The epistles make it clear that the author was writing to believers (2:12-14,19; 3:1; 5:13). Early Christian sources tell us that John spent most of his latter years in Ephesus and that the epistle was read in the province of Asia. Since the epistles make no mention of specific locations or names, it is probable that the epistles were meant to circulate among the believers in Asia.
Probably between 85 to 95 A.D.
1. The author states in four places the purpose of his epistle. Try to locate them and record them below.
1:4; 2:1; 2:26; 5:13
False teachers had come out at that time to deceive the people and had even separated themselves from the community of believers (2:19). These teachers also tried to lead the believers astray (2:26).
2. Go through the epistles and record the false teachings and the actions of these teachers.
They denied that Jesus was the Christ (2:22; 5:1,5). They denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh (4:3; 2Jn 7). They claimed to know God but did not do what God commanded (1:6; 2:4; 3:7,10).
To combat these deceptive teachings, the apostle once again proclaimed the word of eternal life to the believers and urged them to remain in the Son and in the Father. He taught them to live a life of fellowship with God that is marked by obedience to God and love for one another. By knowing what it means to be the true children of God, they would be able to discern and guard against the spirit of falsehood. In 2 John, the elder stressed again the command to love one another and warned the believers not to show hospitality to the false teachers. 3 John, which was addressed to a brother called Gaius, seems to suggest a possible division led by Diotrephes and encourages the recipient to be faithful to what is good. So in all three epistles, we can see the threat of false teachings and schisms. The writer aimed to battle against evil and deception while preserving the faith of the true believers.
1. The style of 1 John does not have a linear development found in many other epistles. It constantly repeats and revisits themes that has been mentioned before in the book.
2. The author often drew distinctions of sharp contrasts in 1 John (e.g. light and darkness, truth and lies, children of God and children of the devil, life and death, and love and hatred).
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7).
Survey of 1 John
Although it is difficult to identify a discernible structure in this epistle because of its unique literary style, try to go through the entire book and record a heading for each of the section divisions in chart A.
Our Savior Jesus Christ
The writer of the epistles places utmost importance on faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (4:15; 5:1). Against the beliefs of the false teachers, the author stresses the important fact that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Every spirit that does not acknowledge this truth is the spirit of the antichrist (4:3; 2Jn 7). Jesus was manifested in the flesh as the propitiation for our sins in order to destroy the works of the devil (2:2; 4:10; 3:8), and His atoning sacrifice was for the sins of the whole world (2:2). Through our faith in Christ, we are cleansed by His blood (1:7,9; 5:6) and have received life through Him (5:11-13). God also lives in us through the anointing of the Holy Spirit (2:20,27; 3:24). Not only so, those who are born of God are safe from the harm of the evil one (5:18).
A believer, who has been born of God, keeps God’s commandments and walks as Jesus did (1:7; 2:3-6,29). He does not sin but practices what is right and good (3:6-10; 3Jn 11). He does not love the world or the things in the world (2:15-17). Instead, he purifies himself, just as God is pure (3:3). It is with such a life of righteousness that he truly abides in God (2:6,24).
The righteous life of a believer is rooted in love. God is love (4:8,16) and love is of God (4:7). He demonstrated His love by giving us His Son (4:9,10). If we live in God and He lives in us, we will love one another (4:11,12,16,19). The author makes numerous references to the “new command” given by our Lord to love one another as He had loved us (see Jn 13:34). Loving our brothers whom we can see is the way we show our love for God whom we cannot see (4:20; 5:1). Whoever does not love his brothers walks in darkness and still remains in death (2:9-11; 3:14,15).
Although the word “fellowship” appears only four times in 1 John, the concept of fellowship underlies all three epistles. As 1:3 states, this fellowship is with other believers, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. Love is the bond that brings together the members of the fellowship. Just as God loves us and gave us His Son, we also ought to love one another (4:9-11). With the coming of the antichrist, believers all the more need to remain in fellowship with one another by obeying the truth and not succumbing to evil (4:5-6; 2Jn 9; 3Jn 3). Ultimately, fellowship with the children of God is only possible if we have fellowship with God, and having fellowship with God enables us to receive eternal life (5:10,13, 20). So John urges us, time and again, to remain in God and allow God to remain in us (2:24,27,28).
In the epistles, we see a recurring contrast between the truth and lies. God is true (5:20), and His Spirit is truth (2:27; 5:6). It is through Jesus Christ that we may know and live in Him who is true (5:20). We are to remain in God through His anointing, which is true and not a lie (2:27). Those who obey God’s commandments are walking in the truth (2:4; 2Jn 4). They show that they belong to the truth by loving others with actions rather than words (3:18,19). A liar is one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (2:22; 5:10) and denies his own sins (1:10); he claims to be in God but walks in darkness (1:6,10; 2:4). He says, “I love God” but hates his brother (4:20). He is of the spirit of error because he chooses to listen to the world and refuses to listen to the children of God (4:6).
The word “know” appears more than thirty times in the epistles. According to John, true knowledge is a mark of believers. This knowledge refers to the knowledge of God (2:13,14; 5:20), which is not based on mere claims but on actions (2:4; 4:7,8). The knowledge according to the epistles also has to do with understanding the things of God (5:20). Believers know the truth through the anointing (2:20,21; 2Jn 1). We know love because Christ laid down His life for us (3:16). We know that He hears us when we ask Him (5:15). We know that we have eternal life through belief in the Son of God (5:13). We also know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him (3:2). John also offers tests of spiritual discernment. We know that we know God if we keep His commandments (2:3,5). We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren (3:14 16). We know that God abides in us by the Spirit He has given us (3:24; 4:13). We know that every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (4:2). We know that whoever is born of God does
not sin (5:18).
The coming of the antichrist is a sign of the end time. Seeing the appearance of many antichrists, the author reminds us that the last hour has come (2:18; 4:3). These false teachers are liars and deceivers who try to lead the believers astray (2:22,26; 2Jn 7). We must abide in God so that we will not be ashamed before Him when He comes (2:27,28). If we walk as Christ did and have perfect love, we will have no fear on the day of judgment (4:17-18). We must guard against the deception of false teachings so that we may receive a full reward (2Jn 8). Since we are the children of God, we will be like Him when He is revealed (3:2). With this hope, we purify ourselves, just as God is pure (3:3).
In an age of apostasy and disbelief, we need to be aware of the deception of false teachings. The apostle teaches us to not believe in every spirit but to test the spirits, whether they are of God (4:1). The spirit that denies Jesus’ saving works and refuses to obey the teachings of the apostles is from the devil. It claims to know God but does not live according to God’s word. How then can we guard against the works of the devil in the end times? We must believe in Jesus Christ, who gives us eternal life, enables us to overcome the world, and protects us from the evil one. We must remain in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Such fellowship is not just confession of our faith but obedience to the Lord’s commands. The three epistles help us examine ourselves to see if we actually practice purity and love. We can know that we are true children of God only if we imitate Christ in our daily lives.
Map & Chart
[insert Chart A Survey of 1 John]