Introduction to the Bible - 62 - 1 John

Brief Preface to John’s Three Epistles

by Jim Brown. (see also Jim Brown's persion bio regarding his experience with salvation)

The apostle John, who also authored the gospel of John, wrote three letters around 90 A.D.   Although all three are doctrinal by nature, they are also very personal.  The first letter contains five chapters and John often refers to its recipients as his “little children” (i.e. Chapter/Verse 2:13, 18; 3:7, 18, 4:4, 5:21).

In I John 3:1, the word “sons” is properly rendered “children” in the original manuscripts.  This tells us that John is writing to those who have been “born again” (see John 3:3,7 and I Peter 1:23) and are now considered by God to be children in His family.  Being born again, Peter tells us takes place when we put trust in God’s word about us (Romans 3:23 all have sinned) and about Christ (I Cor. 15:3 – Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures).

The five chapters of John’s first letter are devoted to helping Christians “walk in the light” (I John 1:7).  The whole line of teaching is geared toward helping the children of God maintain fellowship with the Father.  The grounds for forgiveness of sins is declared in I John 1:9 when believers confess their sins to God the Father only on the grounds of Christ’s cleansing blood (1:7) shed at the cross where He was crucified over 50 years before this letter was written.  Having established this foundational truth, John builds upon it with guidelines for Christian conduct and preservation in a world, which he finds contrary to the new spiritual appetites, which accompany being born again.  John cites the Christian’s three chief enemies:  the world, the flesh, and the devil warring against his desire to please God always pointing to Christ as the remedy for his difficulties and his source of joy and hope.

For further study regarding the Apostle John's writings see The Person of Christ - 8 - Sonship in John

In John’s second and third epistles, John refers to himself as an elder.  This suggests he is writing as an overseer of the original gathering of believers in Jerusalem whose beginnings are recorded in Acts 2. It is interesting to note that John has no need to defend his being an apostle like Paul had to since many were still alive at this time who understand that John knew the Lord Jesus personally while he was here on earth.

It may be that the lady of 2 John and Gaius of 3 John are faithful believers to whom he has written in different churches found in locations other than Jerusalem, however the spiritual tenor of his letters are as an overseer addressing to faithful believers during a time of the decline of all churches.  Both letters are written primarily to warn and instruct regarding false teachers who were already among the Christians.  John encourages both of these individuals even as he would encourage believers today to hold fast the truth of scripture no matter how devious, cunning, or overbearing these new false teachers might be.  Since all the other apostles were martyred, John lived at least 20 more years beyond them to see the day Paul spoke of in his second letter to Timothy.  Paul writes (2 Timothy 4:3-4) that sound doctrine (teaching) will not be tolerated and the truth will become repugnant to those who hear it.

In conclusion, John is interested in seeing the joy of God’s children maintained, in seeing them grow spiritually, and he desires their protection from evil and error through recognition and avoidance of each.  The continual anecdote for the variety of ills faced by Christians is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and the truth that He is the Son of God.  He encourages the pursuit and maintenance of God’s truth while continuing to obey His greatest commandment:  To Love One Another.  There is a three word verse perhaps the first one children learn which is found in 1 John 4:8 and it says simply “God is Love”.  This powerful truth permeates all of John’s writings, whether in the 21 chapters of the Gospel of John or in these three letters written toward the end of John’s life while exiled on the island of Patmos. He was exiled for the same reason the Lord Jesus was crucified:  The truths about man and God could be tolerated.