September 23, 2018
Second John, Third John, Jude
General Remarks on Second John
The Second Letter of John covers the same ideas and the same issues found in First John. But it does so in a shorter and slightly different format. We could say that First John discusses the ideas, and Second John alludes to them. Therefore, a knowledge of First John will be helpful to understanding Second John.
The term, “elder,” (1) refers to the ordained clergy of the Church. Pastors are elders of local congregations. Bishops, have oversight of several congregations and elders. Apostles are a special order of elders commissioned by Christ to establish His Church and teach the faith He taught to them. Except for Paul, the Apostles were with Christ during His earthly ministry. The order of Apostles ended when the last Apostle, John, died around the year 100 A.D. John identifies himself as an elder, and seems to take for granted that the recipients of his letter know and receive his Apostolic leadership.
Many have speculated about the identity of its intended recipients. But all we can really know is that the elect lady of verse 1 is a church to which John wrote the letter. The elect sister of verse 13 is the church of Ephesus, where John was when he wrote the letter.
John rejoices that the members of the church, whom he calls children of the elect lady (4), remain faithful to the truth. “Truth” is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith, especially the doctrines about the being and work of Christ. They are things that must be believed, and cannot be compromised, if one is to be a Christian. Truth also refers to living like a Christian in daily life, which John summarises in verses 5 and 6 as “love.” He is especially concerned that church members love one another (5). Christian love is compassion and unity as we walk with Christ together. It is also fellowship, a sense of being part of the family of God, with good will and good deeds and hospitality toward one another. Christian love begins with love for God, which is expressed by keeping His commandments (6). It is the exact opposite of lust, and of the current idea that all love begins with self-love.
John boldly asserts that a person who does not believe the truth and live in love, which he calls “the doctrine of Christ” in verse 9, “hath not God.” In other words, no matter how nice, or how sincere he may be, and no matter how good his ideas and beliefs sound, if his beliefs and practice do not coincide with the teaching of Christ as given by the Apostles, he is not a Christian, is not saved, and is not bound for Heaven.
John refers to the false teachers, who claim to preach Christ, but whose doctrine is different from that of the Apostles. Though their doctrine is very appealing and popular, it is heresy and lies, and John warns his people to stay away from it. In verse 10 he tells the Church to refuse to allow the false teachers into her fellowship, either as members or clergy. In John’s day, the false teachers travelled from town to town, making their livings by preaching their views. They attempted to get into the churches, where they spread their views, led the congregation into errors, and divided the congregation. John is telling the church not to let such people in, not to give them money, and not even to ask God’s blessings on them (10, 11).
This letter is, of necessity, very short, but John intends to visit the church soon (12). When he does, he will explain things more fully. Meanwhile, he sends greetings from the church he is currently visiting, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.”
General Remarks on Third John
Like First and Second John, Third John is written by the Apostle John from Ephesus around the year 85 or 86 A.D. is the third and final epistle of the Apostle John. The Gospel of John, Revelation, and First and Second John were all penned prior to Third John, which makes this epistle the Apostle’s last words to the Church.
“The elder,” (1) is the Apostle John (see 2 Jn. 1). Gaius is a member of one of the churches in John’s jurisdiction. He is well known for his fidelity to the truth, both in his orthodox doctrine and in his love for the brethren (5, 6, 12), especially his kindness to visiting Christians and clergy. It is probable that John himself stays with Gaius when making his Apostolic visitations to the church.
By contrast, Diotrephes (9) “receiveth us not.” Diotrephes apparently follows at least part of the doctrine of the false teachers. He believes they know more about Christ than John, the beloved Apostle knows, and he participates in the emotional manipulation and religious experiences the false teachers call worship. Therefore, he does not receive John.
Others in the church also follow the false teachers. John has written to the church (9) but received no reply. Verse 10 seems to indicate Diotrephes as the source of the congregation’s refusal to acknowledge John’s authority. This is a frightful sin. Our Lord said to the Apostles, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me” (Mt. 10:40). To reject the faithful ministry of a Godly Apostle, then, is to reject God Himself. How might that apply to the contemporary church and ministers?
John makes the sobering point that those who do evil, by not receiving Godly ministers, and by following false teachers, have “not seen God” (11). This is a direct refutation of the false teachers’ claims that they see God in visions and dreams, and that He appears to them and speaks to them, and gives special knowledge to them. John does not say what or who the false teachers have seen, but it is not God.
As in 2 John, there is much more to say, but John assures Gaius he is coming to him. They will settle the matter when they are together (14).
General Remarks on Jude
The early Church believed the author of this short epistle is Jude, the brother of Christ. He identifies himself as the brother of James, meaning James the brother of the Lord, who served as bishop of the massive Church of Jerusalem. The epistle of Jude addresses the same issues and problems identified in the letters of John and Peter. It was probably written around the same time John was writing his final epistles, around 85 A.D. People claiming to follow Christ are dismissing the Apostles’ teaching in favour of an easier and more experience oriented religion. Their false doctrine is briefly described in the General Remarks on First John.
People with false beliefs and practices have crept into the Church unawares (4), meaning the Christians have welcomed them into their fellowship without recognising the extent of error and heresy in their views. Jude recognises this, and urges the people to “ contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (3). The faith once delivered is from Christ, proclaimed through the Apostles, and delivered to the Church. It does not need to be updated or changed to suit the times and values of contemporary people. In fact, to change it is heresy and sin and wickedness. Therefore, cling to and contend for it alone.
Jude gives sobering examples of the results of changing or leaving the faith given by God. First is the people brought out of Egyptian slavery (5). Great numbers of them were destroyed, rather than retained in the nation of Israel. Why? Because they “believed not” (5). They did not believe what God said, nor did they obey His commandments. Therefore, God destroyed them.
Fallen angels (6) are a second example. Created good, and with blessings and opportunities far beyond those of people, they rebelled against God. They now dwell in chains and darkness until Judgement Day.
A third example is found in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. “[G]iving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh,” they are “set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Each of these examples shows how wrong beliefs (doctrine) leads to wrong actions (practice). They also show how God feels about such errors. Spots on your feast of charity refers to rocks in the sea that are hidden by water but will wreck a ship and drown its people. Clouds without rain are clouds that look like they will give good rain to the earth, but bring only wind and darkness. Trees with withered (rotten) fruit cause sickness and death to those who eat of them. Foaming waves on the sea bring debris to the shore. Wandering stars are meteors falling into the blackness of darkness forever, appearing bright and glorious for a moment, but quickly burning away to nothing (12, 13). Verses 14-16 tell of God’s judgement falling upon those who follow the false teachers.
Jude reminds the people that the Apostles warned them that false teachers would come (17-19). He urges the Church to continue in the things of God (20-23). He closes with one of the most beautiful benedictions in all of Scripture (24, 25). He assures us that God is able to keep us from falling into the false teachings, and to preserve us in the true faith, “faultless” before the presence of His glory. This is accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ, who took our sins upon Himself, and paid for them on the cross. To this, the true God, “the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”