New Testament Lesson 44 (1, 2, and 3 John)
Who is John?
There is some evidence, though not proven, that John and his brother James were cousins of Jesus. He lived, and was probably born in Bethsaida, the home of Peter and Andrew and Philip. He was a fisherman by trade and worked with his father and brother James.
He was a seeker after truth and one of the earliest disciples of John the Baptist. When the Baptist bore witness that Jesus was the “Lamb of God,” John immediately left the Baptist and followed Christ.
Among the Twelve, John was one of the “special three” who constituted the Presidency of that quorum. These three were present at all of the Lord’s raisings of the dead, and on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Savior. He was on the Mount of Olives when Jesus taught them about the destruction of the temple and the Second Coming. He and Peter made preparations for Jesus’ final Passover. At that Last Supper, he occupied the position of greatest affection—”in the Lord’s bosom.” He was present in the Garden of Gethsemane during the Atonement.
When Jesus was arrested the other disciples fled, but John followed his Master to the high priest’s house. He saw his Savior nailed to the cross—the only Apostle mentioned as being there when the Savior died. As Mary and John stood by the cross, Jesus said to his mother, “Behold thy son!” and to John, “Behold thy mother!” “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:27.). John was with Peter when Mary Magdalene reported that the Master’s body was missing. They ran to the tomb, with John arriving first and was the first to see the empty tomb.
John was with the Apostles on both occasions when Christ appeared to them in the upper room and also on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He was present during the Savior’s entire 40-day ministry following his resurrection.
For about 15 years after the Savior’s ascension John stayed at Jerusalem as a true son to Mary. During this period, he was imprisoned several times, but never once wavered in his witness.
He was with Peter at the Gate Beautiful when he healed the poor man who had never walked. When the Samaritans received the gospel through the preaching of Philip, John accompanied Peter to Samaria, and conferred the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. When the question arose about the Gentiles joining the Church, John was one who sat in the council held at Jerusalem. Paul called him one of three “pillars” of the Church.
After the disciples were forced from Jerusalem, John resided at Ephesus with Mary for a time, preaching the gospel for 18 years among the churches in Asia (Turkey). While at Ephesus, John was arrested by the Roman emperor, taken to Rome, condemned to death, and plunged into boiling oil. John’s life was preserved through the power of God, he was then banished to the isle of Patmos. While on Patmos, John beheld a vision of the Savior, who commanded him to write Revelation.
He was probably the last living witness of the Savior’s miracles and teachings, with reports of his ministry continuing in various historical documents until the time of the emperor Trajan (AD 98). After that time, we have no record of John’s activities, though Joseph Smith tells us that he was sent to minister among the Lost Ten Tribes. He appeared, along with James and John, in 1830, to confer the Melchizedek priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
THE EPISTLES OF JOHN
When and Where Were They Written?
The epistles of John provide little or no evidence of their place of writing. Although John spent the major portion of his life in the Holy Land, Christians as well as Jews were unwelcome there following the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70. If traditions regarding John’s long residence in Ephesus are true, they may have come from there. The epistles of John seem to belong to a period in which Gnostic philosophy was on the rise. They also bear a close relationship to the fourth Gospel, which is dated about AD 90 or 95. This means they were probably written between AD 70 and 100, and likely around AD 96.
What Are Their Most Significant Contributions?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said the following about 1 John: “Written by the Disciple whom Jesus loved, and who in turn had such great love for his Lord and his fellowmen that he gained permission to remain on earth and seek to save souls until the Second Coming—this Epistle has as its essential theme:
“That God is love;
“That love is the foundation upon which all personal righteousness rests;
“That all the purposes and plans of Deity are based on his infinite and eternal love; and
“That if men will personify that love in their lives, they will become like the Lord himself and have eternal life with him.
“The doctrines expounded include how to gain fellowship with God; how to know God and Christ; how to become the sons of God; how to abide in the light and love the brethren; how to dwell in God and have him dwell in us; how to be born again and gain eternal life.”1
Second and Third John are more intimate than 1 John; they are addressed to “the elect lady and her children” (2 John 1) and to “the well-beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.” (3 John 1). Elder Bruce R. McConkie believes that these two epistles were personal letters to members of John’s own immediate family, and summarizes their contributions as follows: “Why these two brief, personal epistles? Their doctrinal content and historical recitations are, of course, minimal. But they do add a unique contribution to the revealed word which well pays for their preservation. . . . Brief, less significant than some portions of Holy Writ, these two lesser epistles of the Beloved John are yet of eternal worth, and the saints rejoice in the added perspective they give to the Bible as a whole.”2
THE DARK EVE OF APOSTASY
● Some apostate Christians—called Gnostics (meaning “to know”)—claimed “special knowledge” which others were not privileged to know. The Gnositcs taught that Jesus could not have truly come in the flesh, for God is holy and could have nothing to do with contaminating matter such as a physical body.
● To explain the Savior’s presence on earth, the Gnostics set forth two arguments:
—Docetism (from the Greek word dokeo, meaning “to seem” or “to appear”) taught:
• Jesus didn’t really suffer for anyone’s sins but merely seemed to do so.
• He wasn’t really a partaker of mortality but only appeared to be.
• The physical body the Lord displayed after the resurrection was an illusion.
— Cerinthianism (named for the man Cerinthus, its primary proponent) taught:
• The spirit which inhabited Jesus’ mortal body descended into the man Jesus at the time of his baptism and departed just prior to his suffering on the cross.
• Thus Christ did not suffer for our sins; only the man Jesus was crucified.
● John cites evidence of the coming end of the early Church (1 John 2:18–21). The “last time” means not “the end of the world” but the end of the Church in that day (v. 18), as evidenced by the influence of antichrists and apostates, which had been prophesied by both Paul and Peter.
● John speaks of those men in his day who, though they had once been in the church, “went out from us, but they were not of us; for had they been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us” (v. 19).
● The Spirit of Antichrist (1 John 2:22–23; 1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 1:7–10). We ordinarily associate the prefix anti with opposition and antagonism, but the base meaning in Greek is “instead of” or “in place of.”
● The devil is the best example of an anti-Christ, for he “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped” (2 Thess. 2:4). Satan attempted from the beginning to set himself up in the place of God our Father and his wicked plan in place of the plan of salvation. The most dangerous form of apostasy is that which appears to be true and thus provides a false sense of security and salvation to those who believe it.
● We have three classic examples of “antichrists” in the Book of Mormon: Sherem (Jacob 7), Nehor (Alma 1), and Korihor (Alma 30).
● The “anointing” is a guide and protection against apostates and their doctrines (1 John 2:20, 26–27).
— “Unction” means “anointing.” These anointed saints knew “all things” (v. 20).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “This unction, this holy anointing, is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which gives them access to the infinite wisdom of the Father and the Son so that they may know all things as fast as they are able to bear them.”3
John’s Witness for Christ
● To Docetists John testified he had personally seen & “handled” the “Word of life” (1 John 1:1–2).
● Knowing the truth concerning Christ is essential to eternal life (1 John 5:20).
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Children of a Loving Heavenly Father
● God loves us as his children, and our destiny is to become like him (1 John 3:1–2, 10).
Being “Born of God”
● “Every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (1 John 2:28–29).
● “Every one that loveth is born of God” (1 John 4:7).
● “Whoso believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1).
● Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4″).
● What it means to be “born again” spiritually (1 John 5:5–12, 18).
— Adam was “born again” and became “a son of God” (Moses 6:64–68).
● Spiritual rebirth causes men and women to desire to forsake sin (1 John 3:9).
God Is Love
● God is the very personification of love (1 John 4:7–8).
— God is also “light” (1 John 1:5).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ (Heb., 12:29.) ‘God is light.’ (1 John 1:5.) Similarly, God is also faith, hope, charity, righteousness, truth, virtue, temperance, patience, humility, and so forth. That is, God is the embodiment and personification of every good grace and godly attribute—all of which dwell in his person in perfection and in fulness.”4
● Why do we love God? Because of His love for us (1 John 4:19, 9–11).
— President Thomas S. Monson said: “Our Heavenly Father’s plan contains the ultimate expressions of true love. All that we hold dear—even our families, our friends, our joy, our knowledge, our testimonies— would vanish were it not for our Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ . . . The world has witnessed no greater gift, nor has it known more lasting love.”5
● God’s love is “perfected” in our love for one another (1 John 4:12).
— In the JST, the Prophet Joseph Smith re-translates this verse as: “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
— How is God’s love perfected in us? President Spencer W. Kimball said: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another mortal that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.”6
The Savior Also Loves Us
● Christ showed his love by laying down his life for us (1 John 3:16).
● Every one of us has need of the atonement of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7–9). Paul said the same thing to the Roman saints (Romans 3:23).
● Christ is our advocate with the Father if we repent (1 John 2:1; D&C 45:3–5; see also JST version in footnotes).
● Christ suffered for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2).
— W. Jeffrey Marsh said: “Spiritual anguish and physical pain pressed down upon him so greatly that blood oozed from every pore in his body (JST Luke 22:44; Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18). The medical term for such a condition is hematodrosis. Under extreme distress and pressure the capillaries burst and produce a bloody sweat. Christ’s was the most severe instance of hematodrosis ever experienced.”7
— However, only those who truly repent benefit from the atonement (D&C 18:10–12).
● Christ suffered for all of God’s creations, on this earth and elsewhere:
— All created things: The Savior glorifies the Father by saving all the works of his hands, human, animal, plant, even the earth itself (D&C 76:43).
— All planets in the universe: “The earth and all the planets” are referred to as “kingdoms” (D&C 88:43, 46, 58–61). The Lord visits and saves all of them. Clement (one of the early Christian “fathers”) wrote: “God is the Father of all the worlds. . . .As the Father of greatness is in the glorious world, so his Son rules among those cosmoses as first chief lord of all the powers.”8
— Elder Russell M. Nelson said: “The mercy of the Atonement extends not only to an infinite number of people, but also to an infinite number of worlds created by Him.”9
WE MUST ALSO SHOW LOVE
Love for God and His Son
● We show our love for Christ by keeping his commandments (1 John 2:3–6; 1 John 5:3).
● If we love the transient things of this world, we do not love God (1 John 2:15–17).
● Our faithfulness brings joy to our Heavenly Father, in much the same way that we have joy when our children keep the commandments (3 John 1:4).
● What should our relationship be with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? (John 1:3).
● The saints may obtain fellowship with the Apostles and with God (1 John 1:3–4). The Greek word koinonia (“fellowship”) suggests partnership and sharing of things in common. Fellowship with God means eternal life.
● The source of our confidence in God and our own exaltation (1 John 3:21).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. It was this that enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing (not believing merely) that they had a more enduring substance”[Hebrews 10:34].10
● Through the Spirit we can know whether God is with us (1 John 3:24).
Love for Our Fellow Man
● When we show love for others we maintain the “light” of God within us (1 John 2:9–11).
● If others have need and we ignore them, we are not of God (1 John 3:17).
● If we love God we will love his children—our brothers and sisters (1 John 4:20–21).
1. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:371.
2. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:409.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:383.
4. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:398.
5. In Conference Report, April 1993, 77.
6. The Teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball , 252.
7. His Final Hours, 47–48.
8. 1 Clement, as quoted by Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, 143.
9. “The Atonement,” Ensign, November 1996, 35.
10. Lectures on Faith, Lecture Sixth, v. 2.