WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXVIII) 09/03/21

3:8 But when people habitually sin, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.

Satan is in the business of slandering the saints.[1] We know that defamation sows’ suspicion and puts a question mark in people’s minds about someone or something. There are always those who welcome gossip. Both those who spread rumors and those who listen to them do the devil’s work.[2] For this purpose, the Son of God revealed Himself. Thus, we find the first purpose for His first coming in verse five.  He came to deal with the sin question.

The second purpose of the coming of the Son of God to earth was to destroy the wicked one’s works. It is one of the purposes of the incarnation. Jesus came to free us from the bondage of Satan, our capacity to sin, and individual sinful acts. The devil is a powerful foe. It took the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross to defeat him. People love to dismiss Jesus the Messiah as a fictitious person, the figment of someone’s imagination. But, again, listen to the Apostle Paul and what he told Timothy: “The Anointed One was shown to us in human form; the Spirit proved that He was right; angels saw Him. The message about Him was told to the nations in the world who believed in Him; He was taken up to heaven in glory.[3]

The reason the devil is the slanderer of God’s children is that, that is what his name means. Jesus destroyed his works so that believers might escape his tyranny. The word “works” indicates the apparent accomplishments and achievements of the world system, the false achievements of a known blasphemer. The devil’s works are diverse. He is the motivator of “evil deeds,[4]unfruitful works of darkness,[5]wicked works,”[6] and “dead works.”[7]

The word “destroy” conveys the concept of dissolving and disintegrating. The goal is to reduce something to ruin by tearing it down or breaking it into pieces. The devil accuses Christians before the Father, but Jesus came to put a stop to this work of blaming Christians. When we slander others, we do Satan’s work. The Anointed One will destroy that work. The ultimate end of the Anointed One’s assignment is the complete destruction of all that the devil did and is. His past work against the devil destroyed his theory of a world system. However, Satan is not permanently defeated yet. The last book of the Bible gives the doom of the devil. That is why he hates the book of Revelation. It tells of the defeat of Satan, how it will all end for him and his followers. That is why he spreads the propaganda that you cannot understand the book of Revelation.[8]

We all know that a child will inevitably be like their parents. In the same way, devoted to God will be like Him, and unbelievers will be like Satan. A vital relationship with the Anointed One provides a new nature that counteracts sin in our lives. The divine nature in of Jesus’ followers inspires them to please the Lord because their new birth gave them a new orientation for living. This inner, renewed entity cannot knowingly sin. It is contrary to its very nature.

Our life in the Anointed One does not come from religion or morality. The devil attempts to calm his followers’ fears about trying to live right by saying it’s not necessary—however, true holy living springs from a redeemed life. Therefore, the unique nature cannot commit an act of sin. Inhibition to sin comes from a fresh awareness implanted in the faithful by God. This essential principle orients us to an entirely different sphere than sinful living. Since our old nature can sin, that is why we must confess sin as Christians.[9] 

COMMENTARY

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) preached a sermon on verses eighteen to twenty-seven about the antichrists. He urges God’s children to grow spiritually because “it is the last hour.” Our age or physique is not created according to our wishes. No individual can grow in line with their will any more than they were born at the time of their choosing. Where and when a person is born is their parents’ decision. What they grow up to be is generated by their will. However, no one is “spiritually born of water and the spirit” unless they are willing. Consequently, if someone wants to, they can grow spiritually or stay where they are. What does it mean to “grow?” It implies that you advance to being more proficient in your chosen field. What is it to “decrease?” To go backward by deficiency.

When a person knows that they are born again, says Augustine, let them realize that they are infants; let them eagerly cling to the breasts of their spiritual mother, so they can grow at the right pace. Now their mother is the Church, and her breasts are the two Testaments of the Divine Scriptures. Therefore, let them receive nourishment from all the spiritual truths done in time for their eternal salvation. By being nourished and strengthened, they may begin eating solid meat, which is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Our milk is the Anointed One in His humility; our meat, is the Anointed One equal with the Father. So, he starts us out on milk in order to feed us with bread: with our heart spiritually in touch with the Anointed One, we know that He is equal with the Father.[10]

Bede the Venerable (672-725 AD) makes the point that we were not born demonic. We do not resemble the devil because of how we were created, as the Manichaeans blasphemously assert.[11] Instead, it was because we followed Satan in his sinful ways. John describes the devil’s sinfulness in the present tense because he is just the same now as he was in the beginning when he first fell into sin. This verse also implies that the devil existed before anything else. There is no reason to doubt that God made the angels before the creatures on earth. Also, the one who was the highest among them became proud and rebelled against his Maker. By pride, he sinned from the beginning and transformed from an archangel of God into an arch-enemy of God.[12]

Thomas Aquinas deals with whether the devil is the head of all the wicked. Some resist this idea by saying the devil is not the head of the wicked. For it belongs to the head to distribute sense and movement into the members. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says: “God put all things under the power of the Anointed One, and for the good of the church, He has made Him the head of everything.” Thus, the devil has no power to spread the evil of sin, which proceeds from the sinner’s will. Therefore, the resisters say the devil cannot be called the head of the wicked.

On the contrary, says Aquinas, the head influences the internal and external activities of the body, directing them to an end. Hence, one could say that anyone can be the head of a group regarding their actions and attitude. In the same way, the Anointed One is the spiritual Head of the Church. As such, every pastor, priest, or prince is subject to Him. And in the same way, the devil is the head of all the wicked. For, as is written: “He is king over all the children of pride.”[13]

Aquinas explains that a governor does not always demand that his subjects obey his will, but tells how it will benefit them. As a consequence, some may comply with an incentive, and others of their free will. The same is true of an army leader, whose standard all the soldiers follow. However, no one needs to persuade them; they see it as their duty. Hence, the first sin of the devil, who sinned from the beginning, is held out for all to follow. Some are intimidated into doing what he said, while others need no encouragement, it’s their choice. Since the devil is the head of all the wicked with or without temptation, they follow his example. As King Solomon stated: “By the envy of the devil, death came into the world. And they follow him that are on his side.”[14] [15]

But Aquinas sees another question connected to what the Apostle John says here in verse eight. And that is: Whether it was fitting that the Anointed One be tempted? It would seem, some say, that it was not fair for the Anointed One to be tempted, for to tempt is to do an experiment, which is not done except to discover something unknown. But even the demons knew about the Anointed One’s power.[16] Therefore, these doubters say, it seems that it was improper for any temptation to be applied to the Anointed One.

On the contrary, says Aquinas, it is written: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”[17] The Anointed One wished to be tempted that He might strengthen us against temptations. Hence, Gregory of Nyssa (540-604 AD) says in his sermon on Matthew 4:1-11, “It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted, who also came to be slain; in order that by His temptations He might conquer our temptations, just as by His death He overcame our death.”[18]


[1] Revelation 12:9-10

[2] James 4:7

[3] 1 Timothy 3:16; Many Bible scholars believe this was one of the first creeds in the Apostolic Church. Cf. 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14-15

[4] John 3:19

[5] Ephesians 5:11

[6] Colossians 1:21

[7] Hebrews 9:14

[8] Revelation 12:7-11

[9] 1 John 1:9

[10] Augustine of Hippo (354-430) AD: Homilies on the First, Epistle of John, Homily 3, p. 945

[11] At its core, Manichaeism was a type of Gnosticism—a dualistic religion that offered salvation through special knowledge (gnosis) of spiritual truth. Like all forms of Gnosticism, Manichaeism taught that life in this world is unbearably painful and radically evil.

[12] Bede the Venerable: Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, p. 199

[13] Job 41:25

[14] Wisdom of Solomon, Ch. 2:24-25

[15] Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 5, pp. 142-143

[16] Luke 4:41

[17] Matthew 4:1

[18] Ibid. pp. 543-544

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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