Imagine you get some intel that something is going to impact a friend of yours and you want to send them a warning before this something shows up and happens. This is exactly what this quick letter from John is designed to do. Based on the size of the letter (only broken out in 13 verses) and the lack of detail given, it makes me think that there was some shady business going on and in order to get this letter to the intended recipients quickly and easily, it was purposefully kept short so that the messenger could conceal it for transport. That is complete speculation, admittedly, but seems to be a reasonable possibility.
1. The Elder, The Elect Lady, Her Children
2John 1:1 The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth. 1:2 For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. 1:3 Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
The opening line in verse 1 provides more insight as to this apparent need to conceal and that is the cryptic language used – “the elder” and “the elect lady and her children.” Should this letter fall into the wrong hands, it will not openly expose who the recipients are. However, when the intended recipients receive it, they will understand exactly who it is from and that it is for them. It is believed that the elder here is John the apostle and we do find evidence in 1Peter 5:1 that Peter, an apostle, refers to himself as an elder. So apparently it isn’t a far stretch to find apostles referring to themselves with lesser titles. The word elder comes from a word that means presbyter and there was a John the presbyter at the church of Ephesus, according to historical record, and some have conclude that this is the John who wrote this letter (not John the apostle). Unfortunately, unlike John’s gospel, the author doesn’t come out and state their name. Suffice it to say, whether the traditional view of John the Apostle being the author or it turns out to be someone else is immaterial to the message of truth contained in the letter.
Some have speculated the elect lady to be a specific lady, but it seems that (based on the end of the letter) that this is cryptic language for referring to an assembly’s first converts and the children being the members the converts have welcomed in. John writes to this sister assembly to his and writes with the full confidence of all those who have known the truth to be reinforcing his message. He bids them a very Pauline salutation, appealing to grace, mercy and peace from God and Christ to be upon them, not only in truth, but in love (practicality).
2. Walk in What you Received
2John 1:4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. 1:5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. 1:6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
Not only are the ‘founding members’ walking in truth, but John rejoices that this same reality is passed on to their offspring (in the gospel). Just as Paul told the Corinthians that he fathered them through the gospel (1Corinthians 4:15), so too this church has begun producing through the gospel. These children are found to be walking in truth and that perfectly aligns with the commandment received from the Father. Yet, John is not writing anything new to them, for it is the same commandment they had from the beginning – that we love one another. This is the Great Commandment of Christ.
In Hebrew practice, they utter something called, the Shema, which is a prayer of mediation on the Lord. Shema means to hear or to listen and it was a means of the Hebrews to focus the attention of their ears towards God. The prayer is thus, taken from portions of Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is One LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
It was an active call to stop and recognize God and the call that the Hebrews had to love Him. Every day the Hebrews would pray this prayer. Then, when Christ comes on the scene, something interesting happens with the Shema. Christ is being tested by the Pharisees who want to pinpoint what Christ believes is the greatest law in the Torah. Christ’s answer is doubly effective – it not only answers the questions, but it also immediately exposes the Pharisees.
Matthew 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 22:38 This is the first and great commandment. 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Christ interjects a second commandment into the Shema. The second commandment is intertwined with the first commandment. Loving God is likened unto loving your neighbor as yourself. In other words, your love for God can be seen as the extent you nourish your neighbor as if they were you. Loving God naturally results in loving people. The Pharisees were shown to not love God because of their incessant loving of themselves by exploiting their neighbors. When John writes to this sister assembly, he is hearkening back to the commandment they had received from the beginning – they were loving their neighbor. John says that love is walking after this commandment. The point isn’t that checking a box on a legal checklist is what love is, but rather what the commandment produces is love – the esteeming others as you would esteem yourself. It is by giving your neighbors the same care and attention that is directed self-ward. John is thrilled they are walking in this.
3. Fair Warning
2John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 2:8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. 2:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 2:10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 2:11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
Walking in love, as they were, allows them to walk in the light. In other words, their life of love only reflects the glory of God. In 1John, John writes that believers are abiding in the light by loving their brethren (1John 2:10) Yet, there are impostors out there who are accomplishing nothing more than being against Christ. And John tells them that there is a very clear way to determine who these impostors are – they claim that Jesus Christ never came in the flesh. John makes a similar statement in his first letter:
1John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. 4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world.
Impostor believers would preach that Jesus is yet to come. They would appear to preach Jesus and appear to have a sincere desire to have Him arrive, but this was not to be conflated with Jesus who had already come in the flesh. These folks rejected the real Jesus in favor of their own Jesus. John tells them to look to themselves, not to lose those things that they have accomplished. They were to take care to examine their infrastructure, as it were, to remain walking in the light and not allow these deceivers audience that would negatively impact the progress of their walk. The reward they would receive could be at some future judgment, or it could simply be referring to the God-given increase of the planting and watering this assembly was doing. Therefore, if any came to them, wanting to join them, but did not declare that Christ had already come in the flesh, they were not to assemble with these people, or let them in their homes, or offer them a Christian greeting (so as to give the false impression to their community that they were of the same heart and mind). John says that if you mix yourself with Christ-deniers, you are just as guilty of their evil deeds as they are. Does this mean to withdraw from society? No, that’s not the point. The point is that the Christian extension of fellowship isn’t a flippant thing. At no time should a believer be attempting to join themselves (knowingly) with impostor believers. Paul writes this as well in 2Corinthians 6 to not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what agreement has light and darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial (wickedness)? And what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? This is the idea. John is writing to them quickly to give them a fair warning about these false brethren and not to tarnish the name of Christ by extending fellowship to them.
2John 1:12 Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 1:13 The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen
John has much more to say unto them but feels it best to wait until he is there in person. Again, this might lend to the idea that John is attempting to get a letter to these folks in haste and the most important thing he can do is to praise them for walking in love and to warn them about others who might pass through their streets.
This is the shortest of New Testament books, by verse count, but provides a clear and important truth. As believers walk in love, it will be tempting to reach across the aisle, so to speak, and welcome any and all. Jesus Christ ate in the company of sinners, but with the wicked, Jesus had other means of interacting with them. The believer doesn’t withdraw himself for fear of sinners, but the believer is keenly aware of the boundaries of his walking in love. If the believer is using his love to welcome antichrists and deceivers into the circle, that is a failure of love and brings reproach to Christ.
Psalm 94:20 – shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with God?