Summary: Jesus' disciples had come to experience fellowship with God and John was excited about it and wanted to proclaim it to others so that they would experience this fellowship too.
1. Introduction to the letter
Five people in the Bible are mentioned by the name of John: John the Baptist; John the Apostle; John in the family of a high priest; the father of Apostle John and the Hebrew name for the evangelist, Mark.
Though most believe the same person wrote the Gospel of John, the three epistles, and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, some feel that 1st John was not written (as traditionally held) by John the apostle, the son of Zebedee. Some feel that it was written by another John (the elder or presbyter, 2 John 1; 3 John 1). But if we examine the evidence, it all points to John the elder being the same as John the Apostle and the author of this letter.
Date and Place of Writing
The three epistles of John were probably written to churches in Asia Minor while John was ministering in Ephesus. The Epistles of John are usually dated A.D. 80-95. However, the exact date and place cannot be determined with certainty.
There are several themes found in 1 John. The variety of themes in this letter and let us know that it was a pastoral letter meant to be circulated all over Asia Minor and not just directed to any one church
One of the more prominent themes has to do with the Gnostic movement A movement that would be fully developed in the second century, Gnosticism was already beginning to seep into the church.
The teachings of Plato had begun to be entertained by the church and those teachings were responsible in part for the existence of a small but vocal minority who claimed a special "knowledge" (gnosis, Gk.). This group held that this knowledge was not developed in the regular Christian.
This knowledge centered on the concept that the spirit was good and all matter was inherently evil. Since all matter was evil to the Gnostics, they had a problem with the idea that God took upon Himself an actual body in the person of Jesus. The way the Gnostics got around the fact of the incarnation was to teach that Jesus only “appeared” to have a body. To the Gnostics, Jesus was an apparition; a phantom.
Thus John, inspired by the Spirit of God writes in chapter one of his letter:
1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life--
1 John 1:2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
Jesus wasn’t a phantom; He was God incarnate; He was God in the flesh.
Assurance of Salvation
A second important theme in 1 John is the assurance of salvation. If you have ever wondered whether you could lose your salvation after getting it, read 1st John. John lets his readers know in no uncertain terms that they could have eternal life. One of the more notable passages of assurance in is found in chapter five:
1 John 5:11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
1 John 5:12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
A third prominent theme in 1st John is love. The word appears in the epistle more than thirty-five times. One of the most memorable of these “love verses” is 1 John 4:8 where John writes, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
A fourth theme found in 1st John relates to that of proper Christian behavior. The Gnostic philosophy not only had a problem with the body of Jesus but had problems with the existence of the human body.
They believed the human body to be evil and attempted to make it good by depriving it of legal pleasures of life. This was called asceticism.
Related to asceticism was antinomianism, which viewed the body as hopelessly evil. They concluded that there was nothing one could do to make the body good so they worked spirit and allowed their body to do whatever it wanted.
This view of Christian behavior did not take personal responsibility for sin—“it was the evil body that did it” they would say. Thus John writes in 1st John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”