Summary: John gives us five reasons for his writing of the first letter of John.
INTRODUCTION TO FIRST JOHN
Authorship and Date: Most scholars believe that the author of 1 John was the Apostle John. This was the universal belief of the early church. The many parallels of thought in the Gospel of John and the first epistle of John indicate a common authorship. Following Christ’s ascension, John continued in Jerusalem as one of the ‘pillars’ of the church. Prior to the destruction of the temple by Roman General Titus in AD 70, the apostles fled Jerusalem. John fled to Ephesus where he ministered for many years. John lived to a great age and was the last living apostles of the Lord. The Gospel of John, the three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation were probably the last of the canonical Scriptures to be written, probably during the years AD 85-95.
Purpose: Most of the New Testament letters were written to address specific problems. Some of those problems dealt with false teachings. John specifically addresses the issue of false teachers who had separated from the church and who were seeking to lead people away from the truth of the gospel. Such false teachings threatened to divide the church. It seems that these false teachers claimed to have had a special illumination, by which they had been given special knowledge. However, these teachers denied the reality of the incarnation. Many Bible scholars believe that this was an early form of Gnosticism which became full grown in the second century. The heresy introduced by the Gnostics was one of the most dangerous heresies during the first two centuries of the church. The Gnostics claimed:
1. Since all matter was evil, Christ could not have come in the flesh: This was a denial of the incarnation.
2. Christ only appeared to be real: According to this view, Jesus was only a phantom. Later Gnostic writings give no importance to the incarnation, to the crucifixion, or to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3. Special knowledge of truth was more important than living the truth: Since matter was considered evil, how one lived really didn’t matter.
4. Only an elite few could ever attain true spiritual knowledge: This left very little room for the common person.
John makes reference to “the spirit of error” as opposed to “the spirit of truth” (1 John 4:6). In 4:1 he writes, “Many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Some of these false prophets came from within the church itself. “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (2:19). He refers to these prophets as “antichrists,” “the liar,” and “the deceiver and the antichrist.” Sadly, ancient Gnosticism is making a comeback in our day. In The DaVinci Code, Gnostic teachings are becoming popular once again. The antichrist spirit of the ancient Gnostics is also evident in the New Age movement, as well as in other cultic groups. A careful study of the First epistle of John is much needed in our day. In the epistle, John provides four key passages to help us understand his purpose for writing this letter.
• John wrote to promote fellowship: “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. Salvation in Jesus Christ leads believers into a life of fellowship with God, with His Son Jesus Christ, and with our family of faith.
• John wrote that we might be filled with joy: “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1:3-4). Fellowship with God and with our fellow believers fills us with the fullness of Joy.
• John wrote to keep us from sinning: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1). Some in John’s day were claiming to have fellowship with God, yet their lives did not measure up. They claimed to be without sin and refused to acknowledge their sin (see 1:6, 8, 10). Though John wrote to keep us from sinning, he recognized the probability that we will sin. The good news is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is still sufficient for all our sins, past, present, and future (2:2).
• John wrote to safeguard against deceptive teachers: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you” (2:26). The NIV reads, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” The NASB says, “Concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” John deals with what many scholars believe to be an early form of Gnosticism that was just beginning to creep into the church. As we have already seen, the Gnostic teachers denied the incarnation of Jesus Christ. John refers to these teachers as “antichrists” (see 2:18-19; 4:1-4). The best safeguard against such deception is to be thoroughly grounded in the person of Jesus Christ and in the truth of the Word of God.