The 3 epistles of John are often studied together as they are inter-related. The first book opens the depths of spiritual realities, which the other two illustrate. We will make a few comments on the style and characteristic of the 3 books but otherwise will look at them separately.
John's thought and expression are the opposite of Paul's. Paul was lively and argumentative in presenting the truths of God. John was contemplative and the truths come by intuitive perception rather than by a reasoned conclusion. His method is mystical rather than logical. The truth is confirmed by experience rather than demonstrated by argument.
John's style of profound thought and simple language grips all those who read them. The ideas he brings forth are among the deepest mysteries of revelation. These include human relationship to God, the devil and the world. He deals with the incarnation, atonement, judgment, the Godhead in this manner. He states these things using simple words and construction. "God is love", "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin" are simple expressions in human language. There are not independent clauses, relative clauses or involved construction, just simple straight forward sentence structure. Yet they are powerful statements that cause deep thought.
The simple sentence structure involves repetition for the purpose of emphasis. He constantly reiterates to make the impression he is seeking. They are not wearying but do in fact leave an impression. The rhyme of his simple sentences, charm the ear, fixes itself in the memory and eventually finds its way into our hearts.
1 John is called a "catholic" or "general" epistle. There is no special superscription. It is not addressed to a particular church, but to the church at large. It is most likely that the letter circulated among the churches of Asia, and John probably had their needs in mind when he wrote it. The teachings and exhortations of the book are not confined to them, nor to the church of that time. The doctrines and warnings which are contained in the book are as suitable for the church today as they were to the church of Ephesus in John's day.
The problems that the church faced, which 1 John was written to counteract, was a form of gnosticism. This was a heresy that was the most dangerous enemy of the church up to the close of the second century. It was a philosophy of religion rather than a single system. There was a form of dualism that was beginning to take root. It held that matter is the source of evil and the spirit was good, and the two could not have an enduring relationship to each other. Salvation was attained by escaping from the realm of matter into the realm of the spirit. There were many ways of escape, but the main one was through knowledge. It was through knowledge a person could be released from his earthbound chains of matter and enter into the heavenly apprehension of truth. This knowledge (Greek gnosis ) gave the philosophy its name. The gnosis could only be attained by those who were initiated into the inner secrets of the group. The Gnostics teaching was to form a disorganized but cohesive group bound together by rites and common thinking rather than by officers and societies.
If the material body was evil and the spirit was pure then the infinite pure Spirit of God could not have anything to do with the body. It would be unthinkable for such a union to happen. One solution to the problem which they offered was what is called Docetism which comes from the verb doker meaning "to seem". Docetism taught that Christ was not really human but was a phantom like spirit that only appeared human. The other solution proposed was called Cerinthianism named after a first century premillennialist named Cerinthus, who was the chief proponent of the view. He held that the Christ spirit did not inhabit the human Jesus until the baptism and it left him before His death on the cross. At His baptism the Christ spirit descended upon Him and never fully united with the human Jesus.
Both Docetism and Cerinthianism would have destroyed Christianity if it had become the standard doctrine. Docetism made Jesus an illusion, a ghost who had no real existence, but only appeared to man. Cerinthianism had a strange contradiction out of the personality of Jesus. It could never be ascertained with certainty whether the human Jesus or the Christ spirit was speaking or acting.
Another heresy that came as a result of gnosticism is that of antinomianism. The soul and body has nothing to do with each other so the soul is not responsible for the deeds of the body. The body can whatever it pleases. Sin is an inherent quality of the body's existence. The soul does not sin, therefore "I" do no sin. The result of all of these varieties of views was that knowledge not love is the highest virtue.
These heresies may not have been clearly developed at the time of the writing of 1 John. The language of the book indicates that some form of gnosticism was at least beginning to infiltrate the church. John makes it abundantly clear that the Jesus whom He preached was audible, visible and tangible (1:1). Those who denied the Father and the Son were antichrist (2:2). Anyone who denied that Jesus was come in the flesh was not of God (4:3). It seems that the errors being taught were largely of the Docetic gnosticism variety.
1. The book contains 5 chapters consisting of 105 verses.
2. The book does not bear any name of definite and indisputable indication of the writer. However the authorship is not really in doubt. The writer is the Apostle John, the writer of the fourth gospel.
The internal evidence demonstrates a similarity in vocabulary between the epistle and the gospel. They contain such expressions as light, love, abide, lay down one's life, Paraclete, Saviour of the world, begotten of God. Both books have the same simple, direct Hebraic style using similar types of parallelism and sentence construction.
External evidence is both early and substantial. Polycarp, Papia, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, the Muratorain fragment, the Peshitta Syriac, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria and Eusebius all give testimony to the authenticity of the epistle and its Johannine authorship.
3. The date of the writing of the book cannot be ascertained with certainty. It is believed that it was written later in John's life. The tone of the book is fatherly and seems to be that of an older man writing to a younger generation. We reject the common proposed date of A.D. 85 - 95, with the general conclusion around A.D. 90. John would be at least 95 or 100 years old, perhaps older, which while possible is unlikely. If he wrote it in the A.D. 60's he would be over 60 or perhaps 70, which in those days would be very old and would fit the tone of the letter. If it was written about the time he wrote the gospel of John he would be considerably younger but still could be a father figure to the up and coming leaders of the church.
4. Like the date there is no certainty as where it was written from. Generally it is believed that John was at Ephesus when he wrote the book.
The theme of the book is fellowship in the family of God.
Christ is seen as the Word of Life, the Advocate, the propitiator, the Divine Son of God and the Messiah.
The key words are fellowship, know and love. Other important words are blood, born, light and darkness.
1 Jn. 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto 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 writes this book to warn against false teachers, error and to condemn it.
2. He writes so that those who are true believers and the children of God can be identified.
3. He writes to bring peace and joy to the true believers.
4. He writes to guard them against deception and sin.
5. He writes to strengthen their faith in Christ.
6. He speaks of what we are and what we have received in Christ.
7. He gives assurances of eternal life to those who are the faithful and maintain fellowship with God.
Events and Characters
1. He begins directly by showing the reality of the physical Jesus of whom he bore witness. It is in Him that we have been turned from darkness to light and have fellowship with God. He forgives us by the blood of Christ upon confession of our sins. When we sin Christ is our lawyer because He, by His sacrifice, appeased the judgment of God. If we abide in Him we should walk as He would walk that is in love for the brethren. As children our sins are forgiven, as fathers we have known Him, as young we have overcome. The love of the Father crowds out the love of the world. The world passes away but doing the will of God causes us to abide forever. Antichrist is part of our existence because they went out from because they were not a part of us. To deny Jesus is to reject God, to have Him is to have God. In Him we have eternal live and will not be ashamed at His coming. We do what is right because we are born of Him.
2. The Father has loved us and called us the sons of God, and when He comes we will be like Him. Therefore we cleanse ourselves. We do not practice sin, for those who do are of the devil. If we do not practice righteousness or love our brothers then we are not of God. Hate for our brothers is murder and we do not have eternal life within. Just as Christ laid down His life for the brethren so we are to lay ours down as well. To have the means to help a brother in need and refuse to do it shows a lack of the love of God.
3. We are to try the spirits for there are deceiving spirits in the world. The one test that reveals them is their view of Jesus. If they deny He is God in the flesh they are of antichrist. We have overcome the world because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Whoever knows God hears the words of truth so we can discern the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Love is of God and it was shown to us by God sending His Son into the world to be an appeasement for our sins. Therefore we should love one another. Those who confess Jesus as the Son of God dwell in the love of God, and God is in them. This love is matured and casts out fear. If we do not love the brother we have seen how can we love God whom we have not seen?
4. Believing that Jesus is the Christ and loving Him means we keep His commandments. When we are born of God we overcome the world. The Spirit gives witness to the truth and if we receive the witness of human beings, all the more we should receive the witness of God. We have eternal life in His Son. Therefore, if we ask according to His will we have what we ask. If we see a brother taken in a sin we are seek his restoration. Those begotten of God keep themselves and do not practice sin. We are of God but the world is in wickedness. Christ has come that we may know God and be in Him and in His Son which is the true God.
Lessons to Remember
1. The gospel story has been well witnessed and we can be confident in its truth.
2. We have fellowship with God as we walk in His light.
3. If we say we do not sin we lie, but when we sin we have a defender in the presence of God.
4. If we know and love God we will keep His commandments.
5. The love of the world is not only destructive it shows we do not truly love God.
6. Those who deny that Jesus is come in the flesh are of the spirit of antichrist.
7. We are taught by the anointing we have received.
8. When Christ comes we shall be like Him.
9. Hate is equal to murder.
10. We are to try the spirits of those who minister because there are false spirits in the world.
11. It is His love that bought us, not our love.
12. We must know the will of God if we are to have our prayers answered.
I. God is Light 1:5 - 2:29
A. Walking in the Light 1:5 - 10
B. Christ Our Advocated 2:1 - 11
C. The Family of God 2:12 - 17
D. Christ and the Antichrist 2:18 - 29
II. God is Love 3:1 - 4:21
A. Prepared for His Coming 3:1 - 3
B. Two Families 3:4 - 12
C. The Love Life 3:13 - 24
D. Spirit of Truth and Error 4:1 - 10
E. Abiding Love 4:11 - 21
III. God is Life 5:1 - 21
A. Life in the Son 5:1 - 12
B. Confidence 5:13 - 21
I. Introduction: Life's Historical Manifestation 1:1 - 4
II. Certainty Through Walking in the Light 1:5 - 2:29
A. In Personal Spiritual Conduct 1:5 - 2:6
B. In Social Relationships 2:7 - 11
C. In Separation from the World 2:12 - 17
D. In Adherence to the Truth 2:18 - 29
III. Certainty Through Abiding Love 3:1 - 4:21
A. The Ethical Proof of Love 3:1 - 12
B. The Social Proof of Love 3:13 - 24
C. The Theological Proof of Love 4:1 - 6
D. The Emotional Proof of Love 4:7 - 21
IV. Certainty Through Exercise of Faith 5:1 - 12
V. Conclusion: The Resultant Certainties of Life 5:13 - 21
The background to the Epistle is much the same as that of 1 John. The letter is addressed to "the elect lady and her children" so it is more personal. The translation of the salutation is not clear because it can be rendered "the lady Elect", "the elect Cyria" or as more commonly done "the elect lady". It depends whether or not one sees a proper name in the greeting. It is difficult to know whether the addressee is a person or is used figuratively for the church whose members are her children. If it was an individual that is meant then questions arise as to her status. She may have been a home owner in whose home the Christians met yet of this there is no certainty. Jews often called Zion their mother and was so called by Paul (Gal. 4:26). Some such as Westcott say that the problem of the address is insoluble with our present knowledge. More recent commentators have not produced any more knowledge on the subject. Commentators such as Hendricks felt that it was addressed to a particular congregation in Asia Minor.
There are those on the other side who feel that the idea of a particular congregation is taking it too far, and something artificially imported. They feel that the letter is too small to be an appropriate occasion to use such an allegory. Such an allegory would have fit the first epistle better. The third epistle they say was written to an individual so this was also. They feel there is no difficulty if one understands the lady to be an individual.
There can be no certain answer to the problem. The main thing is that it was written to that one or those who were in danger by false teachers. She or they are warned to be on guard in order not to be led into error. There had been division in some churches and the heretics had withdrawn from their own group. Some of them had become itinerant teachers seeking to enter into smaller churches, that were vulnerable because they were immature and weak. There is here a warning against such people and instruction that they are not be welcomed.
1. The epistle contains 1 chapter of 13 verses.
2. The author is the Apostle John, who was the author of the Gospel and the other epistles of John.
3. Like the First Epistle the date cannot be ascertained with certainty. It was probably written later in John's life yet he was young enough to anticipate travelling. Generally it is believed that the three epistles were written around the same time. We reject the A.D. 85 - 95 date for reasons already given. If he wrote in A.D. 60's he would be in his 60's or 70's and could write as an older man. If he wrote it about the time of his gospel he would be considerable younger and that would make travel easier.
4. The book probably was written from Ephesus where the author was pastoring the church. There is no clear evidence as to where the book was written from.
The theme of the book is love for one another as a protection against false teachers.
Christ is seen as the Son of God, and God come in the flesh.
The key words are love  and truth .
2 Jn. 1:5 And now I beseech thee lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning that we love one another.
1. It was written to encourage the recipients in Christian love.
2. It was given to warn against heresy.
3. A main purpose for the writing of he book would be to warn against entertaining or blessing heretics.
4. It was warning that by following deceivers they could lose the rewards that belonged to them as they followed Christ faithfully.
Events and Characters
The salutation expresses his love for the addressee and prays God's mercy and peace upon them. He rejoices that they continue to walk in the love they had been given and commanded to follow. There are deceivers who deny the deity of Jesus but they are antichrist. If the Christians are taken in by these they are in danger of losing the things they have received and their ultimate reward. Those who do not abide in truth, do not have the Father or Son and we are not to receive or bless them. To bless such a one is to be a partaker of his sin. He has much more to say and hopes to see her/them at that time.
Lessons to Remember
1. Love is a command and if we are in Him we will willing obey that command.
2. There are deceivers who are out to destroy what God has given and promised.
3. We are not to entertain those who are deceivers or we are a part of their evil work.
I. Walk in Truth 1 - 4
II. Love One Another 5 - 6
III. Receive Not Deceivers 7 - 11
IV. Find Joy in Fellowship 12 - 13
I. Salutation 1 - 3
II. Injunctions 4 - 11
A. To Love 1 - 4
B. To Obedience 5 - 6
C. To Vigilance 7 - 9
D. To Refusal of Error 10 - 11
III. Conclusion 12 - 13
Feed Yourself Students:
Before the next lesson do the following:
1. Read through the Books of III John and Jude three times each.
2. Pick a verse a day from one of these 2 books and do a devotional meditation on it.