As we continue our introduction into the Epistle of I John, we previously indicated that the Apostle John was an elderly man when he wrote this letter. Regardless, John was still actively ministering to churches. He was the sole remaining apostle who had an intimate, eyewitness association with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.
As one commentator notes, “The church Fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius) indicate that after that time, John lived at Ephesus in Asia Minor, carrying out an extensive evangelistic program, overseeing many of the churches that had arisen, and conducting an extensive writing ministry (e.g., epistles, the Gospel of John, and Revelation). One church Father (Papias) who had direct contact with John described him as a “living and abiding voice.” As the last remaining apostle, John’s testimony was highly authoritative among the churches. Many eagerly sought to hear the one who had first-hand experience with the Lord Jesus.”
What do we know of the City of Ephesus? Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:10) was part of the intellectual center of Asia Minor. As predicted years before by the apostle Paul (Acts 20:28–31), false teachers arose within the church’s own ranks, and following the prevailing worldview of Naturalism, began infecting the church with false doctrine, perverting fundamental apostolic teaching. These false teachers advocated heresy that eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Greek word “knowledge”).
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “After the Pauline battle for freedom from the law, Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries. Most likely, John was combating the beginnings of this virulent heresy that threatened to destroy the fundamentals of the faith and the churches.”
What were the teachings of Gnosticism? Influenced by such philosophers as Plato, Gnosticism taught a dualism asserting that matter was inherently evil while spirit was good. As a result of this presupposition, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied his true humanity to preserve him from evil. Gnosticism also claimed elevated knowledge, a higher truth known only to those selectively initiated on the deeper things. Only the special few had the mystical knowledge of truth that was higher even than the Scripture.
Instead of God’s Word of divine revelation standing as judge over man’s ideas, man’s ideas judged God’s revelation (1 John 2:15–17). The heresy featured two basic forms. First, some asserted that Jesus’ physical body was not real but only “seemed” to be physical (known as “Docetism” from a Greek word that means “to appear”). John forcefully affirmed the physical reality of Jesus by reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to him (“heard,” “seen,” “touched,” “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh”—1:1–4; 4:2–3). According to early tradition (Irenaeus), another form of this heresy that John may have attacked was led by a man named Cerinthus, who contended that the Christ’s “spirit” descended on the human Jesus at his baptism but left him just before his crucifixion. John wrote that the Jesus who was baptized at the beginning of his ministry was the same person who was crucified on the cross (5:6).
These heresies sought to destroy not only the true humanity of Jesus, but also the atonement, for Jesus must not only have been truly God, but also the truly human (and physically real) man who actually suffered and died upon the cross, in order to be the acceptable substitutionary sacrifice for sin (cf. Heb. 2:14–17). The biblical view of Jesus affirms his complete humanity as well as his complete deity. Jesus is the eternal God/Man.
John’s opponents concluded that sins committed in the physical body did not matter; absolute indulgence in immorality was permissible; one could deny sin even existed (1 John 1:8–10) and disregard God’s law (3:4). John emphasized the need for obedience to God’s laws, for he defined the true love of God as obedience to his commandments (John 14:15; I John 2:3; 5:3).
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!