Introduction to 1–3 John


Author, Date, and Recipients

John the son of Zebedee probably wrote his three NT letters no later than the 90s A.D. He wrote from Ephesus (in present-day western Turkey), perhaps to churches like those mentioned in Rev. 2:8–3:22. John also wrote the Fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation.

Theme of 1 John

First John calls readers back to the three basics of Christian life: true doctrine, obedient living, and faithful devotion. Because “God is light” (1:5), Christ’s followers overcome wicked people who oppose them. God’s Son lives in and among them. He is greater than the spirit of “the antichrist” now in the world (4:3–4). Those who believe in the Son of God have assurance of eternal life (5:13).

Theme of 2 John

The focus of 2 John is living in God’s love according to the truth of Jesus Christ. This love extends not only to God but to others as well. It is also wise; it does not “go on ahead” of biblical revelation (v. 9). It does not aid enemies of the gospel (vv. 10–11). Instead, Christ’s followers “walk according to his commandments” (v. 6). Through faith they “win a full reward” (v. 8).

Theme of 3 John

The theme of 3 John is faithfulness despite opposition. The man who received the letter, Gaius, faces a troublemaker named Diotrephes. By “walking in the truth” (vv. 3, 4), Christians can live out the message that John teaches in all his letters.

Outline for 1 John

  1. God Is Light and Christ Is the Way (1:1–2:6)
  2. The Unchanging Commandment in a Changing World (2:7–17)
  3. Overcoming the Antichrist by Confessing the Son (2:18–3:10)
  4. Overcoming Evil by Listening to the Apostle (3:11–4:6)
  5. The Assurance of God through the Love of God (4:7–21)
  6. Faith in the Son as the Way to Life (5:1–12)
  7. Final Call to Faith and Understanding (5:13–21)

Outline for 2 John

  1. Greeting: The Elder’s Love (vv. 1–3)
  2. The Elder’s Joy and Request (vv. 4–6)
  3. The Elder’s Concern (vv. 7–8)
  4. The Elder’s Warning (vv. 9–11)
  5. Closing: The Elder’s Farewell (vv. 12–13)

Outline for 3 John

  1. Greeting: The Elder’s Joy at Gaius’s Faithfulness (vv. 1–4)
  2. Praise for Gaius’s Support for Traveling Christian Workers (vv. 5–8)
  3. Concern about Diotrephes (vv. 9–10)
  4. Advice and Commendation of Demetrius (vv. 11–12)
  5. Closing: A Promise to Visit (vv. 13–15)

The Setting of 1 John

c. A.D. 85

John likely wrote 1 John from Ephesus, where apparently he had relocated near the time of the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70. The letter was probably intended to be read by the church in Ephesus and perhaps also by other churches in the surrounding cities. Ephesus was a wealthy and highly influential port city in the Roman province of Asia, and was renowned for its temple of Artemis (Diana).

The Setting of 1 John

Theological Themes of 1 John

God is light (1:5; 2:8) God is love (4:8, 16, 19)
Christians were spiritually dead: then, they “passed out of death into life” (3:14) God loved his people and sent Jesus to die for them (3:16; 4:10, 14, 19; 5:11)
Christians have been born of God (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18) God gave Christians life (3:14; 4:9; 5:11, 16)
God gave Christians the Spirit (2:20, 27; 3:24; 4:13) along with understanding (5:20) Christians are of/from God/the truth (3:10, 19; 4:4, 6; 5:19)
God abides in Christians, and his Word abides in them (2:14, 24, 27; 3:9, 24; 4:12, 13, 15, 16) Christians abide in God, and thus abide in the light (2:5, 6, 27, 28; 3:6, 24; 4:13, 16)
Christians know God (2:13, 14; 4:6, 7), they know the Father (2:13; 5:20), they know Jesus (1:3; 2:3), and they know the Spirit (4:2, 6) Christians love God (2:5; 4:21; 5:2, 3)
Because they have been born again, have received the Spirit, abide in God as God abides in them, and know and love God, Christians bear observable fruit. They: