WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXXIII) 11/30/22

5:5 But who could fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is actually God’s Son?

In this, as in all His views, says Morgan, the Apostle John agrees. In verse three, John describes the life of the godly, saying, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not a burden.” John knew they would be hindered, tempted, and opposed in the attempt to maintain it. Hence, he delivers the counsel and warning in verses four and five, “Every child of God can obey Him, defeating sin and sinful tendencies by trusting the Anointed One to help them. So, who could fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is indeed the Son of God?”[1]

One who appreciated Jesus’ embodiment of divine emotion to transform how we live in this world, Robert Law (1860-1919) is that one peculiarity of the Johannine vocabulary is the frequency with which the Greek verb pisteuō (“believe”) appears.[2] Another is that, in contrast with the usage of other Final Covenant writers, the object of this verb is much more commonly a fact or a proposition than a person. Consequently, the result of its action is to be expressed by the word Belief rather than Faith or Trust. It does not signify that the portrayal of Jesus has in any degree replaced the person of the Anointed One; it only reveals the fact that the writer uses a phraseology and a mode of thought peculiar to himself.

If the Apostle Paul says, “That life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in God’s Son.”[3] John expresses the same truth when he writes, “And now, little children, abide in Him,”[4]or “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus the Anointed One.”[5] However, the fact remains that with John, “believing” denotes less frequently the action of the will in trust and self-committal, and more often the perception of truth or the crediting of a testimony which is the requirement for such action. So also, “believing” is less frequently a direct personal relationship to the Anointed One and more often a theological conception of Him.[6]

Thinking as a dispensationalist, Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945) states that what the Apostle John says in verse one is logical. Then he gives a counter test in verse two to show that it is genuine. So, if we love God and keep His commandments, we can also rest assured that we love His children. If the soul goes out to Him in love, shown by unreserved loyalty to His will, then love for other members of God’s family will follow. It differs from the Law, called elsewhere “a yoke that no one could bear.”[7] Keeping His commandments means being obedient to His Word and being in subjection to Him in all things, for loving God is the spirit of obedience.

Therefore, although the children of God are in the world, they are no longer part of it. In addition, there are hostile forces in the world which did not know Him and don’t recognize God’s children. All in this world are opposed to God, hindering faithful obedience. But those who are born of God overcome the world. Our faith is the victory that conquerors worldly intimidation and temptations. What faith is it? The faith occupied with the Son of God, which yields obedience to Him, does His will. Such faith is the victory that overcomes the world and its attractions.[8]

In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) states that his question about who overcomes the world is not rhetorical[9] but an appeal to experience and reality.[10] [11]

Characteristically, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) takes the Apostle John’s question as an appeal to practical experience. The one who realizes who and what Jesus of Nazareth was, has the power that overcomes the world’s forces that draw people away from God.[12] The fuller phrase “Son of God” in verse five clarifies the meaning more clearly than “the Anointed One” in verse one, although John refers to the same person by both titles. He varies his expression to leave no doubt about his intention. The spirit of the false teachers was the denial, not that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, but that He was not the complete revelation of the Father and the assertion that the Higher Power in Him was with Him temporarily during His earthly life.[13]

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) notes that before saying, “Everyone born of God conquerors the world,” he already said: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Anointed One has been born of God.” So now he asks: “Who is it that conquers the world but the one that has faith that Jesus is the Son of God?” His doctrine, therefore, is that faith in the wonder and glory of the Incarnation makes God’s commandments easy to follow – love for God and love for one another. The remembrance and contemplation of that amazing manifestation drive out the world’s affection and floods the heart with heavenly love.[14]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) notes that the opening statement of this section directs the reader’s attention at once to its Christologically centered content – keeping faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Verse five now bridges the previous subdivision in 1 John 4:7-5:4 and the present one (5:5-13). Note these links: (a) verse five connects with the subject of faith (and victory) in verse four; (b) it restates verse four in the form of a question and makes it concrete; (c) verses four and five together develop the thought expressed at 2:13-14; (d) verse five echoes 5:1, where John speaks of faith in Jesus as the Anointed One “who is He that conquered the world?” The pronoun (“who?”) makes the reference in verse five personal. (e) The individual believer takes the place of an anonymous individual in verse four, “faith,” for, in the end, the believing Christian conquers the world rather than a belief by itself. For the practical dimension to the ideas in verse five and John’s appeal to the experience of his church members.[15] [16]

As an insistent believer in God’s Grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) highlights several parts of verses three to five. He begins by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, God’s mandates are not oppressive.[17] This is because the principle of victory resides in everyone born of God, for they have overcome the world.[18] Their faith in the Anointed One constitutes a win over Satan, who blinds those who are unregenerated to the Gospel.[19] Who is it then that overcomes the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is God’s Son. John affirms that a believer is a world conqueror utilizing faith in the Anointed One with these words in verse five. It suggests that such faith is the secret of their continuing victory and that obedience to God’s commands need not be burdensome.[20]

Inspired by Jesus’ words, “go into all the world,” Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) says that in this section (1 John 5:1-5), the theme of love, which appears only here, is joined to that of faith in two ways. First, by means of the concept of divine generation. Everyone who believes in Jesus has necessarily been born of God. If such a one loves the Father who birthed them, they also love the others born of God’s Spirit, who are their spiritual brothers and sisters. Second, bringing love and faith together in the observance of God’s commandments. Our fellow believers’ love is grounded in God’s love and the observance of His teachings. As God’s children, we are able to keep His Word and be victorious over the world because of our faith. [21]

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) notices that verse five forms the bridge from John’s discussion of the power of faith to his presentation of the content of true faith and his statement of the evidence which confirms it. Rhetorically he asks if anybody can overcome the world if they do not believe that Jesus is God’s Son. There is a slight shift in terminology. In verse one, the content of true faith was that Jesus is the Anointed One, whereas here, He is to be confessed as the Son of God. This idea suggests that the two titles are virtually synonymous; we may compare the similar alternation in this epistle.[22] But the title “Son of God” is more appropriate here because John is thinking of the power of God revealed in His Son, Jesus. Thus, only the person who recognizes that Jesus is God’s Son can believe that Jesus supplies divine power to overcome the world. God’s Son is the world’s Savior only because He shares God, who is greater than the devil. To believe anything less about Jesus is to believe in somebody who does not have the ability to save us from the power of the godless world.[23]

As an expert on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) says that the rhetorical question concerning “who is the one who conquers the world?” uses the masculine present participle with the definite article in characteristic Johannine style. It sets the one who conquers in parallelism with the one who believes.[24] The form of the symbolic question, “which is the one who conquers the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” balances the rhetorical question of 2:22, “who is the liar except the one who denies, [saying] that Jesus is not the Anointed One?” The one who conquers is over against the liar: “This is the Antichrist.”[25]

Nevertheless, in verse four, there is this assurance: “You are of God, little children, and you have conquered them” [the spirit of the Antichrist who inspires his antichrist followers].[26] In verses one and five, the verb “he is” is followed by the conjunction hoti (“thatbelieves), giving the content of what is to be taken as true. The content of faith is also expressed using the verb “to confess,” followed by hoti. Both constructions stress correct belief against the false religion of the opponents.[27]

The problem seems to have been that the opponents refused to identify the human life of Jesus with the Anointed One, the Son of God. Consequently, they refused to confess (believe) that Jesus (the human) was the Anointed One, God’s Son, who has come in the flesh. Thus, the one with correct faith is seen as the victor, that is, over the power that occupied the world and goes on conquering as believing continues. Perhaps the present tense is used in the first instance to emphasize that this was an ongoing process, as people came to believe. The content of belief signaled using hoti reminds us that “to believe in Jesus” requires a known identity and that Jesus’ identity is made known to us in these terms: the Anointed One, the Son of God, is come in the flesh.[28]


[1] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XLI, pp. 404-405

[2] See 1 John 3:23; 4:1, 16; 5:1, 5, 10,x3 13x2

[3] Galatians 2:20

[4] 1 John 2:28

[5] Ibid. 1:3

[6] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 258

[7] Acts of the Apostles 15:10

[8] Gaebelein, Arno C., The Annotated Bible, op. cit., pp. 157-158

[9] Cf. 1 John 2:22

[10] See 1 Corinthians 15:57 for the same note of victory through the Anointed One

[11] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, op. cit., p. 1967

[12] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57

[13] Brooke, Alan E., Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 131

[14] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 194

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:57

[16] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 275

[17] Cf. Matthew 11:30

[18] Cf. 1 John 4:4

[19] Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

[20] Hodges, Zane C. John F. Walvoord, and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 901

[21] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 310

[22] 1 John 2:22

[23] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 230-231

[24] Cf. 1 John 5:1

[25] Ibid. 2:22

[26] Cf. ibid. 4:2-4

[27] See 5:1, 5; 2:22; 4:2-3, 15

[28] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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