Notes on John’s Second Epistle
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
The second Epistles of the New Testament may be studied as bearing upon practical issues relating to Christian conduct in "the last days". Each applies the doctrines enshrined in the corresponding first Epistle to Christian living in a time of deception and apostasy, 2 Thess. 2. 3.
In 1 Peter the Christian is seen suffering and Satan is described as a roaring lion, but in Peter's second Epistle the believer is seen as being tempted while the devil is hidden behind his many pernicious devices. The stated purpose of this second letter is to remind the saints of truths concerning the last days, 2 Pet. 3. 1-14,
In his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul deals with things pertaining to the antichrist, which will increase before the day of the Lord shall come.
2 Timothy is well known as a guide to believers in the last days. A comparison of 1 Timothy 5. 21 with 2 Timothy 4. 1-2 reveals the relationship between these two Epistles.
Again in 2 Corinthians there is reference to the false teaching which is to be prevalent in the last days, 2 Cor. n. 13-15. Paul sets out his defence as a true minister of the gospel, giving directing principles whereby we, with spiritual insight, can discern God's chosen messengers in a world of corruption and declension.
The second Epistle of John also directs our attention to the days just prior to our Lord's return. In 1 John we learn that "God is light" and "God is love". In the second letter we are taught not to compromise the truth which light brings for the sake of love. The elect lady, possibly in difficult circumstances, might have been tempted to ignore the light of truth in order to obtain friendship and help. Around us today are many who appear to have forsaken all thought of God's Word of truth in their endeavour to foster man's work of love. Some actually "resist the truth", 2 Tim. 3. 8. John's third letter completes the picture as it teaches that love must not be sacrificed for truth. Gaius might have had an urge to entertain hard thoughts towards those who were following the malicious Diotrephes. It is as we speak the truth in love that we grow spiritually, Eph. 4. 15. "My little children, let us not love in word, . . . but in deed and in truth", 1 John 3. 18.
It is noteworthy that the ten single Epistles present primarily such truths as would make a second letter inappropriate. Romans is full of the unchangeable Gospel. The Ephesian and Colossian Epistles reveal the unalterable position of the Church in Christ and the eternal fulness of the Lord. The contrast between law and grace as introduced in Galatians makes this book similarly unique.
A verse-by-verse analysis of 2 John follows:
v. 1, Comforting Introduction. The renowned elder, persecuted for the faith, burdened with the needs of the churches, probably restricted by infirmity, takes time to write to an obscure Christian lady, probably a widow. What joy this would give her! The apostle does not overlook her children. Here is a great example of consideration for others. This lady., perhaps feeling neglected and unwanted, is reminded that "all they that have known the truth" extend love towards her. Such beloved ones, struggling to bring up their children, deserve our affection and support.
v. 2, Constant Habitation. Jesus said: "I am ... the truth". Fellow-saints may show their love and liberality but only the Holy Spirit could indwell this sister. The Lord has promised: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee". What an exaltation to a poor widow this would be!
v. 3, Careful Benediction. Only those who have believed in the Son of God can really appreciate the Father-Son relationship mentioned here (and in verse 9). To many people God is known by the abstract term "Almighty", (see 2 Cor. 6. 18, the only New Testament reference outside Revelation). But to us He is "our Father", a title combining dearness and nearness.
The world is motivated by temptation and lust; the Lord is full of truth and love. He gives this lady grace instead of greed, mercy instead of misery, peace instead of perplexity. These are expressions of the Father's love.
v. 4, Continual Sanctification. The apostle provides fresh joy to this sister as she reads his commendation of her children. By waiting upon the Lord we also can walk and not faint in our "daily round and common task". This is Christian experience.
v. 5, Compelling Supplication. Some have suggested, (in spite of the benediction to this lady, Kyria), that this letter may be interpreted as being directed to a local church. As corporate members we realise that "Christ . . . loved the church, and gave himself for it"; while as individuals we rejoice that He "loved me, and gave himself for me". Herein is the grand incentive for us to "love one another". What an exhibition to the world is a church where perfect love has cast out fear!
v. 6, Concise Explanation. This is not an age of progressive revelation. We are "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints", Jude 3 R.v. If we love Him we will keep His commandments, John 14. 15. This should provoke self-examination.
v. 7, Correct Identification. There is much of the spirit of antichrist about today. In his first Epistle, John refers to a denial that Jesus Christ came in the flesh; here we are told that the deceivers, coexisting with the saints in the last days, will deny that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh (see R.V.). Such passages give a proper exposure of the mystery of iniquity which "doth already work".
v. 8, Commended Concentration. Rather than criticising and condemning others, we are to look to ourselves. "Prove your own selves", 2 Cor. 13. 5. What an exhortation this is!
v. 9, Certain Discrimination. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples", John 15. 7-8. "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them", Matt. 7. 20. How explicit Scripture is! There is no need for a lack of understanding to cause any believer to stumble, 1 Cor. 14. 20. The Holy Spirit (not men's wisdom) is our guide into all truth, John 16. 13. It is not without significance that the deep truths of this letter were penned to a lady and her children.
v. 10, Complete Separation. Here is practical advice in days when many false cults are being presented on the doorstep. This is excellent counsel for a lonely widow. One can be reasonable and firm and yet neither rude nor foolish.
v. 11, Combined Condemnation. To sympathize with the emissaries of false doctrine is to side with Satan. This, the shortest book in the canon of Scripture, contains a wonderful exposition on the maintainance of truth. No association with evil is permitted to the child of God; "Buy the truth, and sell it not", Prov. 23. 23.
v. 12, Characteristic Anticipation. John has a hope -the verb "trust" here and in 3 John 14 is literally "hope". "Hope" in the New Testament causes one to look forward to the fulfilment of John 14. 3. So, in response to the Lord's promise to return and receive His Church, the apostle closes this letter with the thought: "I hope to be with you". Perhaps he contemplated a visit to this lady, as most translations imply. He certainly also looked away to the time when we shall all be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then our joy will be full. What an expectation is ours!
If the second Epistles bring us to the closing stages of this age, then a third Epistle must cause us to consider the very end; and in 3 John 14, where John again refers to his hope, we find the word "eutheos", which, though here translated "shortly", is on sixty-seven other occasions correctly rendered "immediately" or "straightway". The Lord's return is to be reckoned as imminent: in 2 John and immediate in 3 John. This last Johannine Epistle, with its sevenfold mention of truth and its seven references to love, gives direction to the faithful disciple in the midst of the Laodicean attitude which will be prevalent as the end time, described in 2 Thessalonians 2. 8-12, approaches.
v. 13, Cheering Conclusion. The aged apostle does not think of himself. He does not mention his own circumstances and welfare; but concludes with greetings from this lady's relatives. Their aunt is not forgotten by them (cf. 1 Tim. 5. 4). What excitement this note, probably written on a single sheet of papyrus, must have created in her heart! May all our private correspondence be of a similar character.