NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXII) 10/07/21
3:12 We are not to be like Cain, who belonged to Satan and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing wrong, he knew very well that his brother’s life was better than his.
Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) sees the context of verses eleven and twelve continue to build the case that the Apostle John’s readers ought to love one another. Such love is what was announced to them “from the beginning.” It refers to the time when they heard and received the Gospel message. The tactic John uses to address the danger of lovelessness is first in narrative form. He presents the story of Cain, who slaughtered his younger brother, Abel, serves as a precedent. John wanted to call attention to the particulars of this drama as a historical account in its primitive setting.
John’s ensuing critique of Cain is simple, says Yarbrough; he murdered Abel because of the moral nature of Abel’s sacrifice in contrast with the selfish intent of his offering. It points to Cain’s jealousy because Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, who rejected his offering. Cain’s behavior and underlying attitude were the antitheses of love. John uses Cain, the epitome of betrayal,  to exemplify how God’s people must never regard each other. The message that God is Light; and the announcement that John’s readers have had that Light “from the beginning” must be issued in active goodwill for others, not murderous impulses toward them. A significant assurance by John of salvation is the expression and the exercise of love. 
Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that in this verse, the Apostle John urges his readers to keep themselves from falling into that category of persons who do not love fellow believers. He does so by saying, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” John was referring to the story in Genesis of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was angry because his offering was not accepted by the Lord, whereas Abel’s sacrifice was approved. In his anger, Cain planned and carried out the murder of his brother. It is permissible to believe God rejected Cain’s offering because he was an evildoer. Following his rejection of Cain’s offering, the Lord says to Cain (before he murdered his brother): “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” It was an offer for repentance, but Cain rejected it.
Judith M. Lieu (1951) notes that the Apostle John relates a story where the failure to love ends in tragedy. John already mentioned in verse eight that any person who claims they have no sin belongs to the devil. There is no evidence that Cain brought his offering with any ulterior motive to kill Abel. That emotion was sparked when God did not accept his gift, but blessed Abel’s sacrifice. As they say in the Orient, “Cain lost face.” As the older brother, that was unacceptable. What could Adam and Eve say? How did they feel? It is all told under the banner of “Love one another.” Just as God being Light cannot be independent of the lives of those who confess Him, so here the call to love one another is not based on common humanity or a shared set of ethical values but an understanding and application of God and His Word.
Marianne M. Thompson (1954) also classifies Cain as a hater and robber. He is a hater because he manifested no love for his brother, and a robber because he took his brother’s life and property. Thompson goes on to say that Abel represents Jesus, but does not say who Cain represents. Putting it into the same context, Thompson says that Cain represented the Jewish leaders responsible for having Jesus crucified. But since the Apostle John is talking about brothers, Cain and Abel are best suited as models for the secessionist who forsook the congregation and Abel the faithful who remained. Added to this is the fact that Cain is described as belonging to the devil. Therefore, Abel belongs to God.
Bruce B. Burton (1954) mentions that Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s, first two sons. Abel offered a sacrifice that pleased God, while Cain’s offering was unacceptable. Cain brought grain and fruit, while Abel brought an animal from his flock. Abel’s sacrifice (an animal substitute for his life) was more acceptable to God, both because it was a blood sacrifice and, most important, because of Abel’s attitude when he offered it. After Cain’s offering was rejected, God gave him the chance to right his wrong and try again. God even encouraged him to do so. But Cain refused, and his jealous anger drove him to murder. And why did he kill his brother? Because Cain had been living without acknowledging God’s role in his life, and his brother had been in close communion with God. John’s point was not that Cain committed murder and became part of the devil’s viper brood; instead, because Cain belonged to the evil one, his anger and jealousy drove him to murder. John wanted his readers to understand the terrible results of refusing to love one another. Lack of love can lead to anger, jealousy, hatred – and finally, even to murder.
Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) points out that the word used for murder in Cain’s killing of his innocent brother is the same as that to describe the butchering or slaughtering of a sacrificial animal, mainly by cutting the throat. Therefore, it can easily be employed when cutting a human’s throat with the intent of making them a sacrifice. Furthermore, it pictures Abel’s gift to God like a lamb being slain later on the altar in the Temple. But things got worse; Cain then tried to deceive God when he was asked, “Where is your brother?” Cain pretended he didn’t know anything about Abel’s location.
Schuchard then goes on to say that, like Cain and Abel, we are all descendants of Adam and Eve and are, therefore, kin to one another. Yet, in today’s world, some are part of this kinship, and those who are not, belong to its prince, power, darkness, and death; the others belong to God, His Anointed One, His Spirit, His Light, and everlasting life.
The principles with which John operates, says Schuchard, are sure to shock and alarm the sensibilities of more than a few modern members of society. John’s message speaks to a culture that has almost come to cherish a sense of uncertainty pervading all of life’s circumstances. But John offers a healthy reminder; we might even say a “wake-up” call. The choices that we make matter; the sides we take do too. There are two sides in the universal, everlasting scheme of things: the side of God and those who stand with Him, and the other side does not nor ever will.
David Guzik (1961) tells us that Cain is an excellent example of the failure to love. 1) We can presume that Cain had a godly upbringing that should have equipped him to love, but he chose not to. 2) Cain’s disobedience came from a lack of faith,  resulting in defiance, then hatred. 3) Cain’s lack of discipline and alienation were based on pride. 4) Cain’s revolt and animosity made him feel miserable. 5) Cain refused the warning God gave him and surrendered to the sin of bitterness. 6) Cain’s disgust led to action against the one he despised. 7) Cain was evasive about his sin of revenge and tried to hide it. But God exposed him. Thus, incredibly, there were two of God’s creations. One was good and the other bad. Otherwise, if both were good, there would have been love.
What John is talking about here and the response from the world can be summed up in the well-known poem titled “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. It reads like this:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning’s of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
 Genesis 4:1-16
 Hebrews 11:4
 Cf. Jude 1:11
 1 John 1:5
 Ibid. 3:14
 Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 197-198
 Genesis 4:1-25
 See ibid. 4:6-7
 Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition.
 Cf. 3:10
 Lieu, Judith M., I, II & III John – NT Library, op. cit., pp. 143-145
 Thompson, Marianne M., 1-3 John, IPV NT Commentary, op. cit., pp. 100-102
 Genesis 4:1-16; Hebrews 11:4
 See John 8:44
 Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 72
 Schuchard, Bruce G., 1-3 John – Concordia, op. cit., pp. 342-346
 Hebrews 11:4
 Genesis 4:5
 Ibid. 4:6-7
 Ibid. 4:8
 Ibid. 4:9-10
 Guzik, David – Enduring Word, op. cit., p. 58