The writings of the apostle John have always had a peculiar charm for the people of the Lord. This attraction is due, I suppose, to the fact that they are particularly addressed to the family of God.
If you want truth concerning the kingdom of God in its present aspect—the mystery days of the kingdom—you will find it in the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude. If you desire truth concerning the church of God—the body of Christ which is being formed by the Spirit during the present dispensation of grace—you find that in the writings of the apostle Paul. But if you seek truth for the family of God—believers who have been born again into the divine family—you find that particularly in the writings of the apostle John. I do not mean, however, that any of these sections of Scripture are confined to the subjects indicated. While Peter deals primarily with the kingdom, he also speaks of the church and of the family of God. While Paul deals primarily with the church, he also speaks of the kingdom and of the family. And while John deals primarily with the family, he also has something to say about the church and about the kingdom. But, as indicated before, God gave a special ministry to each of these New Testament writers.
John’s writings were the last given by the Spirit of God for our edification. There are some people who put, it seems to me, undue value on the writings of Paul, particularly his later prison Epistles, as though they contain the last instructions God had for His people. However, Paul had probably been in Heaven for over twenty years before the apostle John wrote his Gospel. It was years later that John wrote his Epistles. The book of Revelation was, so far as we can learn, the last book given by the Spirit near the end of the first century. We may be sure of this much—that as God reserved the writings of the apostle John for the close of the apostolic age, He kept the best wine until the last.
In the Gospel of John we have eternal life as revealed in the Son of God. In the Epistles of John we have eternal life as revealed in the children of God. In John 20:30-31 the apostle gives his reason for writing that particular book. He said, “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Why was the Gospel of John written? In order that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ. Is there any reader who doubts or questions whether Jesus is in fact the Christ of God? Read the Gospel of John. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). John’s Gospel was written that you might know, that you might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Now look at 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” The Epistle was written to people who already believe that Jesus is the Christ, but have never been sure of their present position or their possession of eternal life. “That ye might know.” If you have any doubt as to the person, life, and atoning death of Jesus, as to His messiahship, or His divinity, read the Gospel. But if, after having believed the message of the Gospel, you are still perplexed about the assurance of your salvation, whether you really possess eternal life or not, read the Epistle. It was written to “you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” The Epistle of John is the Epistle of fellowship. God wants His people to be in communion with Him, and John shows us the way to fellowship with God.
John used certain key words or phrases: “Ye know” or “we know.” He wants us to rest on nothing short of a definite, positive knowledge of divine reality. There is the word believe. This is one of his favorite words, both in the Gospel and in the Epistles. We also read a great deal about light—“God is light,” “Walk in light.” Then there is the word love—“God is love.” We are to “walk in love.”
After the death of Paul, somewhere around a.d. 67, there arose among the churches, particularly in Asia, a sect known today as gnostics. An agnostic is a man who says, “I do not know.” But a gnostic is the very opposite to an agnostic; the gnostic says, “I do know.” The gnostics came into the church and said, “We have superior knowledge to that of these simple Christians.” This sect grew very rapidly, and threatened for two hundred years to overwhelm the orthodox church of God. They had peculiar ideas regarding Jesus. Some of them thought Jesus was simply a man, the natural-born son of Joseph and Mary, and that Christ was the divine Spirit who took possession of Jesus at His baptism in Jordan. This Spirit was with Him through life, but left Him when He hung on the cross. Those who held this view were called Cerinthian gnostics, and there are groups today who still promote this false doctrine. Cerinthian gnosticism is the basic doctrine in Christian Science, The Unity School of Christianity, Theosophy, and other modern cults. But this doctrine is thoroughly contrary to Scripture. 1 John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”—not that Jesus was possessed by the Christ or was controlled by the Christ, but He is the Christ. The one who hung on the cross was not only Jesus, the man of Nazareth, but Christ, the Son of God. “ Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). We must never distinguish between Jesus and the Christ any more than we would distinguish between Mr. Hoover and the President. Mr. Hoover is the President, and Jesus is the Christ. It is true that Christ is a title, but that title belongs to Him.
There was another set of gnostics, the docetists, who denied the reality of the manhood of Jesus—the reality of His human body. They held that evil was linked with the flesh, and therefore it was unthinkable that deity should ever condescend to dwell in a human body. The docetists believed that while you could look at Jesus, if you had tried to touch Him, you would have touched thin air—He was simply a phantom. John confronted both gnostic systems in his three Epistles.