WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXIV) 03/03/22

4:4 Since you belong to God, my dear children, you have already won a victory over those worldly people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in them. 

Judith M Lieu (1951) notes that the emphatic “you” at the beginning of the verse contrasts with “them” at the end. The contrast is reinforced by the emphatic “you have won a victory.” “They” in verse five are not identified; although it may point back to the false prophets, these were symbolic figures of the antichrist spirits who intervened. More immediately, within the unit formed by “them,” anticipates their description in the next verse. Victory over “them” in verse four is already a foregone conclusion, just as was the victory over the evil one assured to young Christians.[1] The parallel does not mean that the readers won the argument or succeeded in driving the other out; neither may have been the case. Rather, the confidence that those who presumably make the same confession as the Spirit has His origin in God. Therefore, it confirms that they share God’s ultimate victory. It is not something for which they can take credit; rather, they are at the place where God’s conflict with the powers opposing “them” is being played out.[2]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) notes three emphatic statements in verses four, five, and six, “You are of God,” “they are of the world,” and “are of God.” They underscore the stakes of being on one side or the other “You” sharpens the contrast between that born of the Spirit of God/Truth[3] and the spirit of antichrist/deceit.[4] The first of three instances “of God” with a form of the copulais/are[5] [6] underscores again that one is either of God or not of God. If not of God, one is “of the world.[7] [8]

Today there are many multi-religious gatherings and seminars, Schuchard tells us. For example, Pope Frances once called on Catholics and Buddhists in Myanmar “to be united” in order “to heal the wounds of conflict that through the years have divided people of different cultures, ethnicities, and religious convictions.”[9] The question is, did the Pope make this statement based on the test of the Apostle John to try the spirits to see if they are of God? As John says here in verse five, the world loves to hear that, but they won’t listen to us who preach the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One.

Schuchard goes on to say John views mankind as being divided into two groups. The division of “for this reason they speak of the world, and the world hears them,[10] and “by this, we know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deceit.[11] The initial use of demonstrative “this” marks each that frames that which distinguishes the one who “knows God” from the one who is “does not know God.” The one who knows God listens.[12] The one who knows God heeds those (“us”) whose fellowship with one another, in fellowship with the Father and the Son in the Spirit, is founded upon the word of the Apostle John, which is God’s word. To heed or not to heed the voice of the Good Shepherd in His under-shepherds – His faithful pastors.[13] That is the question; that is John’s dividing line, The one who heeds knows God; the one who does not is ignorant of God.[14]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) says that the Apostle John now gives a reason for his readers’ persistence in the truth: “because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (KJV). Who is this He and he? The masculine article does not allow any reference to the Greek neuter article ho (“one”) spoken of here. The NIV has it properly rendered, “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The One who has overcome the world is Jesus the Anointed One, [15] and it is His presence by the Spirit in and among the true children of God that enables them to understand His identity and remain in the truth. The opposition to the Anointed One, namely, the antichrist, is the one who is in the world. If John’s gospel is allowed to inform the question, we find reference to the “prince of this world,”[16] which stands judged by the Anointed One. Those who left the truth and went out into the world were not born of God but drawn into the darkness of ignorance, despite what they may have thought.[17]

Duncan Heaster (1967) tells us that by being born of God by the Spirit, [18] what was in them (the Spirit) was greater than the supposed “spirit” in the Jewish world. The believers were “little children” of God, born of Him by the Spirit. The Spirit is personified [“he”] not because the Holy Spirit is a personal being [Unitarianism], but because the presence of the Spirit would be as real for the believers as if the Lord were physically present with them as a person.[19] John makes such a fuss about believing that the Lord Jesus came in the flesh because he wants his brethren to have the same Spirit in Jesus’ dwelling in their flesh.[20] He wants them to see that being human is no barrier for God to take up his residence. As He was in the world, so are we to be in the world.[21] This is why it’s so important to understand that the Lord Jesus was genuinely human.[22]

David Legge (1969) says that almost unplanned comment, the Apostle John says: “You belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” It’s a bit reminiscent of what Moses said about false prophets: “If a prophet says he is speaking for the Lord, but what he says does not happen, you will know that the Lord did not say it. You will know that this prophet was speaking his ideas. You don’t need to be afraid of him.”[23]

John writes these believers, says Legge: “It doesn’t matter what these false teachers have taught you, claiming it comes from God’s Spirit when it’s from the evil one. Don’t feel intimidated by their superior knowledge, by their charismatic powers! There are many running around; they may have high degrees and all the rest – and for that reason, many people listen to them – and that can be dangerous – because of their superior knowledge and intellect, people quickly submit to them. Others claim revelations from God, new truth, and unsuspecting people may say: “Well, God has never shown me anything like that, and I believe that this is a good person, and they’re such a powerful teacher I have to listen.” Then others claim great experiences, and you can be overwhelmed if you haven’t had them.[24]

4:5       These false prophets belong to the world’s system, so what they say is from that system as well, and that’s why secular society listens to what to them.

EXPOSITION

When some of John the Baptizer’s supporters began to follow Jesus, they may have wondered what made Him different from the Baptizer, or other prophets speaking at that time.  Jesus left no doubt in their minds when He told them, “The One who comes from above is greater than all others. The one who rises on earth belongs to the earth. He discusses things that are on the earth. But the One who comes down from heaven is greater than all others.[25]

Before, we have mentioned some of these false Messiahs, such as Simon of Peraea, Athronges, and Menahem ben Judah.  As a matter of fact, Flavius Josephus, the famed Jewish historian, tells us the following story about a little-known person named Izates (born in 1 AD and died in 55 AD), who was introduced to the Jewish tenets by a Jewish merchant named Ananias. He later discovered that his mother had already converted to Judaism. Nevertheless, he became greatly revered because of his devotion to God, and many wanted to join him as their leader in Judea.  Izates was from a small kingdom called Adiabene, part of the Persian empire in northern Mesopotamia (now Iraq), with its capital Arba-ilu, modern-day Irbil, Iraq. 

The royal family embraced the Jewish religion, and the queen mother Helena became famous for her generosity to the Jews and the Temple in Jerusalem. The nobles of Adiabene became so upset at the royal family’s switch to Judaism that they persuaded Abia, King of Arabia, to declare war against Izates, who defeated Abia, who, in despair, committed suicide. The nobles then conspired with Volageses, King of Parthia, but the latter was prevented from carrying out his plans at the last moment, and Izates continued to reign undisturbed for twenty-four years. Helena was so honored that her two grandsons, Monobazus II and Izates II, were buried in the Tombs of the Kings at Jerusalem.[26] It happened during Jesus’ lifetime.

Then Josephus chronicles another story of a pretend Messiah: “Now it came to pass, while Fadus was proxy for Caesar in Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and his words deluded many. However, Fadus did not permit them to take advantage of this wild attempt but sent a troop of horsemen out against them, who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.[27]


[1] 1 John 2:13

[2] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 170-171

[3] 1 John 4:2a and 6d

[4] Ibid. 4:3b and 4:6d

[5] Ibid. 4:6a and 6c

[6] Copula a connecting word involving two or more variable quantities

[7] 1 John 4:5

[8] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 426

[9] Pope Francis greeted Bhaddanta Kumarabhivasma, chairman of the supreme council of Buddhist monks, during a November 29, 2017 meeting with monks of the council at the Kaba Aye Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

[10] 1 John 4:5b

[11] Ibid. 4:6d

[12] Ibid. 4:2a and 4:6d; See also 4:3c contrasted with 4:5b, 6c

[13] See John 21:15-17

[14] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit. pp. 430-431

[15] John 16:33

[16] Ibid. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11

[17] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Book 18), p. 182

[18] John 1:13; 3:5

[19] Heaster no doubt comes to this conclusion based on scriptures like 2 Corinthians 3:17 and 1 John 5:8

[20] 1 John 4:2, 4

[21] Ibid. 4:17

[22] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, pp.30-31

[23] Deuteronomy 18:22 – Easy to Read Version (ERV)

[24] Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preach the Word, “Discerning Christianity,” Part 12

[25] John 3:31

[26] Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, Ch. 4:1

[27] Ibid. Bk. 20, Ch. 5:1


About drbob76

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