NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XCIV) 03/22/23
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 his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) points out that some believed in the Name of Jesus, demonstrating it through baptism in that Name, who now doubt their salvation, and whether they had received the promise of “eternal life” as a present experience. In this, we find John addressing so many of us. John has extended beyond discussing how to recognize a faithful Christian and thereby reject false Christians into the more personal application to us. They are those who believe in the Lord and have received the gift of His Spirit, His life, which is eternal life.
Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (1968) notes that verse thirteen is strikingly similar to the mission statement of John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel is logically prior in its relevance to believers since it presents reasons to believe. John’s epistle encourages those who have dedicated themselves to continue in that faith, even in confusing circumstances. Theology is the “Application of What We Believe About the Future Determines How We’ll Live Today.” In the busyness of daily life, it is easy to lose sight of one’s eternal future and not even give it a thought until one is confronted with mortality at the grave of a friend or loved one. The priorities of our modern lives probably include working, meals, worship, exercise, shopping, mowing the grass, maintaining our homes and cars, spending time with family and friends, and so on. The importance of life after death seldom comes to mind, even for Christian believers.
Yet, says Jobes, nothing seems to have been a greater concern to John’s Gospel and Letters than securing people with the only source of eternal life, Jesus the Anointed One. He is the Eternal Life sent to earth to die and to open the way through death to life for all who would believe and follow. Jesus’ atoning death – the “water and blood” Gospel – is the heart of Christian theology. No theology claiming otherwise can be true, for God’s testimony confirms only a “water and blood” Gospel, not a “water only” gospel ‒ today’s theology trends toward a “nonviolent” atonement. While perhaps well-intentioned, it is a modern expression of the thinking the Apostle John corrects by reminding his readers that Jesus the Anointed One did not come by water (baptism) only but that His blood (crucifixion) is essential for the atonement that secures our eternal life after death.
As a dedicated messenger of God’s Word, Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) remarks that it is a strange day in which we live when doubt is considered a virtue and skepticism as humility. They view absolute truth as unconditionally false. Reflective of this trend, a college chaplain once held “A Festival of Doubt,” during which various campus activities underscored the importance of religious uncertainty. The spirit of our age is so different from God’s Spirit. In John’s epistle – from the beginning of chapter one through the end of chapter five – the chaplain in Ephesus holds a “Festival of Faith.” It is a celebration that crescendos and concludes with certainty: “I write these things to you who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son that you may know that you have eternal life.”
John’s call to confidence escalates in verses fourteen to twenty-one, where he repeats the word oidamen (“we know”) five times, and the phrase “that you may know” is used in verse thirteen and “that we may know” in verse twenty. That is seven “knows” in nine verses! But what are we to know? Here John teaches that we are to know that (1) God hears our prayers, (2) Jesus protects us from sin and the evil one, and (3) Jesus is the true God, and in Him, we have eternal life.
5:14 We can come to God with no doubts, which means that when we ask God for things that agree with what He wants for us. God cares about what we tell Him.
All believers need to know that the Anointed One, as God’s Son, is in charge of His Father’s entire household. And we are God’s family; if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope as we did when we first became believers in the Anointed One. Therefore, John institutes his seventh text, the Test of Prayer. It means the Apostle John wanted them to know that when they come to God with no doubts in their hearts or minds, if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as we did when we first became Christians, we will share in all that belongs to the Anointed One. So, don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a secured thing!
But how can we be sure? God gave the prophet Jeremiah a promise that is still valid today. He told him, “When you call on Me in prayer, I’ll be listening. When you come looking for Me, you’ll find me if you are sincere about contacting Me. When Jesus came, He reinforced what the prophet Jeremiah heard. He told His followers, “Keep asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives. Everyone who seeks finds. And for everyone who knocks, doors will open.” However, Jesus made it clear that none of this will work without faith. Yet, says Jesus, such trust can only be valid if you make yourselves My home and My words are at home in you; you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon by God. But the Master doesn’t leave it there; He tells everyone that if they haven’t tried this before, begin now. When asking My Father, use My name, and you will receive, and your cup of joy will overflow.
The Apostle James adds another factor to this invitation to ask God for one’s spiritual needs. He wrote that if someone doesn’t know what they are doing, they should pray to the Father, He loves to help. You’ll get His assistance and won’t be ashamed when you ask for it. So, ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “constantly second-guess God’s answers are like wind-whipped waves. But be careful; you may not get what you’re asking for because you know that what you ask for is something you have no right to. You’re like a spoiled kid, always wanting things your way.
Remember what Job, the wise man, said about such conceited people: “They stopped listening to God. They no longer think about Him or His ways.” That is what King David did, and he tells us, in a panic, I cried out, “I am cut off from the Lord!” But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help. David was encouraged to do so because he knew that God is listening when you plead for help, ready to rescue you. It’s based upon the promise that God stops and listens to those in need; He doesn’t walk off and leave depressed people to themselves. God stays away from evil-minded people. Yet He stands by to help those loyal to Him.
Also, a blind man that Jesus healed echoed Job’s words in his testimony. He told the Jewish elders we all know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but He is ready to hear those who worship Him and do His will. And Jesus prayed with that same assurance after He called Lazarus out of his tomb. But He did so loudly that everyone standing there could hear Him. He told His Father in heaven, I know You always listen, but because of this crowd standing here, I’ve spoken so that they might believe You sent me.
When the Jews were in exile in Babylon and Persia, and some were losing hope of ever being able to worship God again as they did in Jerusalem, the Lord used Jeremiah to send them a message. “I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future. Then you will call my name. You will come and pray to me, and I will listen. You will search for me; when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will let you find me.”
But John’s statement here also proves that he listened when Jesus told His disciples: “If you have faith, it will happen. You will get anything you ask for in prayer if you believe.” I must confess that when I hear some believers pray, it sounds like they are either praying to a picture in their mind or are leaving a message on God’s message machine. I do not detect they are aware that their words are being directed to a living God listening to them at that very moment. He understands every human language, and His vocabulary contains every word. So, we need not talk to Him like a baby or senile person.
Even Elihu told Job that when those down and out felt hurt and discriminated against, they would cry to God for help. And He would hear their cry! Elihu didn’t say that God “could hear,” “might hear,” or even “may hear,” but “will hear” our words as soon as they leave our lips. David sang that once; he was afraid and hiding for his life in a cave where Saul could not find him. But says David to the Lord, “I prayed to You, and you listened to my loud cries for help.” Later, when he had to cross the border into enemy territory to escape Saul’s henchmen, David could say with assurance, “Pray to the Lord, and He will hear you. He will save you from all your troubles.”
Solomon carried his father’s faith with him, so he states this with certainty: “The Lord seems far away to the wicked, but He is always close by for the prayers of those who do what is right.” This testimony is precisely what the blind man offered the Jewish leaders who were disputing that Jesus had healed him by calling Jesus a sinner. The man told them, “We all know that God does not listen to sinners, but He will listen to anyone who worships and obeys Him.”
Also, after they rolled the stone away from Lazarus’ grave before Jesus called him out, He looked up to heaven and said to His Father, “I know that You always hear me. But I’m saying this so that those standing around me can hear what I say because I want them to believe that You sent me.” The Letter to the Hebrews’ author could confidently say, “With Jesus as our high priest, we can feel free to come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we receive mercy and kindness to help us when we need it.” This no doubt stayed in John’s mind, so he told his readers.
This idea of having God pay attention to our prayers and consider answering them was also part of Jewish theology. In one Jewish writing, we find this: “Rabbi Amram said in the name of Rab: [There are] three transgressions which no man escapes for a single day: Sinful thought, calculation on [the results of] prayer, and slander. ‘Slander’? [How] could one imagine [such a thing]!” The transgression in trying to predict God’s answer to prayer is described by Jewish scholars as thinking ahead about what you want, speculation on the results of the prayer, or expectation of the immediate granting of one’s request. The offense lies in the presumption that God must answer prayers of any kind whatsoever.
Furthermore, prayer demonstrates the Christian’s confidence in God. Christians can pray with assurance because they know God hears and answers prayer. It brings conviction to their prayers. The origin of the Greek noun parrēsia (“confidence”) in verse fourteen is in the idea of freedom of speech. Christians can talk freely and confidently to God about their needs. John addresses the subject of “confidence” at three previous points in this epistle. But above all, God is accessible to every believer. Therefore, Christians can have confidence in approaching the Father in prayer. Such assurance in prayer is for those born again, yet many experience frustration in prayer. They can trust God for eternal life, but they cannot trust Him for this life. We trust God for a life without end, but we do not trust Him to meet our financial needs. We have a general faith in God but are unsure about His answering. We know that we trust God if we have an effective prayer life.
 Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 77
 John 20:31
 Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., pp. 225-226
 1 John 5:15 2×, 18, 19, and 20
 O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. 1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition
 Hebrews 3:6
 Ibid. 3:14
 Ibid. 10:35
 Jeremiah 29:12-13
 Matthew 7:7-8
 Ibid. 21:22
 John 15:7
 Ibid. 16:24
 James 1:5-6
 Ibid. 4:3
 Job 34:27
 Psalm 31:22
 Ibid. 34:17
 Ibid. 69:33
 Proverbs 15:29
 John 9:31
 Ibid. 11:42
 Jeremiah 20:11-13
 Matthew 21:22
 Job 34:28
 Psalm 31:22
 Psalm 34:17
 Proverbs 15:29
 John 9:31
 Ibid. 11:42
 Hebrews 4:16
 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nazikin, Masekhet Baba Bathra, folio 164b
 Ibid. footnote (56) – See also Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels by I. Abrahams, Cambridge Press, 1917
 See 1 John 3:21
 Ibid. 2:28; 3:21-22; 4:17
 Matthew 7:7; Ephesians 3:20-21