LESSON 1 *June 27 - July 3
Jesus and the  
Johannine Letters
Lesson graphic

Read for This Week's Study:

Skim over the three Epistles of John (1, 2, 3).

Memory Text:

"And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14, NKJV).

      False teachers spreading error among the saints? Deviant views on the nature of Christ? Power struggles in the church? Theological errors spreading in the pews? Folk needing assurance of salvation? Others needing to know that faith must lead to obedience to the law?

Sounds like our church today, right?

These, however, were some of the issues that John dealt with almost two thousand years ago in his three short epistles in the New Testament.

How true were Solomon's words, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Eccles. 1:9, NKJV)!

John, though, does not concentrate on the problems only. He points to God the Father and the Son; he portrays who They are and what They have done for us, and thus what we must do in response.

The Week at a Glance:

Why do we believe that John wrote these epistles? To whom was he writing? What were his concerns? How does he address those concerns? What does John tell us about Jesus? What promises can we take away from these books?  

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 4.

SUNDAY June 28

From Whom and to Whom—Author and Recipients

The first Epistle of John begins without formal introduction. For whatever reason, the author does not introduce himself. The second and third letters mention as the author a person called only "the elder." They also inform us to whom they are addressed—an elect lady and also someone named Gaius. This information is not extensive and leaves open a number of questions; nevertheless, from the letters themselves, we can learn about the one who wrote them.

Common style and vocabulary seem to indicate that the author of 1, 2, and 3 John is the same. What do these three letters tell us about him? As you read, focus on, among other things, some of the terms that he uses for those he addressed in the letters (1 John 1:1-3; 2:1, 18; 4:4; 2 John 1, 12; 3 John 1, 13, 14).  

Obviously the author had been an eyewitness to Jesus. He also seemed to have had an intimate relationship with the church members to whom he wrote, because he called them "little children," an expression of endearment. He maintained a leadership position in the church, and more than once said that he eventually hoped to visit those to whom he was writing. The close resemblance of phrases and themes to the Gospel of John, as well as the testimony of church fathers, reveal that he was the apostle John.

All this brings up a very important point. How important that we seek to develop a kind, caring, loving relationship with those around us. It's very clear from these letters that John loved and cared about these people and that He wanted to see them strong in the Lord. There can be little doubt that the love he expressed for them only strengthened, greatly, the power of his words. What an important lesson for all who seek to be witnesses for Jesus and the truths He has given us as a church.
It's one thing to have a knowledge about the nature of God, the plan of salvation, the Second Coming, and the right Sabbath day. But what happens to our witness if our lives don't reflect the love and character of the God who created these truths? Maybe you have propositional truth? That's good, but how much love and concern for others comes with your expression of that truth?  

MONDAY June 29

What—The Content of the Epistles

In the first letter of John we find a number of important topics, even if the apostle does not seem to move forward in any kind of linear progression. This observation has led some scholars to conclude that John presents his arguments in a cyclic way; that is, he revisits his topics but from different angles. Thus, the same things are being discussed but from various perspectives.

Read 2 John 1-13. Follow his line of thought:  

2 John 1-3

2 John 4

2 John 5, 6

2 John 7-11

2 John 12, 13

In 2 John the apostle expresses his thankfulness that the lady's children walk in the truth. He also talks about love and obedience and then focuses on the false teachers that he already mentioned in his first letter. He employs again the term antichrist. In his conclusion John expresses the desire to visit his audience. He also transmits greetings.

How does 3 John relate to the previous two letters, which deal with false teachers who are not mentioned in John's last epistle? It is conceivable that all three letters deal with a similar situation but from different perspectives. While 1 and 2 John warn against false teachers, 3 John may show how in one particular instance church leadership tried to control the problem.
In many parts of the world the idea of "doctrinal orthodoxy" sounds so medieval; it reminds people of such things as the Inquisition, when folk were tortured and killed because they weren't "orthodox" enough in their theology. Hence, many shy away from the idea of orthodoxy altogether, arguing instead that all you need is love, regardless of teaching. John, though, whatever his strong emphasis on love, didn't shy away from dealing with theological error. What should this tell us regarding how we should act in the face of theological error in our own church?  


Why—The Purpose of Writing These Letters

Repeatedly, John tells us why he wrote his first letter. What is he saying?  

1 John 1:4

1 John 2:12-14

1 John 5:13

All these statements are positive and reaffirming. However, the context shows that they must be understood within the context of serious problems in the churches to which 1 John was addressed. This letter makes strong statements about false teachers. They are called antichrists. The term is found four times in 1 John and once in 2 John. Otherwise, it is not used anywhere else in the Bible.

These antichrists had erroneous ideas about Jesus Christ, ideas that also affected their Christian lifestyle. John, obviously, felt the need to deal with these teachings, and he did so in a powerful and uncompromising manner.

Nevertheless, the author portrays a positive picture of true Christianity and focuses on its positive nature. In countering the theological error and the ethical error of the false teachers, John argues in favor of the unity of Father and Son, acceptance of divine forgiveness, and a life governed by the principle of love.

While he encourages church members and warns against inadequate views of Christ and Christian behavior, he may even hope to win back some of those who have left the church.

In 1 and 3 John, the reasons he wrote the letters are not mentioned, but those reasons are discernible. The purpose of 2 John is to warn church members against the erroneous teachings and ethics of the false teachers mentioned in 1 John.

According to 3 John a power struggle was going on. Diotrephes was attempting to usurp all authority. Apparently by using the problem of heresy, he was trying to establish his own power base.
Though not downplaying the seriousness of these false teachings, John deals with them by emphasizing the positive. There is an important principle here for us. How easy it is to get so caught up in fighting error that we focus on it instead of truth. What's your own way of dealing with what you deem wrong: Do you focus on the error at the expense of truth? How can you start training yourself to deal with problems in a more positive manner?  


Jesus in the Johannine Epistles

Jesus is found throughout 1 John. He is at the center of this book. Who is He according to this Epistle?  

1 John 1:1

1 John 1:2; 5:20

1 John 1:3; 4:15

1 John 2:1

1 John 2:8

1 John 2:22

1 John 4:14

1 John 5:20

Although in 1 John God the Father is mentioned more frequently than Jesus, the problem of former and maybe still active church members is with the Son. Church members and false teachers may have agreed largely on the nature of the Father. They disagreed, however, when it came to Jesus, as to His humanity and His divinity. The issue was whether or not Jesus "has come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2, NKJV) and "is the Christ" (1 John 2:22, NKJV).

In the midst of all this, John clearly maintains that it is impossible to separate Father and Son. Even in our days some people, including some Christians, think they can have a relationship with God the Father without caring about Jesus. For them Jesus is just a wonderful human being. John, however, is clear: If you know about Jesus but do not accept Him as Messiah and Son of God, you cannot have a saving relationship with God the Father.
First John contains 105 verses. Jesus occurs in about 45 of them. What does that tell me about the place Jesus has in this letter? How central is Jesus in your own understanding of truth? That is, might you be too occupied with dates, charts, and doctrines, as opposed to knowing Jesus and His forgiveness and grace for yourself? If so, how can you change? Why must you change? (See John 17:3.)  


Jesus' Ministry in John's Epistles

The Johannine letters not only portray Jesus from different perspectives, telling us that He is from the beginning (1 John 1:1), has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2), and remained righteous, pure, and without sin (1 John 2:1; 3:3, 5); they also emphasize His ministry and work.

Who Jesus is, and what He has done, are deeply related. To deny His divinity or humanity means also to deny His ministry as Savior, as example, and as Lord. Salvation through Jesus is dependent on Jesus' divine-human nature. Without a proper understanding of Jesus's divine-human nature, you can end up with a different understanding of the plan of salvation and the problem of sin. Sin may be taken lightly or even denied (1 John 1:6-10), an attitude that will surely, one way or another, influence Christian behavior and ethics.

What does John tell us about Jesus' ministry and work? That is, what promises are made to us because of what Jesus has done or is doing for us now?  

1 John 1:7

1 John 2:25

1 John 2:28

1 John 3:8

1 John 3:16

1 John 5:18

2 John 3

What Jesus has done for us as our Savior and what He is doing for us as our Advocate requires a response on our part. Forgiveness of sin, the assurance of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the hope of the Second Coming, and the promise that we will be like Him and see Him as He is cannot leave our hearts cold. We believe in Him, love Him, follow Him, obey Him, and abide in Him and in His teachings.

Look at some of the promises listed above. Which ones mean the most to you, and why? Which ones, perhaps, are you not experiencing in your life as you should? Why might that be, and what can you do in order to realize, even better, the richness of these promises?  


Further Study:  
  Read 1 John in one sitting to get an overview of this important Epistle.

"As the years went by and the number of believers grew, John labored with increasing fidelity and earnestness for his brethren. The times were full of peril for the church. Satanic delusions existed everywhere. . . . Some who professed Christ claimed that His love released them from obedience to the law of God. On the other hand, many taught that it was necessary to observe the Jewish customs and ceremonies; that a mere observance of the law, without faith in the blood of Christ, was sufficient for salvation. Some held that Christ was a good man, but denied His divinity. Some who pretended to be true to the cause of God were deceivers, and in practice they denied Christ and His gospel. Living themselves in transgression, they were bringing heresies into the church. Thus many were being led into the mazes of skepticism and delusion.

"John was filled with sadness as he saw these poisonous errors creeping into the church. He saw the dangers to which the church was exposed, and he met the emergency with promptness and decision. The epistles of John breathe the spirit of love. It seems as if he wrote with a pen dipped in love. But when he came in contact with those who were breaking the law of God, yet claiming that they were living without sin, he did not hesitate to warn them of their fearful deception."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 553, 554.  

Discussion Questions:
     Read the Ellen G. White quote listed above. Suppose she were writing for the church today. What might she write? That is, what are the theological challenges that the church is facing today? In what ways are they similar to the ones John was dealing with? What can we learn from John that could help us as we deal with these errors?  

   As Adventists, we believe we have been given a great deal of truth, truth that many other churches do not have. (After all, if they had these truths, then what purpose would we as Adventists serve?) At the same time, how could we, as a church, better reflect the love and kindness that must go along with our witness? How can you, either as a class or as an individual, help your local church better manifest the love of God? It's frightening to think of how many people who, attracted to our message, have never accepted it because of the lack of kindness, grace, and love expressed by the church. We can and must do better.  

I N S I D E Story    
A God to Love:  Part 1


Tolga lives in Turkey. From his youth he sensed that God was so much more than the rules that religious leaders had imposed or the cruel and punishing god mothers used to threaten their children. He yearned to find God, to really know Him. But he knew no one who could teach him.

Tolga worked in the tourist industry, where he could use his language ability to talk with visitors to his country. He hoped that one of them would tell him more about the God of the universe.

One day a German man stayed in Tolga's hotel. Tolga noticed that he was different from other tourists. He was gentle and humble and made no demands on people. What makes him so different? Tolga wondered. He talked with the man who seemed genuinely interested in Tolga. The two became friends. When Tolga asked about his religion, the man told him he was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian.

Tolga had never heard of Adventists, but he wanted to learn. The hotel guest told him that Adventists accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord; that they follow the Ten Commandments, including keeping the Sabbath as God's holy day; and that they look forward to Jesus' second coming. Tolga had heard of Jesus, but not the Sabbath. He asked the man to explain.

This hotel guest spent the rest of his vacation introducing Tolga to Jesus. When the man left Turkey, he gave Tolga a Turkish Bible. Tolga promised to read it. The two men corresponded several times over the next several months. Then the German man told Tolga of a friend who lived in the same city. He gave Tolga his friend's phone number, and Tolga promised to call him.

The German man's friend, Berk, was humble, just like Tolga's friend! Berk told Tolga that he was an Adventist pastor. So that's why he is like his friend! Tolga thought. This must be what most Adventist people are like. Pastor Berk offered to teach Tolga the Bible.

When Tolga left his job over problems with his boss, Pastor Berk asked him if he would like to translate some German Bible lessons into Turkish. Tolga accepted the offer, which gave him work and taught him more about the Bible. Pastor Berk invited Tolga to join fellow believers on Sabbath. Tolga went when he could.

For two years Tolga attended worship and studied with the pastor. His desire to be like these Christians—humble, strong, honest—grew. One day he told the pastor that he had accepted Jesus as his Savior and wanted to be baptized. But what would his family say?

(continued next week)

CHARLOTTE ISHKANIAN is editor of Adventist Mission. All names have been changed.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Mission Awareness.
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