WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXIII) 10/08/21

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 purer than his.

Peter Pett (1966) notices that John begins this section by concentrating on the importance of Christians loving Christians, those loyal to the essentials of the faith. He points out that to love one another has been true from the beginning, even from the time of Adam. There were two brothers. One was righteous. He sought to be faithful to God’s will. The other was defiant. He did not seek the mind of God. And so, instead of repenting, Cain murdered Abel, who was living right. He revealed himself as belonging to the Evil One. He made visible what he was, a rebel against God, deceived and influenced by Satan. And it was revealed in his failure to love his brother.

In Jewish and early Christian writings, says Pett, Cain represents those who refuse to obey God and defy His command to love one another. They looked forward to seeing those punished with the same judgment “who are like Cain who envies and hates their fellowman.[1] Philo, in his allegorical commentary on Genesis, expanded on the whole theme.[2] The Apostle Jude also speaks of “the way of Cain.”[3] [4]

David Legge (1969) states that right away, we see that love is more than a swooning feeling; it is more an act of our will rather than an emotion. But the Apostle John doesn’t leave it for us to conclude what this love is like, for he says in verse twelve, “We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous.” First of all, John gives us an illustration of what this love is not and then what it is like.

Legge shares an interesting story about someone from England driving in Ireland who stopped at a traffic light and asked an Irish gentleman on the corner, “Can you tell me the way to Belfast?” The professor-looking Irishman said: “Well, if you go up that road and turn right, and then turn left again, come to a roundabout, go straight ahead…but that’s not where it is.” Sometimes we have to find out what a thing is not to understand what it is. Here John shows us the proof of where love is not, which proves the absence of being in union with God.

But then Legge moves on from the illustration to explain why Cain behaved in this way. At the end of verse twelve, we read: “Because his works were evil, and his brother’s deeds were righteous.” Cain belonged to the wicked one. At the beginning of verse twelve, we see two things that the Apostle John is citing that shed light on Cain’s lack of brotherly love. The first thing he gives us is that Cain belonged to the devil’s wicked brood. That identifies his parentage. Indeed, this evil feature is a distinctive part of the devil’s character. By looking at what John said in his Gospel,[5] that the devil was a thief, and a murderer from the beginning, here Cain is following in the footsteps of his spiritual mentor, committing murder and then theft.[6]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) sees John moving beyond the authors of Genesis concept of wrongdoing[7] and the writer of Hebrews lack of faith[8] and places Cain’s motive at the devil’s doorstep. It also fits Jesus’ view of a murderer’s connection with “the devil,” who has been “one from the beginning.” John confidently follows his Lord’s lead by equating those who reject other Christians to this Satanic source.[9] The renegade antichrists are also in view. Did they depart the Christian community because they were envious of John? Envy or no envy, they hated John’s message, and their poisonous gossip and false gospel were spilling into the ears of church members. They wanted apostolic Christianity to die.[10]

3:13 So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world doesn’t like you

EXPOSITION

The Apostle John is not offering a startling new revelation here. It may have come as a surprise to the Apostles Peter and John after they healed the disabled man near the Temple gate[11] when those who saw what had been done thought these two uneducated Galileans were using some kind of magic. After all, they accused Jesus of doing His miracles by the power of the devil.[12] And in one of His parables, Jesus talked about the king who sent out messengers to invite chosen individuals to his son’s wedding feast. But the people refused to listen and went on doing other things. He was furious when he was informed how they treated his messengers and their message. These people had nothing against the king’s, they just didn’t have respect for the king. So, why should the disciples be surprised when Jesus told them that the world would not like them because they hated Him. Not only that, but be prepared for them to be imprisoned just because they are Christians.[13]

Despite these warnings, the Apostle John heard the Master say that the world is not treating them that way because they were His followers, but out of hatred for Him.[14] Furthermore, this animosity did not begin with the disciples but started with the world’s rejection of Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. In addition, it is also out of jealously because the Messiah chose the disciples instead of choosing everybody to be His followers.[15] And even though the disciples were Jews, if they tried to attend worship at the synagogue, they would be thrown out just because they followed Jesus. The truth is, a time would come when some would be scattered and seemingly forget their Christian roots. But not to worry, they were given enough information about God’s salvation plan to keep them going. They were unaware that Jesus already knew the rest of the story and how things would work out in the end.[16]

Responding to this, the Apostle Paul told the believers in Rome that they should not expect the world to suddenly turn around, love them, and treat them with civil courtesy.[17] And he told Timothy that he should tell the congregations under his care that everyone who stands up and stands out for the Lord Jesus the Anointed One will be persecuted for their faith, not because of who they are.[18] On the other hand, however, let no one persuade them to forsake their faith just to be accepted by the world. To do that would not only be turning against their beliefs, but turning against God by embracing His enemies as friends.[19] That’s why it is so important, says John, that everyone remains true and faithful to their commitment to the Lord Jesus. The reason is when it’s all over, and they have suffered, some even to the point of death, there is a new form waiting for them in heaven that will never experience sorrow, sickness, suffering, or sadness.[20]

Today’s human nature is the same as of old. There are still devilish Cains in this world, hating Abel’s believers. So don’t be surprised, brothers, says the Apostle John, if the world hates you. John uses the Greek noun adelphos (“brethren” – KJV); (“brothers and sisters” NIV) in the group sense, [21] which is appropriate to illustrate brotherly love. Elsewhere in this chapter, he uses it as “brother.”[22] By saying “if[23] the world hates you, expresses no doubt as to the fact but states it gently and conditionally.

Christians should not be astonished that the satanic world system despises their view of grace.  If Cain killed his brother Abel over grace, it should not cause wonderment that the world is mad at Christians for their stand on grace. They wonder why should God save people who admit they were sinners and not save those who were morally good? Also, “if” indicates that John’s readers were already in the process of marveling over the reaction against their message.

The world is disgusted that grace is the only means of salvation and sanctification.[24]  Salvation by grace is inherently unwelcoming to the non-Christian. Those spiritually dead always do not care for those spiritually alive. The world hates the message of grace because it shows them that they are still sinners and need salvation, no matter how morally good they may seem.


[1] Testimony of Benjamin 7:5

[2] See Philo of Alexandria and the Cain and Abel narrative: Structure and Typology in Philo’s exegesis of Genesis 4.1-8. A dissertation submitted to the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts, by John Michael Shaw.

[3] Jude 1:11

[4] Pett, Peter: Truth According to Scripture Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] John 8:44

[6] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1,2,3, John, op. cit., Part 9

[7] Genesis 3:1-13

[8] Hebrews 3:19

[9] 1 John 3:10

[10] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean.,1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[11] Acts of the Apostles 3:12

[12] Matthew 12:24

[13] Ibid. 10:5-7, 22; 24:9

[14] John 7:7

[15] Ibid. 15:18-19

[16] Ibid. 16:2, 32-33; 17:14

[17] Roman 8:7

[18] 2 Timothy 3:12

[19] James 4:4

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:1

[21] See 1 John 3:13, 14, 16; 3 John 1:5, 10

[22] See 1 John 3:10. 12, 15, 17

[23] The particle ει (“ei”) is a conditional conjunction and means “if.” It’s pretty much on a par with our English word “if,” and offers no major surprises. It is employed to introduce a situation or statement that is entirely hypothetical, typically without saying anything about the validity of the statement.

[24] Hebrews 11:36-40

About drbob76

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