1 John

– Introduction: Eternal Life and its Manifestation 1 John 1:1 – 2:11
– Eternal Life: Its Manifestation and Fellowship 1 John 1:1-4
– Light: God’s Nature and Our Fellowship in It 1 John 1:5-10
– Sin in the Believer’s Life, The Advocacy of Christ, and Its Basis 1 John 2:1-2
– Practical Characteristics of Eternal Life: Obedience and Love 1 John 2:3-11
– Parenthesis: Eternal Life in Various Stages of Maturity 1 John 2:12-28
– The Whole Family: Sins Forgiven 1 John 2:12
– The Outstanding Characteristics of Fathers, Young Men, and Babes 1 John 2:13-27
– The Whole Family: To Abide in Communion 1 John 2:28
– Characteristics of the Family of God 1 John 3
– The Children of God Practice Righteousness 1 John 2:29
– The Father’s Love and Our Relationship as Children 1 John 3:1-3
– Christ’s Separation from Sin, and Our’s 1 John 3:4-6
– The Devil’s Family and God’s Family 1 John 3:7-12
– Hatred and Love 1 John 3:13-17
– Reality Before God and Obedience to His Commandments 1 John 3:18-24
– Truth and Love 1 John 4
– Discerning Truth and Error 1 John 4:1-6
– Love in the Family of God 1 John 4:7-21
– Culmination and Conclusion 1 John 5
– Characteristics of God’s Children: Love, Obedience, Faith, Victory 1 John 5:1-5
– Three Witnesses in One that God Has Given Us Eternal Life 1 John 5:6-12
– Conclusion 1 John 5:13-21
Author. The author of the three epistles of John is not mentioned, but the style and themes of the epistles are similar to the gospel, pointing to a common author.

But how do we know John wrote the gospel and the three epistles? The author must have been one of the twelve apostles as he was present at the Passover supper where only the twelve sat down with our Lord. The gospel shows on multiple occasions a connection between Peter and the author (John 13:24; John 18:15; John 20:2). One disciple that was closely connected with Peter is Andrew (his brother), yet the author couldn't be Andrew because the gospel mentions him by name (John 1:40; John 12:22) while referring to the author as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". Of the twelve, seven are ruled out because they are mentioned by name: Bartholomew (Nathanael), Philip, Andrew, Peter, Judas (Thaddeus), Thomas, and Judas Iscariot. This leaves us with five disciples unnamed: James, John, Matthew, Simon Zelotes, and James the son of Alpheus. When compared with the synoptic gospels we see Peter often in special company with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It would naturally tend to limit the identity of the unnamed author to either James or John, the other two disciples in the familiar trio. The gospel never mentions James or John by name, and only once refers to them as "the sons of Zebedee" (John 21:2). This would leave them both open as candidates. But then, James was killed by Herod (Acts 12) long before either the gospel or the epistles were written, leaving us to conclude that the surviving brother John was the unnamed author of the gospel and also the epistles that bear a striking resemblance to it. Further, the author's character is revealed in the way he graciously refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". The same disciple was "leaning upon Jesus' bosom" (the place of affection) at the Passover supper (John 13:23). The dying Savior committed the care of His mother to him (John 19:26-27). It is fitting that this same disciple, characterized by nearness to Jesus and the enjoyment of His love, should be used to write about eternal life, the nature of God, and Divine love.

Historical Context. John was the last of the New Testament writers, writing around the year A.D. 90. Paul warned of the apostasy of the Christian profession in the latter times, when “depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). The apostle John began to write when this state of things had come to pass. Now looking back through the lens of Church History we can see that the evil doctrine creeping into the early church was that of Gnosticism. To meet the error that was being brought in by the “deceivers”, “liars”, and “antichrists”, John writes this first epistle. He writes in a time when the church was in ruin; already the “last hour”. John brings out that which is eternal and untouched by the ruin of what God has committed to man’s hands. Enjoyment of fellowship with Divine Persons as a present possession is ours no matter what the circumstances because we have the Son. What a tremendous resource!
Purpose of the Epistle. The theme of all of John’s writings is eternal life, whether in the gospel as the presentation of the Person who is Eternal Life, or in the epistle the fruits and proofs of eternal life as manifested in believers. We could broadly summarize the epistle by saying that John describes (1) the manifestation of eternal life (the “fruits”) in those who believe on the Son of God, as well as (2) various demonstrations (the “proofs”) that show what eternal life is as possessed by the believer. There are several stated reasons why the epistle was written:
  • Fellowship. That we might be brought into fellowship with the apostles, and therefore with the Father and Son; “we report to you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
  • Joy. That we, as a result of this fellowship, would have fullness of joy; “these things write we to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).
  • Holiness. That we might not carry on in a path of sin; “these things I write to you in order that ye may not sin” (1 John 2:1).
  • Assurance. That we may know that we have eternal life as a present possession; “these things have I written to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Another reason the epistle was written was to warn the saints of the error of Gnosticism; “These things have I written to you concerning those who lead you astray” (1 John 2:26). John gives a number of tests whereby the claims of professing Christians could be proven to show who really had eternal life, and who was making an empty profession. These tests are often prefaced with “if we say…” or some similar expression. It isn’t that the saints were to present these “tests” to themselves, but rather that they would know what eternal life in the believer is, and this knowledge would help the saints in being preserved from evil doctrine and its proponents. In this epistle, the true believer is always said to “know” what is true of him, while the false professor is boasting, claiming, or saying these things about himself, while his practice betrays the opposite.
  • The claim to fellowship with God tested; “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6).
  • The claim to sinlessness tested; “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).
  • The claim to perfect righteousness tested; “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10).
  • The claim to know Christ tested; “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4).
  • The claim to abiding in Christ tested; “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:6).
  • The claim to being in the light tested; “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” (1 John 2:9).
  • The claim to love God tested; “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Applicability to Today. The fundamental error that pervaded John’s day is still around us today: to modify, twist, or reinvent the Person of Jesus into a form that is more palatable to man in the flesh. It can range from isolated cases to full scale pseudo-Christian cults. For instance, many have made Jesus to be basically nothing more than a figurehead of love, giving license to a life of self-pleasing and sin. And there are countless other perversions of Christ (“another Jesus”, 2 Cor. 11:4). These are really idols according to John’s epistle (1 John 5:21), analogous to the “graven images” that were prohibited under the law.
The Abstract, or Characteristic.
John writes in the abstract, i.e. he gives us what is core and characteristic. Not understanding this could lead to a wrong conclusion from some of the things John says, if taken in isolation, or reasoned backward. The truth about eternal life, as we have in 1 John, when presented abstractly causes us to see the real essence of that life. Abstract statements give us the principle characteristic of a thing, rather than a specific case. A few examples of abstract statements would be: ink stains, cork floats, poison kills, fire burns. There may be examples where an external force or circumstance causes these things to behave abnormally, but those behaviors are not characteristic of the substance. John takes of three features of eternal life – light, life, and love – and described them in abstract or characteristic terms. He doesn’t consider the outburst of the flesh in a believer, but what characterizes eternal life in a believer.1 There are certain characteristic features that will always be seen in eternal life, and this is what we mean by “abstract”. As a result of this approach to laying out the truth, John often states things in the absolute; i.e. things are black and white, good or evil, and no middle ground is entertained.2 This causes some to misunderstand the meaning of John’s writings, because they do not understand his style.
John and Paul. Paul’s doctrine sets the believer before God in Christ’s place. John’s doctrine sets God before the believer as revealed in the Son. These two lines of doctrine complement each other perfectly as two sides of the same coin!
Common Words. There are a number of words that characterize John’s writings in general, but especially 1 John. This word cloud is based on the text of 1 John.

The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge. The word is used by historians to describe a school of thought. Gnosticism arose from a group of evil workers who claimed to have higher light, special spiritual knowledge, or “secret wisdom”. This movement began in the days of the apostles, and continued into the 5th century. Before John died, the seeds of Gnosticism had been sown; perhaps even before Paul's death (1 Tim. 6:20). John’s epistles are written to defend against the inroads of Gnosticism (2 John 1:7,9). Peter warns of their false teaching, and Jude warns of its moral effect on the Christian testimony. Gnosticism is responsible for not just one heresy, but seven or eight. What is it? In this mystical system, the spiritual world was good, and material world was evil. They rejected the incarnation, because it connects the human with the divine. The Gnostics would try to separate “Jesus” from “Christ”, by making Christ an emanation (a shining out from a source) from God that never truly became flesh, or else was united to a mere man named Jesus at his baptism, but returned to God before Jesus’ death on the cross. In doing so, this evil system annulled the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. The New Testament anticipates this irreverent and wicked system of doctrine by stating the simple truth of Christ's Person and work.

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  1. The Apostle is like an analytical chemist, but of a spiritual order. He is resolving things into their primitive elements and he is showing us what are the essential properties of those elements. He is not asking us to think of all the combinations and mixtures in which the elements are found in the ordinary way. – Hole, F.B. Overcoming. Scripture Truth Vol. 29, 1937, page 260
  2. Another thing to be remarked is this, that all John’s statements are absolute. He never modifies them by bringing in the difficulties or hindrances that we may have in the body. “He that is born of God,” he says in chapter 3, “does not commit sin.” He is speaking there according to the very essence of the nature. The divine nature cannot sin. It is not a question of progress or degree, but “he cannot sin because he is born of God.” “He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not,” chap. 5. The wicked one touches the Christian often; but he never can touch the divine life: and John always states it in its own proper absoluteness, according to the truth itself. – Darby, J.N. Notes on the First Epistle of John. Collected Writings, vol. 28, p. 214