There is no new light. The true Light has already come. It is already shining, and the darkness is already on its way out, it is ‘passing away’. Nothing more is needed. No new light is required. Any new light can only lead men astray. All is found in Christ Who is already as a Light among them dispelling the darkness and bringing men into His light. And it is a light that is very much concerned with sin. Thus they must stay with the old truths that they have been taught.

It would also appear that these new teachers had by their teaching brought dissension and disagreement and had aroused hatred in some wayward members of the church who had turned against those who held and proclaimed the old truths, possibly accusing them of keeping this new light from them. Thus he warns that the test of the true light being among them is that they love their brothers who preach Christ truly, who proclaim the light of the world. Not to love them is proof that they have fallen away from the truth.

‘Again, a new commandment I do write to you.’ This is a warning that they take heed to themselves lest the light that is in them be darkness, that they beware of being led astray. The new commandment is that they ensure that they show love to those brothers who are responsible for the churches, who preach Christ truly, thus revealing that they are abiding in the light. For to hate those who truly preach Christ is to love darkness.

‘Which thing is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shines.’ This new commandment he is writing is true in Christ, and true in His people, because they enjoy shared love, Christ’s love for them and their love for one another, and this because darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. He is calling on them to recognise and stand by the truth, that the true Light is already among them and there is no place for anything new. Let them look to the One about Whom they learned from the beginning, and Who is at this time working among them, already bringing light and dispelling darkness. If they are ‘in Him’ they will do so, for in Him this is true. And if they are true to Him it will be true in them too.

‘The darkness is passing away.’ Compare 1 John 2:17 where the world is passing away. Thus the thought is not just that the darkness is going, but that it is transitory and doomed. This darkness is the darkness of sin (1 John 1:5-10), of the power of darkness (1 John 5:19 with Colossians 1:13), of false teaching (1 John 2:11).

‘He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. (He leads no one astray). But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.’ The position of these people is tested by the new commandment which passes its verdict on them. They have come with new light, saying that they are in the light, and yet they do not love the brothers who are faithful to the Gospel and abiding in the Light that is already shining. Thus they are in fact revealing that they are in darkness, as is proved by the fact that they are rejecting the true Light. But those who love the faithful preachers of the Gospel, those who hold to the truth, abide in the Light. They cause none to stumble. They lead none astray.

But those who hate the true brethren prove themselves to be in darkness, and walk in darkness, and do not know where they are going (John 12:35), because their eyes have been blinded by darkness. So he has very much in mind here the words of Jesus in His declaration that He is the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5), and His warning that when they no longer have Him as their light men will walk in darkness and not know where they are going (John 12:35). He warns that this is what is happening here. The true Light is being rejected for the false, and many are going into darkness. And it is proved by their hatred, contrary to Jesus’ commandment, of those who proclaim the true Light. They do not love the truth.


Verse 12

‘I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake (by means of his name).’

John’s tender concern continues to come out. Having spoken of ‘teknia’ (1 John 2:1) and ‘beloved ones’ (1 John 2:7), he here again speaks to them all as ‘teknia’ (compare John 13:33). With the privilege of an old man and an Apostle he is concerned lest in their comparative tenderness of years and experience in Christ these fathers and young men be led astray. So he first reminds them again that they are forgiven sinners because of Jesus Christ’s work on their behalf (1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:1-2). It is for His sake and through what He is (through His name) that they have been forgiven. Thus they enjoy continual forgiveness as they walk with Him (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9). It is the necessary basis of all Christian life that we have been forgiven as chapter 1 has emphasised. This in contrast with those who claim to have no sin. All who are true acknowledge their own moral failure and that they are forgiven ones.

Seeing this as introductory this blessing of being forgiven is thus applied to all, to both the elder and the younger men. If, however, the reference is only to those who are babes in Christ it is a reminder that they have received the first initial blessing of forgiveness on which they must go on to build their Christian lives. But of course in the end all are ‘forgiven ones’.


Verses 12-17

They Know the Father and the Eternal Word and Must Beware of Loving The World (1 John 2:12-17).

Having exhorted them of the need to remain true to Him and to the Word Who ‘is’ from the beginning, and to love those who are true to Christ, he now rejoices in the fact that they are of those who have been forgiven and know both Father and Son. This contrasts with the false teachers who denied the need for forgiveness and sought to introduce lesser lights and to diminish the Son. (Heresy regularly seeks to diminish the importance of sin and the status of the Son, blurring the clear Biblical distinctions). Then he warns his readers of the danger of loving ‘the world’. This refers not to the world of men (as in John 3:16) but to the attractions and allurements and ways of the world which can only lead them away from God and thus lead them astray. The church, which was now established, faced enemies both within and without. He has dealt with the question of those within (and will again do so later) but now he turns his thoughts on the enemies without.

There is a problem here as to how we are to connect the opening verses. Are we to take 1 John 2:12 as introductory, seeing it then as expanded in 1 John 2:13 a dividing the ‘little children’ into fathers and young men, (compare ‘young men -- old men’ in Joel 2:28-29), followed again by a similar pattern in the second series, thus giving three ‘I write’ and three ‘I have written’ phrases which are parallel? Or are we to see a reference to babes in Christ either in terms of teknia and paidia, (or of paidia alone with teknia referring to all), with separate references to fathers and young men, so that in mind are babes, fathers and young men? For gaining the sense it is not really important. In the commentary we work on the basis of the first interpretation due to the otherwise strange order of ‘babes, fathers and young men’. On the other hand it may be that the young men are deliberately placed last because they are the most likely to be affected by the attractions of the world which are then spoken of.


Verse 13

‘I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.’

To ‘the fathers’, the older men, he feels that he need do no more than remind them that they ‘know Him Who is from the beginning’. This latter probably refers back to 1 John 1:1. They seek no new ‘knowledge’ because their knowledge is of One Who pre-existed time itself and has come as the Word of life among them. They are content and settled in Him Who is the true light shining among them. They need to know nothing more.

To the young men he gives the reminder that they have overcome the Evil One (or ‘evil’). They are strong in Christ and have learned to resist temptation, being delivered from the Evil One (Matthew 6:13). This last is true both of their status as having bee transferred from the power of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:2) and of their daily victorious living as they walk in the light. They have learned to stand firm (Ephesians 6:14) and to resist the Devil (James 4:7), and to flee from youthful desires (2 Timothy 2:22). Let them continue to do so. These men are at the forefront of the battle.

The idea of being an overcomer is constant in John’s writings (see 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:4-5). All who are in Christ are ‘overcomers’, (‘whoever is begotten of God overcomes the world’ - 1 John 5:4) although at differing stages, and this is because the One Who has overcome the world (John 16:33) dwells within them and lives through them. They overcome both the powers of evil (here and 1 John 4:4) and the world (1 John 5:4-5), although here both go together, while the whole world lies in the Evil One (1 John 5:19). This overcoming is especially emphasised in Revelation where the battle is revealed at its fiercest (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:12; ev_3:21; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 21:7). Paul also declares that we ‘are more than conquerors through Him that loved us’ (Romans 8:37). Victory is secure in Christ.

Thus all true Christians are overcomers, for the Scripture makes plain that all Christians will be worked on by God (Philippians 2:13) Who will confirm them to the end (1 Corinthians 1:8-9) so that they will be led, sometimes very slowly, through to victory.


Verse 13-14

I have written to you, little children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.’

The change from present tense to aorist is probably stylistic, as he partially repeats what he has already said, although possibly emphasising more the permanence of their knowing. Once again he addresses them all first, as ‘little children’ (paidia - compare John 21:5), and this time reminds them that they know the Father. In the light of chapter 1 the point is that being forgiven and knowing the Father go hand in hand. It is when we come to know the One Who is light and come to His light that we seek forgiveness, and then we come into a fuller knowledge of Him Who is light. The connection of this with the following ‘know Him Who is from the beginning’ then brings together Father and Son signifying that knowing the One involves knowing the Other. They know both the Father and the Word of life, Who are both of eternity. Or the thought may be of the Father as the One Who watches over them from Heaven as His little children (John 5:45) so that they need not live anxiously (Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:25-34). They are forgiven and the Father watches over them in all their needs (this especially if the little ones are to be seen as a distinct group). But the emphasis is certainly on the fact that they know what it is important to know, they know the Father and the Son and the light and the Word of life.

Because they know the Father directly (Who is the Father of every form of light - James 1:17) they have no need of spurious ‘knowledge’ or intermediary ‘lights’. They are in direct contact with Him Who is the source of all things, the pure light, without shadow or lack.

Then in readiness for his coming exhortation he again refers to the fathers and young men. To the fathers he repeats what he has already said. It is all that needs to be said and emphasises that He Who is the light of the world ‘is’ from the beginning, and that they know Him as such. They know Him Who ‘is’ from the beginning. This is the true knowledge. To the young men he brings the reminder of the means by which they have overcome the Evil One. It is by having the word of God (or ‘the Word of God’) abiding in them. For the way to overcome the Evil One is by use of the Scriptures as a weapon of defence and attack (Ephesians 6:10-17) as Jesus did during His temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), and by the indwelling of Him Who is the Word of life Who came from God (1 John 1:1; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17).

Note the connection with the opening verses of the letter. They know the Father (1 John 1:2-3), they know Him Who is from the beginning (1 John 1:1), they know the Word of God (1 John 1:1-2). Thus does he express his confidence in them and for them, and turn their eyes on what truly matters. This is necessary prior to giving them a warning concerning the world, which he later tells us lies in the Evil One, and directing them to continue to do the will of God. Right doctrine is always at the root of right behaviour.


Verses 15-17

‘Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and its desire, but he who does the will of God abides for ever.’

This is possibly to be seen as continuing the address to the young men, although also applying to all. It is they who will be most vulnerable to it. It is not a direction not to love mankind, for God’s general benevolence was towards mankind (John 3:16) and the need to love one’s neighbour was a well established principle (Mark 12:30-33; Romans 13:8-10). Rather the world that is in mind is that which lies in the Evil One (1 John 5:19), that which he rules and controls (Matthew 4:8-9) and deceives. These young men have overcome the Evil One. And it is by means of the activities of the world without God that he will try to win them back. Therefore they must beware.

The ‘world’ that is in mind is the world and its ways, its aims, its ambitions, its desires and its pleasures. That is what they are to beware of. It is not to avoid the world totally, for they must live in it, but to beware of loving it, of being caught up in it and its ways. The Christian is to be in the world but not of the world, salt which counters the world’s putrefaction, light which serves to counter the world’s darkness.

So having concentrated on what they are to set their hearts on, the knowing of the Father, the knowing of the One ‘Whoisfrom the beginning, the knowing of the Word of God, the receiving of forgiveness with all its implications of walking in the light, John now turns their thoughts to what they should not seek to ‘know’, the world and its ways. Indeed love for the world in this sense would demonstrate that they neither loved the Father, nor were filled with the Father’s love, for it is contrary to all God’s requirements.

‘The love of the Father is not in him.’ The Father’s love is directed at His children (1 John 3:1) and enters into them, and the result is that they love what He loves. And what the world loves is not what He loves. The world is going in a different direction. The Father loves righteousness, truth, purity, selflessness, consideration for others, compassion. This is the opposite of what the world loves. And thus the one who loves the world reveals by that fact that the Father’s love is not in him. We cannot love God and mammon,

And why is this? Because what the world rejoices in and craves is the exact opposite to what is of the Father. It craves power, control, position, satisfaction of its desires, illicit sex, greed, gluttony, wealth and more wealth, continuing self-satisfaction, earthly glory, none of which are of the Father, and it grows more and more careless as to how it obtains them. For its aims are totally selfish, and, while even sometimes seeming noble, regardless of God. There is little in them of true self-giving. It controls and manipulates. It revels while others starve. It is the world which is God-dismissing, which takes little notice of God’s will, indeed scoffs at it.

The meaning of the loving of the world is defined in three ways, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the vain glory of life. The first signifies the misuse of wine, wealth, women and song and other human pleasures, where human desires have become prominent and require satisfaction (in John ‘flesh’ signifies being human rather than being particularly sinful - John 1:12; John 1:14; John 3:6), the second the glittering prizes of wealth and honour and fame and position, where the eye is fixed on earthly things and earthly goals, and the third the desire to control and govern in their own name, to be someone, and yet all for their own purposes. Thus they make gods of pleasure, prestige and power. Such attitudes are the direct opposite of all that God is. They symbolise the direct rejection of God’s requirements and law, for the point is that they control men’s decisions and direct men’s lives and lead them into every kind of wickedness, and every form of manipulation, all of which is contrary to God’s commandments. The thought of loving God and their neighbour as themselves is the last thing that they have in mind.

But, warns John, these things are not only unsatisfying, they are passing. The world and its desires, as will darkness (1 John 2:8), will inevitably pass away, sometimes more quickly than we anticipate. They are temporary and not lasting. In contrast those who know God and walk with Him achieve what is permanent. They seek what God wills. They use their wealth for good and for God so as to gain treasure in Heaven and not status on earth (Luke 16:9). They look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). They take ‘pride’ in pleasing God. And he who thus seeks and does the will of God will continue for ever. And the logical contrast is that those who love and follow ‘the world’ will not live for ever. By their ways they forfeit eternal life.

‘He who does the will of God abides for ever.’ In John’s Gospel it is Jesus who repeatedly states that He has come to do the will of the Father who sent Him (John 4:34; John 5:30; John 6:38). This involved considering heavenly aims and not earthly aims, and yet doing so in a way that was very much a part of this earth, and resulted in Jesus’ obedience to the will of God in fulfilling His moral demands and even to the point of death. In the same way in 1 John the author stresses obedience to the will of God by His people, and this by walking and conducting their lives even as He walked (1 John 2:6). Thus while their eyes are to be fixed on heavenly things and not earthly things, and they are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and are to seek to further Heaven’s interests and not to be passionately taken up with their own interests in the world, they are to do so as people living in the world. There is no though of withdrawing from the world or losing touch with the world. The will of God involves right moral behaviour in the world.

‘Abides for ever.’ In John 8:35 Jesus affirmed that the ‘son’ remains in the household forever, and in John 12:34 declared that the Messiah will remain forever. Thus those who dwell in God’s household and who follow the Messiah will also remain forever. Compare John 8:51, “I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.” Thus the one who is doing the will of God has undying life, and by his obedience which reveals his true faith may be assured that he will live forever (1 John 5:13).

The three fold description of the ways of the world, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the vainglory of life compare interestingly with the temptation in the Garden of Eden. ‘The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (as one of the elohim).’ Again the contrast was with the will of God. The choice was obedience to God or sampling that which while attractive was forbidden because of its effects. The same parallel comes in the temptations of Jesus. The desire for bread by a hungry man, the seeing of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory in a moment of time, and finally the vainglorious hurling of Himself from the Temple to demonstrate that He was the favoured of God. And again the contrast was with the will of God. Where Man first failed, Jesus triumphed, and John now calls on His people to triumph in the same way.


Verse 18-19

‘Little children, it is the last hour, and as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now have there arisen many antichrists, by which we know that it is the last hour. 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 openly displayed that they are all not of us.’

Now John addresses his readers as ‘paidia’ as in 1 John 2:13. In 1 John 2:28 he will return to teknia as in 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:12. The aim is probably rather to avoid weary repetition than for any great doctrinal purpose. They are his beloved children in the faith.

‘It is the last hour.’ The idea of the ‘hour’ as a crucial time is regular in John (John 2:4; John 7:30; John 8:20; John 12:23; John 12:27; John 13:1; John 17:1; also Revelation 17:12). The whole ministry of Jesus had led up to the final hour (John 13:1) which began with the Last Supper and led on through the cross (John 12:23; John 12:27) to His final glorification (John 17:1). So Jesus had had His hour, and now the church must face theirs.

To John the final hour had now come in which the final purposes of God would be completed. No one knew at this time how long the ‘last hour’ would last, although both Peter and John saw it as possibly lasting a long time, ‘a thousand years’ (2 Peter 3:8-9; Revelation 20:4). It was in God’s hands, and to God time was insignificant. But by all it was recognised that the coming of Jesus and His death, resurrection and exaltation, had ushered in the last times, the final stage of God’s purposes. It was ‘the last days’ (Acts 2:17), ‘the end of the days’ (Hebrews 1:2), ‘the end of the times’ (1 Peter 1:20), ‘the ends of the ages’ (1 Corinthians 10:11), so that ‘the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7).

‘And as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now have there arisen many antichrists, by which we know that it is the last hour.’ John here wrote after Peter and Paul, and probably after the Book of Revelation. Both Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10) and the Book of Revelation (Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11-13; Revelation 19:19-20) spoke of the final arising of a great Anti-god, setting himself up over against God to be worshipped. And Peter stressed the arising of false teachers who would face dreadful judgment (2 Peter 2). So John now either saw the antichrist as having come or as imminently coming and preceded by his forerunners. There are, he said, many antichrists, any of which might turn out to be the final antichrist, and seemed satisfied that this mainly fulfilled the prophecy of antichrists made by Jesus (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:24) and possibly even those made by himself in Revelation, although both he and Paul spoke of one great antichrist (or equivalent) who would sum up them all (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11-13; Revelation 19:19-20), and was prefigured by the Roman emperors (Revelation 13).

These antichrists were not on the whole great martial figures, but false teachers whose message to some extent aped and paralleled the Gospel, some even pointing to Jesus, but not as both true God and true man. However their sometimes rapid success may well have been seen as about to introduce the reign of Antichrist. The essence of the antichrist was deception and denial of Jesus as the Christ and thus of Father and Son (1 John 2:22-23; 2 John 1:7). But there had of course also been, and would be, emperors of Rome who had and would claim deity, to be gods and sons of gods, or were fervently acclaimed as such by many of the people, especially far from Rome where their divinity was treated seriously, and who when faced with the issue by implication denied that Jesus was the Christ. They too were antichrist.

But here, unlike in Revelation, his concentration is more on the false teachers who abounded and were hindering the churches’ message and establishing their rival widespread groups of adherents, and many flocked to them so that it seemed sometimes as though they would almost swamp the church of Christ. They were constant reminders that the end was imminent and could come at any time, although when they did not know.

‘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 openly displayed that they are all not of us.’ These particular false teachers were men who had become attached to the Christian church, had seemed part of it, but had then left it and, taking those whom they had influenced with them, established ‘churches’ of their own, with their own particular extravagant doctrines which had possibly some resemblance to Christian teaching but without its practicality and down to earth reality, and essentially denied that the man Jesus was truly ‘the Christ’, God’s unique anointed One and only Son. Some possibly taught the reception of an esoteric ‘knowledge’ (gnosis) or a contact with varying succession of lights which lifted men beyond the ordinary, denying the true humanity and full Godhood of Jesus, and many were not concerned with morality. Such ideas would certainly be common later.

But what they were was revealed by the fact that they departed from a church in which at that time the basic doctrine had remained pure, because of the presence of apostolic men. They went out from them because they could not stomach basic Christian doctrine. It was too down to earth, too basic, too tied to earthly things. It was not exciting enough.

They wanted as it were to stretch their wings and introduce fantasy (as the so-called later ‘Gospels’ demonstrate). They did not want someone from God Who as God became man and exemplified and taught the resurrection of the body, and literally died, and called on men to repent of sin and be cleansed, and made strong ethical demands. They did not want to be limited to the life and teachings of a Jew Who had lived in Palestine and had physically been put to death. They wanted to rise above it all into a fantasy world of light, to free their souls with freedom to do as they wanted.

This is of course very much a generalisation, for there would be many forms of differing views as they mingled Christian ideas with those of other religions and philosophies, especially the mystery religions that abounded and strongly influenced men’s thoughts. But one thing was common to most. They departed from the church, sometimes by choice, and sometimes because they were expelled for false ideas by apostolic men who firmly defended certain basic truths. And thus they proved that they were not of the truth.

John has clear views about them. They “are of the world” (1 John 4:5 a), they “have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1), they “speak from the world’s perspective” (1 John 4:5 b), and “the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 c). They offer what the world wants, that which titillates the flesh or the mind. For their teaching does not bring men to obey God and keep His commandments, and live lives of unselfishness and goodness, but stresses either asceticism or laxity, both in order to free them from their fleshly bodies, and without too much emphasis on sin and the need to obey God’s laws as human beings in the flesh. Walking in the true light and living for God among men in accordance with His moral demands, and admitting their sinfulness and seeking forgiveness through the blood of the cross, did not appeal to them.


Verses 18-29

Warning Against False Religion and False Teachers (1 John 2:18-29).

Having warned against the world which is under the control of the Evil One and will stultify their faith, John now warns against false teachings which will destroy their faith. He warns against that which sets itself up as an alternative to Christ, as an antichrist. For an antichrist (‘over against Christ’) is not necessarily someone who is antagonistic to Christ but rather someone who usurps Christ’s place, setting himself up instead of Christ. He may well honour Christ as a prophetic man, but he seeks to put himself in His place as the one to whom men should look.


Verse 20

‘And you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all the things (or ‘you all know’).’

Unlike these men, the orthodox church leaders, who followed and looked to the apostolic teaching, retained the basic truths, and all their true followers did so too. And that was because they had ‘an anointing from the Holy One’. This meant that they ‘know all things’. This last phrase, if correct (see below), echoes John 14:26 and suggests that here John is speaking of the Holy Spirit as having been given to them and as illuminating them and keeping them in the truth. The Holy Spirit was the seal that a man was a Christian (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30), and the revealer of truth (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). We shall now consider the matter in more detail.

The antichrists, by virtue of their title, were in some way anointed ones, for christos means anointed. Thus John reminds the true people of God that they too are anointed ones, and are anointed with One Who is true.

‘You have an anointing from the Holy One.’ The word for ‘anointing’ appears only three times in the New Testament, here and twice in 1 John 2:27. It signifies ‘that with which someone is anointed’. It initially had within it in the Old Testament the idea of the application of oil for the purpose of setting a man aside in God’s service. The question therefore here is whether it refers to such a literal ‘means of anointing’ (that is, the oil or ointment itself which is applied to someone), or an anointing with the ‘anointing’, that is, with the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit replaces the oil.

The Old Testament background to the term includes the use of anointing oil for purposes of consecration, but that that anointing could be connected with the coming of the Holy Spirit on a man is demonstrated in 1 Samuel 16:13. There Samuel anointed David, and the Spirit of Yahweh came on him with power. Even more significantly, in Isaiah 61:1 the coming of the Spirit on the Servant of Yahweh was paralleled with his having been ‘anointed’ in order to proclaim the good news and exercise delivering power. The Spirit seems now to have become the means of anointing, or at least very closely associated with it.

This figurative use is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament. In Acts 10:38 Peter says that God ‘anointed Him (Jesus) with the Holy Spirit’, while in Acts 4:27 the whole group speak of ‘your Servant Jesus Whom You anointed’, a probable reference back to Isaiah 61:1 (compare Luke 4:18), and probably having in mind His experience of the Holy Spirit at His baptism (emphasised in all four Gospels - Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:22; John 1:32-33). This word in Acts 4:27 was followed by the whole group being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. On the basis of these references it seems highly probable that the use of the word ‘anointing’ here refers not to a literal anointing with oil (as in James 5:14) but to an anointing with the Holy Spirit in line with what we have seen above.

This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that 1 John 2:27 speaks of ‘the anointing which you received of Him -- as His anointing teaches you concerning all things and is true and is no lie’. Note the emphasis on the fact that the anointing is ‘received’, that it teaches ‘concerning all things’, and that it is ‘true’, the very antithesis to the lie. This reflects the language in John 14:17; John 15:26 (‘the Spirit of truth’); John 14:26 (‘will teach you all things’); John 16:13 (‘will guide you into all truth’); John 7:39 (‘this spoke He of the Spirit which those who believed on Him were to receive’) and John 20:22 (‘receive Holy Spirit’). Compare also Acts 2:33; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. This is further confirmed by the fact that in 1 John 5:7 it is the Spirit Who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth

Some have suggested that the anointing was to be seen as signifying the word, but it is noteworthy that John in fact did not refer to the ‘word’ spoken at Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-33), his concentration being on reception of the Holy Spirit, and anointing is never actually spoken of as ‘of the word’. But certainly the Holy Spirit was regularly received as a result of the preaching of the word (e.g. Acts 10:44), and Jesus’ reception of the Spirit was accompanied by God’s word from Heaven in the other Gospels. And here in 1 John 2:24 in context there is the thought of the word which they first heard. We may therefore see the anointing as the Spirit coming through the word. For none would doubt that that word came through the Spirit, so that we may see Spirit and word as going together. It was the Spirit revealing God through the word that was the basis of men’s reception of salvation, and was the evidence that they were Christians (Romans 8:9) and the word of the cross was the power of God to salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18). When the Spirit had anointed them it had been through their reception of the word.

Thus what John is saying here is that those who are true believers have an anointing with the Holy Spirit which has confirmed in them the truth through His word so that they have not been led astray. Those who are His have received the Spirit and the word. It should be noted that John says of those who have departed that they ‘were not of us’. Thus while they may well have been in membership of the church he did not see them as ever having been genuine Christians, the implication being that they had not been anointed in the Spirit through the word while the true believers had. The further implication is that those who have been so anointed will be kept in the truth.

‘From the Holy One.’ Of Whom was John speaking when he spoke of ‘the Holy One’? It is unlikely to signify the Holy Spirit because He is never described elsewhere as the Holy One, and had he meant the Holy Spirit he would surely have said so. Indeed the use of the title strongly suggests that it is so used precisely because the anointing is with the ‘Holy’ Spirit.

Thus we are faced with two alternatives. The reference may be to God, or to Jesus. A reference to God has been suggested here because: (1) in the Old Testament there are references to God as “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:4 and often in Isaiah; Psalms 71:22). (2) There is at least one clear reference in the LXX which uses this very phrase (Habakkuk 3:3). (3) In 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13 it is God who gives the Holy Spirit to believers. (4) In the two passages from the Gospel of John which are most parallel to 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27 (John 14:16-17; John 14:26) it is the Father who sends the Holy Spirit.

But it can be argued most strongly that a reference to Jesus Christ is most probable here for the following reasons. Firstly that Jesus is called ‘the Holy One of God’ in Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34, and John 6:69, and is called ‘the Holy One’ exactly as here in both Acts 3:14 and Revelation 3:7. Thus Jesus was well known as ‘the Holy One’, and is so depicted by John. Secondly because in John 15:26; John 16:7 it is Jesus Who is depicted as sending the Holy Spirit. Thirdly because in Acts 2:33 it is Jesus Who is again portrayed as pouring out the Holy Spirit, and finally because 1 John 2:27 speaks of ‘the anointing which you received from Him’ where ‘Him’ seems to refer to Jesus, for the promise of eternal life in 1 John 2:25 was more directly given by Jesus (John 5:24; John 10:28) (although as often in the letter the reference is not absolutely certain. God’s commandment was eternal life - John 12:50). In 1 John 2:28 the reference is definitely to Jesus.

The main point, however, is to stress that the anointing came from the ‘Holy One’, the unique One, the One set apart from and above all others in His distinctive holiness. In the end both Father and Son were the Holy One.

‘You know all things.’ There is a textual problem here in that the manuscripts are divided between ‘you know all things’ (panta) and ‘you all (pantes) know’. Pantes is read by Aleph B sa etc. On the other hand A C vg etc. have the accusative panta. The manuscript evidence may therefore be seen as favouring pantes, but not conclusively. Comparison with 1 John 2:27 favours panta. But it could be argued that 1 John 2:27 and John 14:26; John 16:30 have influenced the change here.

If we read panta the idea is that the Spirit leads them to know all things as in 1 John 2:27. If we read pantes it is that all who have received the anointing will know the truth. Both are in line with John’s thinking.


Verses 21-23

‘I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because (or ‘that’) no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son, the same does not have the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.’

John immediately assures them that he has not so written because he considers them ignorant of the truth, but because he is well aware that they do know the truth because of the anointing that is in them. He is confident that they can therefore discern lies, that is, false teachings, and recognise their falsehood, not giving place to them for an instant.

He then depicts as liars (men who proclaim the lie - compare 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11; 1 Timothy 4:2; Romans 1:25) those who deny that the man Jesus is the Christ, and indicates that by this that he means those who deny the true Sonship of the Son.

Messiahship (Christhood) had by now among Christians gone far beyond an earthly figure. Jesus had been physically raised and established in Heaven as both ‘Lord and Christ’, the highest possible accolade (Acts 2:36). He had been revealed as God’s only Son (John 1:14; John 1:18; John 3:16-18 compare Acts 4:27), set at God’s right hand, the visible expression of the authority of the invisible God. His uniqueness and essential relationship with the Father was now certain. Thus to deny that Jesus was the Christ indicated denying His true Sonship, and by this denying the Father. God as Father was now directly so linked to His relationship to the Son that there could be no acceptance of the Father without acceptance of the Son. Their inter-relationship was now seen as such that it was both or none. The connection of Father and Son in the way John does here confirms that he sees both as of the same essence. To deny One is to deny the Other.

There is no greater lie than to deny the Christhood and Sonship of Jesus. It strikes at the very root of existence, for He is the basis for our existence and for our hope. It is a lie against all that is.

For the confessing and denying of Jesus compare Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; see also John 12:42, but there the thought was of Him being confessed as One sent from God, here it refers to acknowledging His true Sonship. To confess is to declare belief in and to declare loyalty to, to deny is to reject belief in and to refuse loyalty.

‘Whoever denies the Son, the same does not have the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.’ The point here is that not to recognise the Son means that such a person does not ‘have the Father’, that is does not know Him or experience Him or have Him dwelling within (John 14:23), for if he did he would necessarily fully acknowledge the Son, the title indicating that He was of the same being and essence, because of the Father’s witness to Him within. For to the one who is truly a Christian both Son and Father have come to dwell within (John 14:23 compare 2 Corinthians 6:16)


Verse 24

‘As for you, let that abide (remain) in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abide (remain) in you, you also will abide in the Son, and in the Father.’

The way of knowing the truth is to allow to continue to remain in them what they first heard when they responded to Christ for salvation. Then the Holy Spirit came to them and applied the word in their hearts, and if they keep hold of that there will be no danger that they cease to remain in the Father and the Son. This latter idea may mean doctrinally or in spiritual experience. In fact the two go together. As earlier, the secret is to go back to their foundations (1 John 2:7).


Verse 25

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

It is worth making sure that they do so, for ‘He’ has promised eternal life to those who truly know Him. Eternal life consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He had sent (John 17:3). It is therefore bound up in both the only true God and in Jesus Christ as the ambassador of the only true God. This does not necessarily separate the only true God and Jesus Christ. Just as an ambassador may be sent by a government of which he is a part, as its representative, so that he is both an essential part of the government and its representative, so Jesus was sent by the only true God, the Godhead of which He is a part, as the representative of the Godhead. (Compare 1 John 5:20)

But Who is it Who has promised us eternal life? The nearest antecedent is the Father. But the emphasis in the context is on the Son. The ambiguity may be deliberate. In John 5:24 eternal life was God’s gift to those who heard Jesus’ words, which includes responding to them, which meant those who believed Him that sent Him. Thus they were to respond to both the Son and the Father. Such people passed immediately from death to life, and were guaranteed their part in the resurrection (John 5:29). Indeed Jesus Himself gives eternal life to those who hear His voice and follow Him. They are thus revealed as known by Him and given to Him by the Father (John 10:28-29). So the source of eternal life is both Father and Son. And that eternal life is a present reality. As John tells us in 1 John 5:13, we may know that wehave(not ‘will have) eternal life.

Eternal life is a theme of the letter. It came in the One Who was heard, seen and handled, the Word of life (1 John 1:1-3), and consisted of coming to know God as light and entering into fellowship with Him (1 John 1:5-6), and being right with Him (1 John 2:1-2) through Jesus Christ. No one who hates his brother has eternal life (1 John 3:15) because he thereby reveals that he is in darkness, rejects the true witness to God, and is without the anointing (1 John 2:9-10; 1 John 2:19-20) It is given by the Father, and is bound up in His Son (1 John 5:11) so that he who has the Son has life, while he who does not have the Son does not have life (1 John 5:12). It is also given by the Son (John 10:28). It consists of a true spiritual knowledge of God in Christ and in our abiding in Him, enjoying His life within us.

Thus by believing fully in the Son of God we can know that we have eternal life. It is finally defined in 1 John 5:20, which expands on John 17:3, as ‘we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him Who is true, and we are in Him Who is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.’ This is basically declaring that it comes through knowing that the Son of God has come, receiving understanding from Him, thus knowing and being in full relationship with Him Who is true (the Father), by which we are in Him and His Son Jesus Christ, Who are together the true God and bestowers of eternal life.

Elsewhere eternal life is a gift men seek (Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18; John 5:39) and is for those who follow Him (Mark 10:30). It is the opposite of perishing (John 3:15), and comes through participation in His sacrifice of Himself (John 6:54). In Paul, who looks to the grand consummation and complete fulfilment of it, it is always future (Romans 2:7; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:3; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Timothy 6:19; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7). But John sees the present experience as well as the future glory.


Verse 26

‘These things have I written to you concerning those who would lead you astray.’

‘These things’ presumably refers to the whole of the letter as in 1 John 1:4. It is a warning against those who would lead them astray, the ‘deceivers’.


Verse 27

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

John is confident that they will not be led astray because ‘the anointing they have received’ abides in them and teaches them concerning all things. Again we can refer to John 14:26; John 16:13. The Spirit of truth (the anointing) takes of the word and, abiding within them, teaches them the truth, so that they abide in ‘Him’. Thus they need no other teachers from outside. Those appointed to watch over them and minister by the Spirit in the assembly are sufficient. Thus will they receive truth and not Satan’s lie.

The anointing was received ‘from Him’ and they abide in ‘Him’. Again we ask if this is the Father or Jesus Christ. This continual ambiguity suggests that the relationship with Father and Son was seen as so much one that he did not care to distinguish. As he said in 1 John 2:23 ‘he who confesses the Son has the Father also’. However, 1 John 2:28 suggests that we should see the primary reference as to Jesus Christ.

The Christian’s Hope 1 John 2:28 to 1 John 3:1.

That this is a new sub-section is suggested by the reference again to ‘little children’. Each sub-section is opened with such an appellation (1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:7; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 2:18; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:7). Now He turns their thought to the future coming of ‘Him’. He is to be manifested, revealed in His fullness, at His coming. But the very wording also connects it with what has gone before. It is very much a transitional statement.


Verse 28

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

He now calls on his readers to ensure that they abide (remain) in Him. This may certainly inclusively indicate abiding spiritually but the stress is on abiding doctrinally. To abide in Christ is very much here a matter of acknowledging Him as He truly is, and continuing to look to Him as the true Son, so that when that fact is revealed at His coming they may be bold and have no need to ashamed before Him. The two of course go together. Right doctrine when absorbed produces true spirituality.

‘If he shall be manifested.’ John does not doubt that He will be openly revealed, only when that event will take place. One day He will be seen in all His glory (Mark 13:26; Matthew 16:27) as was glimpsed at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). They need to be constantly ready so that if His manifestation occurs they will not be caught out, but be able to boldly face Him as He is, and boldly face His judgment seat. For we too will be ‘manifested’ as what we are.

‘And not be ashamed before him at his coming.’ Ashamed because unprepared and caught in sin and darkness, and possibly specifically because of following false teachers.

‘At his coming (parousia).’ This is the only specific mention of the parousia as such in John. The word indicates His personal presence at His coming in line with the other New Testament writings. John too declares the parousia.


Verse 29

‘If you know (oida - in the mind) that he is righteous, you know (ginosko - experientially) that every one also who does righteousness is begotten of him.’

And because they know Him they know Him as the Righteous One. They know Him as the One Who, because it was His delight, fully kept, and requires the joyous keeping of, God’s will as seen in His commandments and His Law (Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9; Romans 7:22; Psalms 1:2; Psalms 40:8; Psalms 112:1; Psalms 119:16 and often in that Psalm. Note also in Psalms 119 the constant claim to love His Law). Thus they know that one test of who is begotten of Him is that they live righteously, that they ‘do His commandments’, and that those who joyously and gladly live righteously, that is in accordance with God’s Law, do so because they are begotten of Him. True righteousness can only result from God’s begetting. This contrasts with those who struggled to keep the Law in order to gain merit, for whom it was a burden not a joy.

‘Begotten of Him.’ In context this means ‘begotten of Christ’. 1 John 2:28 has specifically had Christ in mind, and 1 John 3:1 opens with a new subject, ‘the Father’. The normal expression for John is ‘begotten of God’ (1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18 see also John 1:12-13). But Jesus could speak of men being ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:6; John 3:8). And He Himself said that as the Son He ‘had life in Himself’ (John 5:26), and that it is His voice that will raise the dead, and those who hear will live (John 5:25), speaking there of the new birth to eternal life (1 John 2:24). ‘Begotten of Christ’ sealed the emphasis that John has been putting on the close working relationship between the Son and the Father. Once again it illustrates how closely John parallels Jesus Christ with God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-john-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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