Who? What? When? Where? Why? – We all remember these basic investigative questions from our school years. They prompt us to discover whatever it is that we are studying. The examination of Scripture is no different. We should always engage in background study and contextual realities when considering a passage of Scripture. With this in mind, we will explore some introductory matters when considering the letter of 1 John.
Who and to Whom?
John is writing this letter to a church (or churches) with whom he was familiar. The author claims to have heard, seen, and even touched Jesus Christ in the opening verses. Further, the language used, the content of the writing, and its similarity to the Gospel of John gives us confidence that John, the disciple and close friend of Jesus, is the author. His repetition of the phrases like “little children” and “beloved” speaks to the special relationship with his recipients.
When and Where?
John was the longest surviving member of the Apostles (surviving until 100 AD) and most likely wrote this letter (and the following two letters) in his later years while residing and ministering in Ephesus. This would point to a date of writing being sometime during the 90’s AD after he had been released from the island of Patmos following the death of Emperor Domitian.
John writes this letter to surrounding churches that seem to be having issues with deviant teachings. These teachings, being spread by ones identified by John as “antichrists” (ch. 2), sought to undermine the gospel and destroy the community of faith. In response, and with a desire to encourage the saints, John writes about the dangers of sinful and wayward teachers and the importance of true love within the Christian community. He also repeatedly testifies to the crucified and risen Jesus as the firm foundation, current source of strength, and future hope of the Church.
“…that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). John’s desire in writing was to encourage his recipients in their faith, push them towards godliness, and warn them against the “antichrist.” His perspective is an eternal one that moves his readers to consider their eternal status before the Lord. Eternal life and salvation were theirs in Christ Jesus, and that is still true for us today. We are encouraged in this letter to hold fast to the Word of God and to continually preach and teach the whole counsel of God. We are to be faithful in our pursuit of holy living, seeking not only to grow in Christlikeness but also to fight back against the advance of the devil and the rise of evil in our generation.
Kruse, Colin G. Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letters of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
Yarbrough, Robert W. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1-3 John. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.