By Dr. Robert R. Seyda



5:13 I write this letter to you who believe in God’s Son. I write so that you will know that you have eternal life now.

In one of his sermons, Spurgeon said it is worthwhile to note that all the epistles are not letters to everybody but to those called to be saints. It should strike some of us with awe when we open the Bible and think how much is not said directly to us. You may read it, and “God’s Holy Spirit may graciously bless you,”[1] but to us, it remains unspoken. You are reading another man’s letter: thank God you are permitted to read it[2] and long to be numbered with those for whom it was written.

Thank God much more if the Holy Spirit should use any part of His Word to lead us to salvation. The fact that the Holy Spirit speaks to the churches and believers in the Anointed One should make us bow and cry to God to put us among His children, that this book may become our Book from beginning to end, that we may read its precious promises made to us. If this solemn thought has not yet impacted some of you, at least let it impress you.[3]

Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923 says the words in verse thirteen should conclude the present section, not commence that which follows. They refer to the whole of what John wrote earlier, explaining the goal of his Epistle. That object was that the fact of the possession of eternal life by believers in the Anointed One should be thoroughly understood and grasped by those to whom he was writing.

Thus, verse thirteen appears to be a parenthetical statement between verses twelve and fourteen. Nevertheless, the sense of the passage is the same, whichever reading is preferred, as follows: “I have written these things to you who believe in the Name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son, so that you may fully understand the full value of what you receive in Him. You receive the gift of imperishable life.” “Eternal” is emphatic. Thus, the truth that the Apostle John wishes to emphasize is that belief in the Anointed One introduces and places them in contact with the Divine Nature in its immovability and unchangeableness.

So, we see that John writes to those who believe in God’s Son. But since believing is only one part of something not fully understood, there is no irrationality in endeavoring to lead those who have already accepted their bond with the Anointed One to a higher degree of comprehension of what is involved in the Christian faith although it may be a flawed concept of the true nature of the Anointed One’s work. We must not leave this passage without comparing it with what John said in his Gospel.[4] The Epistle marks a more advanced stage of spiritual knowledge.

It is clear, therefore, that the Apostle John intended the account of Jesus’ human life and sayings to lead people to believe and live in union with Him. He wrote this epistle to those who have already believed but want to learn what their belief involves. They need to know that they have eternal life in the Anointed One, lest their belief should be an open acknowledgment of specific facts or agreement with certain doctrines instead of a virtual inward union with the source of spiritual life. Comparing these two passages sheds light on the mutual relations between the Gospel and Epistle. It would seem to demonstrate the priority of the Gospel.[5]

Therefore, John wrote his Gospel so people may believe and have eternal life. So, likewise, his Epistle was composed so people may know they have it. Thus, John’s letter applies the principles contained in the Gospel. Without faith in the Anointed One, we cannot possess His life. Without knowing that we have that life, we cannot live it. The spiritual life, therefore, has its outward and its inward side.[6]

With the ability of a linguist’s concentration on nuances, Greek word scholar Marvin Richardson Vincent (1834-1921) notes that the Apostle John speaks as looking back over his Epistle and recalling his aim when he wrote it.[7] He wants them to know, not perceive, that they have eternal life with settled and absolute knowledge. Vincent points out that the Greek reads: “you may know that [the] life you have [is] eternal.” The adjective “eternal” is added as an afterthought. Another Greek scholar, Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), translates it: “that you have life ‒ yes, eternal life.”[8] [9]

Famous evangelist and publisher Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) begins by saying that the Apostle John explains to us in his Gospel what the Anointed One did for us on earth as our Savior. His Epistle tells us what He is doing for us in heaven as our Advocate. There are only two chapters where the word “believe” does not occur in his Gospel.[10] With these two exceptions, every chapter in John is “Believe! BELIEVE!! BELIEVE!!!” There are only five short chapters in this first Epistle, and the word “know” occurs over forty times. It is “Know! KNOW!! KNOW!!!” The Key to it is KNOW! Throughout this Epistle, the refrain rings “that we might know we have eternal life.”

Moody recalls going twelve hundred miles down the Mississippi River during springtime. Every evening, just as the sun went down, you could see men, and sometimes women, riding on mules, horses, or by foot up to the banks of the river on either side to light the Government’s lower lights. All down that mighty river, these flickering lanterns guided the pilots in their dangerous navigation through the darkness. So now, God has given us lower lights to tell us that we need to look and follow since we are His children.[11] Like the beautiful old hymn goes:

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,

From His lighthouse evermore,

But to us He gives the keeping

Of the lights along the shore.


Let the lower lights be burning!

Send a gleam across the waves

Some poor struggling, fainting seaman

You may rescue, you may save.[12]

As a secular and sacred Law enforcer, Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) finds the Apostle John following a theme where he spoke only of faith and the Spirit’s work. So, Anderson asks, What about repentance? Are faith and the Spirit’s work enough? Or is repentance not necessary if souls are to be saved? We must boldly denounce such a question at once. Not so much on ignorance as on a deep-seated and systematic error. It is like the interfering guide who forces himself upon travelers only to mislead them. Faith and repentance are not successive stages on the road to everlasting life; they are not independent guides to direct the pilgrim’s path; they are not separate acts to be accomplished by the sinner as a condition of their salvation. But, in different phases, they represent the same Godward attitude of the soul, which the truth of God, believed, produces. Therefore, there can be no salvation without repentance, any more than without faith. Gospel repentance is in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus[13] and the gracious testimony to the woman at the well.[14] Any repentance that limits those sacred words is wholly against the truth.[15]

With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that the Apostle John’s use of “these things” will cover the whole Epistle. Such is probably the meaning in chapter one, verse four, where he states the purpose of his Epistle in words explained by what John says here in verse thirteen. There is nothing there or here to limit “these things” to what immediately precedes.[16] At the opening of the Epistle, John said, “These things we write that our joy may be fulfilled.[17] The context there shows what constitutes this joy. It is the consciousness of fellowship with God, His Son, and His saints. In other words, it is the conscious possession of eternal life.[18]

Thus, the introduction and conclusion of John’s Epistle mutually explain each another. This verse should also be compared with its parallel in John’s Gospel,[19] a passage that has probably influenced some of the various readings here. We see John’s Gospel and Epistle’s similar, yet not for similar purposes. He writes in his Gospel, “that you may have [eternal] life,[20] and in his Epistle, he pens, “that you may know that you have [eternal] life.”[21] The one leads to obtaining the benefit; the other to know that the blessing has been received. One is to produce faith; the other is to clarify faith’s fruits.[22]

With regal etiquette, Ernest von Dryander (1843-1922) declares that verse thirteen is the concluding section of John’s epistle. “These things” – all that precedes – “I have written to you that believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son.” Thus John commences, to sum up in three great thoughts the whole object of his writing: Firstly, that by faith in God’s Son, they may be confident of the gift of eternal life and joyful in the knowledge of answered prayers; Secondly, that they should continue in brotherly love, and by their intercessions restoring their erring brother or sister; and thirdly, that they should guard themselves against the seductive power of worldly living and its idols. Finally, the Apostle sees proof of the certainty of eternal life given to us in the Anointed One, Jesus, our blessed confidence that God will hear our prayers if we ask anything “according to His will.”[23]

Frederick Brotherton Meyer (1847-1929) says that a rope is in our hand, pulling us onward, but its destiny lays hidden from the past and the future. We also know that God hears us when we comply with the conditions of true prayer. We know, moreover, that we can become the medium through which the life of God passes to others. Thus, the humblest child may have power with God and mankind. Finally, the Only Begotten keeps His begotten brothers and sisters. Evil can no more touch them than disease could reach the bush in the wilderness bathed in the celestial fire. Who would go back to the world? Enumerate and press to heart these four items of positive knowledge but beware lest what is legitimate and natural may become an idol. Love, Knowledge, Abiding, and Conquering are the keynotes of this inspiring letter.[24]

A prolific writer on the Epistles, George Gillanders Findlay (1849-1919), says that verse thirteen appears to be dictating John’s last words in this epistle. He glances throughout the letter and states its purpose in the past tense at the end, as stated in the present tense at the beginning.[25] The retrospective “I have written” occurred three times before,[26] where the Apostle reflected on the preceding context. Now his survey covers the whole writing. He set out to deliver the message of “the eternal life that was manifested” in Jesus the Anointed One unfolds the nature of that life, as it brings those receiving it into fellowship with God, molds the spirit and character of people, and meets the reaction against it of worldliness within the heart and the Church. John knows that he speaks to his spiritual children’s experiences. He’s convinced they recognize in what he wrote the things they heard from the beginning; he is telling no new story, indoctrinating no new principles, but making more apparent to them what they already believe and arming them to repel the errors that perplex their understanding and tend to pervert their conscience and cloud the serenity of their faith.

Thus, this letter is written to those “who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son to know that eternal lifeis theirs” so that their faith, by its full capture of the truth concerning the Anointed One, brings them perfect assurance, a settled consciousness of their glorious possession in Him. The object of this Epistle concurs with that of the Gospel of John, expressed at the end of the twentieth chapter, where it concluded in the original draft: “These things are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, God’s Son, and that, believing, you may have [eternal] life in His name.” However, the aim of the Gospel is more comprehensive, designed both to convince unbelievers and to confirm and enrich the faith of believers.[27]

[1] Cf. Numbers 6:24

[2] Cf. Revelation 1:3

[3] Spurgeon, Charles H., The Spurgeon Sermon Collection, The Blessing of Full Assurance, Sermon No. 2023, delivered on Sunday, May 13, 1888, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, p. 703

[4] John 20:31

[5] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 394-397

[6] Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 394-397

[7] See 1 John 2:13

[8] See John 2:23; 1:12

[9] Vincent, Marvin R: Word Studies in the New Testament, op. cit. p. 369

[10] John 2, 18

[11] Moody, Dwight L., Way to God, op. cit., Ch. 8, Assurance of Salvation, p. 82

[12] Let the Lower Lights Be Burning by Philip P. Bliss, published, 1871

[13] Ibid. 3:1-21

[14] Ibid. 4:4-26

[15] Anderson, Sir Robert: The Gospel and its Ministry, op. cit., p. 39

[16] See 1 John 2:21, 26

[17] Ibid. 1:4

[18] John 17:3

[19] Ibid. 20:31

[20] Ibid. 3:15

[21] 1 John 5:13

[22] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 155

[23] Dryander, Ernst von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., p. 211

[24] Meyer, Frederick B., Through the Bible Day by Day Devotional Commentary, Vol. VII, op. cit., pp. 160-161

[25] 1 John 1:4

[26] Ibid. 2:14; 26; 5:13

[27] Findlay, George G., Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 394

About drbob76

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