1 John


The text of this epistle does not bear the author’s name, nor greetings common to the epistles, yet it is evidently the work of the apostle John. He claims to be an eyewitness of Christ, preaching to others the Savior he saw, touched, and heard (1 John 1:1-3; 4:14). He declares a message which he received from God (1 John 1:5). He writes as a spiritual father, addressing all his readers affectionately as “my little children” (1 John 2:1), just as the apostle Paul did (Gal. 4:19). He writes with great authority, for to refuse to listen to him shows that a person does not know God (1 John 4:6). Thus the author places himself in the circle of the apostles, men appointed by Christ to be His witnesses and authoritative spokesmen. The style and vocabulary of this epistle are remarkably similar to those of the gospel of John, which is why we may conclude that John is the author of this epistle as well. Polycarp (d. c. AD 155), a student of John, cites this epistle, and Irenaeus (d. AD 202), a student of Polycarp, attributes it to the apostle John.


Uncertain; if written after the gospel of John, then perhaps AD 85-95. Clement of Rome appears to cite the book around AD 96.


Personal assurance of genuine salvation.


To clarify the difference between those who belong to God and those who belong to this world so that the church may enjoy peace and joy in Christ.


The Contribution of 1 John to Redemptive Revelation
John does not name a church or region to which he writes. With Peter, the apostle to the Jews, John was a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1; 4:13,19; 8:14; Gal. 2:8-9). Tradition locates his ministry in Ephesus after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It may be that he wrote predominantly to Jewish believers, for he says they had known God’s commandment “from the beginning,” a time frame reaching back to Genesis (1 John 1:1; 2:7,13-14; 3:8,11-12).

John’s epistle addresses a situation where false teachers denied that the man Jesus was the Christ (1 John 2:22; 4:1-3; John 1:14). In Greek thinking, a spiritual being such as Christ could not become flesh. This may be the heresy of Docetism, which taught that Christ appeared human but in fact was a spirit. The false teachers may also have taught an early form of Gnosticism, for Irenaeus said that John wrote his gospel against the heresy of Cerinthus, who claimed that the Christ-Spirit came upon Jesus at baptism but left prior to the crucifixion. Such a divorce of spirit and body often implied that the acts of the body do not affect spiritual life; thus John stresses righteous conduct to counteract these false teachings. Though at first working in the church, the false teachers eventually broke away to form their own movement (1 John 2:18-19). This disruption in the church no doubt shook the confidence of the remaining believers.

John responded to this crisis by writing a pastoral letter that drew a simple yet profound picture of the difference between the children of God and the people of this world. The letter contains a series of stark contrasts: life versus death (1 John 1:1-2; 2:25; 3:14-16; 5:11-13,16-17,20), light versus darkness (1 John 1:5-7; 2:8-11), truth versus lies (1 John 1:6,8; 2:4,8,21-22,27; 3:7,18-19; 4:1,6; 5:6,20), righteousness and keeping God’s commandments versus sin (1 John 2:3-4,7-8,29; 3:3-10,22-24; 4:21-5:3), and love versus hate (1 John 2:9-11; 3:10-18,23; 4:7-12,16-21; 5:1-3).

John’s message centers on God’s nature as light and love (1 John 1:5; 4:8,16), revealed in the person and work of His Son. Jesus is both the Son of God and God Himself (1 John 5:20). He came in the flesh, as a real man who could be seen and touched (1 John 1:1; 4:2). The Father sent His Son into the world to give life to sinners (1 John 1:2; 4:9,14; 5:11-12), though the world hates God (1 John 3:13; 4:10). With Christ’s incarnation, God’s light shone into the darkness (1 John 2:8), and His love was displayed (1 John 4:9). Christ brought a message about God (1 John 1:5) and exemplified that message in His own sinless life (1 John 2:1,6,29; 3:5,7). He died as the propitiation for sins (1 John 2:2; 4:10) to make His people completely clean and forgiven (1 John 1:7,9; 2:12), and now He lives to intercede for His people as their heavenly Advocate when they sin (1 John 1:1). He causes blind sinners to know the true God (1 John 5:20) as the Spirit bears witness within them so they know the truth of Christ (1 John 2:20,27; 4:2,6; 5:6,10). Christ has power to conquer the Devil and destroy sin in those united to Himself by faith (1 John 3:5-9; 5:5) as the Spirit dwells in them (1 John 3:24; 4:12-13). One day, Christ will come in glory so that the wicked will be ashamed 1 John (2:28) and God’s children will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

John uses three expressions—“born of God,” “abiding in him,” and “knowing him”—to describe how God applies the work of Christ to the individual sinner. In the new birth, God produces a new nature inclined to faith, love, and righteous activity (1 John 2:29; 3:8-9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18). The implanting of gospel truth in the regenerated soul causes him to no longer deny his sinfulness but confess his sins to God (1 John 1:8-10). God the Father makes him into His child and a stranger to this world (1 John 3:1), which is ruled by the Devil (1 John 3:9-10).

The Christian life is a life of “abiding”—entering and remaining in spiritual union with Jesus Christ (1 John 2:6,10,17). His Word and the anointing of the Spirit abide within the soul (1 John 2:14,24,27; 3:9) so that he dwells in union with God (1 John 4:15-16). God’s life and love abide in the believer, transforming his soul (1 John 2:28-29; 3:6,15,17,24; 4:11-13). The believer abides in the true church (1 John 2:19), and enjoys fellowship with God, Christ, and all who walk in the light (1 John 1:3,7).

However, God’s child still sins (1 John 1:8-2:1) and possesses a varying degree of maturity (1 John 2:12-14). He must resist the alluring idols of this world and live for eternity (1 John 2:15-17; 5:21), purifying himself of sin (1 John 3:3), and following in the self-denying, others-serving footsteps of Jesus (1 John 2:6; 3:18). Only when Christ returns will the Christian reach total Christlikeness (1 John 3:2).

Abiding in Him is not merely a mystical experience; it also involves spiritual knowledge. John repeatedly writes of “knowing” the Lord in a way unique to believers (1 John 2:3-4,13-14,29; 3:1,6; 4:6,7-8; 5:20). This knowledge includes doctrinal understanding and discernment (1 John 2:18,20-21; 3:2,5,15-16; 4:2,6,16; 5:18,20), and yet it is an experiential knowledge with practical results (1 John 2:3-4; 3:6; 4:7-8). Spiritual knowledge culminates in personal assurance that we know God and are united with Him in Christ (1 John 2:3,5,28-29; 3:14-15,19,24; 4:13; 5:2,13,15,19-20).

Thus John presents a vivid picture of authentic Christianity so that believers can know they are the children of God, united to His Son, and possessors of life—to their great joy (1 John 1:4; 5:13).


John’s first epistle is difficult to outline because of his fluid and cyclic style. At least a dozen different outlines have been proposed by scholars. The following outline notes a cycle in the first main section of two contrasts and then a promise, repeated four times (1 John 1:5-3:24). The second section focuses on exhortations and motives (1 John 4:1-5:17). Both sections end on a note of confidence or boldness toward God in prayer (1 John 3:21; 5:14).

  1. Incarnation of the Word of Life (1 John 1:1-4)
  2. Contrast between God’s True Children and the World (1 John 1:5-3:24)
    1. Walking with God in Gospel Forgiveness (1 John 1:5-2:2)
      1. Contrast: Fellowship with Light or Darkness (1 John 1:5-7)
      2. Contrast: Confession of Sin or Self-Deception (1 John 1:8-10)
      3. Promise of Christ’s Propitiation and Intercession (1 John 2:1-2)
    2. Obeying God’s Law of Love in Gospel Privileges (1 John 2:3-14)
      1. Contrast: Obedience or Disobedience to His Commandments (1 John 2:3-6)
      2. Contrast: Love in the Light or Hate in the Darkness (1 John 2:7-11)
      3. Promises to Children, Young Men, and Fathers (1 John 2:12-14)
    3. Resisting Temptation in Gospel Hope (1 John 2:15-3:3)
      1. Contrast: Love of the Father or Love of the World (1 John 2:15-17)
      2. Contrast: Christ-Centered Truth or Anti-Christian Lies (1 John 2:18-27)
      3. Promise of His Coming for God’s Children (1 John 2:28-3:3)
    4. Doing Righteousness and Love with Gospel Boldness (1 John 3:4-24)
      1. Contrast: Righteousness by Christ or Sin by the Devil (1 John 3:4-10)
      2. Contrast: Love and Life or Hatred and Death (1 John 3:11-18)
      3. Promise of Confidence toward God (1 John 3:19-24)
  3. Exhortations and Motives to Abide in God’s Truth and Love (1 John 4:1-5:17)
    1. Do Not Trust False Prophets (1 John 4:1-6)
    2. Love One Another (1 John 4:7-5:3)
      1. God’s Love in God’s Son (1 John 4:7-10)
      2. God’s Love in God’s Children (1 John 4:11-21)
      3. Loving Brothers and Obeying God (1 John 5:1-3)
    3. Hold Onto the Witness to Christ by Faith (1 John 5:4-13)
    4. Pray with Confidence for Each Other (1 John 5:14-17)
  4. Conclusion (1 John 5:18-21)
    1. Knowledge Is in Christ (1 John 5:18-20)
    2. Watch against Idols (1 John 5:21)

Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes(Beeke, Joel R. 2015. Reformation Heritage Books).

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