A Timely Study
The Epistles of John
by Chuck Missler
The early church in the first century was under attack from both the inside
and the outside. So what has changed? It should not surprise us that the Holy
Spirit has anticipated every conceivable form of attack and diversion, and the
three epistles of John are full of insights that are timely for each of us - at
the personal level as well as the corporate. John, the "beloved disciple"
1 and one of the inner circle,2
was the author of five books of the New Testament: the Gospel of John,
Revelation and three very unique and distinctive epistles: I, II, and III
John. Let's examine these remarkable letters in reverse order.
This is a brief, practical letter in which three Christians appear:
Gaius, the encourager, to whom it is addressed; Diotrephes, the self-exalting
dictator; and Demetrius, a role model to follow. In this very short note
we find valuable encouragement, timely warnings, and critical insights for own
current assemblies. (Our expositional notes also include an appendix on
the "most painful sin": gossip.)
This is a mystery letter:3 The letter
is addressed to "the Elect Lady," and her children. Kuria is a feminine proper name; but evklekth
is a strange construction, never assigned to
any other individual in the New Testament as a single predicate.
4 There are two prevailing views among the abundance of
expositors as to whom this letter is addressed: 1) to the church at large, and
2) to a prominent individual within the church.
But there is a third possibility. Who would be the most "Elect Lady" in
the entire Bible? To me, the most likely prima facie suggestion (which,
however, is not even discussed among most commentators5 )
would be that the recipient of this intimate letter is the most "elect" lady of
all women, the very one that Jesus Himself entrusted to John's personal care:
Mary, the mother of Jesus!6
In fact, it is surprising that Jesus didn't consign her to one of her other
four sons. Jesus was raised among a family of at least seven: five
brothers and two sisters.7 James and Jude became
believers after the resurrection, and, in fact, each wrote the books in the New
Testament that bear their names. Jesus appeared to James after His
resurrection.8 If our surmise is correct-and it
is only a surmise-the others probably also became believers.
9 And Mary did have a sister as alluded to in v.13.
10 We know so little of her subsequent history from
the Scriptures; there are only minimal allusions in the Book of Acts.
11 She apparently remained in the care of John in his
retirement in Ephesus.
Obviously, most of what is commonly published by the Roman Catholic Church
has been contrived to promote a number of doctrinal heresies.
12 Most Biblical believers, from their revulsion to
the tragic and heretical deification of Mary, tend to disregard her altogether
and ignore her situation and predicament. (We cannot miss the ostensibly
dismissive allusion at her prompting during the wedding at Cana.13)
The "Elect Lady" is loved "by all they that have known the Truth."
14 Who else would be loved by all other
believers? To whom else could this refer? This, too, seems to point
to far more than simply a prominent personage within their local church!
Clearly, the prominence of "truth," in concert with "love," is the keynote of
this letter. John uses the word "truth" five times in the first four
verses. He uses the word "love" four times. However, in this letter,
we learn that Truth "dwells in us and shall be with us forever" (v.2).
"The Truth" may be intended as a more personal title. Even Pilate's cynical
question still echoes in our ears, "What is Truth?" For believers, Jesus'
declaration is conclusive and comprehensive: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the
Life."15 It would seem that John is using, here, Truth
as a title of Jesus Christ, just as he so often uses the Logos, The Word.
(The recipient of John's letter also was not a latecomer:
she was there "from the beginning."17 ) If our suspicion is
correct, it would place a unique complexion on the entire letter, and it would
also yield a number of other significant insights.
We should not presume that any of us are beyond the need for encouragement or
exhortation. Why would Mary-a blessed but human believer-be any
exception? Especially during a time when widespread attacks on the deity
of Jesus Christ were the topics of the day! Mary was subject to the same
frailties as all of us: pride, doubts, and a need of frequent encouragement,
counsel, and, perhaps, exhortation. A tendency toward pride could certainly have
been her most serious challenge: the most blessed of all women who had ever
walked the earth! And yet, having to live with the clouds of legitimacy
and other doctrinal issues over her firstborn.18 Read
through the 2nd Epistle of John from Mary's perspective, and see what the Spirit
confirms to you.
Here is one of the most loved epistles in the entire New Testament. I John
has been called the sanctum sanctorum of the New Testament, and is a climax
after the other two. It is really more of a sermon than a personal
letter. It develops, in detail, the themes of love and truth introduced in
II John. It takes the child of God into the fellowship of the Father's home.
(Paul's epistles, and all the other epistles, are church epistles; but this is a
family epistle. It may prove more important to the individual believer than all
the church epistles!)
It is interesting that while John develops the overwhelming themes of love
and truth, he also employs heptadic structures just as he does in his Gospel and
Revelation. We find:
Seven Contrasts: The Light vs. The Darkness (1:5-2:11), The Father vs. The
World (2:12-2:17), Christ vs. the Antichrist (2:18-2:28), Good Works vs. Evil
Works (2:29-3:24), Holy Spirit vs. Error (4:1-4:6), Love vs. Pious Pretence
(4:7-4:21), and The God-Born vs. others (5:1-5:21).
Tests: Of Profession (1:5-2:11), Of Desire (2:12-2:17), Of Doctrine
(2:18-2:28), Of Conduct (2:29-3:24), Of Discernment (4:1-4:6), Of Motive
(4:7-4:21), Of New Birth (5:1-5:21).
Other heptadic structures include: seven traits of the born
again (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1 (2x), 4, 18); seven reasons why this epistle was
written (1:3, 4, 2:1, 13-17, 21-24, 26, 5:13); seven tests of Christian
genuineness (1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9, 4:20); and, seven tests of honesty and
reality (1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9; 4:20). (However, we find only six liars: 1
Jn 1:6, 10; 2:4, 22; 4:20; 5:10.) In any case, John's three letters focus on our
walking in love, in truth, and in the intimate knowledge of God. They deal
with, in a sense, a challenge similar to the famous indictment by the Prophet
Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel:
for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there
is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the
The issue in all three
letters is that love and truth must be practiced: "walked." "To walk in the
truth" means to obey it. It is easier to study the truth, or even argue
about the truth, than it is to obey it. Knowing the truth is more than
giving assent to a series of doctrines; it means that the believer's life is controlled by
a love for the truth and a desire to magnify
the truth. We encourage you to explore our expositional commentaries on these three
- John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20.
- Present at Jairus' daughter
(Mk 5:37), Transfiguration (Mt 17:1), Gethsemane (Mt 26:37), and the private
briefing on Jesus' 2nd Coming (Mk 13:3).
- See Personal UPDATE , April 2001, pp. 12-16 for a detailed study.
- Except in Romans 16:13, "chosen
in the Lord."
- So far, I haven't found any that support the idea of
Mary except Knauer (Stud. U. Krit., 1833, Part 2, p.452ff (q.v. J. E.
Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James,
Peter, John, and Jude
, (translated from the German), 11 vols, Funk and Wagnalls,
- John 19:26, 27.
- Matthew 13:55, 56; Mark 5:3.
- 1 Corinthians 15:7.
- Cf. v.4 (however, the Greek
actually indicates "some" of thy children).
- John 19:25.
- Acts 1:14.
- See Dave Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast
(Harvest House, Eugene OR 1994) for a comprehensive, well-documented and
- John 2:4.
- 2 John v.1.
- John 14:6.
- John 1:1-3, 14, 1 John 5:7, Rev 19:13.
- Cf. vv.5 & 6. The "we" suggests a provocative joint identity with
- John 8:41.
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