WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXXIV) 12/01/22

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

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) defines faith as the overcoming factor against this world that seeks to pull us into its snares and entanglements. The Apostle John is emphasizing his argument against the erroneous dogma of the Gnostics, for they denied the Deity of Jesus the Anointed One. But our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior enables us to be overcomers of this world’s attractions. Overcomes is a familiar statement with John. He employed it in 1 John 2:13,14 when he spoke of overcoming the devil. We also find it used in each of the letters he wrote to the seven churches of Asia. John is writing to people who have experienced the new birth. They are conquerors (overcomers) – of this world and its snares. A child of God is an achiever, victorious in their lifestyle, and not a quitter – but a winner.[1]

Expositor and systematic theologist Michael Eaton (1942-2017) asks, who can love the way the Apostle John requires in verses one to three? Verse four answers: we all can! John says God’s commands are not burdensome, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcame the world; it is our faith.” Eaton then defines the content of that faith in verse four. It is because of the Christian’s spiritual birth and persistent belief. The movement of thought from verses 1-3 to verse 4 shows that the “world” is characterized by a lack of faith (verse 1) and deficient love (verses 2-3). The present tense, “overcomes,” points to the endless possibility of overcoming the world; the simple past (or ‘aorist’) tense of “overcame” points to the recent victory the followers of John experienced. The departure of John’s enemies resulted from persistent faith on the part of John’s disciples. In verse five, John changes back to the present tense. The confidence that has recently won a victory may do so constantly. Finally, John points to what it means to love. It is to persist in faith no matter what is happening to us. When we conquer the world; we conquer lovelessness. [2]

Great Commission practitioner David Jackman (1945) sees verse five as moving the reader into the present tense and possible daily experience of the Anointed One’s victory in our discipleship, available to us all as Christian believers. Everything depends upon our union with the Anointed One. It comes by faith, through which the divine resources are made available to all who trust Him so that they may be victorious in their battle with worldliness, sinful tendencies, and devilish traps. We cannot share God’s victory if we do not believe in His Son, for Jesus is the only source of the divine power that is strong enough to overcome our enemies. Of course, that must be put into practice, or there will be no power. But wherever that faith is central and active, there is victory.

Finally, no one says that the conflict is over but that the outcome is settled. Now, nothing in this world or beyond can overcome the believer rooted in the Anointed One.[3] But, this was what Jesus promised: “In this world, you will have trouble,” He told His disciples on the last night He was with them. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[4] And all those who are united to Him in this faith have also overcome.[5]

After studying the context surrounding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) reminds us that God created us in “His image.” It simply means that humans are unique among all the creatures of this world in that God has given them an eternal spirit, one that has the capacity to know that God exists and to have a personal relationship with Him. Consequently, every civilization has sought this higher power, knowing it exists. However, our search for God has often been so influenced by our sinful nature that we fail to find Him in a way He will accept.  God’s plan is that we come to Him in faith, finding forgiveness for our sins. However, that forgiveness is found only in the work of Jesus the Anointed One on the cross of Calvary. He is the One who is the Messiah, God’s Son. If we reject Jesus the Anointed One, His divine nature, and salvation, we have rejected God.  Consequently, though all world religions will eventually result in the final judgment (“since every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD”),[6] the only way to come to that judgment with forgiveness is through faith in Jesus as Savior. There is simply no other way to overcome the eternal consequences of the sin of this world.[7]

As a person who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) sees verse five as taking the victory attributed to faith in verse four and extending it to the person who exercises it. To accomplish this, John uses a rhetorical question, for which he supplies the answer in verse five: “But who is the one who conquers the world? It is none other than the person who believes that Jesus is God’s Son.” The conqueror is the person who makes this profession of faith. Such confession should be regarded as including His status as the Anointed One and His incarnation.[8] The phrase’s meaning is informed by all that the epistle has said of “the Son” thus far.[9] The term “Son of God” has already occurred twice in this epistle[10] and is conceivably related to its use in John’s Gospel. “Son of God” is what John the Baptizer, Nathanael, and Martha, the sister of Lazarus, all called Jesus.[11] Martha combines all of the elements stressed so far by John: “I believe that you are the Anointed One, God’s Son, who was to come into the world” (NIV).[12]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation, Colin G. Kruse (1950) concludes that when the Apostle John says, “this is the victory that overcomes the world’s actions and attractions, even our faith,” he defines what it is that enables those born of God to defeat worldliness – their faith. It is the only place in the Johannine writings where we find the noun “faith” (pistis). Elsewhere, the author uses the verb (pisteuo)[13] that portrays dynamic faith. The nature of the belief that overcomes is explicit in the following rhetorical question and answer: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God enables believers to overcome the world.” In this context, the influence of the “world” comes primarily through the secessionists and their false teaching.[14] To overcome the world, the readers must persist in their faith in Jesus despite the propaganda of the secessionists. In 1 John, “the Son of God” is equivalent to “the Anointed One.”[15] Therefore, only those who believed that Jesus was the Son of God could be said to have overcome the world. As far as John was concerned, the secessionists who denied these things were still part of the world[16] and subject to the power of the evil one.[17] [18]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) notes the Apostle John’s rhetorical question that begins verse five: “Who is it that overcomes the world?” It neatly balances the rhetorical question John asked earlier: “Who is the liar?”[19] John then explains this in more detail: “the faithpistis [the only occurrence of this noun in the Johannine Epistles] is defined as believing that Jesus is God’s Son. But one may ask, why is this said to conquer the world? The answer goes back to where Jesus says that He has already overcome the world.[20] With this being so, faith in Him as Messiah, Son of God, world’s Savior, is the means of overcoming as He did. The Anointed One’s victory was gained on a small hill and in a shallow tomb. Still, it was worldwide in its effects. The context does not suggest that “overcoming” here has the connotation of martyrdom as it does in Revelation.[21] [22]

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) says that from the neuter language of verse four, the Apostle John says it’s the individual in verse five who believes and participates in the victory over all that opposes God. Again, the opposition is summarized as “the world.” Here John repeats his core confession of a belief that Jesus is the Son of God.[23] Then, after expanding it in verse six, John will not mention “Jesus” again until the end of the letter.[24] Consequently, “the Son of God” becomes the focus of each letter’s remaining sections.[25]

As has become evident, John acknowledges that Jesus is God’s Son and gives shape to and adequately defines the belief that Jesus is the Anointed One.[26] On one level, we might read this declaration as completing the circle that began in verse one of the chapter: everyone who believes that Jesus is the Anointed One = has been born God; everything born of God = conquers the world; the one who conquers the world =  the one who believes that Jesus is God’s Son. This imagery of birth/birthing offers a possibility of exploring a new tone within which both “Anointed One” and “Son of God” are to be understood. Still, John has not yet finished such exploring, and verse five, therefore, not only looks back but drives forward.[27]

Contextual interpretation specialist Gary M. Burge (1952) finds that the Apostle John’s interest in spiritual victory in the previous section led him to develop a specific reconciliation. In chapter four, verse seven and onward, John urged that Christian maturity (anchored in a correct understanding of God’s love and commitment) should result in a loving, reconciled community. Such an experience of God’s love results in rebirth and victory, victory even over worldliness. But should we pursue such a resolution at all costs? Should passionately held beliefs be set aside if there are differences of opinion? As he did in 1 John 4:9-10, John refuses in 5:5b-12 to let these affirmations about God and community healing drift away without a Christological anchor. Only through the Anointed One’s incarnation and sacrifice can we gain a clear, undistorted view of God’s commitment to us. Therefore, regeneration and ethical inspiration must be theologically informed, and christologically centered.[28]

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) has the Apostle John ask the rhetorical question, “Who can win this battle against the world?” He follows it with John’s answer, “Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” Thus, verse five confirms verse four with a triumphant affirmation. Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God are the only ones who will win this battle against the world so permeated with false, anti-Christian teachings by holding fast to their faith in Jesus as God’s Son. In fact, they will win the battle, no matter what form it may take. Believers have faced false teachings, persecution, assault on the church through the ages and will continue to encounter them. But no matter how strong these powers may seem, those who trust in Jesus the Anointed One have already decided and won the battle. That confidence cannot be overcome by any worldly power because, as John already stated, “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.”[29] [30]


[1] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 84

[2] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 176-177

[3] See Romans 8:37-39

[4] John 16:33

[5] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 143

[6] Philippians 2:10

[7] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit., pp. 120-121

[8] See 1 John 4:2

[9] 1 John 1:3, 7; 2:22–24; 3:23; 4:9-10, 14; cf. Holtzmann 1908: p. 354; Loader 1992: p. 62

[10] Ibid. 3:7-8; 4:15

[11] John 1:34, 49; 11:27

[12] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 277-278

[13] Cf. 1 John 3:3; 4:1, 16; 5:1, 5, 10, 13

[14] Cf. 5:9-10

[15] Cf. 1 John 2:22, 23; 5:1, 5

[16] Ibid. 2:18-19; 4:1-3; cf. 2 John 1:7

[17] Ibid. 5:1

[18] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[19] 1 John 2:22

[20] John 16:33

[21] Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:14

[22] Witherington, Ben III. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[23] Cf. 1 John 4:15

[24] 1 John 5:20

[25] Ibid. 5:10x2; 12; 13x2; 20x2

[26] Ibid. 2:23; 5:1; cf. 3:23

[27] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Library, I, II, & III, op. cit., pp. 207-208

[28] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 200-201

[29] 1 John 4:4

[30] Burton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., pp. 108-109

About drbob76

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