1 John 5 Commentary

vv.1-2: “Faith trusts Jesus as the Christ, a truth insisted upon throughout this letter, and the believer who so trusts is born of God. The confession that Jesus is the Christ is not the result of human insight, but of a divine work in the one who makes it (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3). And this divine work produces love for fellow-believers, for love for the father means love for his child as well. 2 John keeps insisting that love for God and love for other people are closely connected. Usually he speaks of love for God as shown in love for people, but here he reverses the process: we know that we love the children of God when we love God. Love for God and love for people go together and form a unity. John’s practical turn of mind does not stop at the thought of love for God but goes on to include carrying out his commands. Real love is shown by a concern to do God’s will. 3 Indeed John can say that love for God is to obey his commands. John is not a legalist, but he recognizes that love is busy; it finds its natural expression in doing the things that please the beloved, and where will we find these things better than in his commands? When John adds his commands are not burdensome (cf. Mt. 11:30), the thought is not that it is quite easy to discharge our obligations to God. Rather the thought is that God’s commands are not an irksome burden. They may be difficult but they are a delight.”[1]

v.3: “John adds that God’s commands are not ‘burdensome.’ This does not mean that God’s laws are not exacting or demanding. Rather, it means that God’s laws are not oppressive or crushing. They are not a terrible weight we cannot bear. God’s moral standards are high, but God gives the Christian grace to be able to live up to that standard (cf. 4:4). ‘Love-prompted obedience is not a crushing burden that exhausts the believer’s strength and destroys his sense of freedom in Christ.’ In Matthew, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees because they ‘tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders’ (Matt 23:4). Jesus does not weigh down his people with meaningless laws that do not affect the heart. He gives commands that reveal to us the heart of God and direct our hearts to God. Jesus offers us an easy yoke and a light burden: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matt 11:28–30).”[2]

v.6: “The ‘water and blood’ refer to the terminal points in Jesus’ earthly ministry: his baptism (water) and his crucifixion (blood). This is the best interpretation and is followed by most scholars. Historically, Jesus ‘came’ into his power by the ‘water’ of his baptism and even more so by the ‘blood’ of his cross. … [This] explanation fits the historical context of John’s epistle. John writes this letter to counter the Gnostic tendencies of the false teachers. These false teachers, who at one time were part of the fellowship (2:19), were denying the humanity of Jesus, and so John emphasizes the reality of the Incarnation. John’s further qualification that Jesus came ‘not by water only, but by water and blood’ is likely a direct renunciation of the false teaching (perhaps that of Cerinthus) that claimed that Jesus was born an ordinary human being but became God’s special agent when the heavenly Christ descended upon him at his baptism. The heavenly Christ abandoned him before his death and, consequently, it was only the earthly Jesus who died on the cross. In seeking to refute this teaching, John emphasizes that it was Jesus Christ who experienced both baptism and crucifixion.” [3]

vv.7-8: “John now appeals to the threefold testimony of ‘the Spirit, the water and the blood. The ‘water and blood’ have the same meaning as they did in v. 6. These three bear witness to the truthfulness of the person of Jesus as the Christ. ‘Water’ and ‘blood’ are personified because the Spirit is regarded as personal. The Spirit is given priority because it is the Spirit who testifies through the water and the blood.

“These three witnesses are said to be one. By this phrase John is ‘implying that the Spirit, water and blood converge on the same point, and work together toward the same result: that of establishing the truth that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God. It is likely that Deut 19:15—’A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’—has influenced the author’s defense in presenting three witnesses.”[4]

vv.16-17: “Is there a sin from which there is no recovery? There is certainly no problem with the concept that one should pray for a fellow Christian who sins. With John, Christians recognize that ‘all wrongdoing is sin’ and that all of it separates individuals from God. Thus prayer and restorative counsel (Gal 6:1) appear to be in order when we observe a fellow believer who has sinned. Where John causes problems, however, is in mentioning ‘a sin that leads to death,’ for which prayer is not in order (not that it is necessarily wrong, but that it is useless). What type of sin is this? And what type of death is intended—physical or spiritual death? Since we ourselves fall into sin at times, the questions are of practical importance to each of us. This is no mere resolving an academic problem of Scripture. […]

“What type of sin is this? For Jesus it was observing the activity of the Holy Spirit and calling it the devil’s work. Similarly, John has been concerned with a group of apostates, people who were part of the Christian community and have left. What is their sin? They are continuing in (and therefore condoning) sin, they are hating and separating from their fellow Christians (thus not living out the command of love), they love the world and they even deny that Jesus has come ‘in the flesh’ (probably a denial that Christ had a real human body). These are not casual errors or lapses into this or that sin, but a knowing and deliberate turning away from the truth they experienced in the Christian community. While they would probably still consider themselves Christians, John knows that their standards and their doctrines are quite different from those of his group.

“Why, then, doesn’t John say that one should pray for them? The answer is because such prayer is useless. It is not that it is absolutely wrong to pray. While John clearly does not intend Christians to pray for the forgiveness of such people, he words himself carefully so as not to forbid it. The issue is that these people are not repenting or about to repent. Like the people envisioned in Hebrews 6, they have known the truth and experienced the fullness of what God has, but have turned away. While God would surely forgive such people if they did repent, no argument will change their minds. They have left the true Christian community. They ‘know’ they are right and John’s group is wrong. Asking for their forgiveness is useless. Forgiveness comes to the repentant, not those willfully persisting in sin.”[5]

vv.18-21: “John draws to the end of his letter with a statement of the threefold Christian certainty.

“(i) The Christian is emancipated from the power of sin. We must be careful to see what this means. It does not mean that the Christian never sins; but it does mean that he is not the helpless slave of sin. […]

“But the Christian is the man who never can lose the battle. Because he is a man, he will sin; but he never can experience the utter moral defeatedness of the pagan. […]  The reason for the Christian’s ultimate undefeatedness is that he who has his birth from God keeps him. That is to say, Jesus keeps him. As Westcott has it: ‘The Christian has an active enemy, but he has also a watchful guardian.’ The heathen is the man who has been defeated by sin and has accepted defeat. The Christian is the man who may sin but never accepts the fact of defeat. ‘A saint,’ as someone has said, ‘is not a man who never falls; he is a man who gets up and goes on every time he falls.’

“(ii) The Christian is on the side of God against the world. The source of our being is God, but the world lies in the power of the Evil One. In the early days the cleavage between the Church and the world was much clearer that it is now. At least in the Western world, we live in a civilization permeated by Christian principles. Even if men do not practise them, they still, on the whole, accept the ideas of chastity, mercy, service, love. But the ancient world knew nothing of chastity, and little of mercy, and of service, and of love. John says that the Christian knows that he is with God, while the world is in the grip of the Evil One. No matter how the situation may have changed, the choice still confronts men whether they will align themselves with God or with the forces which are against God.

“(iii) The Christian is conscious that he has entered into that reality which is God. Life is full of illusions and impermanencies; by himself man can but guess and grope; but in Christ he enters into the knowledge of reality. […] Who am I? What is life? What is God? Whence did I come? Whither do I go? What is truth and where is duty? These are the questions to which men can reply only in guesses apart from Jesus Christ. But in Christ we reach the reality, which is God. The time of guessing is gone and the time of knowing has come.”[6]

v.21: “John does not end his epistle with a typical farewell but with a stern warning: ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.’ This warning, however, is motivated by John’s love for his readers. It also nicely contrasts with the last part of v. 20. Again he addresses them tenderly and affectionately as ‘Dear children’ (teknia, cf. 2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4). It may appear that John’s final address is somewhat anticlimactic, but in reality it confirms a very important truth he has been establishing in this last section of the epistle and in the entire epistle itself: Reject the false and embrace the real.

“John commands his readers to keep or guard themselves ‘from idols.’ What are these ‘idols’ (eidolon) against which the author is warning? […It] is best to take ‘idols’ as ‘anything which occupies the place due to God’ (cf. 1 Thess 1:9). This wider understanding of idolatry fits well with other texts of the New Testament (cf. Eph 5:5; Col 3:5).

“In specific application and concern John, no doubt, would have in mind the ‘idols’ of the heretical teachers who speak about a Jesus who is less than God. John is very disturbed by the false teachers that the god they proclaim is not merely less than perfect or close to what he holds but is altogether an idol. That is, their god is not real but the god of men’s imaginations. […]

“Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who provides eternal life to anyone who comes to him in faith. He is the true revelation of God. Anything else is a counterfeit and a false substitute. On this truth one can be certain. On this truth John brings his letter to a close.”[7]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.) (1 Jn 5:1–5). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2]Akin, D. L. (2001). Vol. 38: 1, 2, 3 John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (191–192). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Akin, D. L. (2001). Vol. 38: 1, 2, 3 John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (196–197). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4]Akin, D. L. (2001). Vol. 38: 1, 2, 3 John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (197–198). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Kaiser, W. C. (1997). Hard sayings of the Bible (742–743). Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity.

[6]The letters of John and Jude. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.) (1 Jn 5:20). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[7]Akin, D. L. (2001). Vol. 38: 1, 2, 3 John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (215–216). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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