First, Second and Third John are letters written by the Apostle John to a group of Christians living in Ephesus, a city in modern-day Turkey and the location of one of the largest early church communities.
The church community John is writing to had recently endured a crisis: Leaders in the church were preaching false things about Jesus and His message.
John wrote to warn the Ephesians to avoid false teachers and to cling to the Truth of the Gospel of light and love.
John’s first letter is written more like a sermon than a traditional letter, and the writing style John uses is unique. Throughout the letter, John chooses two main points—God is light and God is love—and circles around these central ideas, like a spiral staircase or concentric circles. While some of the letter sounds repetitive, John is intentionally looking at these two truths from different points of view to show that they are very important.
In the first half of the letter, John writes, “God is light” (1 John 1:5). John uses the contrast of light and darkness to show the contrast between believers and nonbelievers and to encourage all people to live in God’s light and follow Jesus’ example of what it looks like to live in God’s light. John warns that the false teachers in the church are living in darkness, and will be judged.
In Chapter 3, John shifts and introduces the second truth: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Again, John uses contrast—this time between love and hate—to show how following Jesus means loving as God loves.
John writes, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11-12).
John concludes his letter by reminding the reader of his reason for writing: “so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
John encourages readers that as long as they believe in Jesus and walk in the light and love of His Truth, fleeing from sin, idols and worldly pursuits, they will have eternal life.
Second John (with just 13 verses) and Third John (with 14 verses) were brief letters written to specific people most likely living in Ephesus, around the same time as John’s first letter.
Second John is written to a specific church (addressed as “the chosen lady” in 2 John 1 because the church was considered the Bride of Christ).
Third John was written to a man named Gaius, John’s friend and a leader in the church. Each of these letters, like First John, address false teachers in the church and warn believers to rebuke and avoid them.
Jesus is God’s Son: Much like John’s Gospel, which continually refers to Jesus’ relationship with His Father, John reminds the reader in all three of His letters that Jesus truly is the Son of God, and to obey Jesus is to obey God the Father.
Watch out for false teachers: During the time of John’s letters, a heretical movement was sweeping its way through the early church. Many members of the church began teaching things that blasphemed God: These people no longer acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah or the Son of God, and they acted in hostility toward other members of the church. Each of John’s letters issues a warning to avoid such people and to recognize their false teaching by remaining true to the Gospel message.
1 John 1
1 John 4:7-21
2 John 4-6
3 John 11
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
First, Second and Third John call people back to the Gospel of light and love.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).
According to John, anyone who teaches anything contrary to this Gospel is living in darkness and hate, and should be avoided at all costs. God’s Word is the vessel He uses to draw others into eternal life. It is powerful, but it must be used correctly.
Therefore, believers should be on their guard against teaching that goes against God’s Word and work to understand the Word for themselves.