WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXV) 04/19/22

4:9 God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into this wicked world to bring us eternal life through His death.

The keyword for the work of the Anointed One on the cross by which sin’s death penalty was removed for those who believe in Him is translated in the KJV as “propitiation.” In Hebrew, the word is “kapparah,” which means “atonement.” Such atonement is wrought vicariously by sacrificing an animal who dies in the sinner’s place.  The Greek word used by John here is “hilasmos,” which means “appease,” which carries the idea of satisfying someone by giving in to their demands. So, the Anointed One brought about the atonement by pleasing God with the required sacrifice, which was His life for our punishment.

God took the initiative to reach out in love to us. This model for our love is a model of creativity in sacrifice. It is not our nature to spontaneously love God or others.  We do not love God in an unsolicited manner.  We did not take the initiative in love; God did.  Love begets love.  God’s agápe-love causes a reply of love in us. The word “but” shows a strong contrast.  The word “us” is emphatic and contrasts with another decisive term, “He.”  Love for God never originates in man, but always in God.  God sought us; we did not seek Him. 

God took action in loving us. He sent His Son to die on the cross.  His agápe-love was not in response to man’s love, but was initiated wholly within Himself. It was His plan from eternity to do this. The only two instances of “propitiation” are in this verse and 2:2. There is another word for propitiation, “expiation.” On occasion, it means satisfaction or mercy seat.  The First Covenant presents the idea of “expiation” in atonement or covering of sins by sacrifice to free a person from sin. God transferred the penalty of sins to animal sacrifice. God removes our guilt by sacrifice. The judgment of God on the Anointed One at the cross appeases His wrath against the one who accepts the Anointed One’s suffering for sin. Jesus was the only one who could satisfy the demands of a perfect God. Jesus satisfied God by dying in our place and taking our eternal punishment on the cross. Divine love takes the initiative to love others.

Therefore, don’t let anyone think that any higher manifestation of love than this can be offered. It is not in any love humanity can show to their Creator. But in their Maker’s love for them, the fundamental nature of love can be perceived. Note the change from perfect to aorist tense in verse nine expresses the permanent results of the Anointed One’s mission. The Greek verb apostellō (“sent” KJV; “sending” NLT) implies that the assignment is an accomplished fact. Some Bible scholars say that Jesus was the substitute sacrifice for our sins. But this is a conflicting statement because He was not a substitute. No other suitable, required ransom could be found in heaven or on earth. Therefore, the only replacement form was that He died on our behalf, since we did not qualify as an acceptable sacrifice to God. As Dr. Grant Richison says, “Jesus took our hell that we might have His heaven.[1] [2]

COMMENTARY

John Cassian (360-432 AD) tells us that the perfect love with which God first loved us will come into our hearts, for our faith promises us that this prayer of our Savior will not be in vain.[3]

And Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) states that we come to God not by our own merits but by the bestowal of His grace alone, as John bears witness when he says that we did not love God; instead, He loved us. Therefore, this is the most significant sign of God’s agápe-love for us. For when we could not seek Him because of our many sins, He sent His Son to us so that through Him, forgiveness will be extended to all who believe in Him and call us back into the fellowship of His fatherly glory.[4]

John Calvin (1509-1564) amplifies God’s agápe-love by noting that He gave us His only Son when we were still His enemies.[5] But the Apostle John employs other words that God loved humanity without any effort on their part to love Him and loved them unconditionally. He meant by these words to teach us that God’s agápe-love towards us has been so full of grace. Therefore, although it was John’s object to present God as an example to be imitated by us, the doctrine of faith that he intermingles ought not be overlooked. God willingly loved us. How so because He loved us before we were born and also when, through immoral living, we turned our hearts away from Him.

Calvin says that here some appearance of inconsistency arises. If God loved us before the Anointed One offered Himself to die on our behalf, what need was there for reconciliation? Thus, the death of the Anointed One may seem to be unnecessary. To this, Calvin answers, that when the Anointed reconciled us with the Father, this is to quiet our apprehensions. For since we are conscious of being guilty, we cannot conceive of God being anything other than displeased and angry with us. So, until the Anointed one absolves us from sin’s guilt, we will have no peace of mind. Wherever sin appears, God’s wrath could be expected and impose the judgment of eternal death. Hence, we would undoubtedly be terrified by the prospect of death until the Anointed One by His death abolishes sin and delivers us by His blood from hell. Further, God’s agápe-love requires righteousness; we may then be persuaded that we are loved; we must of necessity come to the Anointed One, in whom righteousness alone is found.[6]

In his institutes, Calvin says that God’s free favor is as fitly opposed to our attempt at salvation by works as is obedience to the Anointed One. The Anointed One could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God, but only since He was destined to appease the wrath of God by His sacrifice and wipe away our transgressions by His obedience. On the other hand, since the merit of the Anointed One depends entirely on God’s grace, compliance is no less appropriately opposed to all self-righteousness. We find this distinction in numerous Scriptures.[7] The first place is assigned to God’s agápe-love as the chief cause or origin, and faith in the Anointed One follows. Should anyone object that the Anointed One is only the formal cause, it lessens their energy than the word justify. If we obtain justification by faith that leans on Him, we must seek the groundwork for our salvation in Him. Several passages prove this: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”[8] [9]

John Trapp (1601-1669) points out that it is not that we loved, but that He loved us. So, it reads in the Latin Vulgate, “He first loved us so much, so free, so small, etc.” God greatly loved us first and freely, though we were sinners and worthless. “He loved us because He loves us,” said Moses, [[10] which is the ground of His agápe-love being His alone. He works for His name’s sake[11] four times, notwithstanding His word and oath.[12] [13]

John Owen (1616-1683) says several things differ between the mutual love of the Father and the saints by which they have communion. First, the agápe-love of God is a love of bounty; our love unto Him is a love of duty. Second, the love of the Father came first; our love unto Him came later. Thirdly, the agápe-love of God is like Himself – equal, constant, not capable of augmentation or diminution; our love is like ourselves – unequal, increasing, waning, growing, declining.

Owen then explains the second difference in light of what the Apostle John says here in verse ten about God’s agápe-love came first, ours, second. In other words, His agápe-love came before ours. When the child doesn’t know their father, how much less do they love him? Yes, we are by nature what the Greeks call theostygēs (“haters”), haters of God. And God, by His supernatural nature, is called filantropos (“philanthropically”) – a lover of people. Surely, all mutual love between God and us begins with Him.[14]

Owen goes on to say that we should remember the remarkable result of being elected by God to be one of His children. As the Apostle Paul says, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in the Anointed One to be holy and without fault in His eyes.”[15] The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Jews left in Jerusalem being called “Holy.”[16] God’s aim and design in choosing us were that we should stand holy and unblameable before Him in love. He is the one to accomplish and bring about in them that are His. The message is this: God chose you to be the first fruit of His Gospel and saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and belief in the truth.[17] This the Father designed as the first and immediate end of electing love and proposes we consider that love as a motive for holiness.[18] [19]

John Flavel (1627-1691) asks, “Why does the Apostle John magnify this gift by saying, ‘Herein is love,’ as if there were nothing else!” To have our life carried so many years like a candle in the hand of Providence, through so many dangers, and yet not extinguished into obscurity, that is love? To have food and suitable clothing, beds to sleep on, relatives to comfort us, in all these are love? Yes, but if you speak comparatively, in all these, there is no love like the love expressed by God in sending or sacrificing the Anointed One for us. These are great mercies in themselves, but compared to this mercy, they are all swallowed up, like the light of candles when brought out into the sunshine. No, herein is love that God let the Anointed One die on our behalf. And it is remarkable that when the Apostle Paul showed us the noblest fruit that most commends to us the root of divine love that bears it, [20] he then offered this fruit; “But God showed His great love for us by sending the Anointed to die on our behalf while we were still sinners.”[21] It is the very flower of that love.[22]


[1] See John 15:13; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:3-5; 3:10-14; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18

[2] Richison, Grant C: Verse by Verse Commentary, A Practical in-depth and Applicable Commentary for Church Leaders, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Cassian, John: (Bray Ed), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc cit.

[4] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[5] Romans 5:8

[6] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Cf. John 3:16; 1 John 3:16

[8] 1 John 4:10

[9] Calvin, John: Institutes, op. cit., p. 551

[10] Deuteronomy 7:7-8

[11] See Ezekiel 20:9, 14, 22, 44

[12] Ibid. 20:13, 15, 23

[13] Trapp, John: Commentary upon all books of New Testament (1647), op. cit., p. 477

[14] Owen, John: On Communion with God, Ch. 3, op. cit., p. 38; Also see: “A Vindication of Some Passage in a Discourse Concerning Communion with God,” p. 49

[15] Ephesians 1:4

[16] Isaiah 4:3-4

[17] 2 Thessalonians 2:13

[18] 1 John 4:8-10

[19] Owen, John: op. cit., Ch. 7, p. 233

[20] 1 Corinthians 13

[21] See Romans 5:8

[22] Flavel, John: The Fountain of Life, op. cit., Sermon 4, p. 53

About drbob76

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