NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXIX) 05/03/21
2:8 But what I write is also a new commandment. It is a true one; you can see its truth in Jesus and yourselves. The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
The concept of light and darkness representing those in union with God and those in partnership with the devil was not new. Even the Psalmist exclaimed, “The Lord is my Light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid?” And what beautiful words for John to have memorized from the last prophet to write God’s message to His children: “You who reverence My Name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings.”
The prophet Malachi poetically put the same thought by saying, “Goodness will shine on you like the rising sun with healing power in its rays. You will run free and happy, like young calves let out to pasture.” John expresses a similar thought in his Gospel. And with such Light shining on us, we are less apt to go back into the darkness where unholy practices await anyone who returns to their former den of iniquity. So, stay in the Light because He is Light!
Just look at John’s own words: “Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for humanity. The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light.” And for sure, John never forgot the words of our Lord when He told everyone in Jerusalem, “I am the Light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness because you will have the light that leads to life.” And when the Master told the disciples that He did not have long to stay, He reminded them, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going.” And to his young protégé, Timothy, Paul’s words of encouragement about the ministry of the Messiah on earth was that “He made all of this plain to us by the appearance of the Anointed One, Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.”
John turns a corner and says that he does have something new for them to realize, and that is, they must implement this new commandment in their lives before it is possible to obey the original one. And this new commandment came from the lips of the Anointed One: “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” And this is very important; it will help those who watch you and hear you speak about your Christian faith, that you are indeed one of the Anointed One’s followers when they see how you love one another. As a matter of fact, the Anointed One repeated it later to make sure they understood its importance.
But as Paul saw it, there was more to be revealed. So, he told the Corinthians, you know of the generous loving-favor shown by our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Although He was rich, He became poor for your good. In that way, He gave up everything so that He could richly bless you. And since we are God’s dear children, we must try to be like Him. So, live a life filled with love, following the example of the Anointed One who loved us so much, He offered Himself on our behalf like a sweet-smelling incense and sacrifice to God.
Even the Apostle Peter found this a necessary word of encouragement and pointed out that since Jesus went through everything we’re going through, and more, we must learn to think like Him. We ought to think of your sufferings as a withdrawal symptom from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get our way. Then we’ll be able to live out our days free to pursue what God wants instead of chasing our desires, trying to enjoy life like unbelievers. In other words, it’s almost like going through detoxification to get rid of the addiction to the enslaving habits of this world. Just trying to avoid such things is not enough; our sinful tendencies must be nailed to the cross with our Lord so that they become a dead thing to us.
When John speaks of the darkness of ungodliness fading away, he implies the world before they saw the Gospel’s Light in the incarnation of the Son of God who came to live among us. We find a similar refrain when King Solomon said, “Take a look outside, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers are coming through the ground. Now the season for singing is here. We can even hear the cooing of the returning turtle-dove throughout our land.” And who can forget those inspiring words of the prophet Isaiah, “Those people who live in darkness will see a great Light. They live in a place as dark as death, but a great Light will shine on them.”
The Apostle Paul may have had a similar thought when he issued an alarm to the Roman church that “the night is almost over.” They needed to know that the day was almost here when the whole world would know about Jesus the Messiah. So, stop doing the things done in darkness and take the weapons that help us fight for the Light. He gave the Corinthians a similar warning. Even the Ephesians were subject to such a period of heathen darkness before the Light came to them. And Paul encouraged the Thessalonians that they are children of the Light and the day. They are not of the dark or the night. So, stay awake! Don’t fall asleep like others have done! Watch out; keep your minds alert to what is happening.
“Anyone who goes to sleep at night because it gets dark will awaken in the morning when the light dawns.” So, says John, those who were spiritually asleep in the darkness of ignorance about God are now spiritually awake because the Light has come. But not just any light. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my Light and Savior. So, why should I fear anyone? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger. So, I will be afraid of no one?”
Œcumenius (700-800 AD) states that this commandment is new in that it is no longer restricted to Israel as it was under Moses’ law. Under that law, every person was responsible to love their friends and to hate their enemies. But Jesus then turned that around by saying that we should love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. John was concentrating on the fact that these people are human beings like ourselves and not worrying about how they feel toward us.
In what sense is this commandment to love one another new, asks Isho‘dad of Merv (800-900 AD)? To John, the term “commandment” means the revelation of the dispensation. It cannot be called new concerning God, but from the human point of view, it was a mystery hidden in the Creator from the beginning. Clement of Alexandria says the darkness is the darkness of perversion, and the light is the light of faith, working in us according to God’s foreordained plan.
Richard Rothe (1799-1867) tells us that we cannot understand the first half of this verse without knowing the last half. The fact that the Apostle John says it is new only means that it is now reinterpreted by the Anointed One for use by those who follow Him whenever or wherever taught. All we have to do is read the story of the Good Samaritan to see what a change our Lord made in loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is not something we do out of obligation or an act forced on us by an emergency. It should always be on a believer’s mind. Furthermore, it was certainly on our Lord’s mind everywhere He went.
But then John says, it is essential to understand this “because” the darkness is passing and the Light is already shining. Rothe points to how the vagueness of this statement has led to many interpretations. If “ignorance” is taken as “not knowing,” it leaves it open to defining what uninformed people needed to hear. Or, if we take “darkness” to imply the pre-Christian age and the non-Christian condition of humanity, it is speaking of two periods in time. But somewhat deeper, if we see “darkness” as the world without the presence of the Anointed One, then it is His Light that is shining for all to see. So, the believer’s role in loving one another in this transition from the old to the new requirements that the world must be able to see the change made when they went from being pagan to Christian. John does not leave us in the dark; verses nine and ten explain it best of all.
 Psalm 27:1; cf. 36:9; 84:11
 Malachi 4:2
 John 1:4-5, 9
 Ibid. 8:12
 Ibid. 12:35
 2 Timothy 1:10
 John 13:34-35
 Ibid. 15:12-15
 2 Corinthians 8:9
 Ephesians 5:1-2
 1 Peter 4:1-2
 Song of Solomon 2:11-12
 Isaiah 9:2; See 60:1-3
 Romans 13:12
 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
 Ephesians 5:8
 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
 Psalm 27:1
 Matthew 5:43-45a
 Œcumenius: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 180
 Isho’dad of Merve, Bray, G. (Ed.)., 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 180
 Alexander, Clement, of, Adumbrations, p. 180
 Luke 10:25-37
 Acts of the Apostles 10:38
 Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., August 1891, p. 163