2 John Overview and Verses 1-3 – 2023 Sep 28

I know this is a little different in terms of a book overview, but that is for two reasons – the letter is only one chapter, and the second is 13 verses long.  According to sources I could dig up (internet and other places), all of John’s letters were written between AD 85 and 100.  They were probably all written around the same time, one to the Church, one to a family, and one to an individual.  This second letter is likely written to a lady with whom John was acquainted, and he was also acquainted with her sister.  We’ll say more about that momentarily because other theories also make some sense.

One of the very first things I like to address is the authorship of any letter in the New Testament.  We have already seen on our trips through the letters of Paul and particularly Peter that liberal scholars seeking to dilute the power of the Word of God in the minds of people will use the authorship of a letter to attack the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture.  I once heard a church minister tell me that Paul did not write the letter to the Ephesians, and I cannot agree with that.  Apart from Paul giving his own credentials as an Apostle at the beginning of the letter, Ephesians 3:1 actually says, “…I, Paul…”  You can argue the mechanics, because it is known that Paul often dictated his correspondence, many of the writers did, like Peter, or Jeremiah if you want an Old Testament example, but you cannot say that it was not Paul’s letter.  That’s like writing click-bait headlines, and I hate those.

So did John write these letters?  You bet he did.  That is more difficult to say, because like the epistle to the Hebrews, the book of 1 John never names its’ author.  This argument comes really from church history, in that from the second century on, no one actually disputed that the Apostle John wrote everything with his name on it, and the general epistles in particular.  There are references from Clement of Rome, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas (not that Barnabas), and others from early in the second century (or even very late first century) that attribute this work to the Apostle John himself.  That lasted until that so-called “higher criticism” of the late 18th century and early 19th century began to try to take apart the Scriptures with vain reasonings.  Perhaps the strongest of these, was Polycarp’s letter to Philippi.  You will recall that Polycarp was a direct disciple of the Apostle John, and would have been VERY familiar with John’s writings.  Interestingly, the very first author to quote from this letter directly in His own writings and identify it as the first epistle of John was Irenaeus of Lyon, a direct disciple of Polycarp!  Irenaeus also would have been very familiar with John’s writings without doubt.  I could go one and give the names of others like Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius, and Cyprian, from the second and third centuries among other names that all attribute authorship of 1 John to the Apostle John.  The church’s internal evidence strongly supports 1 John as being written by John the Apostle, at the same time linking it to the Gospel of John.  An interesting note here is that john also does not name himself in the Gospel he wrote, preferring terms like “the disciple whom Jesus loved” instead.

However, we are not speaking about 1 John, we are speaking about 2 John.  Our task is only half over, in that we have just shown that the church fathers say John wrote 1 John.  Now we must connect 1 John and 2 John (and maybe even 3 John if we’re blessed).  This is pretty easy to demonstrate, especially with 2 John.  Let’s look for a moment at v.5:  “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.”  Now compare 1 John 2:7:  “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.”  Not only are they speaking of the same thing, but the word usage and style are the same.  Also see 3:11:  “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…”  We could even connect that to the Gospel of John 13:34-35:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Again, the styles are similar, the word choices and uses are nearly identical.  Happily, this is not the only example.

Look for a moment at verse 6.  “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.”  Now compare 1 John 5:3:  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”  The word usage and style of delivery are again extremely similar between the letters.

Also, look at v.7:  “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  Compare this with 1 John 2:18-26:  “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.  This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.”  Where 1 John was the explanation, 2 John is a brief reminder to another believer of something of which both were familiar.

How about this?  Verse 9 compared with 1 John 2:23.  9: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”  Now look at 1 John 2:23:  “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”  Same subject, similar language.

Last one:  Verse 12:  “Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.”  Now compare 1 John 1:4:  “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”  I know it looks different, but the Greek words are the same, a form of plee-ro’o.  The word itself means carry out to the full, according to Vine in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.  My point in showing these things all side by side is that the same guy that wrote 1 John and the Gospel of John also wrote 2 John.  I will leave 3 John for when we get there in what should be a couple weeks.  I will add that Dr. John MacArthur takes AD 90-95 as the approximate date range for the writing of the letters, and that matches what I have come to see as the range, probably from his influence on this topic.

Now, as promised earlier, we will look at the target audience of the letter, and there is some controversy over it.  I know, I also find it difficult to argue over something miniscule, but there is reasoning, and should you ever encounter it as a roadblock to the gospel, it is good to hear these things so you can have an answer for the hope that is within us, right?  So here we go.

Some have suggested that this is a letter to a woman with children with whom John was acquainted.  Others have argued that the “elect lady” is persecution-proofing, a code for a church at some other location.  Both arguments have some merit and are worth examining.  If this was indeed a letter addressed to a local church, John would have been disguising location and identities in symbolic language for the safety of the saints on the receiving end, and maybe for himself as well.  It has been suggested by opponents of this view that it would be unnatural to maintain this kind of analogy throughout the whole letter.  I have two thoughts about that.  First, the letter is 13 verses long, so it isn’t really that hard.  Second, tell the believers that had died in the various arenas or on crosses around the Roman world what it was like to be found out as a practitioner of an illegal religion considered by the government to be subversive.  For 13 verses, I could maintain that imagery and form easily.  You will note that John simply calls himself “the elder” here.  That is possibly indicative of a position of authority in church government.  And the chosen sister is likely another gathering of God’s people.

The other position here is that this is a believing woman with children with whom John was acquainted.  The fact that John uses no names could be seen as that security for everyone concerned, and it requires no maintenance of imagery, it just is what it is.  John may have been an elder at Ephesus, he may have been considered a sort of “super-elder” as the last living Apostle.  He might also have been referring to his own age in jest and calling himself “the old man.”  He calls her “chosen,” [Gk., ekklektos] meaning she was a believer, and that she had a sister who was also a believer, and nieces and nephews.  How can we know for sure?

There are some textual clues that are not always conveyed in English.  Look at v.5:  “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.”  The “you” here is singular.  That by itself means nothing, but when compared with v.12, becomes a kind of indicator:  “Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.”  The “you” here is plural.  This would more naturally occur if this were a woman that John knew who had children.  The first reference would be to the woman, the second would be to her family in general.  If this were referring to a church, both would be either singular or plural, probably singular if security was being considered. 

That in itself isn’t the definitive proof we all like to have these days, but it is an indicator this was a letter written to a family.  Also, it may have been to a lady with children who had a sister with children that had a church meeting in her house, which is where Christians met.  Remember, Christianity then was illegal and considered subversive by Rome.  In that sense, like so many other things in Scripture, it may have multiple levels of meaning.  Either way, it was preserved for us and included in the canon of Scripture, and that fact alone makes it worth reading and heeding.

The main thrust of this letter is Truth, a theme that John concerns himself with in everything he writes.  His first letter, as we have seen, was about knowing and walking in love and truth, and this one is a specific address to live in truth.  The Greek word for “truth” [alee’thee-a] is mentioned in the book 5 times in the first 4 verses.  The rest of the book has a serious thrust at walking in that truth, and what to do with those who do not live by the truth.  We will see that as we study the text itself.  The really interesting thing to me is that this comes out in what many of us would consider mundane:  that of hospitality.

The practice in those days was that Christians would move around a lot (persecution), and that teachers of that sound teaching the church always needs as her lifeblood would necessarily move around to teach them.  It was common that these preachers would be welcomed into the homes of believers as a safe place to study and stay instead of the inns, which offered no security, and men could be discovered as believers by soldiers or hostile civilians.  Try studying in a public place sometime.  Then add those dangers and you will see why the home hospitality was a great solution to the problem.  However, it had a BIG downside.  False teachers could at first glance be indistinguishable from real teachers, because people would not always be known by face like they can be today.  False teachers could sow their poison through this kind of route all too easily, and John in this letter is describing the best necessary defense against false teachers and teaching to a house of hospitality.  (You can see where this letter may have been to the lady who had a sister and both had kids, but that the whole church would have heard it also!)  The main theme then of the letter is how to love in truth, and not just any truth, but THE truth as it is in Jesus.

Tonight, we’re going to look at the first three verses as a sample analysis of how we do inductive study for all the people that may not know.  I broke that text down as follows:

KV3:  Live in the Truth of Christ

3:  Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

1:  We love those who know the truth

2:  Christ’s truth is eternal in nature

3:  Grace mercy and peace come from truth in love

For all the details we just considered and unpacked, letters are never really written in the way we looked at it.  They are personal messages expressing desires or such.  This letter is no different.  John here has a pointed message about how to live in the truth and love found only in Christ in the situation of increasing abuse of hospitality.  Let’s get into it.

KV3:  Live in the Truth of Christ

3:  Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Given the growing infiltration of false teachers abusing the hospitality of the saints, it is important to know that John didn’t say, “Stop practicing hospitality,” which many consider a spiritual gift like wisdom or discernment, though it isn’t listed in that list in 1 Cor.12.  Instead here, he is telling the lady he is writing how to live in the truth in love, and that love is always agape, the love of God, which can only be practiced by connection to Christ.  This is not possible until as Jesus said, one is born again, or born from above, something God must do in a person.  Without His action, we have no hope.  With that, let’s look at the text.

1:  We love those who know the truth

Jesus said that the world would know real believers by their love for other real believers.  Fake Christianity over the centuries, and there have been nearly 20 now since the events recorded in Scripture, has sought and failed to understand this point.  It has led to the equating of displays of emotion or affection with the presence of God, and although that may be so in some cases, is not an actual equivalence.  A song was written once by Maren Morris called “My Church.”  It’s a great rockabilly tune with great harmonies, but its theology is all wrong, and the praxis (practice) that the song describes is not true Christian orthopraxy.  To explain what I mean, let me quote the first verse and chorus of that song:

I’ve cussed on a Sunday

I’ve cheated and I’ve lied

I’ve fallen down from grace

A few too many times

But I find holy redemption

When I put this car in drive

Roll the windows down and turn up the dial

Can I get a hallelujah

Can I get an amen

Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya

When I play the highway FM

I find my soul revival

Singing every single verse

Yeah I guess that’s my church

This is what I mean when I say that emotionalism and feeling good are equated with the presence of God.  That’s all well and good until the first cold and rainy day.  Then you start to feel sad and depressed.  Does this mean God has left you or that you have lost your salvation?  No, beloved, it does not.  If you could lose it, you would.  I know that’s true of me.  These people that hold these beliefs and write these songs…we hate them right?  NO!  We love them enough to tell them they need to repent and place the faith they have in Christ and not good tunes on the radio or whatever else they place it in.  But I digress slightly.  Let’s look at what the verse says.

1:  The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth,

  • Here is John with what appears at least to me with some self-deprecating humour!  He is literally calling himself “the old man.”  Although the Greek word is presbuteros, this isn’t necessarily a reference to church government, although it could be.  It literally means “older man,” who would presumably have seasoned reasoning abilities and wisdom gained with age.  Is he having a little fun at his own expense?  You can decide for yourself.
  • He speaks to “the chosen lady.”  This is how believers referred to each other in New Testament times.  The writer of Hebrews says in Heb. 3:1, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession…”  They held each other in a loving reverence, knowing they were partakers of the very nature of the Christ with them.  It doesn’t mean they couldn’t be casual with each other, but there should always be this level of respect in it.  Anything else the scriptures call either tomfoolery or coarse jesting if you ask me.
  • This sister had children, and evidently more than one because the word (teknoi) used is plural.  These children were in all likelihood believers with their mother, because John loves all of them in the Greek syntax, and he loves them in Truth.  He goes on to say here that not only does he love them, but all those who know the truth love them.  That should be all of us also.
  • The point I see here is that all who love the truth will love all those who love the truth.  That truth is reflected only in Jesus Christ, and we all know it.  It is why there is a kind of automatic love for other Christians we meet.  I’ve met people who were real believers and after five minutes, it was like I had known them our entire lives, and all we did was talk about Christ.  That isn’t something the world will do.  My experience in psychology tells me that people are drawn together by common interests and experiences, but this one beats everything.  Common interest in Christ?  Sure.  Common experience in salvation?  You bet.  But these bonds can form so fast that it will literally leave you wondering about it.  VERY few other experiences can do that, and none of them are positive.  We will love all those who know and love the truth of the gospel.

Some of these bonds can also come and go.  I belong to a very special club, and it isn’t a good one to belong to.  I am a friend of an individual that was murdered violently.  I became friends will all of that person’s friends and family having suffered a common loss.  But then life moved on, and we all grew apart.  Some of those people were not believers, and this experience made them bitter.  Some were, and some even became believers because of it.  The experience, though tragic in the extreme, actually made them BETTER as opposed to bitter.  Trials do that.  Why is that?  Next thought unit.

2:  Christ’s truth is eternal in nature

I don’t want to be dogmatic here, but I think this is because these common experiences in Christ are based in eternity and not our temporary existence.  Things in eternity will be far more real, far more permanent than they are here.  So it is with the truth in Christ.  It is rooted in the eternal, as is His life, His nature, His glory with the Father, and everything else by which we benefit as believers.  Let’s look at the verse.

2:  for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:

  • , Of course, John says that we love all those who love the truth for the sake of the truth, and that the truth remains (abides) in us, and that is in fact a permanent condition.  Why would this be the case?  Again, I don’t want to be rigid in this, but I think it is based in the fact that Christ, the embodiment of the living God while still being a man, is eternal.  Everything that is intrinsically connected to Him then would also be eternal.  One of those things is the truth.  Nothing changes the truth of a matter, not even so-called facts (also known these days as dis- or misinformation).  Everything that is intrinsically connected with Christ will remain for eternity.  That should bring us all joy and comfort as real believers, because we became intrinsically connected to Christ when He died for our sins on the cross, and He even rose from the dead to prove that point.
  • This brings us to a question, and I am not the first one to ask it: What is truth?  I am not channeling Pontius Pilate either.  It is a legitimate question, and it has an answer.  Is truth, for example, the facts of the matter?  Clearly they are related, but that can be misleading.  Just ask any social media fact-checker who is charged with making sure they find anything that disagrees with the popular narrative untrue.  Their facts change faster than most people change socks.  Truth is somehow over and beyond what people call facts.  The Greek word, as we mentioned earlier is alethia, and Vine tells us that the definition is dependent on how the word is used.  I will read you the definition he gives:  “Truth,” is used (a) objectively, signifying “the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested, veritable essence of a matter,” and (b) subjectively, “truthfulness,” “truth,” not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character.  Beloved, this is beyond mere “facts” so-called.  It speaks objectively of what is real at the very root level of something, and subjectively of the character and sincerity of the one telling the truth in question.  Both are important, and this is why we as followers of Christ must walk in the truth as it is in Christ, because He is the creator of everything, and His character and sincerity are above reproach.

That is the truth that will be with us forever because Christ will be with us forever.  Anyone who has a different definition of the truth is selling something, and likely trying to sell it to you for more than its worth.  However, if we will walk in the eternal truth of Christ Himself, this will have some prime effects in our lives as real believers.  Next paragraph.

3:  Grace mercy and peace come from truth in love

Those effects are found in this verse.  When you know the truth in love that all comes from Christ, it will produce the grace of God in your life if you will live by it.  It will extend the mercy of God to your situations, and it will give you a peace that is unexplainable without the direct connection to God Himself it suggests.  For those that will not live in the truth in Christ and His love, they will have only a curse from God, as well as facing the wrathful side of God’s justice, and no rest or well-being of any kind.  The Scriptures seem to indicate a choice for people that we will all have to make and that we will all be held accountable for.  Let’s look a little at the beneficial side of that.

3:  Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

  • For those that will turn to Christ in repentance and faith as John, the elect lady, her children, her sister, and her sister’s children have all apparently done, John pronounces that grace, mercy, and peace will be with us as a certainty, coming directly from God the Father, and from God the Son, in truth and love.  What are those blessings in modern terms?
  • Grace comes from the Greek word charis, indicating favour on the part of the giver and thankfulness on the part of the receiver.  In this passage, it is likely used in the sense of favour, and that favour from God to man is always unearned, or as theologians like to say, unmerited.  Why?  Because all humans since Adam the First are cosmic traitors to a holy God.  God said, “don’t eat the fruit.”  Adam ate anyway, incurring the penalty for disobedience.  That God would condescend to come down to earth as a man and pay that penalty for sin that we could not pay on our behalf is beyond unmerited.  It is a gift because of His grace and gracious benevolence toward us that we did nothing to earn, but a simple result of who He is.
  • Mercy is the Greek word eleos, and is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it, according to Vine.  God had every right as the wronged party in Adam’s sin to destroy Adam on the spot.  But He didn’t, because He loved him and extended to him that divine pity that is expressed as mercy, not giving Adam what we all deserve, the full and undiluted measure of the cup of God’s wrath.  Instead, Christ drained that cup for us and paid our penalty in full.  Tetelestai!  Paid in full.  It is finished.  He paid our debt that we were unable to repay.  I don’t know about you, but this makes me love Him, and want to serve Him every remaining moment of my life and to the best of my ability, God helping me.  He demanded no payment of me but instead paid the price of my redemption Himself.  Now I owe Him a debt of love that I will gladly spend the rest of eternity paying in love as He directs me.
  • Peace is the Greek word eirene.  We get the English name Irene from it, incidentally, though that is entirely peripheral to this consideration.  In this usage, it means the harmonious relationship between both God and men, a friendliness that is not possible without the aforementioned grace and mercy.  It is also indicative of an inner peace for believers that arises at the knowledge that in His grace, God has extended us His mercy, and has caused us to be in harmony with ourselves, if that makes sense to you.  I’m not trying to be mystical here, this is straightforward and gives us a sense that all is well, because we are at peace with God through Christ’s sacrifice, we are at peace with men because Christ has given us His own nature for that, and we are at peace with ourselves because we belong to Him and no longer have any condemnation to face (see Rom. 8:1).  It cannot be explained by anything but our direct relationship with God Himself, and that is why I think it is called “the peace that passes understanding” by Paul in Phil. 4:7:  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [NAS “surpasses all comprehension”]
  • All of these things come to us directly in truth and love from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, simply showing that these things are all gifts from God.

All of the benefit that Christ had as God in a spiritual sense and in terms of spiritual growth and maturity is ours by His free gift to those who will receive it.  I have no problem at all telling you that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  In fact, I have been accused of hating people for saying things like that, but that is as far from the truth as you can get.  How much would I have to hate people to know the way to escape eternal suffering in hell and not tell people about that? 

Whoever this lady was, it is clear that John is speaking to her about how to live in the truth in love, and the limits and procedures that requires of the one following Christ.  We will see more about that next time.

That’s what I saw in the study text.

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