by Rev. Julian Duckworth
The second epistle of John has aspects to it which make it possible or likely that it was written by the same author as 1 John. It is more widely believed that the same author wrote 2 John and 3 John, both of which are the shortest books in the Bible. The overall message of this epistle of only thirteen verses is to walk in truth, obey Christ’s commandments and beware of those who deceive.
The stated receiver of this epistle is to the elect lady and her children, referred to in verse 1. This may be understood in several ways. It may, as some believe, have been a particular faithful lady within the Christian community who, along with her children, was a suitable person to whom to address this epistle. On the other hand, it may be a metaphor for the whole Christian community seen and shown as a ‘lady’ who would represent the Church and her ‘children’ represent members of this community. This is supported by the closing salutation: “The children of your elect sister greet you.” (verse 13)
A third and more spiritual view is that the lady represents our love, worship and devotion to God. This view would parallel the biblical idea of God and the church (the church within us) to be seen as the Bridegroom and the Bride.
The other major feature of this epistle is a warning against two strong heresies that were present in the early Christian Church; Docetism and Gnosticism. Docetism is the idea that God cannot physically incarnate and that Jesus Christ was an apparition in spirit only of the divine presence. Verse 7 mentions that “many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
The other heresy – which is not specified but would be generally included – was the strong influence of Gnosticism on early Christianity. Gnosticism means secret knowledge or ‘gnosis’ and it held the view that everything said about God, about incarnation, about the religious life and its purpose is spiritual rather than actual. Gnosticism sought to eliminate ignorance, Christianity sought to eliminate sin. It was – and still is – a strong influence on the Christian teaching of God as the Word made flesh. In 2 John, obedience and faithfulness to walking in the commandments, walking in the truth, abiding in the doctrine of Christ is strongly brought out. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (verse 10 and 11).