NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXX) 05/08/23
5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.
With holiness doctrine expertise, Daniel Steele (1824-1914) says that to know that we are of God is sufficient knowledge because it is experimental, intuitive, and confident. The Spirit cries within the heart, “Abba, Father.” The first “we know” in verse eighteen is theoretical, announcing a theological truth respecting the regenerate. It is not a testimony, but a tenet. The first clause of verse nineteen is a testimony. “The whole world.” All men who are not in the Anointed One. Human society, as alien from God and opposed to Him, is wholly, in all its organizations, principles and practices, in the embrace of the evil one.
Christians know that there is a kingdom of darkness, out of which they have been translated, and in which all unregenerate still abide. “It is clear, therefore, that the severance between the church and a godless society ought to be, and tends to be, as total as that between God and the evil one.” A malignant personality has usurped the dominion of the whole world as just defined. Hence a personal deliverer is required in order to liberate the captives of an individual oppressor and destroyer.
After sufficient examination of the Greek text, Brooke Wescott (1825-1901) notes that from the general statement of the privilege of God’s children, John affirms the personal relationship in which He and those He addresses stand to Him. The structure of the verse is expressive. The absence of the personal pronouns “we” and “us” in the first clause emphasizes the divine source of life. In the second clause, the emphasis is changed. Over against the Christian Society, only faintly indicated in the preceding words, stands “the whole world,” and on this, attention is fixed.
The relation of God’s Church is widely different from that of a godless society to the Evil One. This difference is brought out in the two corresponding phrases “of God” and “of the wicked one.” The first describes the absolute source of being: the second the actual (but not essential) position. Like the corresponding clauses in verse eighteen, this clause is an independent statement and not dependent on “that.” The Christian can look upon the saddest facts of life without being overwhelmed.
Considered a monarch in the pulpit, Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) observes that this is the second of the triumphant certainties that John supposes to be the property of every Christian. It reads, “We know that those born of God do not sin.”’ There is a distinct connection and advance between these two statements. “Born of God” refers to an act. There is still another connection, “does not sin.” Therefore, the “wicked one cannot touch them.” That glance at a dark surrounding, from which those born of God are protected, is deepened by a vision of the whole world as “lying in the wicked one.”
Now, sayings like these involve a Christian’s privilege to regard people apart from those in the Anointed One’s spiritual body as in a dark condition under an alien power. These have often been spoken of as if they were presumptions, narrow, uncharitable, and gloomy on the one hand. On the lips of some professing Christians, these phrases have a hideous sound and minister un-Christlike sentiments.
But, on the other hand, there are few things that the average Christianity of today wants more than participation in that joyous confidence and positive energy that throb in the Apostle’s words. They desire a triumphant certainty, in the absence of which, many a soul has been lamed, its joy clouded, its power hampered, and its work in a godless society thwarted. So, I tried to catch some of that sacred and joyous confidence that the Apostle peals forth in these triumphant words.
Like a spiritual farmer planting the seed of God’s Word, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) is sure that we know if we are of God. We are born of Him and carry His spiritual nature. A matter of certain and blessed knowledge through the previous teaching and the witnessing Spirit.
As Scottish theologian Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) wrote,
“When I stand before the throne,
dressed in beauty not my own,
when I see thee as thou art,
love thee with unsinning heart,
then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.”
In this verse, the apostle applies the general truth asserted in the previous verse to himself and his readers. It sharply contrasted their standing with that of the unregenerate world so that there is evident progress in the thought and growth in its strength. And the whole world (in its natural unregenerate state) lies in wickedness. Not merely is touched by the wicked one, but even lies “in the wicked one,” in entire union with him; willingly, unresistingly given up to him, entirely within his sphere. The wicked one here is not an abstract principle of evil but an evil person.
With Spirit-led certainty, William Baxter Godbey (1833-1920) proposes that all those committing are under the direct administration of the devil. This verse certifies that no regenerated person commits sin, since Satan is not permitted so much as to touch the soul born of God. That soul must voluntarily go over to him before he can muster him into service. All God’s people belong to the divine Ecclesia (Church), namely, the called-out ones, consisting of those who, responsive to the call of the Holy Spirit, have left the devil and a godless society and separated themselves for God’s directions and service. While regeneration takes us out of a godless society, sanctification takes a godless society out of us.
Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923) says that the Greek text demands some notice. First, there is a slight difference between “a godless society” in 1 John 2:2 and here in verse nineteen. The emphasis here is on “whole” or “all.” In 2:2, it is on the “all society,” while verse nineteen does not include those who have been separated from a godless society by the new birth that comes from God.
They are delivered from the dominion of evil by the fact that their renewed being comes from God. The rest of humanity “lies under the control of the wicked one.” This expression, too, is remarkable. It occurs only here. It is not, however, so strong as “that wicked one” in 1 John 3:12. The force of “lies in” no doubt is that while the believers in the Anointed One are delivered from the destructive influences of the evil one, the rest of humanity remain under the dominion of those influences – lie passive under their shadow.
Why all society should be said to lie in the evil one, and yet the Anointed One as a reconciler for all its sins, may be explained by saying that the Anointed One’s remedy is potential, not actual, until appropriated by faith. The absence of the article before propitiation in 2:2 strengthens this view. Until faith becomes active and operative until it grasps the life and strength found in the Anointed One alone, the individuals who compose a godless society lie helpless under the yoke of the evil one, unconscious, even, of the blessings which lie within their reach.
With his systematic spiritual mindset, Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921) comments that what the Apostle John says here announces the condemnation resting upon all of those who do not accept the Anointed One. Hopkins quotes from the Annotated Paragraph Bible, “The sum and end of all Christian teaching is the attainment of that knowledge of the true God, the Father revealed in His Son, which results from personal union with Him, and must lead to eternal life. Any other object of trust and supreme reverence is an idol, from which Christians must keep themselves.”
A tried and tested biblical scholar who believes in the up-building of the Christian life, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) believes that the Apostle John was sure that his readers knew they were of God and that the whole world – the whole of organized society, alienated from and opposed to God – is in all of its parts and elements under the dominion of Satan. It is an extraordinary but true statement. We are born of God; the spiritual life we possess is from God; every mercy and gift we now have is from God; all our expectations and hopes are from Him.
This is just as true of God’s poor, wreak child as of the ripe and mellow Christian. We are not all matured alike in holiness and love, but we are all alike in God, as the plant is of the seed. We are united to God in spiritual life and have become members of his family. In like manner, all men in a godless society, out of the Anointed One and not born again, are not equally vicious and dishonest, false and unclean, but they are all alike in the kingdom of the evil one. Their world, hopes, purposes, and plans are in accordance with his wishes.
Manifestly and distinctly, Erich Haupt (1841-1910) suggests that because believers know themselves to be God’s children, to be secure against any contact with the evil one, they must remember that a godless society is entirely under the power of this wicked one. “Of God” and “wicked one” are the representatives of the antithesis. As such, this comparison shows that the dative case is to be understood that the “wicked one” is masculine and not as neuter. Further, we are led to this by the fact that kosmos (“world”) never occurs as a neuter throughout the Epistle. But this certainly makes the “lies in” all the more difficult. Then, again, there is no instance in the Final Covenant of “lies in” being connected with a personal name.
So, as John sees it, a godless society rests in Satan’s hand, its whole character is composed by its relation to devil. Consequently, the devil and world’s ideas so permeate each other that the godless society comes to its real meaning only through Satan. It is obvious that a godless society is to be understood here, as in 1 John 2:15, as permeated with sin. And “society lies in wickedness,” weightier than “whole world.” It is not that the whole world is subjected to Satanic influence; John makes it emphatic that a godless society as a whole, without any qualification or exception, all that is in it is under the devil’s sway.
With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that in verse nineteen, the Apostle introduces the second significant fact of which the believer has sure knowledge. And, as so often, John’s divisions are not sharp, but the parts intermingle. The second fact is partly anticipated in the first; the first is partially repeated in the second. Christians know that as God’s children, they are preserved from the devil by His Son. Then what do they know about a godless society and their relationship to it? They know they are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil one under his power. They have not passed over, as believers have done, out of spiritual death into everlasting life. Satan is their dictator, as the Anointed One is the Christian’s king.
It is clear that the separation between the Church and a godless society should be as total as that between God and the evil one. In verse eighteen, John makes it quite clear that “wicked one” is a masculine pronoun, not a neuter. Note once more that the opposition is not exact but goes beyond what precedes. The evil one does not have control over a child of God; he obtains hold over a godless society and has it wholly within his embrace.
A man who placed particular emphasis on the importance of mystical experience in religion German theologian Julius Wilhelm Martin Kaftan (1848-1926) had this to say: “The law requires love to God. It implies love to our neighbor by abstaining from all injury to him and righteousness in all our relations, forgiving instead of retaliating. It also means that Love to help enemies and friends in all beneficial ways, self-discipline, and avoidance of all sensuous immoderation, subjection of all sensuous activity as a means for spiritual ends in the kingdom of God. All this is done not merely as a matter of outward conduct but from the heart and as the satisfaction of one’s will and desire. This is God’s will respecting us, which Jesus has revealed and of which He is the example in His life. Instead of this, humanity universally seeks to promote life, pleasure, and honor.”
Prolific writer on the Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919) mentions that taking human nature as it is and reading human history has no part in the return of the Anointed One. Thus, the assurance of verse nineteen seems altogether irrational. One cannot make saints out of the sinners described in the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. For anyone living in a world where Satan is the tyrant, and knowing themselves as they do, the resurrection of the dead is less incredible than that they should live an unsinning life.
Everyone who has measured their moral strength against the law of sin has groaned with Saul of Tarsus. We “must,” as Jesus said, “be born anew.” That means believers, out of all humanity, should know that His arrival was not due to any merit on our part but by the grace of God. John says in verse twenty, “We know that God’s Son has come and given us understanding so we can know the true One, and live in that true God. We are in His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God and eternal life.”
Those redeemed by God’s Son carry the Redeemer’s pledge of a worldwide victory in their hearts. It is not limited to personal salvation that John perceives since he has just spoken of “the whole world” or “a godless society as a whole, in its collective capacity and prevailing character, as “lying in the Evil One.” The expression recalls the scene of our Lord’s Third Temptation when the Devil showed Jesus from an exceedingly high mountain “all the kingdoms of a godless society and their glory.”
But listen to Jesus, “My Father has entrusted everything to me . . . I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” If these two counter-claims are legitimate, which of those rival masters will finally dominate the earth? Yes, right now, a godless society lies in the grasp of the Evil One. But God’s Son came! And contrary to all the evils and miseries, against the crimes and ruin of the ages, and opposed to our guilt and weakness, there is one fact to face; God sent His Son as a godless society’s Savior. 
 See John 14:30; 16:11
 Steele, Daniel: Half-Hours with St., John’s Epistles, op. cit., pp.149-150
 See 1 John 4:6
 Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John: Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., pp. 194-195
 Maclaren, Alexander: Sermons and Expositions on 1 John, op. cit., “Triumphant Certainties – II
 1 John 4:4, 6
 Romans 8:16
 Hymn When This Passing World is Done, by Robert Murray McCheyne (1837)
 See 1 John 5:18
 Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 63
 Godbey, William Baxter: Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. II, op. cit., pp. 399-400
 Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 417-418
 Strong, Augustus H, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, op. cit., p. 360
 Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., p. 246
 The dative case is a grammatical case for nouns and pronouns. The case shows a noun’s or pronoun’s relationship to other words in the sentence. The dative case also shows the relationship of an indirect object to a verb.
 Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 339-340
 John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11
 Cf. 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4
 Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV., pp. 170-171
 Kaftan, Julius Wilhelm Martin: Dogmatik, Publisher J. C. B. Mohr, Freiburg, 1897, p. 318
 Romans 7:21-24
 Ibid. 7:25-8:4
 John 3:7
 Matthew 4:8–11; Luke 4:5–8
 Matthew 11:27; 27:18
 Findlay, George G., Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 423, 427, 429