by Rev. Julian Duckworth
There are three epistles of John in the New Testament. It is widely thought that they are written by the same writer (or writers) as John’s gospel. Much of the language and many themes are remarkably similar. However, some believe that the author of John’s epistles styled their content to be like John’s gospel. These epistles were almost certainly written shortly after the gospel – so seen to be around 80 to 90 AD – and the opening three verses assert that those writing were eye-witnesses to the person and life of Jesus.
The ‘feel’ of this first epistle of John makes a summary almost unnecessary because the language is exhortatory and fervent throughout. It’s been said that the author writes in circles to build up to a primary teaching point. One feature of the epistle is a series of contrasts: Christ vs Antichrist, light vs darkness, love vs hatred, truth vs falsehood, righteousness vs sin, love of the Father vs love of the world, and the Spirit of God vs the spirit of the Antichrist. The point of these is to be emphatically clear that there are opposing forces and that we, as people in obedience to God, are to know this, choose this and live this. The middle ground is not a position granted to us.
There seem to be three constant themes in 1 John: the need for zeal in the believer, the need for us to stand firm against false teachers, and our need to have reassurance that we will have eternal life.
The Antichrist is mentioned by that name in 2:18, 2:22 and 4:3 (as well as in 2 John v7) and it is clear that the intention is to speak of an opponent of Christ. Through much of Christian history, various actual people or positions have been named as the antichrist or an antichrist, even as late as the 1980s. Spiritually, rather than literally, it seems clear that the ‘antichrist’ is whatever actively opposes the intention, work and power of God. This would include hell, evil, self-will, destructive emotions and the love to have domination over others.
Some turns of phrase which sound very similar to John’s gospel narrative are these: “That which was from the beginning…” (1:1) “…that your joy may be full” (1:4) “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light…” (1:7) “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (2:3) “Again, a new commandment I write to you.” (2:8) “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning.” (2:24) “By this we know love, because He has laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (3:16) “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (4:9) “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (5:4)
Chapter 1 deals with the message that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, and that we are to walk in the light as He is in the light.
Chapter 2 deals with our need to know the Lord and to know how to test that we know the Lord by keeping His commandments. It also distinguishes being in the light and loving his brother, and saying we are in the light and hating his brother.
Chapter 3 deals with the world which does not know God and does not know those who are in God and who have passed from death into life. It emphasises that to love is not in word and speech but in deed and in truth.
Chapter 4 deals with our need to test the spirits who speak because there are many false prophets. From verse 7 to the end of the chapter, love for God and for one another is the dominant theme and it builds up towards verses 17 to 19 which state: “Love has been perfected among us in this” “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” and “We love Him because He first loved us.” Chapter 5 deals with the importance of believing in the Son of God because he who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. In verses 7 and 8 there are two sets of three: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit; the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Understood spiritually, these represent love, truth and life which are cornerstones to this epistle.